Castlerigg – spectacle and speculation

cumbria-castlerigg-22Castlerigg was not always known by its more modern name. Once it was better known as the Carles… and a carl was a ‘free man’. The name Carl also has associations with royalty. ‘Rigg’ simply means ‘ridge’…  Perhaps it was the Ridge of Kings? The Royal Ridge? Maybe the whole thing is an ancient valley of the kings… or a ‘royal road’…But that is pure speculation.


There are all the usual legends of the circle being men turned to stone and, in the changing light and the silence of the winds, you can see their faces and forms in the stones, seeing how the legend may have begun. In this magical place it takes little imagination to see the stones as the bodies their mystics left behind as they journeyed to the Otherworld. Above the hills the clouds shift and swirl, dancing figures that blur and fade, telling half a story and hinting at things unimagined.


In places the stones themselves seem to fit into the hollows of the distant hills as if withdrawn from their physical place on the plateau. It is impossible to give a true sense of scale with the camera. The land falls away around the stones into a deep valley, held and sheltered by the fells. The utter magnificence of the land, a patchwork of jewel colours against the pristine snow, is a wordless wonder while the vast arc of the sky shadows forth a glimpse of eternity. “Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” Black Elk.


It is hard to stay ‘with’ the stones. Their presence is tangible, yet they seem to be an anchor… a spar for the roaming mind to cling to and remain rooted in earth while vision soars. Yet it is the stones we had come to see and the attention comes back to them, only to soar once more. Had it not been so bitterly cold, I would have liked to sit on the stone that is shaped like a chair and let my mind roam free.


Next to the Throne stone, there is a curious feature… a roughly rectangular enclosure within the circle formed by ten stones and labelled as the sanctuary. Early antiquarian excavations found nothing but charcoal, though it is not known to what extent they dug there. Although often referred to as the ‘cove’, the feature does not resemble the coves found in other circles which are generally isolated structures within the inner space. This one is attached to the circle itself and is, I believe, one of only two circles with a similar feature.


We have noted at other ancient sites the resemblance of this shape to that of the stone axes that were used for more than practical purposes. There was once a place, high in the hills, where these axes were made, thousands of years ago. These were prized objects, traded widely across the land. Some have been found with signs of obvious use, but many seem to have been purely decorative or symbolic, the stone often too fragile for use, a mistake that would not have been made by those for whom stone was a specialised technology.


Perhaps they were symbols of wealth or position… maybe they held spiritual significance as many of them were made from stones found only in the high places. At least one was found close to the circle. It seems conceivable that their shape had significance, in both the axes and the land, when we see it repeated over and over at the ancient sites.


Another thing that is repeated is the controversy about astronomical alignments. Many in the established sciences dismiss such ideas, while others, such as Professor Thom, bring scientific enquiry, engineering and mathematics to the study and present convincing arguments. At Castlerigg, the sun rises during the Autumnal equinox over the top of Threlkeld Knott and a number of other significant solar and lunar alignments have been noted. I need no convincing… you only have to stand and watch the movements of the sun and moon at significant points of the year, seeing how and where they rise and set, to be convinced that our ancestors knew just what they were doing.


It is too easy to think of our Stone Age ancestors as simple folk, dressed in skins and wielding clubs. It is, after all, pretty much what we are taught. Yet Castlerigg was built in the New Stone Age… at around the same time that Egypt was building its monuments. We find no difficulty in recognising an advanced civilisation in ancient Egypt, but because of the difference in the style of the monuments and artefacts here, all raw power instead of elegant sophistication, the temptation is to think this was a primitive society.  Given the sheer scale upon which our ancestors worked throughout the land, I am not at all sure that is a fair assessment.


