The first thing that you realise when you arrive, camera in hand, at the stone circle known as Long Meg and her Daughters, is that you haven’t the proverbial cat in Hades’ chance of getting a shot of the whole site. It is simply too big.
And none of the pictures are going to give any sense of scale…unless you happen to have a handy camera-wielder to include in one of the shots. The next thing we realised was that Running Elk would have been in his element had he not flown off to Singapore instead of meeting with us here…
The circle itself consists of 59 of what is thought to be as many as 70 of the original stones that once stood here. There are gaps now where the old farm road passes through the circle. It is the sixth largest circle in north-western Europe, and, as is the case with many of them, is not a circle at all, but an oval measuring some 340 feet across. The embankment may once have been white-faced with gypsum, as at other large circles… and the place would have shone both in this and the Other world.
They are not small stones by any means, but the tallest stone by far is Long Meg herself. She is made from a shaft of red sandstone and stands outside the main circle, some 12 feet tall.She is still magnificent… but must have been even more so when the whorls and carvings on her were fresh and crisp.
Her top is notched in a manner we have so often seen. This may be simple erosion, or it may be a feature that has been exaggerated by erosion, but many standing stones seem to share this characteristic that looks for all the world like the sight on an old-fashioned firearm.
Perhaps it is a sight…but for knowledge. A good many astronomical alignments have been proposed at this site, from the precise, mathematical calculations of Thom, to the observationally derived. Most seem to point to alignments at solstice and equinox, but it is impossible, especially after Castlerigg, to ignore the alignments within the landscape too.
The entrance to the circle frames the snow-clad hills whose outlines blurred into the white sky and cloud. They are imposing heights some of the highest hills in the area. It would be interesting to go back on a clear day and look for the shadowing of their contours in the form of the stones.
Four of the large rocks at the quarters are non-local quartz-bearing stone. It is unusual to find a mix of rocks at a circle, yet here we have the red sandstone of Meg herself and the quartz rocks, differing from the rest. To a people for whom stone was technology, this must have been both deliberate and significant. They appear to be part of a calendrical calculation, and work by standing outside the circle and sighting from opposite to the quartz stone. Long Meg herself seems to be part of a Samhain alignment with a portal stone and one of the quartz rocks.
The circle was built during the era of the megalithic tradition which began around five and a half thousand years ago. The exact date of the circle and the surrounding enclosures and embankments is uncertain. The scale of the site is far bigger even than the circle. There are henges, like Mayburgh and King Arthur’s Round Table, close by that seem to pre-date the circle, as well as other, smaller circles, like Glassonby, in the immediate area. Not far away is the enormous Avenue at Shap… and you have to wonder if, as at Avebury and Stonehenge, these features formed part of a greater landscape.
We wandered around the circle, getting to know the stones a little, feeling their presence and purpose and, as always, full of questions. We were lucky to once again have the place to ourselves as we walked the circle round… and unheard of gift at such a legendary circle, where once a coven of witches were turned to stone.
We did not try to count the stones, as the legend says it will bring bad luck… or break the spell and wake the witches put to sleep by a Scottish wizard named Michael Scot. While his surname undoubtedly refers to his origin, the name Michael immediately makes me think of the Saint of that name, so often associated with the dragon power of old Albion, sent underground with the advent of Christianity. Perhaps the dragons, like the stones, merely sleep…