“She was probably a very fecund witch who produced lots of wild, attractive and subversive daughters, scandalising the locals and creating mayhem amongst the farmers and their sons …” One of many wonderfully imaginative local legends given for Long Meg and her Daughters. Few people realise that what is said to be the 3rd largest stone circle in England (after Stonehenge & Avebury) is hidden away in the lovely Eden Valley, below the Pennines in the east of Cumbria.
I was taking a couple of visitors round who knew the Lake District very well and wanted to see some of the lesser known sites off the beaten track. The Eden Valley is perfect as it has many fascinating places to stop off and savour at a leisurely pace. We had a delicious (and organic) lunch at the VERY quirky Little Salkeld Watermill , bought a copy of their ‘Favourite Walks’ booklet (written by the owner, from where the above quote is found) and set off to find Long Meg. You can walk from the Mill but we had drove 10 minutes and there she was, standing slightly apart from her ‘daughters, watching over them as she must have for maybe 3000 years.
The circle has about 60 stones although if you try to count them you risk being turned into stone yourself, so beware … Long Meg is made from local red sandstone and the ‘daughters’ from granite. It’s believed to be Bronze Age, between 1500 BC and 1000 BC. Theories of why the circle was originally formed vary and include:
- a lunar observatory tracking 19 yr cycle of the moon
- an ancient burial place for important local people
- a meeting place for locals to exchange goods
- a trading centre for stone axe-heads much in demand with warring tribes
Whatever its true purpose, there is NO Druid connection as they were around thousands of years later …
Long Meg inspired Lake District poet William Wordsworth to write a poem to the circle in 1822
The Monument Commonly Called Long Meg
“When first I saw that family forlorn;
Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years – pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast…”
We spent a lovely hour or so wandering round the circle, and at the foot of Long Meg herself we found this curious collection of ‘offerings’, including money, jewellery, flowers and pebbles. It had been the Autumn equinox recently so maybe some pagan ritual was being carried out in memory of that fecund witch and her feisty daughters …
P.S. It was this day out that inspired the winning entry for Britain’s Best Travel Blogger award; truly a life-changing event!
For more info on Long Meg & some excellent photos, check out http://www.visitcumbria.com/pen/long-meg-and-her-daughters.htm
Long Meg and Her Daughters is Neolithic not Bronze Age – 5000 years old. It is a flattened B type circle, the flattened edge is the north side, and is aligned with the winter solstice sunset. Viewed from the centre of the circle, the sun sets behing Long Meg on 21st Dec. There is no lunar alignment – Castlerigg nr Keswick has alignments with the extreme risings and settings of the Moon’s 18.61 year cycle. The 2 sites are linked by a ley line that runs from Castlerigg thru many ancient sites inc Long Meg and Little Meg and finished at a place called Fiends Fell to the NE. The watermill is fantastic and is selling my book ‘The Rowan Guide to Castlerigg Stone Circle’. I have written a similar book about Long Meg that should be published in the new year.
All the best
PS I am a friend of Barry McCann
Love this story and love stone circles. Good to know about this. Thanks for sharing- going on my very long list!
Fascinating information Kevin. I am hoping to start a new website next year with more Cumbria & Lake District stories – be great to hear more of yours.
So much of the world to see & so little time to see it in … but we do our best! Happy travels
Good to read more about Long Meg, I mentioned both Long Meg and Castlerigg here //www.john-howe.com/news/index.php/site/comments/standing_stones/ which is a rather long ramble about inspiration and stone circles 😉
Thanks Graeme – love your article (only rambling in the best possible taste!)and the photos. You are also doing a QUIRKILIOUS job with QT images – your paintings are so good!
Tis said if you try counting the stones, you will not arrive at the same number twice. And if you do… the hex that holds Long Meg and her sisters will be lifted, and the witches will walk again…so beware!
This was one of the very first walks I did when I moved to the Eden Valley 14 years ago and I remember being totally blown away by the fact that there was this huge stone circle on the edge of a field with not a visitor centre or even notice board in sight. It’s remained one of my favourite walks ever since; Lacy’s Caves are well worth getting to – a boardwalk has been built over the horrible muddy bit so you no longer take your life in your hands trying to tiptoe across! Fantastic writing Zoe – very inspiring!
It is amazing isn’t it Jill that such a major site should be so little visited – definitely a hidden gem in the Eden Valley. I must try to get to those caves one day – and glad to hear the muddy bit has been covered over now!
Visited Long Meg and the Sisters. Very peaceful, very serene atmoshpere. Beautiful landscape. Then we went off for tea & crumpet at the nearby Little Salkeld Watermill tearoom which, by the way, is a working mill producing flour which can be bought at the shop. They are currently looking for live in caretakers if anyone is interested.
So glad you got to see Long Meg Barry. And do hope that Little Salkeld Mill gets a tenant as it is a very special place – so prospective Dusty Millers should apply within!