I was just going to do a few fieldnotes for this trip and wasn't going to write a weblog because it's a tour of such well-known sites. But I changed my mind to see if I could help anyone who's planning their first 'zip around' Cumbria to see what's achievable.
I picked up my friend Shirl in Wigan, leaving her place at around 10.30am. She's a 'stomper' rather than a 'stoneser' but was daft enough to show some interest, so I decided to introduce her to the subject with a quick spin round the 'Hollywood sites' of Cumbria.
The plan was Long Meg, Little Meg, Castlerigg, Blakeley Raise, maybe Greycroft, Sunkenkirk (Swinside) and the Druid's Circle of Ulverston (in Lancashire according to Aubrey Burl…?).
Of these, Sunkenkirk and Greycroft are the only ones with any walk over around 100 yards and Greycroft is only a quarter of a mile (half a mile at most).
Even though it's so close to 'the Megs' I didn't include Glassonby despite never having been there – not 'Hollywood' enough. (OK, that's a lie. I forgot about it actually. Idiot!!!)
Traffic on the M6 was a bit crappy to say the least, and once off the motorway just by Penrith I managed to take more wrong turns than you can shake a stick at.
The Real 'Biggies'
We finally turned up at Long Meg and Her Daughters at around 12.45pm moving on to Little Meg around half an hour later….
See Long Meg and Little Meg fieldnotes below.
Returning to the car around 2.30pm, we headed for Keswick and of course Castlerigg. After a journey slightly slowed by daytrip traffic, the relatively small number of cars in the lay-by looked fairly encouraging, considering it was mid-afternoon around 3pm.
As we entered the field and approached the circle though, this proved to have been a false impression. It was HEAVING!!! The gaps between the stones were virtually plugged with tourists and there were crowds inside the circle too. It looked like someone had rounded 'em up and penned 'em there!
See Castlerigg fieldnotes below.
Back to the car and down into Keswick it became apparent that the traffic was picking up again. Time was getting a bit short (3.40pm) due to the delays earlier on so we made 'straight' (not sure that's the right word!) for Sunkenkirk or Swinside. The journey was a little slow due to traffic and we arrived around 4.30pm.
Without the day's traffic delays I'm convinced that we could've reached and spent a while at Blakeley Raise at the very least, possibly Greycroft too.
The Slightly Lesser 'Biggies'
Parking for Sunkenkirk is a little difficult unless willing to be a bit cheeky with the local farms or passing places. Not recommended. Approaching from the south though, if you go past the bottom of the track to Swinside Farm for maybe a quarter of a mile, passing the next farm, you come to a bridge over a small river.
There is a large 'passing place' on the bridge big enough to park one car yet still leave plenty of room for other traffic to use the passing place. Only takes around 5 minutes to walk back to bottom of the track to Swinside farm and the circle.
The walk up to the Sunkenkirk was extremely warm in the hot weather, though it only takes 20 minutes or so at a decent pace. It's usually quite a pleasant stroll and if you have an OS map, there is an obvious circular walk.
See Sunkenkirk fieldnotes below.
Back at the car around 5.45pm, we considered heading straight back to Wigan, but decided that if we did we'd just catch the mass traffic exodus from the Lakes. So we kept the Druid's Circle of Ulverston on the itinerary.
We went via Ulverston itself, approaching south along the A5087, passing numerous be-robed Buddhists and their followers from the Manjushri Mahayana College and Buddhist Centre.
A little past Bardsea I recognised the (unsignposted?) right turn at SD297737, through the trees and up the hillside towards Sunbrick. From a previous visit I knew the circle was on the right as you climb the hill and that it was accessible by a widish grassy track through the thick bracken.
Luckily I also remembered that it was a very short distance from the road so when we tried the wrong paths (twice – oops!) we didn't waste much time!
The correct path is around where the hill starts to level off. It's pretty easy to find, especially with an OS map.
Arriving around 6.30 and staying for a little under half an hour we were glad we came.
See Druid's Circle fieldnotes below.
Traffic back to the M6 wasn't too bad, but the motorway was still fairly busy. And overshooting Wigan was a nightmare – but there're no stones in that story….
9 August 2003
This was only the second time I've been to Long Meg, though it has to be said that there aren't many sites I've been to more than once – there're too many 'new' ones to see!
I must admit I'd forgotten just what a high profile site this is and, stupidly, I was a bit shocked, for a moment at least, to see other people there!
Luckily of course the circle is more than big enough to swallow up a few sets of visitors without it being a problem. It helped that all the visitors that came and went while we were there looked very interested in the stones and the site rather than just wandering around in the disinterested way you sometimes see.
