There stands on the northern end of the high ground that separates St. John’s Vale from the Keswick valley one of the most remarkable of the pre-historic monuments in the North. Not so large as ‘long Meg and her daughters,’ it is the most perfect of Cumberland Megalithic circles, and in a county rich in these remains from Addingham and Kirkoswald in the north-east to Burn Moor, Eskdale, Miterdale, Swinside, Lacra, and Kirksanton in the south-west, there is no circle which is so interesting. In choice of site it is supreme. It lies on a tableland one and a half miles from Keswick, 706 feet above sea level. The River Greta is heard far below in the woody gorge to the north, and Naddle-beck, half a mile away, is seen flowing down the valley to the east. (p.152)….
But the interest for us who enter the charmed circle of these grey old stones is the fact that we are standing within sight of three, if not four, of the pre-historic camps and villages of the early Hiberno-Celtic race, the Brigantes, who, unless an earlier people made it, were builders of this sanctuary or burial ground. The villages called Pictish above Threlkeld and above Falcon Crag, the refuge camps on Castle Rock in St. John’s and at the high end of Shoulthwaite Ghyll, are so well within view that curl of smoke by day or flash of fire by night would summon the tribesmen at any time to council or to rite. (p. 153)
A unique feature of this circle is the rude rectangular inner enclosure of the stones on the eastern side, and just east of the centre line north and south. We forget the forty-eight monoliths that make the outer circle, as we dream of the days gone by, when the sun-worshipping priests performed their rites in this inner sanctuary, or the great tribal chieftains came together to bewail their fallen leader, and to lay him to rest within the holiest of holies. (pp. 153-154)
What the faith of these rude Hiberno-Celts was we cannot know. We may guess by the fact of the inner sanctuary at the east of the Keswick circle that they honoured the sun. The rising of the stars was probably dear to them, and we may conjecture that each stone they placed in situ was under the guardianship of its own particular star, and helped the builders to know the coming and going of the seasons. (pp. 154-155)….
There could be no better site found for such worship as at the stone circle on Castlerigg Fell. The presence of stone cells in St. John’s Vale and of the pre-historic village within sight of the circle tends to prove the likelihood of this pre-historic monument being the work of a pre-Viking age. (pp. 156-157)
But whoever were the original builders of the Keswick stone circle, it can hardly be doubted that the Vikings who over-ran Cumberland in the ninth century, and settling down by dale and fell, never left their Lake-country home, must have utilised the stone circles of an earlier race and an earlier worship. (p. 157)….
What congregations of wild tribesmen from far-off villages, from Neolithic times to the time of our Norse forefathers, long before the Romans held their camp upon the fell that to-day gives it its name, have here taken place! What sudden summons by fire, what processions through the well-marked gateway to the circle from north and south and west—what dooms were heard being pronounced—what deaths, what sacrifices, what cries of pain and vengeance, what oaths for war, what wail of chant or exultation of prayer! (p. 158)
The very stones themselves seem to have caught the idea of worship, and from a distance look more like great praying monks in cowls of beast-grey than mere memorial stones. (p. 158)….
That the Megalithic circle is considered of national importance by archaeologists may be gathered from the fact that it is one of the very few ancient remains of North-West England which has been deemed worthy of scheduling under the Ancient Monument Protection Act; and we congratulate the locality in having secured for the custody of the National Trust the fair nine-acre field, to be unbuilt upon, and to be kept free of access for the people for ever, wherein those ancient standing stones, the ‘Carles,’ have so well kept their secret and out-watched Time. Since writing the above, I have heard from various friends interested in stone circles that, in their opinion, the date of these megalithic monuments is probably pre-Celtic. (pp. 161-162)
(Chapters at the English Lakes, pp. 152-167)