The Lake District and Cumbria has a high concentration of stone circles set amidst some stunning scenery. Shrouded in mystery, they draw both curious visitors and those seeking deeper meaning, and their positions offer clues to the lives of our ancient ancestors. Myths and legends surround them, and some fantastic stories attempt to uncover their origins.
With 50 circles to explore across the county, you may not be able to see them all, but here's our pick of the best, all of which can be visited from our self-catering holiday cottages.
Castlerigg Stone Circle must rate as one of the most striking prehistoric monuments in Britain! It's easily accessible from Keswick and the surrounding area and can form part of a pleasant ramble. The stones sit on a low hill with a 360-degree view of the surrounding fells: Skiddaw, Blencathra and the Helvellyn Range. It's also thought to be one of the oldest stone circles in Britain, erected around 3,000BC, in the Neolithic period.
Two miles from Ulverston, Birkrigg is on one of the southern peninsulas of Cumbria. It consists of two roughly concentric stone rings and is linked to evidence of prehistoric occupation in the surrounding area, as well as the nearby Druid’s Circle overlooking the village of Bardsee.
Swinside Stone Circle is another remarkable monument in the south-east of the Lake District. It's a visually perfect circle made up of 55 stones and can only be reached on foot from the farm track. The setting is on the eastern flank of Black Combe in the heart of the Duddon Valley and the remoteness of this region adds even more to the mystery of the monument. Legend has it that the circle was built by the Devil, who was said to have pulled down a nearby church and used the stones for his own creation. This gives it an alternative name: Sunkenkirk.
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Elva Plain is found on a level terrace on Elva Hill, also known as fairy hill! You can just imagine pixies dancing between the diminutive stones here and, with its views of Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake, it does feel quite magical! Of the 30 original stones, only 15 now remain, forming an almost perfect circle. The site has been linked to neolithic axe factories and trading and can be reached on foot from Cockermouth. Why not combine it with a lovely walk through the trees on Setmurthy Common?
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Long Meg and Her Daughters
Local legend claims Long Meg was a witch who, along with her daughters, was turned to stone for dancing wildly on the Sabbath! This is the largest stone circle in Cumbria, made up of 69 stones and situated in the Eden Valley. The tallest stone, Long Meg herself, is made from local sandstone and marked with mysterious symbols. The daughters are made of granite, and the four cornerstones outside the circle face the points of a compass. It's also said that, were you to ever count the same number of stones more than once in a row, the women would spring back to life. Very mysterious indeed!
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On Hardendale Fell to the north-east of Shap is an impressive site containing two concentric circles. You may be able to spot it as you drive up the M6 motorway but, as it sits on private land, you must ask permission from Gunnerwell Farm before taking a closer look. The inner circle is in good condition, measuring about 18 metres in diameter. The outer circle measures 28 metres. It's a rare example of a double-ringed stone circle: there are only around 30 in the whole of the UK!
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Just a few metres from the beach at Seascale is a stone circle of nearly 30 metres in diameter. The backdrop to the quiet meadow is the huge Sellafield nuclear plant, but don’t let that put you off! The circle is quite spectacular, set in a quiet meadow, and was restored to its original position by local school boys in 1949 after being almost completely toppled by a farmer. Artefacts found during the restoration of the circle are on display at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.
The Cockpit is 300 metres above sea level on Askham Fell above Ullswater. It sits on the route of the Roman Road to High Street, in an area that is full of interesting cairns and burial mounds. You can have a good day with children and history buffs seeing how many ancient sites you can discover! The Cockpit is the most impressive of them all, though, and is thought to mark burial mounds dating from the Bronze Age. And its name? That's thought to be a more modern addition, from its brief use as a cock-fighting ring.
Take a look through our cottages close to Askham Fell.