SACRED and Ancient Celtic SITES
Castlerigg is one of the most beautiful stone circles in Britain, set in a
splendid position, in an open field crowned by the Lake District's mountains,
213m (700ft) above sea level. It is thought to be one of the earliest circles in
Britain, and it dates from around 3000 BC.
38 stones are placed in an slightly oval shape of 30m (100ft) in diameter and a further 10 small stones are arranged as a rectangular enclosure on the south-east side of the ring: this is a feature unique to Castlerigg, nothing similar being present in other stone circles. The largest stone of the circle, not far from the enclosure, is 2.5m (8ft 3in) high and it weighs about 16 tons: almost all of other ones, much smaller, are 1 to 1.5m (3-5ft) high. At the north of the ring there is an entrance marked by two slightly bigger stones, and about 90m (295ft) to the south-west, by a stile at the edge of the field, is a single outlying stone, 0.9m (3ft) high.
There are many theories about Castlerigg's function. In Professor Alexander Thom's opinion, the circle was an astronomical observatory (the tallest stone being in line with November or Samain sunrise), while Professor Aubrey Burl wrote that one of Castlerigg's many functions may have been to act as an emporium connected with the Neolithic stone axe industry in the Langdales. The close mountainous source of the tuff used for such tools and the stone axes found at the site support this theory. Probably, Castlerigg had a variety of functions: easily approached from all directions, it was probably used for trading, religious ceremonies and tribal gathering. The rectangular enclosure was excavated in 1882, and only charcoal was found. No other excavation has taken place, either within the enclosure or outside.
The site was first brought to public notice in 1725 by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who wrote that the circle was very entire, consisting of 50 stones, some very large. But in 1849, in his Guide to The Lakes, Jonathan Otley reported the present total of stones. Castlerigg, known to local people as Druid's Circle, is also called Keswick Carles: apparently because of an old legend telling that the stones are petrified men, but in fact for a misunderstanding of William Stukeley's word Carles for Castle.
This giant is cut into the underlying chalk and is 55m (180ft) high
This huge and impressive giant figure is formed by a trench 0.3m (1ft) wide
and the same depth, cut into the underlying chalk. He is 55m (180ft) long and
51m (167ft) wide, and his right hand holds an enormous knobbed club 36.5m
(120ft) long. His most famous and prominent feature is the erect phallus and
testicles which indicate that fertility rites were practised here. This is
supported by the fact that until recently, on 1 May maypole dancing and other
celebration were held in the earth enclosure known as the Frying Pan
situated a little further up the hill, above the giant's left arm.
The giant is generally considered to represent the god Helith or Hercules and some theories state that the figure has been cut at the end of the second century AD when the Emperor Commodus (who believed he was a reincarnation of Hercules) revived the worship to this god.
The first reference to this figure dates back to 1694: a payment in the Cerne Abbas churchwarden's accounts of 3 shillings towards the re-cutting of the giant. The first written reference is by John Hutchins in his Guide to Dorset, 1751, but no one knows exactly when or who first cut the Giant. Recently, the historian Ronald Hutton stated that it was cut in the 17th century by the Lord Holles' servants. In fact, it's unusual that, unlike the Uffington White Horse, there is no reference to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Medieval documents. In the civil war (1644 - 1660), Lord Holles was Lord of the Manor but his estate was sequestered and mismanaged by his steward. Maybe then his servants, in this period of chaos, cut the giant in the hillside.
A local legend says that a real giant was killed on the hill and that the people from Cerne Abbas drew round the figure and marked him out on the hillside. Barren women were said to conceive soon after sleeping on the Giant body, while young women whishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the figure three times. Another story ascribes the figure to the monks from the nearby abbey, who cut it as a joke against their abbot. The figure is kept free from grass by a scouring every seven years.
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