I’m kicking off 2018 with a visit to some slightly bizarre locations. Long Meg and her Daughters, and Castlerigg are two fairly well-known stone circles in Cumbria, and can be found near Little Salkeld and Keswick respectively.
We’ll start with Long Meg though as that’s the one I visited first. Set, as I said, just outside of Little Salkeld, Long Meg and her Daughters is the second largest stone circle in Cumbria. I will mention now that its ‘full title’, as it were, is Long Meg and her Daughters, with the circle of stones being the ‘Daughters’ and the outlying sandstone block being ‘Long Meg’. Knowing me, I’ll end up referring to entire site as ‘Long Meg’ but I do know that’s not strictly correct, it’s just easier.
The circle is actually more oval in shape and is roughly 100m in diameter at its longest axis. It has been dated to approximately 1500 BCE which falls during a period where the building of stone circles seemed particularly rife. Many people will have heard of the theories surrounding why stone circles were built in the first place. Were they deliberately aligned with the Sun, Moon, and stars, or just humble meeting places? Or both? Maybe they were markets of sorts where dispersed communities would come together every once in a while to exchange goods? Excavations at some sites have shown that they were used as burial places, but as it happens, no such evidence was found at Long Meg. In fact, no real evidence has been found of anything. I’m afraid that’s a bit of an anti-story, but it’s the truth.
To me, though, the stories that surround the site are ten times more interesting that the archeological surveys and studies. It is said that back in the day, there were a coven of witches who were turned to stone by a Scottish wizard, called, rather appropriately, Michael Scot. If someone is able to count the number of stones in the circle twice, and come to the same figure, either the spell would be broken, or you would get incredibly bad luck. It’s probably best not to try it just in case.
As I was leaving my house and getting in the car, I was told another tale about Long Meg. As it sits on a ley line, and is said to be a female stone circle, mystical things can happen there. If you have a pendant which hangs from a chain and hold it completely still in front of you, and then walk through the ‘gate’ into the circle, the pendant will start swinging of its own accord. You do have to walk quite carefully to keep it still, and have a very calm day to see the mysterious effects clearly. When I tried it, I had the steady walk, but not so much a calm day. Here’s what happened:
As you can tell, it didn’t quite go to plan, and as temperatures could be accurately described as ‘beyond arctic’, we left soon after and nipped over to Castlerigg.
It’s fair to say that Castlerigg has a far more dramatic ambience than Long Meg. It would be hard not to with a backdrop consisting of some of the greatest Lake District fells and mountains, including Helvellyn, Skiddaw, and Blencathra. This is one of the reasons that Castlerigg is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria.
It is quite petite in comparison to Long Meg, sitting at only 30m in diameter, but it predates it by a good 1,500 years. In fact, it was one of the earliest stone circles in Britain. Castlerigg became a scheduled monument on 18th August 1882, and because of this, modern excavations haven’t been possible. As a result, very little is known about the site or what purpose it served. Theories have been put forward, but nothing concrete has been decided upon. One of these theories is that it had religious and ritual significance, owing to the fact it is aligned remarkably well with the stars. An opposing theory states that it was linked to the Langdale axe industry and acted as a meeting place for people to exchange axes and other goods. This is not to say, however, that ritual was not involved somehow. Other stone circles, upon being excavated, have had axes buried in significant locations around their sites, suggesting a ritual may have been part of the trade process. But as this all happened so long ago it is impossible to certifiably say what the purpose of any Neolithic/Bronze Age stone circle was.
One notable difference between Castlerigg and other stone circles in the area is that there is a rectangular collection of stones within the circle. The function of these is also a mystery, and there is only one other comparable feature in a nearby stone circle on Askham Fell.
The stones themselves are under the protection of English Heritage, who performed a geophysical survey on the site in 1985. The full report of their findings has still yet to be published over 20 years later. Do I smell a conspiracy? I jest, of course, I don’t think there is anything sinister underneath Castlerigg stone circle. Interestingly, the land on which the stones are stood actually belongs to the National Trust. If anything, it’s fair to say the site is very well looked after.
To conclude, I’ll just note that although these sites are owned by various national bodies, they are free to visit and quite easily accessible. If you ever fancy stepping 5,000 years into the past, get yourself to our Cumbrian stone circles. They can be overlooked sometimes in favour for the more modern attractions, and I think that needs to be remedied.
As always, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I’d love to hear from you! Just click on any of the links to get sent straight there. I’d especially love to hear any suggestions for places I should visit; I’m always looking for something new.