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Stone Circle

<b>Sunkenkirk</b>Posted by postmanImage © Chris Bickerton
Also known as:
  • Swinside

Nearest Town:Ulverston (14km ESE)
OS Ref (GB):   SD171882 / Sheet: 96
Latitude:54° 16' 56.92" N
Longitude:   3° 16' 25.86" W

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21/03/2019 – This was our third attempt to visit Swinside in as many years. The last two were thwarted by bad weather and then a train strike. Today I felt lucky so off we went.

I really wanted to combine a visit to the circle with a walk up and over Black Combe as it looked a good day out on the map and a fine approach to Swinside.

Early train from Barrow-in-Furness to Silecroft. The train journey along the coast here is lovely. There’s a good path from here that heads pretty much straight up Black Combe to the trigpoint at the summit. Cloud base wasn’t great in the morning so the last 200m gain was a bit rubbish for visibility. I do like walking in the mist though, it gives the hill a lonely feeling which I quite like. Very quiet and away from it all. After a brew at the trig we made our way across the top north-ish to Swinside about 2 miles away. The clouds soon lifted to give us some proper lovely views of the surrounding countryside. Black Combe is a really fine walk and pretty easy going once you have made the climb up to the top.

Skirting round Raven Crag we passed Swinside Farm to make our final approach to the circle. I like it when we walk a bit before getting to a place, builds the anticipation and helps get a feel of the area.

Entering the field, we walked alongside the wall to a small rise and there it was, suddenly in front of us, Swinside stone circle – megalithic perfection.

I’d seen the photos beforehand many times but it still took me by surprise. This stone circle is just a wow site. Everything about it is great. The size of the circle, the number of stones used, the height of each one and their relationship to each other – I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s just the most circley (is that a word?) of stone circles I’ve ever been to. So round, so very round. I was just happy standing on the rise and staring down onto the circle. Megalithic wise it doesn’t get much better that this. After a while I started to notice the surrounding landscape. What a great home the circle has. We made our way into the circle to have a closer look at the stones. I didn’t much feel the need to inspect each stone closely and I soon found myself back at the wall. There’s a nice flat stone we plonked ourselves down on for a sit and just took in the circle’s loveliness.

We were lucky as it was very quiet today, just one group of folk came and went. It was just us and the stones, both taking in the afternoon sunshine on what had turned out to be a pretty fine weather day.

When it was time to leave we decided to take the footpath west of Knott Hill that leads to Hallthwaites. Along the way, we made a diversion up Knott Hill, worth the effort for the view down to Swinside which is very good, though there’s a tricky wall to cross near the top, nothing too bad. The footpath between Hallthwaites and Swinside is a nice option if you have the time and it fits in with your plans. From here it was quiet country roads to Green Road station to catch the train back to Barrow-in-Furness

I love it when a famous site you visit for the first time turns out as good as you hoped. Is this my favourite circle? Maybe, I’m struggling to think of a visit to one that’s been much better. A wonderful day out.
thelonious Posted by thelonious
27th March 2019ce
Edited 27th March 2019ce

This was my first visit that wasn't on the winter solstice, summer can be a most agreeable season, no hats and gloves, no rain or ice, just a warm breeze, my good buddy Alken and one of thee best stone circles ever.
Apparently only five out of sixty of the porphyritic slate stones have gone away (that's a postal term) without leaving a forwarding address might I add. But it takes nothing away from this most magnificent of ancient places, the views attained from this position are inspiring. From south through west to north are the big hills Knott, Grey stones, and Swinside fell, but on the eastern side the views stretch far and wide, to the Old man of Coniston and beyond.
But best of all is the view from half way up Swinside fell, you can see down onto Duddon sands either side of Knott hill, you can see off into Lancashire, and you can see down onto the perfect circle that is Sunkenkirk, perfect that is till you realise that someone down there is climbing on the stones.

