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Running rings around the Lake District, part one

18 Jun 2009 / in stone hugging, travels

12 June 2009

It’s amazing just how many wonderful prehistoric sites you can cram into one short trip if you’re so inclined. Cumbria has many stone circles, some of which I had not yet visited.

Moth peruses Julian Cope’s epic tome The Modern Antiquarian

As we drove up the M6 we listened to the Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie show on the radio. They were encouraging listeners who may be pop stars (current or ex) to text in to the show. Many were spoofs texted in by naughty listeners just pretending: “Ayup! Elton John here…” Mark and Stuart were guessing which texts might be real. I thought I’d try to fool them. I texted in: “Yowzah drudes, Julian Cope here watching the sun set over Silbury Hill. Awl love from the Archdrude”. They were certain it was really Julian.

Next morning, we headed west from the Travelodge in Penrith where we were staying and where Julian stayed during filming his televisual version of The Modern Antiquarian for the BBC, towards Castlerigg stone circle.

Moth poses outside Penrith Travelodge

I was last at Castlerigg in August 2003 with my late friend Bec. This was one of her favourite prehistoric sites, and a photo she took of it back in the early 90s has both graced my walls and been etched into my heart for many years. The monument itself is marvellous enough, but the natural amphitheatre of the fells, soft and green all around in the bright sunshine combined with the added poignancy of the loss of Bec made the place today seem more dramatic than ever. In my mind I could hear sweeping, heart-string twanging orchestral music and the sound of her dirty laugh.

a little sketch of Castlerigg

Next we were off to Blakeley Raise stone circle

It is quite charming and in a satisfyingly remote moorland spot but right next to the lane. The stones are small and whether they were re-erected in the right holes or not didn’t matter to me. I cleared the centre of the circle of the empty crisp packet, rusty horseshoe and Remembrance Day crucifix and stood back and admired the stones. I loved it here. The sky seemed very big.

Poor Greycroft! This once magnificent stone circle is much neglected, hideously overgrown with thick unmanaged grasses and weeds, fenced in like a prisoner and overlooked by its neighbour, the industrial nightmare of the Sellafield nuclear power plant. But it’s not all bad. At least the fence prevents sloppy tractor drivers from bumping into the stones, and at least the weeds offer some kind of untouched habitat for birds, insects and small mammals. The view down to the sea is gorgeous and my one crumb of comfort is that despite everything, it is still here, it’s pinkish stones glinting in the sunshine.

There’s not much left of Elva Plain stone circle. Its 14 small stones are all down and it seems to be melting back into the gentle slope of the field, overlooked by distant fells. But like Greycroft, the miracle is that it’s still here at all.

Mighty Mayburgh henge is slap bang next to the M6 at Penrith, but don’t let that put you off – indeed, let it encourage you to visit! The henge’s grassy rubble banks rise 20 or 30 feet all around to form a giant cup with a vast menhir in the middle. The last remnant of what, I wondered? A few mature trees grow randomly out of the humungous banks, but the henge is so impressive they seem tiny even though they must rise 60 feet or more. Inside the henge there is no internal ditch, which is a bit weird, but this seems to add to the enclosedness of the site. What was if for? Private events? Fortifications? Sacred ceremonies? Trading? Cattle market? A sports arena? What WAS it for? To me this henge is way more impressive than Avebury.

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