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Daily Journal

June 26 A Day for a Daydream
Castlerigg Stone Circle

A trip to the UK without a visit to a stone circle just wouldn't be complete, and the pictures I'd seen of Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria put it high on my "must see" list.

We arrive at the foot of the hill in the afternoon, with the sun competing with a thick bank of clouds. The tops of the stones appear at first, then bit by bit, more is revealed as I walk up the hill. There are other people here; a family picnicking on a low rectangular grouping of stones which lies within the circle, others walking around the perimeter, another woman hugging a stone.

Despite the presence of other visitors it's easy to feel alone in this place. It means something different to each individual. Stone circles and megaliths are such a mystery. What are they, why are they, how did they get here ... what's it all about, Alfie? No one knows, but everyone seems to have a theory. I'm glad that there are so many theories; it makes it easier to accept the fact that we will never know for sure.

I walk to the middle of the circle and slowly turn around, taking it all in. Another slow turn, and another, even slower. I am struck by the fact that this hill rises in the center of surrounding peaks and fells. I make another complete turn, beginning to feel a bit like Julie Andrews in the opening scene of The Sound of Music, and laugh to myself wondering what all of these other people would do if I suddenly burst into song.

I stand still, analyzing. It seems possible that the stones that make up this circle may represent the peaks and hills that surround it. It's a circle within a circle. But then there's that rectangular raised area ... hmm. An altar? An ancient picnic table? Certainly that's what the family over there is using it for, with their lunch spread out upon it. Although someone else has apparently had a different idea as to its purpose. There is a bouquet of wilted roses on the ground nearby, bound with twine. A pagan Solstice offering perhaps?

Regardless of how the many visitors who make the walk up this hill view it, or what they believe about it, there is no explanation. I accept this and move on to examine the stones more closely.

I don't get very far. I've noticed the sheep. The sheep here are different from the other sheep I've seen so far on this trip, and I've seen a lot of sheep. These sheep are wearing stockings. Their legs are mottled black and white, like marble. And they seem to believe in the buddy system. This is very eerie.

I pay close attention to two sheep who move together through the field in step, as if they've been practicing with a drill team. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Halt. Their motions are mirrored. They lower their heads to graze at the exact same moment; they raise their heads at the exact same moment. They turn and look at me at the exact same moment. Forget The Sound of Music, this is The Twilight Zone. Very, very strange.

There's a mother sheep here too, with twin lambs. I walk toward her, reaching for my camera. She meets my eye and lowers her head a fraction, as if frowning. I'm not quite sure how domesticated these animals are, but don't want to find out the hard way that they're not as domesticated as I believe them to be. This is one of the first rules of the great outdoors: don't mess with a mother and her babies.

I back off and turn my attention to the stones. Of many sizes and shapes, I still can't get over the idea that they may correlate to the peaks surrounding us. I lean against one and turn my face up to the sun, which has broken through the clouds. It's so peaceful here and I realize that it really doesn't matter whether I'm onto something or not. It would just be another theory, and to what end? I bask in the rays of the sun, drowsing in the warmth, lazily thinking of nothing, other than the fact that maybe I shouldn't have had that half-pint of lager because I could easily fall asleep standing right here.

Opening my eyes, I pull myself together, feeling as if I've woken from a nap that wasn't quite long enough. There is an abbey far down the road that is on my "must see" list as well, and it's time to move on.

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