After about an hour to ourselves amongst the stones a couple of older ladies came, we decided to let them have the stones to themselves for a while whilst we climbed the hill a bit to get some more perspective of the whole arena chosen by the ancients as the position for this big circle. Whilst we were up there a family of five arrived, and zooming down onto the stones revealed a crime so heineous that it has no name, the care free parents were letting their three kids climb on the stones and in places jump from stone to stone. When we arrived back at the circle they had scared away the two older ladies and were having their wicked way with our beloved best freind, Alken and I exchanged desperate looks, mind melded for an instant and it was time to go, the moment had most definitely gone, we left telling our selves "other stones to see and all that" Don't look back, don't look back.
postman Posted by postman
22nd July 2012ce
Edited 22nd July 2012ce

Visited 26th May 2011.
We headed towards Broughton in Furness then took the A595 towards the village of Hallthwaites taking turn-off for Broadgate, as far as Crag Hall farm. Here the track turned into a bridle way so we obtained permission to park car on a grass verge near the farm.

The stone circle is about a mile up the track towards Thwaites Fell - seemed longer as uphill and on this particular day a cold wind swept across fells making it feel more like March than late May. The stone circle is truly remote - it sits at the bottom of Swinside Fell with views towards Dunnerdale Fells in the distance to the east and Duddon estuary to the south.

There is a four stone 'entrance' into the circle which seems to be aligned to the eastern skyline (I wondered whether this was a solstice alignment). As observed by other TMA-ers, Swinside bears some similarities to Castlerigg though not as dramatic. It is probably the loneliest stone circle I have visited - we met no one at all along the way, just free range cattle and the odd curlew.

Note taken from David Watson's "A Guide to Stone Circles of the Lake District"
There are 55 stones with 32 still standing. Originally there would have been about 60 stones. The stones are made of local metamorphic slate. Circle is about 28 metres in diameter. Tallest stone is about 2.3 metres
tjj Posted by tjj
28th May 2011ce
Edited 29th May 2011ce

20th June 2010
Experienced a magical time at Sunkenkirk as we were the only ones there. Plenty of friendly cows who like to scratch themselves on the stones. I slept there for about an hour and woke feeling refreshed. It's a wondeful and peaceful site and because it's slightly out of the way - it's not popular -which makes it a dream place to spend the solstice. I had a wondeful day!
paganpippalee Posted by paganpippalee
22nd June 2010ce

Visited this site on the way to Castlerigg. Park at the start of the (private?) road which leads up hill to the farm. A bit of a walk but on a nice day lovely views to be had looking down the valley. The circle is right next to the farm track and access can be gained via a gate. I really, really liked this place and actually prefered the circle itself to Castlerigg. Make the effort to visit this site - you won't be dissapointed. Posted by CARL
18th March 2010ce

Visited on the 6th of February and was greeted by a huge striped cat. PopePeppermint Posted by PopePeppermint
12th February 2009ce

Owing to my incompetant employers I couldn't get the actual Winter solstice off so the 20th will have to do, mighty glad too it was the most perfect of all my winter solstices. I again parked on the small bridge and started my walk up the hill, under a starry sky with Venus quite high above the eastern horizon, then I saw a shooting star and I knew I was in for a treat. Further up the path I had to shoo a flock of sheep out of the way, then a herd of cows and bulls then a single white horse they all seemed to have come just to watch me arrive. With it not being the actual solstice I had the place to myself, it felt as though the sun would never come but then it took me by surprise and the magic began. Its always good to watch a sunrise but up here with these stones it was nothing less than astounding , the alignment was there, the sun was there, and little old me having a great time. Seeing as it was such a nice day I decided to go up the nearest hill to get a good view of the whole place, it was fantastic, I didn't go to the top just far enough to blow me away. If your up here, why not go the whole hog and get up that hill you wont be disappointed. postman Posted by postman
21st December 2007ce
Edited 22nd July 2012ce

Went on the Fourteenth of this month. Drizzly, misty and a girlfriend who was is very understanding about stones circles, henges and rock art ect. Parking near the circle is not an option, so you need to walk for at least twenty minutes. We took a little longer as there are stones that look like they are in circles and you cannot help but investigate.
I enjoyed the walk there and back.
I did find a carving of some sort, but not sure whether it is natural, man made, ancient or otherwise. I will submit the photo when I can find it, should not take me long. Will also submit a photo of me looking at it to help show you where it is.
bobpc Posted by bobpc
27th December 2006ce

This remains my favourite circle in these islands and as mysterious as any. It really is impossible to know why they sited them where they did doesn't it? Yes, there are landscape features, yes there are views and alignments and such, but why precisely here? Infuriating and wonderful to never be able to know. Perhaps the road was always here, perhaps somebody important died here. Perhaps the dowsers and wierd energy geeks are right. Is it a telephone box to communicate with those at other circles?

