Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, Lake District, Cumbria, United Kingdom
© Alan Copson/plainpictur
Older than Stonehenge?
Roughly 5,000 years ago, ancient inhabitants of the British Isles somehow dragged as many as 40 giant stones - the heaviest weighing an estimated 16 tonnes - onto this grassy plateau in what is now England’s Lake District National Park in Cumbria. They then grouped them into the stone circle at Castlerigg, seen here casting shadows from the northern hemisphere’s low winter sun. Archaeologists believe stone circles, were arranged to align with solar and lunar positions. They were used in elaborate rituals to celebrate occasions like today’s winter solstice, the shortest day (and longest night) of the year on the opposite side of the globe.
Castlerigg is believed to be one of the oldest of the approximately 1,300 stone circles in Britain. And while it’s not as well-known as Stonehenge - which was probably begun soon after Castlerigg - its panoramic views of the neighbouring Blencathra, Helvellyn, and Skiddaw mountains make it one of the most scenic. Even today, Castlerigg draws in solstice revellers who beat drums and participate in the magical festival of Yule, in which a log is burned to symbolise the return of heat and light to the sun.