A Ring Cairn in Levens Deer Park

Landscaped in about 1700, Levens Park is the deer park of Levens Hall in south Cumbria, popular with local walkers. Hidden away in the north-east corner is a stone cairn, about 30 metres across, dating from about 5,000 years ago. On a recent walk around the deer park we decided to give it a closer look.

The ring cairn can be seen most clearly from above

Although the cairn can be difficult to see at ground level, especially when the grass is long, it can be clearly identified from above. Unusually for ring cairns, this example was the subject of a full archaeological dig which helped to explain its history.

The dig was carried out in the late 1960s because of a proposal to build a main trunk road through the middle of Levens Park. The heritage importance of the ring cairn was part of the successful case to oppose the road-building and Levens Park was left intact for all to enjoy.

The ring cairn can be seen more clearly when the grass is shorter

During the dig, the grass and topsoil were removed to reveal the stones and flints beneath. Following examination of the entire site the archaeologists concluded that the stones were originally a primitive farmstead but, at some later date, this became a burial site. As they put it 'a house for the living which had become a house for the dead'.

The site with grass and topsoil removed, revealing stones and flints

Double lines of stones, suggesting the wall of a habitable farmstead pre-dating use as a burial site

More recently, in 2021, the records of the original dig were re-examined and updated using techniques such as carbon dating. Different conclusions were reached. Specifically, that this site was never a farmstead but was always a 'monument in progress' which was built and repeatedly refined and improved over the years - much as a new church might be built on the site of an older one.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that this site was significant for a number of different civilisations over many centuries. Today it is tucked away in the corner of a deer park and most of the visitors who come here walk straight past without even noticing it. Now only the black fallow deer and the rare breed Bagot goats keep it company.

Bagot goats

Black fallow deer