A good photograph is knowing where to stand - Ansel Adams

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Sunday, 13 June 2010 15:43

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Castlerigg Stone Circle

For me, along with doubtless many others, Castlerigg Stone Circle is one of the most atmospheric spots in Cumbria. Picture a 100ft circle of metamorphic slate stones, the largest of which has been estimated to weigh 16 tons. Surrounded by Lakeland fells on all sides, and standing atop a 200m hill, this is one location where you can select your favoured background from amongst the many on offer. To the north there are the fells of Blencathra and Skiddaw, and perhaps my favoured view, to the south, consists of Castlerigg Fell and the far-off Helvellyn.

The circle dates from around 3200 BC, at a time when our late neolithic ancestors were still using stone tools to shape their environment. It's been suggested that the circle acted as a meeting place where these tools, often created at the nearby Langdale Axe Factory, were traded or exchanged. Evidence suggests that our ancestors placed great, perhaps even spiritual importance on these tools, and treated them with far greater reverance than mere utilitarian items. It's possible therefore, that those who like to assign a more ethereal character to stone circles are actually on to something. Certainly it's easy to see why they might assume a spiritual purpose to the circle, as you stand in it's midst and take in the surroundings.

The sheep that inhabit the circle seem largely oblivious to the drama of this wonderful location. This is probably just as well, as the number of visitors that make their way into what is essentially a farmer's field every day might drive more flighty creatures to up sticks and elope. The number of visitors can make life difficult for a photographer also, however a visit during the 'golden hours' of morning or evening will largely take care of this problem.

Equally, you can escape the vast majority of visitors by dropping by in winter, when the fells to each side are likely to be covered in a wonderfully photogenic blanket of snow. Even when there's no snow on the ground at lower levels, you can often bet on the Cumbrian fells to keep at least a light dusting, sometimes even well into the warmer months. Keep an eye on the clouds however, as this part of the country can be prone to a low overcast that can be most unappealing to the camera. Having passed by this location many times, often to come away with an empty CF card, I can attest to this only too well.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

The arrangement of the stones is such that you may need a reasonably wide angle lens to take it all in. The circle's situation at the brow of a hill (albeit one that is gently sloped) means that stepping back too far to take in the whole scene with a longer lens may mean that the furthest stones are obscured from view. You could use this situation to your advantage of course, and taller photographers will doubtless have less of a problem. Those from the Charlie Waite school of 'stepladder photography' may find themselves able to step right back and use a short telephoto to compress perspective and bring the fells into closer proximity... I may well try this myself one day.

If you do find yourself using a wide angle lens, you may well find as I did, that the most natural compositions leave a lot of sky in a 4:3 frame. You can crop of course, but given a suitably photogenic sky, a graduated neutral density filter will help you add extra drama into the clouds.

The circle is easily reached after a journey of only a few miles out of Keswick, which has too great a concentration of accomodation (and pubs!) to detail here. The A66 turn off required to reach the circle is well marked by the familiar brown National Trust signs, and once closer you should have little trouble finding the site by following the further signs that are placed irregularly along the route. Google Maps directions are of course available at the bottom of this page, as per usual.

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I am on a constant lookout for new and interesting locations. If you know of a potentially photogenic location you'd like to see included in the guide, please let me know.

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