Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Cyfaredd 14: Long Meg and Her Daughters

Haia Pawb

The day after our trip to Thor’s Cave, Grevel drove us to the Lake District, to visit more megalithic sites and stay overnight in his favourite B&B in the region, How Foot in Grasmere, which is a few doors away from William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.

As with the start of our drive the previous day, the weather in Manchester was terrible—bucketing rain—but when we reached the Long Meg site, the weather cleared and we spent a long while counting stones, observing offerings of coins, flowers and crystals on Long Meg and clooties on the nearby old, rugged ash trees, watching flights of jackdaws, and sitting still listening to the wind and the ambience of the place, its genius loci.

An aerial view, from Wikipedia
Long Meg and some of Her Daughters
Long Meg and Her Daughters is the third largest stone circle in Britain (and Grevel’s favourite). It was erected around 1500 BC and the circle (the Daughters) comprises (around) 69 boulders of rhyolite, a form of granite. Two large blocks are placed to the east and west of the circle (sunrise and sunset of sun and moon, possibly) and there are two extra 'portal' stones placed to the south-west.  Long Meg herself is a nine ton block of red sandstone. This monolith, when viewed from the centre of the circle, through the 'portal' stones, is aligned with the mid-winter sunset. The south-west face of Long Meg has crystals in it, whereas the face looking towards the circle has spirals and other rock art inscribed on it.
The south-west side of Long Meg, showing its facial features

Video of the site, taken from the centre of the Daughters
As Grevel notes in his A Literary Guide to the Lake District, William Wordsworth stumbled upon the site while walking in the area in 1821 and wrote a ‘sombrely impressive sonnet’. Below is the version that appears in The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth: Together with a Description of the Country of the Lakes in the North of England, Now First Published with His Works:
A manuscript page of one version of the poem,
available from Amherst College Digital Collections

XXIII. The Monument Commonly Called Long Meg
and Her Daughters, Near the River Eden

A weight of awe not easy to be borne
Fell suddenly upon my Spirit, cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past,
When first I saw that Sisterhood forlorn;
And Her, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years – pre-eminent, and placed
Apart  to overlook the circle vast.
Speak Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn,
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud,
At whose behest uprose on British ground
Thy Progeny; in hieroglyphic round
Forth-shadowing, some have deemed, the infinite,
The inviolable God, that tames the proud.

I said ‘around 69 boulders’ above because there is a legend that says it is impossible to count the boulders and come up with the same answer twice. If you do, the magic that created the structure in the first place—Michael Scott, a wizard, froze in stone a coven of witches as they danced on the moor—will be broken and the witches set free.
The other side of Long Meg, again showing facial features
Close of this side, showing markings
Close up of one of the  'cup and ring' markings,
from Wikipedia
Diagram of markings on this side, from here
Clooties on one of the ash trees
For those who don't know, clooties are offerings made by locals to the spirits of a place. The rags, trinkets and other objects usually represent hopes or thanks for love, health or deliverance. I have read, however, that the origin of clooties is that a cloth would be soaked in the water of a holy well or sacred stream and used to wipe the forehead of a person in sorrow or illness. The cloth would then be hung on a hawthorn tree, which is associated with the Land's lady of sovereignty, so the tree would take away the cause of the misfortune.

As archeologists are increasing discovering, sites such as Long Meg and Her Daughters are not solitary monuments but are often part of an elaborate sacred landscape, which show that the ancient Britons had a sophisticated knowledge of the land, its energies (spiritual and/or psychological and/or magnetic, depending on your worldview), and surveying and construction techniques.

Plan of prehistoric sites around Long Meg, from here
A mood photo of the site
After Grevel and I finished communing with the site, we ate our lunch and left to visit other sites, which I'll cover in my next one or two posts.

For those still following my jackdaw obsession, here's another photo:

...and a jackdaw in an ash tree... (Sang to 'Twelve Days of Christmas')
Cofion cynnes (Warm wishes)

References and Further Reading:

No comments: