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by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Walking down the Bancbryn stone alignment, distant but focused views of Hartland Point in Devon are enjoyed. This short article illustrates the nature of this phenomenon and suggests that this evidence together with other aspects of the site that were overlooked by the previous scheduling assessment could justify a review of the earlier decision. 

View from the Black Mountain illustrating the wider landscape within which Bancbryn should be viewed. The red line denotes the line of sight between the cairn at the top of the row and Hartland Point.

View from the Black Mountain illustrating the wider landscape within which Bancbryn should be viewed. The red line denotes the line of sight between the cairn at the top of the row and Hartland Point.

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Tor Clawdd blocks views to Devon from Bancbryn and it is the juxtaposition between the two hills and the distant Hartland Point that creates the extraordinary visual treat which is emphasised and celebrated by the upper course of the stone alignment. The red line denotes the line of sight from the cairn to Hartland Point.

Tor Clawdd blocks views to Devon from Bancbryn and it is the juxtaposition between the two hills and the distant Hartland Point that creates the extraordinary visual treat which is emphasised and celebrated by the upper course of the stone alignment. The red line denotes the line of sight from the cairn to Hartland Point.

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Bancbryn stone alignment showing position from which the photographs of Hartland Point were taken.

Bancbryn stone alignment showing position from which the photographs of Hartland Point were taken.

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1. View from the cairn at the upper end of the alignment. Hartland Point is just visible peeking out from behind Tor Clawdd. The precision of this visual relationship cannot be over-estimated. If the cairn had been positioned a mere 5m further east Hartland Point would not be visible at all. How likely is it that this is a coincidence?

1. View from the cairn at the upper end of the alignment. Hartland Point is just visible peeking out from behind Tor Clawdd. The precision of this visual relationship cannot be over-estimated. If the cairn had been positioned a mere 5m further east Hartland Point would not be visible at all. How likely is it that this is a coincidence?

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2. Hartland Point is clearly visible from this point on the alignment.

2. Hartland Point is clearly visible from this point on the alignment.

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3.  Hartland Point remains clearly visible. The orientation of the alignment relative to slope on Bancbryn and the blocking effect of Tor Clawdd ensures that the focussed view to Hartland Point is maintained.

3. Hartland Point remains clearly visible. The orientation of the alignment relative to slope on Bancbryn and the blocking effect of Tor Clawdd ensures that the focussed view to Hartland Point is maintained.

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4. The slightest deviation in the route taken by the stone alignment would have meant that this significant visual observation would not exist.

4. The slightest deviation in the route taken by the stone alignment would have meant that this significant visual observation would not exist.

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5. As one continues to walk down the stone alignment the view to Hartland Point is maintained.

5. As one continues to walk down the stone alignment the view to Hartland Point is maintained.

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6. As one descends the hill the sea visible between Hartland Point and Tor Clawdd slowly diminishes, but the headland remains clearly in focus along the axis of the alignment.

6. As one descends the hill the sea visible between Hartland Point and Tor Clawdd slowly diminishes, but the headland remains clearly in focus along the axis of the alignment.

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7. Very little sea is now apparent between the headland and nearby hill, but the alignment is still clearly focused on Hartland Point.

7. Very little sea is now apparent between the headland and nearby hill, but the alignment is still clearly focused on Hartland Point.

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8. Visually Hartland Point now protrudes from the lower slopes of Tor Clawdd.

8. Visually Hartland Point now protrudes from the lower slopes of Tor Clawdd.

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9. After 300m Hartland Point is disappearing back behind Tor Clawdd. From this point onwards the focus of the row is no longer on Devon.

9. After 300m Hartland Point is disappearing back behind Tor Clawdd. From this point onwards the focus of the row is no longer on Devon.

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Why is this important?

The significance of visual relationships is a frequent feature in the archaeological literature concerning prehistoric funerary and ritual landscapes.  There is an acceptance that considerable care was taken positioning features and whilst the precise reasons are not always apparent there is consensus that the siting and distribution of funerary and ritual monuments was far from random and indeed positions were often very carefully selected.  The upper 300m of the Bancbryn stone alignment points at the far distant Hartland Point in Devon. The chances of this being a coincidence are remote especially when one considers that:

  • The cairn at the upper end of the alignment is positioned with perfect precision to ensure that Hartland Point peeks out from behind Tor Clawdd. This significant visual relationship exists only at the exact spot where this cairn was erected.
  • A deviation of as little as one degree from the course of the stone alignment would have meant that the visual relationship illustrated in the photographs above would not exist.
  • The slight shifts in the stone alignment’s orientation can be explained as a response to the changing form of the profile of Tor Clawdd relative to the undulating slope of Bancbryn and position of Hartland Point.
  • The care and attention to detail with which the view to Hartland Point is maintained illustrates a strong element of deliberation beyond any reasonable doubt.

Normally powerful evidence such as this would be enough to support the strong possibility of a prehistoric date.  Cadw’s reluctance this far to even consider this evidence is disappointing. Particularly as they have stated that the reason for not scheduling the site is because of “insufficient evidence”. Shame too therefore that during their assessment they were unable to locate the cairn at the top of the row and the fallen terminal stone at the lower end. Perhaps there is only insufficient evidence because many of the crucial details were disregarded.

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