I confess to a great liking for Long Meg. For one, I live very near to it and being handy for one of this land’s ancient monuments really tickles my historian’s cockles. It’s enormous – some say the third biggest in the country, but frankly, I’ve also heard second, fourth, fifth and sixth – so let’s just agree that, at a diameter of 109m, it is really big.
The largest of the stones in the circle is 3.3m high and estimated to weigh 28 tons. There are 27 stones still standing in the circle, with a whole load of others reclining. ‘Long Meg’ herself is an outlyer, made from local sandstone, and is 3.7m high. The pink stone has a strange quality in certain lights – it ‘glitters’ – and it’s then that you catch sight of the faint, eerily ancient, spiral carvings. Some very practical archaeologists reckon that the menhir’s purpose was to point the way to the circle itself, as the lay of the land means that a traveller from the Eden Valley would have seen it on the horizon long before the circle came in to view. I can find no record of archaeological excavations or ‘finds’ here, but my most worthy tome estimates the date to be third millenium BCE. That’s five thousand years old.
What was it for? Well, we just don’t know, but, like a lot of circles, it is aligned astronomically. At winter solstice, if you stand in the centre of the circle, the sun sets behind Long Meg.
If you’re at all nervous of our pagan friends, don’t go there on solstices – plenty of folk gather there to tie wishes to the ‘clootie tree’ and leave flowers at the foot of Long Meg. Contrary to some views, it’s not because they believe that Long Meg is a witch turned to stone (see Michael Scot), but because they believe that’s what our ancestors did. Again, who knows?
Further reading: The Stone Circles of Cumbria by John Waterhouse ISBN 0-85033-566-3