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Swinside Stone Circle

Nr Millom, Cumbria

The circle is also known as Sunkenkirk after a legend that the Devil made the stones sink into the ground to prevent them being used to build a church's foundation.

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A circle often said to be the finest in Britain, and having spectacular setting and views. I have not yet visited.

A near perfect circle 29 metres in diameter, with over 50 stones, some say 55. The stones are said to be finely dressed but could be weathered smooth.

The stones are very close together, a characteristic of the earlier larger stone circles. The modern-day gaps at the E and the SW were filled with stones originally.

Land rising at the back makes this easier to see and photograph than most and many get really carried away with this circle, I have yet to visit it. There is also a trig point on a high point (10 minute climb) that gives a view of it, in its setting.

Legends and Quotes

Often quoted as the best or one of the best circles in Britain.

Marjorie Rowling mentions in her 'Folklore of the Lake District' (1976) that the earliest source giving the name of the site is from 1642, when it was called 'Chapel Sucken' (sucked down or sunken down?). Janet and Colin Bord (in 'Prehistoric Britain from the Air') claim that people once tried to build a church on this site - but once they'd gone home for their teas the Devil pulled down what they'd built during the day (into the earth, one assumes - hence Sunken Kirk).

From The Gentlemans Magazine, by J. T. Blight 1843

"In the parish of Millum, in the same county, there did exist the remains of a Druidical temple, which the country people called " sunken kirk," i.e., a church sunk into the earth. It is nearly a circle of very large stones, pretty entire, only a few fallen upon sloping ground in a swampy meadow. At the entrance there are four large stones, two on each side, at the distance of 6 feet. Through these you enter into a circular area, 29 yards by 30. The entrance is nearly south-east. It seems probable that the altar stood in the middle, as there are some stones still to be seen there, though sunk deep in the earth. The situation and aspect of the Druidical temple near Keswick is in every respect similar to this, except the rectangular recess, formed by ten large stones, which is peculiar to Keswick.
 And I am informed that there are other remains of stone circles in these northern districts, where there yet exist so many popular superstitions and customs. Indeed, we find in Camden's account of Westmoreland allusion made to the ruins of one ancient round structure, which has always been considered to have been a temple dedicated to Diana, but which i now known by the name of Kirkshead. Many such instances will be found in the ancient monuments of Scotland. Sometimes there are two circles of stones, at others three circles, having the same common centre.
From the general arrangement of the stones, one of the largest having a cavity, at the bottom of which there is a passage for any liquid sacrifice to run down the side of it, nothing can be more evident than that the triple circle of stones was intended as an heathen temple, where Pagan priests performed their idolatrous ceremonies ; and what is most remarkable is, that most of these singular structures are still known by the name of chapels or temple stones".

See also

Our section on stone circles

The discussion on the purpose of stone circles

Planning Grid


Swinside Stone Circle, Nr Millom, Cumbria

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Google Maps aerial photograph

Getting there:

The track up to the circle is marked as authorised access only for vehicles so if you can leave your car at the bottom, do so. The uphill (on the way there) walk is beautiful anyway! There's a 3 car or so parking option maybe 20 yards before the fork at Cragg Hall, on the verge opposite a gate. - Most say a 20 minute walk.


Public path


Limited and maybe difficult, 20 minute walk away.



Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Impressive stone circle and views.

What to take:


Nature highlights:


Best Times to Visit:




Nr Millom



LA18 5LD







Opening times:

open all the time



Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions: None
Special Needs Access: 20 minute walk uphill
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed:  

Other useful websites:


CIN Page Ref:


Date Updated:02/09

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