|Avebury - The Cove - oriented to midsummer sunrise|
|Castlerigg, looking towards Skiddaw|
Again, a fair number of the Cumbrian rings appear to mirror the peaks and dips of the surrounding hills. It is hard not to believe this was deliberate. But why? Were they seen as a kind of miniature echo of the land around, invoking some sympathetic magic? Or was it for visual artistry? Or is it simply that a ring of stones will always look a bit like a ring of hills?
|Castlerigg, looking down towards Helvellyn|
So that is one reason why here in England we don't make much of our stone circles - we can't fathom their purpose, and without a story to tell, it is hard to put up compelling interpretive boards and visitor centre displays! They do not yield their secrets with a quick visit, but invite longer interaction. People often become fascinated by the enigmatic face they show. Perhaps a longer span of contemplative time is called for than most of us make room for in our days.
|Castlerigg, looking towards Clough Head|
|Long Meg and (some of) her daughters|
Many of the standing stones have geometric or abstract patterns cut into them, a practice typical of northern England and southern Scotland, though less common in the south or the extreme north of the country. Most are located on ancient trackways - though this naturally raises a chicken-and-egg question. The Romans usurped this idea when they arrived, so Roman roads often lead you straight to one of the circles. Many of these structures were over 3,000 years old when the Romans first saw them, and you have to wonder if they were as mystified as we are by their origins and purpose.
|Location map - www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone|
Finally, the geographical distribution is far from even, which perhaps tells us something about the priorities of the people who built and used these monuments. There are a lot down the Eden Valley corridor, between the Cumbrian fells and the Pennines. Presumably this was a major transit route then, just as it is now. There is another cluster in the southern Lakes, apparently arranged with the Old Man of Coniston as their focal point. This hill is certainly not the tallest of the Lakeland fells, but it stands in a commanding position, with long views down towards Morecambe Bay and the Lancashire coast. Perhaps it held an equally prominent place in the symbolic or spiritual life of the communities of the time.
We'll finish with some of William Wordsworth's lines about Long Meg...
Speak Thou, 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;
About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.
When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a Life, The Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.