Cockpit Stone Circle - a Bronze Age Crossroads?

by Jane Firth

Banner: Cockpit Stone Circle © Janet Wedgwood

Askham Fell and Barton Fell have more than 100 Bronze Age sites and Cockpit Stone Circle is the most obvious and the most well known. It stands at a crossroad of two trading routes - like a Bronze age Penrith which stands at the crossroads of the M6 and the A66. From the north a track led from Long Meg and her daughters, (near Little Salkeld), via Mayburgh Henge (near Eamont Bridge) past Cockpit, up to Loadpot Hill and on towards the south. The other route was east-west and connected settlements near Shap with Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick.

The Bronze Age in Great Britain lasted almost 1500 years, and it is hard to date the Cockpit Stone Circle because it has features of both the early and the late Bronze Age. It has stones set within a low embankment suggesting a late date.  However it is more than 20m in diameter and has more than 20 stones greater than 1 m high, which suggests an early date. All we can say is that it is at least 3500 years old and could be as much as 5000 years old. Castlerigg, near Keswick is much older, dating from the Neolithic Period, about 3000BC, but it has features in common with Cockpit. 

How was Cockpit built? One theory suggests that first the land was levelled and the circle dug out. Then, rather than digging a hole for each stone, the stones were put in place at the edges and finally the flat central area was back filled. 

What was the Cockpit stone circle used for?  The large flat area and clear entrances suggest a meeting place for the scattered local population, as Penrith is today, but it may also have had religious significance.

Cockpit Stone Circle for scratching © Janet Wedgwood

by Jane Firth, resident of Watermillock