Swinside is a spectacular Cumbrian stone circle, approximately 28 metres in diameter, constructed of local slate and sitting on an artificially flattened plateau. Out of an estimated 60 original stones, 55 survive. 32 of these remain standing, with the tallest rising to a respectable 2.1 metres.
The entrance to the south-east is original and is marked by portal stones just outside the circle's perimeter. The gaps in the eastern and south-western areas are more recent.
Swinside's tightly-spaced stones present the impression of a very complete and well-preserved circle. It's undoubtedly one of the finest examples of its kind, and the glorious backdrop of the Cumbrian mountains certainly provides a setting that does it immense justice. Highly reminiscent of Castlerigg, Swinside nestles gracefully amidst the surrounding scenery, augmenting the overall beauty with a rugged grace of its own.
The circle is fabulously isolated. You'll need to drive high up into the hills of the Lake District, then take a 20 minute walk up a desolate dirt track in order to find it. Sheep are likely to be your only company.
The approach to the circle serves it well. The drama of the scenery unfolds slowly before the visitor, creating a palpable sense of anticipation. The modern world melts slowly away behind, with the sharp wind blowing out any remaining cobwebs. Once the stones rise into view, the effect is complete. This is certain to become a favourite of anyone who visits. Sitting in the circle, feeling at the top of the world, it's hard to feel anything but content. I found it very difficult to turn my back and leave.
Legend has it that the stones are all that remains from a time when men attempted to erect a church on this site. They would work by day, then during the night, the Devil would cause the stones to sink back into the ground. This tale explains the alternative name of Sunkenkirk by which this site is known.
It should also be noted that the stones themselves sit on private land belonging to the nearby farm. My understanding is that the farmer is unconcerned by visitors, but it may be polite to check first before entering the field.
Update, May 2012: The original photographs of Swinside are quite old now, so I've revisited them in Photoshop and substantially improved them.