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castle

It is strange to think of a time when a monument as beautiful as Castlerigg stone circle was virtually unknown beyond Cumbria. For some reason it wasn’t mentioned by the early antiquarians William Camden (1551–1623) or John Aubrey (1626–97) despite both having visited the area to study megalithic monuments and it subsequently fell to William Stukeley to “discover” it…..

“For a mile before we came to Keswick, on an eminence in the middle of a great concavity of those rude hills, and not far from the banks of the river Greata, I observed another Celtic work, very intire: it is 100 foot in diameter, and consists of forty stones, some very large. At the east end of it is a grave, made of such other stones, in number about ten: this is placed in the very east point of the circle, and within it: there is not a stone wanting, though some are removed a little out of their first station: they call it the Carsles, and, corruptly I suppose, Castle-rig.”

The above is believed to be the earliest account of Castlerigg, having been published in Itinerarium Curiosum in 1776, 11 years after Stukeley’s death and 51 after his visit. In the subsequent decades it increasingly came to the attention of the wider public and inspired the writings of both Coleridge (who visited in the company of Wordsworth) … “a Druidical circle [where] the mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by and attentive to the assembly of white-vested wizards” (1799) and Keats “Scarce images of life, one here, one there,/Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirque/Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor…” (1819)

By 1843 it appeared in “The Wonders of the World in Nature, Art and Mind” by Robert Sears which drew on an earlier description by Ann Radcliffe (a pioneer and populariser of the Gothic novel): “There is, perhaps, not a single object in the scene that interrupts the solemn tone of feeling impressed by its general character of profound solitude, greatness, and awful wildness.”

In 1883 the significance of Castlerigg was formally recognised at a national level when it became one of the first ancient monuments to be scheduled. In 1913, following a public fundraising campaign, the field in which it stands was purchased and then donated to the National Trust. Today it attracts thousands of tourists and is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria – and, in the eyes of some, the most magnificent one in England.

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