There are some serious stones in the fields as you approach so it's easy to conjecture an avenue or something no longer apparent - and the entrance points down to the river - for me there is a parallel here with Stanton Drew - more than with Castle Rigg or Rollright. When will they dig here? Surely so much to be uncovered?
tuesday Posted by tuesday
4th September 2006ce
Edited 24th October 2006ce

We asked the very old inhabitant of the equally old farmhouse at the bottom of the track if we could park for an hour and he was more than happy for us to do so. From what we could understand, the farmhouse was up for sale, so it's probably been sold by now and parking wont be an option. Shame.

Anyway, we set up off the track and it was bitterly cold. West Cumbria in the first throws of Spring can be a bit of a shcok to the system! As usual, both Vicky and I managed to mistake small clumps of rocks and the occasional sheep for it - cries of "oooh, is that it?" were followed by an embarrassed silence as one of "the stones" stopped eating grass and raised its head to look at us. Oh dear.

Finally, we suddenly realised that we really could see it in the distance. As you approach, it seems smaller than it is and I found it hard to make out the dimensions. Once you are in the field though, it takes shape and the setting amongst the hills is just amazing. So perfect and round. Beautiful.
Vicster Posted by Vicster
5th May 2006ce
Edited 5th May 2006ce

The track up to the circle is marked as authorised access only for vehicles so if you can leave your car at the bottom, do so. The (uphill on the way there) walk is beautiful anyway! There's a 3 car or so parking option maybe 20 yards before the fork at Cragg Hall, on the verge opposite a gate.
A glorious afternoon, with the frozen patches in the fields, and icicles where the tiny streams drop down to the track, glistening in the sunshine.
sals Posted by sals
21st February 2005ce

[visited 31/5/4] Wow this is a great circle and really set the tone for the day. I walked up from the road below wondering if the circle was over rated as it took an age to appear. Of course then it was suddenly there, fantastically set against the hills with a kite flying high above it. Access is good if you're prepared to drive up the track; a small car shouldn't have too many problems. Otherwise its a mile or so up a rough track.

Maybe it was the perfect weather or the random company (hi btw) but this circle rates as one of the best I've seen. It seems to compliment the surrounding hills, having spent so long together they are perhaps now inseperable. The portal is immediately obvious despite being the first I'd seen and provides a real focal point from the centre of the circle.
juamei Posted by juamei
27th June 2004ce

Best directions are to turn off at Broadgate and follow the fell road[signposted] until you come to a fork in the road. Take the left hand road up to the farm for about 500 metres up hill as I did but I must admit you are risking your car's tyres on the farmer's track. Whatever way you get there just make sure you do because this stone circle is without doubt the best I have ever seen (so far), in terms of the actual circle itself and the position. When I visited 12/10/2003 there were 2 massive horses wandering around the circle as if they owned it as well as the sheep. A wonderful experience that I will never forget.
Stand above the circle and admire the Silbury like hill below.I only really noticed this properly when i got the photos back.Proves how you can overlook all the features when actually on site.
Posted by jdellis
13th October 2003ce
Edited 24th October 2003ce

The walk from the only realistic car parking space was not hard, maybe 20 minutes at most, and if you know what you're looking for you can see it as you pass over the first cattle grid, but I could not, despite Moth's insistence, "look, woman, it's there!" For me it was more of a 'slow reveal' and a thrilling one at that. As we got closer, its distinct shape came into view and I become more silent, gobsmacked by it's beauty.

Imagine the Rollrights, and now combine that vision with Castlerigg... yep! you have Sunkenkirk. Over fifty beautiful stones, some fallen, but predominently still standing, enclose a wonderful space somehow of a human scale. I walked round, pausing to admire the craftsmanship in each carefully dressed stone: the snooker-table flatness of the dressing, the sharp edges where the flatnesses intersected... oo-er, but this is a blinder! Something about its completeness is utterly alluring. The rise in the land just at the back of the circle affords views of its entirity, which you just don't get at other circles.
Jane Posted by Jane
4th October 2003ce
Edited 5th October 2003ce

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.
Moth Posted by Moth
13th August 2003ce
Edited 1st October 2003ce

