Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle, associated cursus and prehistoric enclosure


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Eden (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 56847 37164

Reasons for Designation

Stone circles are prehistoric monuments comprising one or more circles of upright or recumbent stones. The circle of stones may be surrounded by earthwork features such as enclosing banks and ditches. Single upright stones may be found within the circle or outside it and avenues of stones radiating out from the circle occur at some sites. Burial cairns may also be found close to and on occasion within the circle. Stone circles are found throughout England although they are concentrated in western areas, with particular clusters in upland areas such as Bodmin and Dartmoor in the south-west and the Lake District and the rest of Cumbria in the north-west. This distribution may be more a reflection of present survival rather than an original pattern. Where excavated they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000 BC). It is clear that they were designed and laid out carefully, frequently exhibiting very regularly spaced stones, the heights of which also appear to have been of some importance. We do not fully understand the uses for which these monuments were originally constructed but it is clear that they had considerable ritual importance for the societies that used them. In many instances excavation has indicated that they provided a focus for burials and the rituals that accompanied interment of the dead. Some circles appear to have had a calendrical function, helping mark the passage of time and seasons, this being indicated by the careful alignment of stones to mark important solar or lunar events such as sunrise or sunset at midsummer or midwinter. At other sites the spacing of individual circles throughout the landscape has led to a suggestion that each one provided some form of tribal gathering point for a specific social group. Large irregular stone circles comprise a ring of at least 20 stone uprights. The diameters of surviving examples range between 20 and 40 metres, although it is known that larger examples, now destroyed, formerly existed. The stone uprights of this type of circle tend to be more closely spaced than in other types of circle and the height and positioning of uprights also appears not to have been as important. They are widely distributed throughout England although in the south they are confined largely to the west. Of the 250 or so stone circles identified in England only 45 examples of large irregular circles are known. As a rare monument type which provides an important insight into prehistoric ritual activity all surviving examples are worthy of preservation.

Prehistoric rock art is found on natural rock outcrops and standing stones in many areas of upland Britain. It is especially common in the north of England where its most common form of decoration is the 'cup and ring' marking where expanses of small cup-like hollows are pecked into the surface of the rock. These cups may be surrounded by one or more 'rings'. Single pecked lines extending from the cup through the rings may also exist, providing the design with a 'tail'. Other shapes and patterns also occur, but are less frequent. Carvings may occur singly, in small groups, or may cover extensive areas of rock surface. They date to the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods (2800 - 500 BC) and provide one of the most important insights into prehistoric 'art'. The exact meaning of the designs remains unknown, but they may be interpreted as sacred or religious symbols. Frequently they are found close to contemporary burial monuments and the symbols are also found on portable stones placed directly next to burials or incorporated in burial mounds. A cursus is an enormously elongated linear earthwork ranging from about 250m to 5.6km in length and whose proportions are such that the long axis is more than ten times the short axis. The sides are generally defined by a bank and external ditch, with the ditch usually varying between 1.5m - 4m wide and 0.6m - 2m deep, and banks anything from 1.5m - 3m high. The terminals are either round ended or square ended. Access to the interior was restricted and commonly occurs near one end of the long sides but may also be found in the centre of the long side or at both ends. The two long sides run roughly parallel and may incorporate or be spatially associated with other classes of prehistoric monument. The function of a cursus is not known, although they are presumed to be ritual/ceremonial monuments of the Middle and Late Neolithic date (3300 - 2500 BC). Around 40 cursuses are currently known in England and these are widely scattered across central and eastern parts of the country. On present evidence this class of monument must be regarded as being very rare nationally. Prehistoric enclosures are plots of land usually enclosed by stone walls or banks of stone and earth in upland areas, and banks of earth with an external ditch in lowland areas. Many date to the Bronze Age (c.2000 - 500 BC) though earlier and later examples also exist. They were constructed as stock pens or as protected areas for crop growing and were sometimes subdivided to accommodate animal shelters and hut circle settlements. The size and form of enclosures may therefore vary considerably, depending on their particular function. Their variation in form, longevity and relationship to other monument classes provide important information on the diversity of social organisation and farming practices among prehistoric communities. Taken individually Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle, the cursus, and the prehistoric enclosure are each of major archaeological importance. The stone circle is the largest irregular stone circle in Cumbria and is considered, on the basis of its form, to belong to an early period in the tradition of stone circle construction. The outlying stone, Long Meg, displays a well preserved and complex arrangement of prehistoric rock art. The cursus is the only known example of this class of monument in north west England, and the prehistoric enclosure is considered, on the basis of the arrangement of stones in the adjacent stone circle, to predate the circle and thus represents a rare survival of a Neolithic enclosure. Taken collectively the site represents a unique combination of spatially associated monuments of the Late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age date. This association suggests that use of these individual monuments probably overlapped for at least some of their respective periods of use and attests to the importance of this area as a major gathering point for the wider populace for religious, ritual and ceremonial purposes during many centuries.


