Ancient Stone Markers
Photo of Long Meg and her Daughters by Val Corbett
It is evident that our earliest predecessors went to some trouble to leave permanent markers of their time in the landscape; stone declarations of their sense of oneness with nature and an affirmation of their place in the universe. The Eden Valley and its surrounding uplands contain numerous ancient, standing stones and circles that seem to communicate our ancestors’ reflections on life and eternity across the centuries and encapsulate a wisdom that we seem to have forgotten.
There are over a thousand stone circles in the British Isles and a quarter of these are to be found in Cumbria. Most are small and often just a jumble of stones due to interference over the centuries and in East Cumbria only a few have survived in a reasonable condition.
Long Meg and her Daughters
One of the largest in Britain, this stone circle consists of 69 granite boulders enclosing an area 109 metres long by 92 metres wide with a separate tall monolith of red sandstone, 3.7 metres high, standing a short distance to the south west. Local folklore has given rise to the legend that a local witch called Long Meg and her daughters were turned into stone as a punishment for dancing on the Sabbath and if you count the same number of stones twice the witch and her daughters will come back to life.
Long Meg and her Daughters are 10 km NE of Penrith along a side lane just off the road between Little Salkeld and Glassonby. (Map reference NY 571372)
Mayburgh Henge, King Arthur’s Round Table and the Eden Millennium Monument
A Henge is the name given to a circular earth bank which may or may not combine with a stone circle and these are the only two in Cumbria. King Arthur’s Round Table and Mayburgh Henge are just ½ Kilometre apart, on the outskirts of Eamont Bridge just south of Penrith. It is unlikely that King Arthurs Round Table ever included any standing stones (nor had any connection with King Arthur) but there are historical records that describe two circles of large standing stones at Mayburgh Henge although, sadly, only one stone has survived.
King Arthurs Round Table (Map reference NY 523283) is at the southern end of Eamont Bridge village at the junction of the A6 and the road to Yanwath.
To visit Mayburgh Henge (Map reference NY 519284) from Eamont Bridge go along the road toward Yanwath and take a right turn by the Eden Millennium Monument.
The Eden Millennium Monument is a modern monolith erected in the year 2000 to celebrate 2000 years of Christianity, but it could also be a monument to geological history, as the stone itself, a fifty tonne block of Shap granite, is 330 million years old.
Continue down this side road and turn right through a kissing gate into a field, bear right round the perimeter of the field until you reach the entrance to Mayburgh Henge on your left.
The Moor Divock Circles
There are numerous cairns, burial mounds, standing stones and circles on this moorland, which is part of Askham Fell. The entire area is an archaeologist’s paradise but for the more casual visitor there are two stone circles which have survived as definite circles.
The first is known by archaeologists as Moor Divock 4! This is a small circle consisting of 10 large stones which originally surrounded a burial mound. The second has the more dramatic name, ‘The Cockpit’ and is a larger circle of scattered stones, some of which still stand erect, with an internal diameter of about 26 metres.
This area is best approached from the village of Helton, nine kilometres south of Penrith. You can drive along a minor road South West from Helton to where a Bridleway heading North West provides a pleasant walk across the moor and access to the circles.
The Moor Divock 4 circle is about half a kilometre along this track over to the right. (Map reference NY 494 220)
To visit The Cockpit continue for one kilometre to where the track meets another bridleway where you turn left and the circle is half a kilometre further on from there. The terrain is very boggy in places and it may be advisable to make a detour, north of the wettest ground. (Map reference NY 483 222)
Castlehowe Scar Stone Circle
This small elongated circle of ten boulders, sits in a field next to the minor road between Shap and Crosby Ravensworth.
Located two and a half kilometres east of Shap in a field opposite Castlehowe Scar Farm. There is no public access to the field but it is easily viewed from the road. (Map reference NY 587 154)
The Oddendale Stone Circle
Shap and Crosby Ravensworth. The Oddendale circle comprises two almost perfect concentric rings of stone. There are 34 stones in the outer ring which is 28 metres in diameter and 23 stones in the inner circle surrounding what was almost certainly a burial mound.
From Castlehowe turn down the lane signposted to Oddendale. From a point just west of the hamlet walk half a kilometre south along the bridleway and the circle is 200 metres over to the right. (Map reference NY 592 129)
Gamelands Stone Circle
This is one of the largest stone circles in Cumbria although none of its forty stones are still standing, probably due to ploughing in the past. It is roughly 40 metres in diameter.
This circle is situated in a field adjacent to a wide track, which is a public byway, just over a kilometre east of Orton (near Tebay) on the road to Raisbeck. Walk about 400 metres along this track and the circle can be seen over the wall on your right. There is a kissing gate which provides permissive access into the field. (Map reference NY 640 082)