Crosby Ravensworth Parish is blessed with some fine country walks and when you combine these with the remarkable number and variety of prehistoric sites you have great potential for memorable expeditions. Cumbria has a few other places with many prehistoric sites within walking and cycling distance of each other to my knowledge. The nearest comparison is probably the Shap Avenue megaliths and then the funerary complex of Moor Divock on Askham Common, further away still near Hadrian’s Wall you have a wealth of sites at Geltsdale.
The factor that makes our area so distinctive is the presence of not one, but at least 5 rare skyline cairn circles of different forms! To put this in perspective there are thought to be only about 20 such sites in Great Britain, so it’s fair to say that this is a concentration of local culture. We also have a concentric stone circle, an important Romano-British way-station on the Lancaster to Carlisle Road for the Roman legions, several great Thunder Stones and several holy wells! Hopefully, my nephews will be exploring for these in due course.
Anyway, if you also include the nearby sites in neighboring Parishes to ours, Asby, Orton and Shap it is possible to come away with quite a staggeringly rich experience of historic sites indeed! The Oddendale Circle walk should certainly be among your explorations as it is a very nice one, with good views over Crosby and the moor to the east and Shap and the Bampton Valley to the west.
You might want to look in on the Crosby Ravensworth Parish Archive to view some artifacts found in the local area, including a Roman spearhead, arrowheads of flint and chert, and a nice polished axe from the Neolithic period (the new stone age) from Maulds Meaburn ,Orton and Crosby Ravensworth, a bronze age scraper, and microliths and cores, used in the manufacture of fishing harpoons possibly of Mesolithic date from Sunbiggin Tarn.
You can begin this walk from several places. From Crosby Ravensworth you can walk up Harberwain Hill and take the footpath up to the moor and turn left at the top when you meet the bridleway. Another name for this stone circle according to John Waterhouse (author of The Stone Circles of Cumbria) is Harberwain Circle.
You can drive and walk if you park on Castlehowe Scar in front of the plantation which is the haunt of Red Squirrels. The first site of interest near here is the small Castlehowe Cairn Circle. These ten stones, forming two arcs with an eleventh as an outlier, is a rare skyline Cairn Circle. It lies at the top of a long narrow sheep pasture flanking the Crosby to Shap road. It’s origins like most stone circles’ are shrouded in mystery. Was it first a shamanic holy site before its bronze age sepulchral appropriation? Two things prompt me to say ‘perhaps, yes’. The first is its association with a nearby spring ‘Harkeld’ (High Spring). The second is its remarkable similarity to the sacred precinct in Castlerigg Stone Circle (pers. com. K.Paxton 2013). The gaps at north and south actually put me in mind of a type II henge, were stones removed or is this the desired effect? A sacred space through which people passed? Is it a coincidence that Gamelands Great Stone Circle is also open at the ends? It also was associated with a Holy Spring, as Tom Clare informs us.
You can walk or drive past the Shap granite quarry and then at the tight bend walk up the footpath (old green lane) past two more cairn circles, those known as Iron Hill North and Iron Hill South.
These two monuments are also unusual. Iron Hill North has a fringing semicircle of small stones and raised bowl of the barrow. We have seen a very similar, intact monument near a small quarry in another nearby part of the Westmorland Fells which suggests to Kimmie and I that we may be looking at a local type of bowl barrow here.
Iron Hill South’s arrangement of rough stones somewhat resembles a snail-shaped spiral. It was excavated in the late C18th. Both monuments have spectacular views of the Shap valley and Haweswater Fells and are thought to have been used by people of high status. Both sites are considered to be of the late Neolithic or Bronze Age.
Keep on walking until the path crosses another, then turn right and walk toward the south, admiring the boulder strewn field that slopes down toward the Lyvennet valley and Crosby Ravensworth village.
A footpath cuts up from the village to the Hardendale Farm, we suspect that this was once part of a funerary (perhaps sacred) way from the valley to the moorland. Past the farm, to the left of the path here is a small, moss grown, modern stone circle, up against the farm wall which is considered to be a salute to the past. As you walk out onto the moor, you’ll see a boulder strewn pasture to the left and a low hill ahead on the left with a cairn upon it. This, T.Relph describes as ‘Battle Hill’. If you turn off the path and walk up through a boulder field to the sky-line and cast about, you will find Oddendale’s Stone Circle. It is very broad and flat with a low profile. This makes a fine picnic spot because of the good views over to the west of the eastern Lakeland fells around Haweswater and the distant Saddleback,the massive Blencathra fell likely believed sacred at least since the Neolithic times.
We were fortunate to hear archaeologist, Tom Clare speak on the subject of Cumbria’s stone circles and he spoke enthusiastically about Oddendale Circle. I recommend you read his book Prehistoric Monuments of The Lake District for his insights!
If you have the strength and available daylight you can continue the walk over the moors toward Black Dub to find the White Hag cairn circle. I wouldn’t advise walking that route in low light, heavy mist or after dark.