As is already known I take a great interest in Celtic history and when given the opportunity to holiday in the lake district I began to ponder, which tribe had inhabited this land and what remnants related to there existence still remained?
The Celts had started migrating to Britain from Europe at around 500bc and remained undisturbed for about 550 years before the Romans arrived in Britain. During the Iron Age the Carvetii occupied Cumbria in north-west England, historical speculation places their settlement on either the Solway Plain, possibly the Lune Valley or the Eden Valley. The evidence of their existence is sparse and they are known from only three roman third and fourth century A.D inscriptions, unfortunately one of these is now lost. One is situated at Frenchfield (north of the roman fort of Brocavum)and another of the sites is situated at Langwathby fairly near Penrith both of these inscriptions were on milestones. One of the milestones closes with the statement ‘… R(es) P(ublicae) C(ivitas) Car(vetiorum)’, …the Public Works of the Carvetian State’. The other was inscribed on a tombstone found in 1600 in Old Penrith (the Voreda Roman Fort) a fair way north of present day Penrith. The tombstone of Flavius Martius recorded poportedly that he was ‘Sen(ator) In C(ivitas) Carvetior (um)’, a senator on the tribal council of the Carvetii tribe. The combination of all three inscriptions infers the existence of the ‘civitas Carvetiorum’, the land of the Carvetii and the existence of its leading body. Suprisingly the Carvetii are not mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geography. The capital of the Carvetii is thought to have been by many Luguvalium (modern day Carlisle) as this was the only walled town known in the region at the time. It has also been suggested that because of the vicinity of the inscriptions and the location of the most fertile land in the area and the known existence of an enclosed settlement some miles east of Penrith in the fertile Eden Valley that the logical location of the Carvetii capital is near the modern day Clifton Dykes. It is accepted that Carlisle was an important part of Carvetii lands as it was a centre of activity following the Roman invasion of Britain, preceding this the Eden Valley was certainly the centre of Carvetii lands. A strategic point within the Eden Valley is Brougham and its surrounding area which held importance with the cult of Belatucadrus, it also seems to be an important trade route with routes east across Stainmore and several important meeting places with several stone circles and monoliths and the presumed pre-roman capital of Clifton Dykes. This concentration of sites of importance may be at least a part of the reasoning behind the construction of the roman fort at Brocavum.
One of these sites is the Bronze Age stone circle Long Meg and Her Daughters is situated near Penrith in Cumbria. The stone circle is the sixth biggest example in north-western Europe, it consists of 59 stones 27 of which remain standing. The stones are stood in an oval shape and is 100m in diameter at its longest point. Originally there may have been as many as 70 stones in the circle. The megalith Long Meg herself is 3.6m high and is of red sandstone and is 25m to the southwest of the circle formed by her daughters. Long Meg is inscribed with examples of early art consisting of spirals and concentric circles. Several enclosures that predate the circle have been identified and Little Meg a smaller stone circle is situated close by. As mentioned earlier the monolith is local red sandstone, from either the River Eden or the Lazonby hills nearby, the circle stones however are rhyolite and are glacial erratic’s. Two large stones are placed to the east and west and there are two doorway stones placed to the south-west. The placement of Long Meg is aligned down the centre of the circle and the point of the midwinter sunset. In it’s early days the circle may have had a bank running around it and the centre may have been concave to some extent. Four of the stones in the circle don’t appear to be local and are formed from quartz crystal, they seem to have been deliberately placed at specific points that mark calendric events, for example on Samhain an alignment involves a portal stone, a quartz stone and Long Meg. The stones seem to mark solar and lunar timings as well as equinox’s. Long Meg and Her Daughters is the source of a great many legends, one being that the stones were originally a coven of witches who were turned to stone by the Scottish wizard called Michael Scott. Another legend is that the stones are uncountable and that if anybody counts the same number twice then Michael Scott’s spell will be broken and the witches released. Yet another legend is that when a local squire, Colonel Lacy planned to blow up the stones perhaps in search of treasure which was often said to be buried under such monuments in the 1700’s, but before they could ignite the black powder a fearful storm began to rage and the attempt was mercifully abandoned, a sought of supernatural protection. Long Meg is said to have been named after a local witch Meg of Meldon who lived in the early 17th century. It is said that if the monolith is damaged it will bleed.
Little Meg although less impressive is equally important and would have been revered by the Carvetii although it is much older than the tribes origins. It is the remains of a burial mound or round cairn, it would have originally consisted of a central burial cist surrounded by kerb stones, the cist unfortunately has been destroyed but was found to contain a cremation urn. The central mound is now gone though there are 10 or 11 kerb stone remains. The cairn is situated half a mile north-east of Long Meg and Her Daughters. In age it is thought to have been constructed in the later Bronze Age. Two intricately carved stones were found there one still remains in place the other was removed and can be seen in all its glory in Penrith Museum, it shows a spiral motif and a series of concentric circles.
At the time of the Carvetii, both monuments would have been magnificent in all their glory. We can only speculate that there use continued and indeed what there use may have been. I personally believe that such noble monuments would have been sites of political and spiritual importance, places of worship and meetings, as indeed they continue to be today.
And now I will continue with a bit of a rant, whilst holidaying in the lake district I search the nearest town Ambleside high and low for reading material concerning Cumbria’s Celtic heritage, I was dismayed not only that I could not find any reading material at all on Cumbria’s Celtic heritage but the sheer lack of history books concerning any era. I hate to see any history being ignored, I have hope and am sure that this absence of recorded history is not wide spread. Get out there and write about the Celts!
Anyway rant over, there are some stunning Bronze and Iron age sights in the Lake District, you should definitely go see them I know I will!