Our final site of the day was to be one of the most astonishing circles we have visited. It is not the biggest, nor are the stones themselves the largest, but it has a ‘feel’ unlike any other. Castlerigg. That we would visit on our final day of the workshop, may rightly be accounted one of the most beautiful of circles, but what Long Meg and her Daughters lack in aesthetics, they more than make up for in sheer presence.
On our very first visit, the light had been going and the winter dusk had been bitterly cold. We thought we knew what to expect…after all, we had seen enough photographs of the place. I had even a vague memory of having been taken there as a child. Yet, we had rounded the corner and been ambushed by the stones. Getting out of the car, we had literally bounced with excitement, like children at Christmas. The site was more, far more, than we had expected.
For a start, the narrow farm track that is signposted for the ‘Druid Circle’ gives no warning when you are about to arrive. It does not stop at the edge of an enclosure or parking space… it carries on, straight through the circle, skirting stones that divide the track at one point. When we arrived with our party for the workshop, our passenger too felt that ‘psychic shock’ and was, moments later, out of the car and bouncing up and down like an excited child.
The short winter’s day was drawing to a close and we would be in the circle at sundown. Unlike our last visit, equipped with cameras, the fading light would not linger and we lost no time in sending our party out to explore and attune with the stones.
The circle is huge, the sixth largest in Northern Europe, and not really a circle at all. It is an oval, formed from the geometric form of the vesica, and some three hundred and forty feet across its longest axis. Although legends say that it is bad luck to try and count the stones, the usual count puts them at fifty nine stones still in situ out of the seventy original stones. The whole thing was once surrounded by a low embankment, which may have been white-faced with gypsum, allowing it to glow.
Long Meg herself is the solitary standing stone who watches over her ‘daughters’, which are the stones of this Bronze Age circle. Legend says a coven of witches were put to sleep and petrified by a Scottish wizard named Michael Scot. His surname may indicate his origin north of the border, but Michael harks back to the Saint of that name who is so often shown with the dragon held quiescent on the point of his lance. The dragon power of old Albion, associated with the leys, was seen as pagan and therefore ‘evil’ by nascent Christianity and knowledge of its ways driven underground. Perhaps the dragons, like the stones, merely sleep…
The circle was built as part 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 and its precise purpose is unknown, though much can be deduced. For a people who, like our ancestors, constructed interrelated sites across vast swathes of the landscape, it is probable that there is a relationship between this site and others in the area, including Little Meg, two fields away, and the henges we had visited. Not far away is the sacred landscape and Avenue at Shap… and you have to wonder if, as at Avebury and Stonehenge, these features formed part of a greater plan…and if so, did it echo the map of the heavens as our ancestors once saw it?
There are larger stones in circles across the country, but the stones are far from small. The four quarter-stones are not local and are quartz-bearing. Most circles are built from a single type of stone, perhaps with a quartz-bearing stone, or even an entire boulder of quartz, such as we had seen at Boscawen-Un. Here, however, Long Meg herself is a column of red sandstone that sparkles in the sunlight and which, with the quartz-rocks, differs from the rest of the circle. The technology of stone as it was known to our ancestors may be lost to us, but we have echoes in the use of crystal for both healing and communications technologies. Their choices of stone were not only deliberate but significant.
The arrangement of the stones suggests a calendrical function that would work by standing outside the circle and sighting across to the to the quartz stones. Long Meg herself, standing outside the circle, is part of a Samhain alignment with a portal stone and one of the quartz rocks.
Long Meg is a magnificent presence. Standing twelve feet tall, she is ‘tattooed’ with concentric circles and her uppermost surface is notched in the manner we have so often seen. This may be simple erosion as is often averred, or the weather may have exaggerated an existing feature, but whenever we see this kind of notch we are struck by its similarity to the sight on an old-fashioned firearm. And this, we believe, was its function.
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