The monument is the stone circle known as Long Meg and Her Daughters, together with an associated cursus or linear earthwork to the west of the stone circle, and a prehistoric enclosure to the north. It is located on the edge of a wide sandstone terrace above the east bank of the River Eden. The monument includes an oval enclosure of stones with an outlying stone known as Long Meg to the south west. The cursus and prehistoric enclosure have been identified from cropmarks visible in aerial photographs which clearly show the infilled ditches of these two monuments, neither of which are visible at ground level. The stone circle includes 69 large stones, some standing and some fallen, which are granitic glacial erratics arranged in a slight oval flattened to the north. The stones enclose an area measuring approximately 109m east-west by 94m north-south. An entrance at the south west side of the circle has two stones outside the main circle forming a portal or doorway into the circle. A short distance beyond the entrance is Long Meg, an outlying monolith of red sandstone 3.4m tall aligned from the centre of the circle on the mid-winter sunset. It is decorated with cup and ring marks - a relief sculpture produced by pecking and considered to be a form of religious symbolism - together with numerous other motifs including spirals, concentric circles, ovoids and curved lines. Immediately to the north of the stone circle, and partly overlain by Longmeg Farm, aerial photographs have identified the infilled ditch of a roughly circular enclosure measuring some 210m north-south by 200m east-west. At the point where the stone circle and the enclosure virtually touch, the stone circle has been flattened slightly in shape suggesting that the enclosure was already in existence and the stones arranged so as not to disturb this earlier feature. To the west of the stone circle aerial photographs have identified two infilled ditches of a cursus running for approximately 600m from the cliff above the River Eden to the entrance on the south western side of the stone circle. The ditches are virtually parallel and c.40m-50m apart. The western end of the cursus is terminated by an oblique ditch also visible on aerial photographs. The eastern end is less clear; the northern ditch appears to run to the edge of the stone circle, the southern ditch, however, cannot be traced quite this far on existing aerial photographs but it is reasonable to assume that it also continues at least to the stone circle. The designs of the rock art depicted on Long Meg, together with dating evidence from other stone circles and cursuses suggest use of this monument as a religious or ritual gathering point from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, c.2400 - 1000 BC. Antiquarian reports indicate that two round cairns were located within the stone circle in the 17th century, and local tradition states that bones were also found. The surface of the road to Longmeg Farm and the track beyond the farm, and all walls, fences, gateposts, field boundaries and telegraph poles are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Beckensall, S, Cumbrian Prehistoric Rock Art: Symbols, Monument & Landscapes, (1992), 7-13
Stuckley, W, Itinerarium Curiosum, (1776), 47
Stuckley, W, Itinerarium Curiosum, (1776), 47
Crawford, O G S, 'Antiquity' in Notes and News: Long Meg, , Vol. 8, (), 328-9
Crawford, O G S, 'Antiquity' in Notes and News: Long Meg, , Vol. 8, (), 328-9
Crawford, O G S, 'Antiquity' in Notes and News: Long Meg, , Vol. 8, (), 328-9
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP , Cumbria County Council, Long Meg and Her Daughters,
AP No. CCC 2514,15, Cumbria County Council, Long Meg,
AP No. CCC 2514,18, Cumbria County Council, Long Meg,
AP No. CCC 2522,21, Cumbria County Council, Long Meg,
AP No. XPI 2517,5, Cumbria County Council, Long Meg,
Bowman, A., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Large Irregular Stone Circles, (1990)
Darvill, T., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Cursus, (1988)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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