This is such a beautiful site, despite the metalled farm road through it. I can't imagine ever becoming used to its sheer size and general impressiveness. I got exactly the same feeling as my other visit, around 8 years ago – it seems a particularly peaceful spot.
No, that's not right Little Meg is peaceful, Long Meg is… calm, if you see the difference. I know what I mean.
Tombo's 'zen cows' were still in evidence.
9 August 2003
I'd never visited Little Meg before, as when I went to Long Meg
before (around 8 years ago), I was only just becoming interested in stones. Having only used a road atlas to find Long Meg, I didn't even know Little Meg existed.
Since first reading of Little Meg I've been expecting to visit but had never yet made it. The theory about the origin of the site as a barrow was particularly interesting I thought. We left Long Meg and her Daughters following the hedge away from the circle, to the right of the farm road, roughly north east.
Littlle Meg is in the next field you come to on the right. Go through the (new-looking) gate and keep right, heading towards the edges of 2 separate stand of trees. Even in long grass the stones are evident.
And as for the theories, it certainly doesn't look much like an actual stone circle. Especially not a typical Cumbrian stone circle!!! Pretty difficult to see it as a ruined barrow either though!
As someone has previously remarked, it could easily be taken for field clearance, albeit field clearance made of significant rocks! I guess as it is generally accepted as a ruined barrow, the stones just happen to have ended up in particularly non-barrowy positions!
Whatever, the stones occupy a gorgeously out of the way spot of remarkable peace and tranquillity. And the spirals on the decorated stone really are stunning – and that from someone who doesn't usually 'get' rock art….
9 August 2003
I'll never get over the setting here. The circle itself is too spectacular and wonderful for words but is still completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the surrounding hills.
When we arrived the circle was teeming with people, but luckily, over the half an hour or so we stayed, they gradually dissipated and for the last 10 minutes there were only a few left.
The first time I went I was lucky enough to have the place virtually to myself and I think I've avoided revisiting fearing the crowds…but I found it much less off-putting than I expected.
I'm tempted to wish Castlerigg was harder to get to, but that wouldn't be fair would it? Everyone should see this place. The circle's actually just a (big) bonus…! This is one hell of a special place and I have to admit I'd kind of forgotten that because of its popularity and the crowds. I'll not forget it again.
9 August 2003
Like a lot of people, this place used to remind me a lot of Castlerigg
. Until visiting them in quick succession on Saturday that is. Maybe it was because when I first visited Sunkenkirk it had been a good few years since I was at Castlerigg...maybe not.
They're certainly not dissimilar in some
ways, but on Saturday I felt I'd been oversimplifying things by drawing such a strong parallel. There's also a definite Rollright
parallel in the proximity of the stones to each other.
The setting here is
beautiful, but not half as stunning as Castlerigg when put in direct comparison. Even in sunny weather I find Castlerigg's setting awe-inspiring, whereas with all but pretty forbidding conditions Sunkenkirk feels relatively welcoming to me and almost enclosed.
In good weather it would be possible for me to spend hours
here, even alone (not something I feel very often), but at Castlerigg in similar conditions I can't imagine spending more than about an hour at the most, leaving aside the irritating stream of people.
The circle itself is undeniably reminiscent of Castlerigg in size and style, but without the well-known internal setting. It does add a couple of external stones marking a probable entrance. Yet to me it seems to nestle in its field and embrace you, while Castlerigg stands bold but dwarfed on its open ground and you never truly feel inside
Both wonderful places but certainly to me invoking very different feelings and atmospheres. I could happily visit Sunkenkirk every day.
9 August 2003
As we approached the site I was disappointed to see that the haze would mean that the usually beautiful views of Morecambe Bay would not be visible. In fact Bardsea and its church on their raised platform could barely be seen, never mind the bay itself.
The consolation though was that in more or less the opposite direction, the sun was just starting to set and bathing the white stones of the circle in a beautifully subtle (but apparently unphotographable) orange tint. The sky was photogenic though!
This visit confirmed that this is a lovely site and a perfect peaceful and picturesque end to the tour. I can't agree that it doesn't seem genuine and if it has been restored at all (and I don't think it has) I can't find much fault with it. Other than that if they were restoring it, why didn't they do the outer circle too?!!
Admittedly I've visited both sites before, but I have to say that I didn't find it an anticlimax after Sunkenkirk. No disrespect to anyone, but the sites are so different that there is no comparison. To me it's like comparing, I don't know… Arbor Low
to Doll Tor