By Dr Sandy Gerrard

Earlier reports on the Bancbryn stone alignment have demonstrated a visual link with Hartland Point in Devon. The very precise nature of this link strongly supports the idea that the alignment was placed to take advantage of the views created by a blocking hill in the foreground. Recent work in SW England has found that this is a pattern that is repeated many times and in the coming months the preliminary results of this work will be reported here. In the meantime, this research has also revealed a particularly interesting and significant relationship between the Bancbryn alignment and the Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall. The Nine Maidens is an alignment consisting of large upright slabs which was first described in the early part of the 17th century.

Nine Maidens stone alignment leading up a gentle hill towards The Fiddler from which there is a view of Hartland Point. The orientation of the alignment is directly towards Hartland Point.

Nine Maidens stone alignment leading up a gentle hill towards The Fiddler from which there is a view of Hartland Point. The orientation of the alignment is directly towards Hartland Point.

The alignment survives within enclosed farmland and has as a result suffered significant damage. Despite this the alignment includes a line of stones leading up a gentle south facing slope towards a single stone known as the Fiddler situated on the north brow of the hill. From The Fiddler there is a view towards Hartland Point, but most significantly the surviving length of the alignment is on the same orientation as the length at Bancbryn which points at Hartland Point. The significance of this relationship is most easily expressed by a map showing the position of all three places.

Map illustrating the orientation of the Nine Maidens and Bancbryn stone alignments

Map illustrating the orientation of the Nine Maidens and Bancbryn stone alignments

It would therefore appear that two separate alignments are pointing at the same prominent natural feature as well as including a large body of sea. Indeed on mainland Britain this is probably the largest single expanse of water that could have been treated in this way.  This may be significant or a coincidence, although it is perhaps worth mentioning at this juncture that a large number of SW English alignments have convincing and demonstrable links with the sea and that the precision of their siting can be explained purely in terms of visual references to the sea. These exciting new discoveries will be presented in future articles.

Simplified plan of the Nine Maidens stone alignment and associated cairns. Cairns denoted by red circles have sea views whilst the green ones do not.

Simplified plan of the Nine Maidens stone alignment and associated cairns. Cairns denoted by red circles have sea views whilst the green ones do not.

Simplified plan of the Bancbryn stone alignment and associated cairns.

Simplified plan of the Bancbryn stone alignment and associated cairns.

This far we have established that the Bancbryn and Nine Maidens alignments share the same broad orientation (remembering that alignments are very rarely precisely straight) and that their uppermost lengths are also aligned towards Hartland Point. The two alignments share a number of other details. Both separate discrete clusters of cairns and both include lengths which do not have sight of Hartland Point. The southern lengths of both alignments have no views of the sea and therefore in simplistic terms whilst progressing along both alignments a point is reached where the sea appears and disappears. This point may have been of particular importance and is marked at Bancbryn by a shift in the orientation. Sadly at the Nine Maidens this part of the alignment has been removed.

If we start from the premise that alignments were designed to denote a special and very particular route it is perhaps more than a little significant that both alignments include lengths with only local outlooks leading to lengths with far reaching views including the sea. I would suggest that should this be repeated regularly at other sites then we are perhaps getting closer to an understanding as to why stone alignments were built where they are although details of any rituals along the way will inevitably remain obscure. The importance of topography in the siting of other classes of ritual and funerary monuments of this broad period is universally accepted. The barrow in a prominent position so that it can be viewed from afar may disappear for a short time as you approach it before being finally revealed as you reach it.  Some journeys through ritual landscapes were clearly special enough to be marked with stones and it is therefore not surprising to find particular themes being repeated time and time again along the journey.

There is more to come in this fascinating series over the coming weeks – Ed.