Castlerigg is unquestionably prehistoric… yet that term alone is misleading. Prehistory refers to the time before written records and the Stone Age left us no such record. Or did they? The petroglyphs, mysterious symbols carved in stone, may be indecipherable to us today, but that does not mean they were unreadable to their makers. The very earliest forms of writing were just symbols and prior to that the stories and wisdom were passed from mouth to ear, growing with the telling in the manner of the indigenous peoples, knowledge of whose cultures before the advent of ‘civilisation’ still remain part of our recent history.


In spite of speculation and controversy, one thing is absolutely certain… whatever your definition of magic may be, Castlerigg is a magical place. Whether your interest is in the ancient peoples and their lives, the tales of the strange balls of light seen at the stones, or just the natural beauty of the place, Castlerigg is special. When we left, frozen to the marrow and beaming, we were agreed that it is one of the most spectacular circles we have ever seen. It was a feeling that was to endure… and then we found another…

More on Castlerigg here

Slideshow of extra pics for the Bear who said no photos…

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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44 Responses to Castlerigg – spectacle and speculation

  1. A very interesting post. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.


  2. vickgoodwin says:

    A lovely read! And beautiful pictures! 🙂


  3. paulandruss says:

    I always love what you have to say about the landscape. How easily you run through many diverse subjects, touching on history, myth and folklore; putting it all so effortlessly into a very human context – a merging of the spiritual and material. The result sends shivers down my spine. You must be an old soul to be so in touch with the roots of being; roots so deep they are as much part of the physical landscape as the standing stones themselves.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thank you, Paul. I just love the land.. and I don’t see how we can, or why we should divorce one way of looking at it from another. The various disciplines are just different perspectives on the same truth.


      • paulandruss says:

        I am 100% with you on that one. Just wish I could have said it so eloquently! It seems like in this age of faux celebrity and instant gratification we need to remember what we are,where we are from and what we belong to. I am often struck when visiting ancient places just how long human beings have been there… So long we have forgotten we cannot even see their footsteps… Take Chatal Huyuk in Turkey… in fact give me a couple of weeks and I will put something together on a place so ancient that history forgot it ever existed. All my warmest and best as ever. Paul


        • Sue Vincent says:

          I do hope you will, Paul. It is a place I have yet to visit and would love to.

          There is a sense of continuity at these places, it is true… you see the vast human family stretching back to a single beginning. The feeling makes a mockery of our prejudices and self-importance.


  4. willowdot21 says:

    This is making me want to find the Magic!


  5. Mary Smith says:

    Amazing. I want to go there – preferably when the weather is warmer. I hadn’t thought before about the different way we are taught to look at what the Egyptians were doing and what was being done in this part of the world. Fabulous photos.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It is easier to recognise ‘civilisation’ in the Egyptian culture than it is in ours, with no written records or recognisable organisation, but I don’t think that precludes us having had one 🙂


  6. oneta hayes says:

    Pictures interesting and beautiful.


  7. lizannelloyd says:

    The only time I visited Castlerigg was the very hot summer of 1976 when it was easier to linger in its silent splendour.


  8. Just looked through this again. So many faces in the stones. No doubt you see them too? The woman with the mane of Sekhmet, next to another face, more crone-like…The hill behind, one cannot doubt the inverted pyramid of feminine energy, right? There’s even a perfect downward pointing triangle upon the snow, as if we need further convincing…How far away is this from the workshop?


  9. Widdershins says:

    I always have google maps open in another window when you take us on these adventures. 😀


  10. Helen Jones says:

    Just fabulous, Sue. What a place… 🙂


  11. Lots of things on which to speculate. It look pretty large … as if it covers a fair amount of land. It’s hard to tell from the pictures … but this is a new one for me. Very interesting. Mysteries within mysteries.


  12. Pingback: Castalerig : The myth ofscience prediction //////// – divyanshspacetech

  13. Running Elk says:



  14. Running Elk says:

    Reblogged this on Shamanic Paths and commented:
    We won’t take any pictures, they said. Promise! they said…
    Enjoy a little early winter tour of a very special stone circle. Very special, indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: The Eye Opens #LongMeg | Not Tomatoes

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