Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Rock Art in Great Langdale and Grasmere

No one likes shifting large rocks about more than us Fell Rangers, but that hasn't always been the case...

The National Trust owns and manages several important prehistoric sites in the Lake District. Castlerigg stone circle is probably the most famous. Situated just outside Keswick, Castlerigg is thought to be one of the earliest stone circles dating back to the late Neolithic around 3200BC.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

To the north of Penrith is Cumbria's largest stone circle, Long Meg and her Daughters. On the tallest standing stone is some impressive art-work (known as rock art) consisting of carved spirals and concentric rings. This site is privately owned but easily accessible to the general public.

Rock Art on Long Meg

There are known to have been in excess of 75 prehistoric stone circles in Cumbria although several have now been destroyed because of religious beliefs or/and used for building materials. It was believed that a circle was also present in Grasmere but it's exact location is unknown.

Recently one of our keen eyed rangers discovered some new rock art on a rock outcrop just outside the grounds of Allan Bank.

Rock Art at Allan Bank

These designs are known as "cup marks" and are the simplest form of rock art that can be commonly found. Maybe not as impressive as the spirals of Long Meg but nonetheless an important part of our cultural heritage.

 Close-up of the Cup Marks

Over in Great Langdale there are more fine examples of rock art. Copt Howe, also known as the Langdale Boulder is situated just outside Chapel Stile and has a variety of different motifs including both cup marks and concentric circles. It's been suggested that thousands of years ago it was used as a way marker to the Langdale "Axe Factories" on the Langdale Pikes, where stone axe heads were once crafted on an industrial scale.

These axes were of enormous value and were traded right across the country and Langdale axes have even been discovered in central Europe. It is thought by some that one of the uses of the stone circle at Castlerigg may have been for the trading of these axe heads.

In more recent years Copt Howe has become a place of pilgrimage for climbers and boulderers wanting to hone their climbing abilities.

Copt Howe

Another piece of rock art can be found in a small wooded area behind the National Trust campsite in Langdale. Although the views are now hindered somewhat by the trees, this boulder would have once afforded fantastic views towards the the Langdale Pikes once again pointing to the importance of the axe factories in these days gone by.

Boulder behind the campsite

All these sites are well worth a visit and only a few minutes walk from the road. Next time you're in the area why not pay them a visit and stand in the footsteps of prehistoric man?


  1. I've been doing a little research about these in the last 24 hours after finding something similar near the base of Side Pike while on a scramble yesterday: http://distilleryimage1.ak.instagram.com/1bb055161df811e39ca922000ae91227_7.jpg

    Thought you might like to see it.


  2. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for getting in touch.
    I forwarded your photograph to the National Trust archaeologist and he's fairly sure that the photo you've taken are vesicles. Vesicles are cavities produced by gas bubbles when volcanic rock is formed.
    Having said that, it is impossible to be 100% sure from a photograph, the rock would need examining closely before we could be definitive.
    If you could give an approximate grid reference to where the rock is, that would be really useful, and we'll follow it up.
    Thanks again. :)

  3. Unfortunately I didn't have my GPS with me or I could have given you the exact route we took.

    It's approximately at NY 290 051, from the path through the gate leading East it was just after the first band of rock then upwards to the one behind that round the base of the Crag of Side Pike. about 15-20 meters or so up from the path.

    Hope that helps, I can always nip back and give you the exact spot next time I'm in the area which shouldn't be too long. There was a fair bit of bracken there so isn't an easy spot to get to.

    The rings varied from 4-6 inches in diameter and seemed to point towards the burial mound to the south.


  4. Hi Neil,
    That's brilliant. I've passed the information on to the Archaeologist who I'm sure will have a look the next time he get's a chance.
    If you like, you could email me some contact details (twitter/email would be fine) to fellrangers@gmail.com and I'll let you know what he thinks once he's had a look though I'm not too sure when that'll be as it depends on his workload.
    Best wishes.