The Lake District’s stone circles and ancient monuments are some of the most spectacular in the country. 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, with some fantastic stories that try to explain 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, Keswick
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 3,000 BC, in the Neolithic period. For more wonderful heritage, why not discover these must-see historic sites around the Lake District during your holiday?
Cottages in Keswick
The Cockpit, Askham
The Cockpit stone circle in the Lake District is 300 metres above sea level on Askham Fell above Ullswater. It sits on the route of the Roman Road to High Street, in a wild, untamed area that is scattered with interesting cairns and burial mounds. Take an OS Map and a compass with you and 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!
Cottages in Askham Fell
Swinside Stone Circle, Duddon Valley
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 tale gives it an alternative name: Sunkenkirk.
Cottages in the Duddon Valley
The Lake District has a multitude of enchanting ancient sites to visit - read our guide to historic houses or the best English Heritage attractions in the Lakes for more wonderful, history-rich days out.
Elva Plain, Cockermouth
Setmurthy Common near Elva Plain, Cockermouth
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?
Cottages in Cockermouth
Long Meg and Her Daughters, Little Salkeld
After Castlerigg, Long Meg is one of the most famous stone circles in the Lake District. It can be reached as part of a pleasant walk from Little Salkeld.
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 of the Cumbrian stone circles, 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. It’s nearly 4 metres tall and is estimated to weigh a whopping 9 tonnes! The ‘daughters’ are made of granite, and the four cornerstones outside the circle face the points of a compass.
It's 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!
Cottages in Eden Valley
The idyllic landscape around Shap
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!
Cottages in Eden Valley
Just 2 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 Bardsea.
Cottages near Bardsea
Grey Croft, Seascale
The beach at Seascale
Just a few metres from the beach at Seascale is a Cumbrian stone circle of nearly 30 metres in diameter. The backdrop to the quiet meadow is the historic Sellafield nuclear plant and the stone circle, which is quite spectacular, was restored to its original position by local schoolboys in 1949. Artefacts found during the restoration of the circle are on display at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.
Cottages in Carlisle
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please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.