Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
Stone circles are something that have recently caught my attention and have become quite a big interest of mine. Steeped in history and heavily associated with legends, myths and magic these giant megalithic monuments are very intriguing and spark the curiosity of many others like me. How did these huge stones get to such remote locations? Who put them there? What were they used for? So many questions surround these structures but we can never really know the truth. My latest project (still currently unnamed) explores the history behind the stone circles of Cumbria and the myths that cling to them.
The most recent stone circle I visited was Long Meg & Her Daughters, located just north of Penrith near the small village of Little Salkeld. It was a cold, typically wintery day with a fair amount of snow on the ground (after Beast of the East round one) and the sky was a bit dull and grey. Perfect eerie conditions for exploring a stone circle! On arriving, we parked in a very small layby and headed up to the largest stone of the group - Long Meg. The circle itself is huge - much bigger than Castlerigg that I visited last time, but with less dramatic scenery surrounding it. Even on a dull day we were impressed just by the sheer size of it and the number of stones included in the circle. Legend has it that the stones are a woman named Meg and her daughters who were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath. Other folk tales say the stones were once a coven of witches that were turned to stone by a Scottish wizard. Apparently there are around 59 stones in the circle but it's impossible to count the same number twice - if it is managed then the wizards spell will be broken! I have to admit we didn't try this on our visit but no doubt I will be returning, and I will definitely be trying it when I do!
Long Meg was impressive just on her own, standing approximately 12 feet tall with mysterious ring marks and spiral patterns carved into the stone. There were also a few items at the base of Long Meg on our visit that looked like some kind of ritual offering - flowers, coins and broken bits of pottery. In truth anybody could have put these things there but at the time it added to the eerie feel of things! There were also a number of coloured ribbons and small parcels tied to nearby trees. It felt as though the stones were being used as a sacred place of worship with offerings being laid out for the spirits of the girls trapped within the stones - very creepy but also very intriguing!
After walking the entire circumference of the circle and photographing all the small details as well as the bigger picture, Greg and I decided to do a short walk in the area to make the most of our day. We headed off in the snow passing through a small farm (home to some very curious cows) and joined a path going alongside a river. Eventually we broke off the path and cut through some fields leading into thick woodland. With nobody around there was an eerie silence among the trees and it reminded me of some kind of horror film! We spotted a few deer running through the forest up ahead but then silence again. Finally the trees thinned out a bit and we dropped down onto a proper footpath next to the River Eden, where we came across the impressive structures that are known as Lacy's Caves - a series of chambers carved into the red sandstone cliffs. Apparently they were created by Colonel Lacy of Salkeld Hall in the 18th Century and were used to entertain guests of his. These romantic ruins have quite a mysterious and ghostly feel to them - large empty doorways leading to pitch black corridors and dimly lit chambers hidden deep within the cliffs. It was exciting to explore them but also a bit creepy not knowing what was hiding in the darkness...
After exploring the caves we headed back along the route we had taken through the woods until we joined up with the original path, but took a detour along some snowy country lanes. Here we discovered the Church of St Michael & All Angels in a place called Addingham - apparently this was an Anglo-Saxon settlement but the village was washed away by the river in the 14th century and has never been re-built! Our route then took us through some fields and after a brief snowball fight we found ourselves back at Long Meg. We considered going to look for another smaller stone circle in a nearby field called Little Meg, but with the snow being so deep and the circle being so small we thought it was likely to be buried, so we'll visit that one another time.
All in all it was a really interesting day out and we learnt quite a bit about the history of the area and discovered things we didn't even know existed before! It's amazing what you can find out about places so close to home when you do a bit of investigating. It's certainly inspired us to explore more places around Cumbria - quite often people feel it necessary to travel far and wide for amazing experiences but this has proved that there's hidden gems to be found right on your doorstep if you look hard enough!
Our walking route is shown below if anyone would like to give it a try - I'd recommend maybe not going in thick snow as some of the paths were hard to find!
Watch this space for further updates on my project, with the finished body of work hopefully available to see before the end of this year...