What an amazing place Sunkenkirk is, and the walk up to it just adds to the sense of pilgrimage to the site. I had stopped close to Cragg Hall and contemplated driving over the rough track to the circle but I spoke to a couple of families with small kids who were walking past to ask their advice. Luckily for me they knew the area well and as they were walking up to the circle themselves to take the children on an Easter Egg hunt they let me tag along, which was nice as the track is unfenced for the most part and wild untamed beasts are allowed to roam freely (ok, so they were placid cows who completely ignored us, but they were bigger than me and had more legs. To misquote Orwell – ‘two legs good, four legs faster’). The stones can be seen from a fair distance but it’s not until you get up to the gate that leads into their field that you really appreciate the circle, Burl calls it one of the finest stone circles in western Europe and of all the circles I’ve seen, I’m not going to argue with that. He also claims 55 stones remaining but I was so caught up with wandering round them that I forgot to count and to be honest I don’t think it really matters. The location, the layout, the size, the views and the walk up to the circle are everything – this was my first visit, I just know it will be the first of many. Absolutely fantastic. Chris Collyer Posted by Chris Collyer
23rd April 2003ce

How to get there:
A595. Burl (A Guide to Stone Circles...) states that it's 5 miles N of Millom. What you're interested in is not the junction where the A5093 goes to Millom, but the unclassified road further to the east (via Lady Hall). At this junction there is a large church.
A little east of it on the other side of the road is a signposted junction for Broad Gate (which you are interested in taking).
Dyer (Discovering Prehistoric England) states "take the road to Crag Hall". Just keep on keeping on a mile or two (past a small layby/passing point on your left) and you will pass the track (on your left) signposted "Swinside Farm: No unauthorised vehicles", directly ahead on both sides of the road are grey farm buildings. This is Crag Hall, not so much a hall but a farm house.
Half a mile or so beyond it there is enough space to park a car or two off of the road at a bridge.
After walking back to the track for Swinside Farm, the sign also informs you that it is a public bridleway and that it leads to Swinside Stone Circle.
Follow the track, over two cattlegrids, when it reaches the top of the hill, look over to Swinside Farm and you will see the stone circle in a field close to the farm house.
If you're feeling cheeky or disabled, there is a patch of bare gravel land just outside the farm house proper boundary wall which appears to have been used as parking space for visitors to the circle. That said there is still one more cattle grid to negotiate to gain access to the circle.
Posted by elderford
21st April 2003ce
Edited 21st April 2003ce

This is an amzing site and one of my favourites. We actually walked from the opposite way than the track leading up to it. We walked down from the hills and main road higher up which is about 2 miles through a couple of farms and fields of calm and inquisitive sheep. the public footpath is not well posted but its an adventure to say the least, I do enjoy landowners who remove signs, plant mad dogs in your way and add barbed wire to stiles! never mind it makes the experience more exciting! it is worth it when you catch site of the circle from high up and then lose it again until you walk round the back of the farm and walk down the track. it is a beautiful place and very peaceful, not a quick visit site, it holds many secrets and captures you to stay longer...I started dreaming of returning before I'd even left.
A friend of mine reckons the 'missing' central stone that Burl and Julian refer to in their books, is in a farm yard 1/2 a mile down hill, but I can't say that I saw this.
A must for those that truly love these sites, but one to keep quiet about too.
Posted by pixie
17th February 2002ce

Sunkenkirk is tucked away on a dirt track off a quiet country lane. The surrounding landscape gives the circle a protected, private feel. The nearest, small hill - Knott Hill - dominates the view to the SE. To the North & West the craggy ridge of Swinside Fell cuts across the skyline. On a clear day (?!) the distant lakeland mountains peer over the low lying fells to the North East. This circle feels quite wild. The location, out of the way of the Lakeland tourist trail, the lack of signage (I think there's only one signpost) and the fact you have to walk to it, albeit not so far, mean there's a good chance of being left alone here. IronMan Posted by IronMan
28th January 2002ce

Strange place.

A fantastic 'Cumbrian' circle, second only in setting to Castlerigg. A pleasent stroll to the site, and suprisingly, no soul about. Enjoyed a fantastic game of 'catch' with a lemon. One persons offering is another persons ball. Don't litter.

Strange place.
Posted by CraigR
11th May 2001ce

Lovely walk up, some wind though!blowing a hoolie.
Me and tess hiked up through the bleak rubble strewn moor. then a meadow full of lovely friendly sheep and a beautiful circle. Tess dropped into a Travis Bickle conversation with one black dog-like-sheep.
Top circle, big landscape, perfect end- of- the- day circle.
Love and Life
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
20th November 2000ce

An amazing circle I've just visited it (19/8/00) on the way up the track to the circle someone has made a symbol out quartz on the right hand side when heading for the circle. The symbol is that of a female you know the circle with the arrow. but more than this with a few calculations (basic I admit) it seemed to be pointing to the winter solstice and I beleive the circle does the same, obviously a mother lover in the know.

That aside the circle is well worth the pilgrimage up the steep track I felt an amazing feeling of well being whilst up there being blown around and drenched by rain, the elements only added to the emotion. Highly Recommended!
Posted by Hambledon Childe
21st August 2000ce

Check out the crow action round this one! The circle is positioned in the center of a circle of hills with a breach and long view opposite the 'entrance' to the circle. In the distance is a wind farm and behind you is the farmers farm. Looking at this view there's a hill to the right quite close by that takes about 10 minutes or so to climb and has a trig point at the top. You get a really good view of the circle in relation to the natural bowl formed by the surrounding hills and the wind whips its wings through here - loads of crows getting off on that. Having a great time they are. The circle itself is close knit, though some of the stones are diminished or toppled. Great place and well worth a visit. kingrolo Posted by kingrolo
17th March 2000ce


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Janet and Colin Bord (in 'Prehistoric Britain from the Air') claim that people once tried to build a church on this site - but once they'd gone home for their teas the Devil pulled down what they'd built during the day (into the earth, one assumes - hence Sunken Kirk).

The stones that are left (in common with many other sites) are said to be countless.

Marjorie Rowling mentions in her 'Folklore of the Lake District' (1976) that the earliest source giving the name of the site is from 1642, when it was called 'Chapel Sucken' (sucked down or sunken down?)
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
9th January 2004ce
Edited 26th July 2005ce


Add miscellaneous Add miscellaneous
That mystic round of Druid fame,
Tardily sinking by its proper weight
Deep into patient earth, from whose smooth breast it came!

William Wordsworth The River Duddon (1820).
stubob Posted by stubob
15th June 2010ce

In the parish of Millum, in the same county, there did exist the remains of a Druidical temple, which the country people called " sunken kirk," i.e., a church sunk into the earth. It is nearly a circle of very large stones, pretty entire, only a few fallen upon sloping ground in a swampy meadow. At the entrance there are four large stones, two on each side, at the distance of 6 feet. Through these you enter into a circular area, 29 yards by 30. The entrance is nearly south-east. It seems probable that the altar stood in the middle, as there are some stones still to be seen there, though sunk deep in the earth. The situation and aspect of the Druidical temple near Keswick is in every respect similar to this, except the rectangular recess, formed by ten large stones, which is peculiar to Keswick.

And I am informed that there are other remains of stone circles in these northern districts, where there yet exist so many popular superstitions and customs. Indeed, we find in Camden's account of Westmoreland allusion made to the ruins of one ancient round structure, which has always been considered to have been a temple dedicated to Diana, but which i now known by the name of Kirkshead. Many such instances will be found in the ancient monuments of Scotland. Sometimes there are two circles of stones, at others three circles, having the same common centre.
From the general arrangement of the stones, one of the largest having a cavity, at the bottom of which there is a passage for any liquid sacrifice to run down the side of it, nothing can be more evident than that the triple circle of stones was intended as an heathen temple, where Pagan priests performed their idolatrous ceremonies ; and what is most remarkable is, that most of these singular structures are still known by the name of chapels or temple stones.

J. T. Blight
The Gentlemans Magazine
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
4th November 2007ce
Edited 4th November 2007ce


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Extreme Stonefeelers' World of Hard Rock & Standing Stones

Pics of Sunkenkirk (Swinside) circle
new abbey Posted by new abbey
26th May 2010ce

The Stone Tapes

Video of a visit to Sunkenkirk showing the layout of the circle and the different purposes it's used for today - including perhaps as a marker for RAF training aircraft?
Posted by missinghen
15th September 2009ce