Cumbrian Stone Circles

In and around the Lake District, in the county of Cumbria in the northwest of England, are a group of nine large stone circles in spectacular landscape settings with panoramic views of the surrounding hills. The British archaeologist Aubrey Burl has also noted four similar large circles scattered slightly farther afield—three across the Solway Firth in Dumfriesshire, southwest Scotland, and one across the Irish Sea in County Down, Northern Ireland— that also seem to form part of this distinctive group of monuments.

These great stone circles are impressive in scale, varying from some thirty meters (100 feet) to over a hundred meters (330 feet) in diameter. The largest, Long Meg and Her Daughters, contains sixty-six stones (originally there may have been up to ninety). Nowhere does the idea that stone circles were conceived as microcosms, sacred spaces relating to the wider world and used for ritual performances, seem more appropriate than at some of these majestic circles in their breathtaking settings.

Astronomical alignments have been noted at a number of these circles. A large outlier at Long Meg and Her Daughters (Long Meg itself) is located in the direction of midwinter sunset from the center of the adjacent ring. The entrance at Swinside is roughly in the direction of midwinter sunrise. One of the best known of these circles, Castlerigg, contains a number of low-precision alignments noted by Alexander Thom, who considered it "a symbolic observatory." Systematic studies of the group as a whole do back up these initial impressions to some extent, revealing an apparent obsession with the cardinal directions and the solstitial directions. This may well reflect the existence of quadripartite cosmologies not dissimilar to those so prevalent in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and indigenous North America.

See also:

Cardinal Directions; Solstitial Alignments; Thom, Alexander (1894-1985).

Circles of Earth, Timber, and Stone; Navajo Cosmology; Pawnee Cosmology.

Part of the stone circle at Castlerigg, Cumbria, with the hill of Blencathra behind. (Corel Corp.)

References and further reading

Burl, Aubrey. Great Stone Circles, 32-45. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

-. The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, 103-126. New

Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Ruggles, Clive. Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, 131-133. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

-, ed. Records in Stone: Papers in Memory of Alexander Thom,

175-205. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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