Photography - Castlerigg sky at night

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison - Credit: Archant

Photographer Andrew Harrison has been catching the dawn at a Lakeland landmark

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison - Credit: Archant

It doesn’t usually take much persuasion to get me up and on the road to the Lake District but my plan to set off at 3.30am seemed less appealing when the alarm clock went off. Having said that, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison

Castlerigg - Andrew Harrison - Credit: Archant

Alfred Wainright always maintained that walking should be a solitary pursuit and the same could be said of standing here on this plateau of land, preparing my camera for light-painting shots. Here in the pitch black, in solitude and silence, I feel the heartbeat of this place and I briefly allow my mind to wander from the job in hand to imagine the life, the celebrations and ceremonies these stones have witnessed.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, situated on the edge of Keswick, is thought to be the oldest stone circle in Britain and, although its origins are uncertain, it is believed to have been created for religious or ceremonial purposes.

The stones have proven to be significant in terms of megalithic astronomy and geometry. The construction contains astronomical alignments such as the the rising and setting of the sun at significant times of the year and the course of the moon. These are believed to mark important times in the agricultural calendar.

Thought to have been built around 3000BC at the beginning of the later Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age, Castlerigg Stone Circle consists of 38 stones that form a circle of approximately 30 metres in diameter and within that circle there are a further ten stones standing in a rectangle.

A few of stones have carvings - a chevron on one, a partial circle and cup on another and a chevron or crosshatch pattern.

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Disappointingly, archeological finds have been limited to charcoal remains and a couple of large stone axe heads. The Stone Circle, purchased in 1913 by Canon Hardwick Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, is maintained by English Heritage. Its setting can only be described as magnificent - formed by the surrounding hills of Skiddaw, Blencathra, Clough Head, High Seat and the Derwent Fells. This is a place of magic and mystical beauty that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Today though, at 5am, it was just as I had expected - deserted but for one bleary eyed photographer. The sky was stunningly sharp and clear with thousands upon thousands of stars, sparkling like distant jewels, away from the interference of suburban light pollution. Using an app to locate the star clusters and a 30 second exposure to capture the unfolding scene, I watched the shooting stars exploding across the sky as well as the faint glow of the Milky Way. The temperature at this point was hovering around -1C and with a wind chill of -3C.

The crescent moon started to rise over the hills and the sky was so clear that the shadow of the rest of the moon could clearly be seen around the crescent. I illuminated the stones with an LED torch in a long exposure to show them off and allow the thousands of stars to remain visible.

The sky to the east was now beginning to turn red and orange as the crescent moon processed across the sky. The golden hour was fast approaching and now, feeling totally in tune with nature, it was time for me to gather my belongings, and head off to Crummock Water to capture the sunrise.

The Lake District has so much to offer but it is seldom that one gets chance to appreciate it in total solitude. While visiting Castlerigg Stone Circle at 5am might not be for everyone, it should certainly be top of your list of places to visit, albeit after breakfast!

See the stones

Castlerigg Stone Circle is located 1.5 miles south east of Keswick. It is at grid reference NY291236 and drivers using a satnav should type in CA12 4TE. There is limited parking at the site. Admission is free.