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Long Meg and Her Daughters


A weight of awe, not easy to be bourne,
Fell suddenly upon my spirit - cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past
When first I saw that family forlorn..

These are the words which William Wordsworth - the poet of the lakes - used to describe the Long Meg and Her Daughters, one of the largest stone circles in the British Isles. The circle has been stirring imaginations for centuries and is steeped in folklore and legend.

Over time its grandeur has been much depleted, many of the stones are buried or have fallen, and others have disappeared completely. Written records from the early 17th century suggest that there were as many as 77 megaliths at that time. Traces of banking around the circle also suggest the site may have originally been a henge.

The circle is actually oval in shape, 300 feet (92 metres) in diameter at its narrowest point, consisting of bulky boulders of grey granite some of them weighing as much as thirty tonnes. Two of the biggest stones stand opposite each other to the east and west, and two huge stones mark a southwest entrance.

Long Meg is the most famous stone in the circle. The focal point of the site she stands outside the circle positioned towards the southwest, where (when standing in the centre of the circle) the midwinter sun would have set below Neolithic skies. Long Meg is constructed of red sandstone, quarried from the banks of the River Eden nearly two miles away. There must have been a good reason - perhaps purely religious - for this extra effort, but we may never know the intricacies of ancient belief.

The northwest face of the megalith is decorated with several enigmatic designs: a spiral, a cup and ring mark and some concentric circles, which are half complete. There may have been many more markings on the stone as a photo from 'Archaic Sculpturing' by Sir James Simpson, 1867, shows the markings much more clearly. If nearly a hundred and fifty yearsof weathering has denuded the markings noticeably, who knows what has disappeared in four thousand.

Written records (John Aubrey 1725) suggest that two cairns stood within the circle, these would have been later additions, showing a continuation of use. No trace of these cairns now remains.

Folklore and Legend
The stones are associated with many legends, and have been the source of superstition for centuries, in fact the stones are associated with three common stone circle legends: petrification, uncountable stones and the association with severe weather.

Petrification: Legend tells that the stones were originally a coven of witches, turned to stone by the Scottish wizard Michael Scott. This legend is common throughout Britain with variation, stone circles have been petrified sinners, wedding parties and giants.

Uncountable stones: The stone circle is said to be uncountable, if anybody can count the same number twice then Michael Scott's spell will be broken and the witches released from their granite prisons.

Severe Weather: Severe storms are said to be the result of trying to move the stones, a supernatural protection for those who would destroy the circle. One story suggests a local squire, Colonel Lacy, was planning to blow the stones to smithereens for some whim in the late 1700s (perhaps to find the hidden treasure that was long believed to be buried under such stones). Before his men could light the powder a fearful storm suddenly started to rage and the attempt was abandoned.

Long Meg herself has been a fertile source of legend, said to take its name from a local witch, Meg of Meldon, who was alive in the early 17th century. Another theory suggests that the stone was named after another 17th century legend about Long Meg of Westminister, a giantess who was traditionally buried under a large blue gravestone at Westminster Abbey. The stone actually marks the burial place of monks who died during the Black Death. Another snippet of folklore tells how the standing stone will bleed if it is damaged.

Even today the stones have the power to attract worship, many of the trees surrounding the site have been used as the depositories of offerings. On our visit many objects had been left dangling from the trees wrapped in cloth, their contents unknown, but one would hope not too sinister.

Directions: Not an easy circle to find but well worth the search. Come off the A686 at Langwathby go through little Salked, carry up the road for about a quarter of a mile where you will find a track that leads to the stones.

Authorship
Image Copyright: 
Lee Waterhouse
Author: 
Daniel Parkinson

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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Joined: 22 Jul 2008
Long Meg Solstice 2009

Long Meg is my favourite Cumbrian ancient monument and  one of my all time favourite stone circles.   I arrived at Long Meg just after sunrise on 21st June 2009 and there was probably only about a score of other visitors, quietly sitting in small groups absorbing the atmosphere quietly.  A total contrast to the festival type atmosphere I had just left at Casterigg. 

Happy Solstice Everyone :)

PennyTraition
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Joined: 11 Apr 2011
Re: Long Meg and Her Daughters

A beautiful, ancient place near my ancestors, wonderful... Probably my favourite stone circle...I read that this circle is like a 'telephone operator' to all the other stone circles in the country, and Long Meg apparently dances around the field at certain times. A place of immense magic and tranquility, an absolute must to visit (as is all north Cumbria and the Border lands, up to Langolm, home of the mighty clan Armstrong.The whole area is so steeped in ancient magic, wild and rugged, I would advise anyone to travel around this area.)

esmeraldamac
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Joined: 21 Jun 2011
Re: Long Meg and Her Daughters

I'm fond of Long Meg myself, but then, I live just up the road! It is a much less hyped place than even Castlerigg, never mind Stonehenge, and all the better for that. There aren't many parking places, though - three or four!

Long Meg herself, as well as having a significant astronomical alignment, is positioned so that it could be seen from miles away down the Eden Valley, thereby acting as a signpost to visitors. As it was one of the trading-places for Langdale stone axes as long ago as 2500BCE, that was probably a good thing - no other signposts available!

One of the unexpected things about Long Meg herself is that the red sandstone has a crystalline quality, so in the right light, it glitters, highlighting the remaining carvings.

I just hope they survive the number of kids I see trying to climb her *grrrrr*.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Long Meg and Her Daughters

Rude Stone Monuments In All Countries, Their Age And Uses (1872) By James Fergusson (1808-1886)

In the neighbourhood of Penrith in Cumberland there is a group, or perhaps it should be said there are three groups of monuments, of considerable importance from their form and size, but deficient in interest from the absence of any tradition to account for their being where we find them. They extend in a nearly straight line from Little Salkeld on the north to Shap on the south, a distance of fourteen miles as the crow flies, Penrith lying a little to the westward of the line, and nearer to its northern than its southern extremity.

About half a mile from the first named village is the circle known popularly as Long Meg and her Daughters, sixty-eight in number, if each stone represents one. It is about 330 feet (100 metres) in diameter, but does not form a perfect circle. The stones are unhewn boulders, and very few of them are now erect. Outside the circle stands Long Meg herself, of a different class of stone from the others, about V2 feet high, and apparently hewn, or at all events shaped, to some extent. Inside the circle, Camden reports "the existence of two cairns of stone, under which they say are dead bodies buried; and indeed it is probable enough," he adds, "that it has been a monument erected in honour of some victory." No trace of these cairns now remains, nor am I aware that the centre has ever been dug into with a view of looking for interments. My impression, however, is that the principal interment was outside, and that Long Meg marks either the head or the foot of the chief's grave.



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