Long Meg and Her Daughters – Penrith, England - Atlas Obscura
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Long Meg and Her Daughters

Legends say this red sandstone monolith and the dozens of smaller boulders that surround it were once a coven of witches—before a Scottish wizard turned them all to stone. 

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With a diameter measuring 340 feet (100 meters), the formation known as “Long Meg and her Daughters” is the second-largest stone circle in England, and the sixth-largest in northwestern Europe. In addition to being one of the largest, it is also thought to be one of the oldest stone circles in England, dating from between the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period.

The titular Long Meg is the tallest of the stones at about 12 feet (3.6 meters). She stands alone, about 80 feet (25 meters) outside the circle, positioned with her corners facing the points of the compass. Long Meg is carved with megalithic art on the side facing towards the stone circle. The designs include a cup and ring pattern, a spiral, grooves, and rings of concentric circles. There are supposed to be a group of figures but these are so faint they are difficult to find.

Long Meg is made of local red sandstone but the daughters are rhyolite boulders, a type of granite. Some believe that Long Meg was brought to the location from somewhere close to the River Eden to the west, which may have already held pre-existing rock carvings, with other carvings possibly added after it was moved. There is one school of thought that Long Meg herself is not contemporary with the rest of the stone circle.

The purpose of the site is also debated. While some believe it is a burial place, others believe it may be something more. They have suggested that Long Meg and other stone circles in the area were gathering places, where people came together at specific times of the year for proposes like trade, rituals, or social exchanges.

One local legend claims that Long Meg was a local witch who along with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath by dancing wildly on the moor by a Scottish wizard. A slightly different version of the tale has the surrounding stones been Meg’s lovers, not daughters, who nevertheless experienced the same fate of been turned to stone for their association with the witch. Either way, the circle is supposedly endowed with magic leftover from the wizard’s spell, making the stones uncountable. The legend holds that it is impossible to count the same number of stones twice. If anyone should manage to do so then, the spell would be broken and either release the witch and her associates trapped in the stones, or the person who manages to count them will receive incredibly bad luck.

A different legend has it that if you walk around the circle and count the number of stones correctly, then put your ear to Long Meg, you will hear her whisper.

Know Before You Go

Just over a third of a mile to the northeast of Long Meg and her Daughters is one of the smallest stone circle's on Cumbria, appropriately named Little Meg. It is a short walk to get to this site and worth it for the clear carvings on one of the stones.

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