We had not far to go to our next site. Just a short distance away from Arthur’s Round Table and the remains of the Little Round Table is yet a third monument, Mayburgh Henge. Along with the now-destroyed stone circle at Brougham Hall, these ancient sites are undoubtedly linked.
To have four such important sites in proximity argues for there having been a substantial community in the area at the time they were constructed. The work alone that was involved in their building would have taken a lot of manpower, organisation and cooperation.
One thing we have noted on our travels through the ancient sites of this land is that prehistoric communities tended to build their tombs and sacred sites…portals to the Otherworld… on the ‘other side’, quite literally, separating the lands of the living and the dead by building on opposite banks of running water. There is an old tradition that witches and their curses cannot cross a running stream; is it possible that this idea could be a corrupted folk memory?
The three henges and the stone circle all sit within a triangle of land at the confluence of two rivers, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the land. This would suggest that these were indeed sacred sites, not merely gathering places or cattle pens, and the sheer size and construction of Mayburgh argues that this was a very special place to our ancestors.
Mayburgh is technically not a henge at all, as, rather than being a site of earthen banks and ditches, it is constructed of over 5 million cobblestones, carried from the nearby River Eamont. It is possible that there was originally just a stone circle here and that the embankment was erected later to enclose it. Barrowclough points out that the pebbles were deliberately chosen for their colour, and “the visual impact…awe inspiring…The use of this combination of coloured stones relates to the deliberate symbolic incorporation of the Neolithic worlds of the living and the dead through solar and lunar rituals that incorporate water.” As with many such sites, there is an ancient spring close by.
Only one of the central standing stones now remain, but there were once four stones of similar size within the henge, as well as four portal stones at the entrance. An early account of the site says that locals told antiquarian, Robert Hutchinson in 1773 that there had once been two other stones in the central space, “placed in a kind of angular figure with the stone now remaining, were to be seen there, but as they were hurtful to the ground, were destroyed and removed.” ‘Hurtful to the ground’? That is a very curious turn of phrase…
Like many of the sites we visit, Mayburgh has astronomical alignments, in this case, the entrance is due east of the centre of the henge, and frames the rising of the equinoctial sun, while the view from the interior of the enclosure shows the summit of Blencathra where the equinoctial sun sets. If the four stones of the interior were related to the points of the compass, perhaps the portal stones may have allowed them to be used as sighting stones too?
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