We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Burford Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.


The Burford Down single stone alignment includes a 508m long line of stones leading north from a kerbed cairn at SX 63697 60170 and incorporates at least 100 stones, many of which are now recumbent.  The alignment is situated on a pronounced north to south promontory extending from the higher ground of Dartmoor to the north and offers two separate views towards the sea. Indeed the sea is visible only from either end and is not visible from much of the central length.  Clearly it is impossible to demonstrate that the particular visual changes experienced as you move along the alignment were deliberately contrived but the accumulation of evidence strongly supports the idea that many of the alignments were positioned to generate a particular set of visual reveals, with those involving the sea being the most obvious. This really should come as no surprise since it has been accepted for some time that prehistoric ritual monuments were carefully positioned with particular cognisance to local topography. Ritual was important to these people and indeed in many ways it defined their whole lives. Movement played a significant part in their ceremonies as is witnessed by the considerable distances that stones were often carried and indeed it has been suggested that the routes taken by the builders of some of our most impressive megalithic monuments may have been as important as the monuments themselves. The alignments may therefore be seen as a physical manifestation of special routes – but what made them special? Chances are that like so much in life it was different things or events but the correlation between sea views and many rows strongly implies that the relationship between land and sea was significant and worth celebrating although of course we are left to speculate on why.

Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the northern end of the row and each subsequent image is taken from a point along the alignment with the last one being from the kerbed cairn at the top.


View from the lower (northern) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.


As one proceeds along the row the view is initially maintained. (34m from lower end)


After 128m the sea view is transformed into a sea triangle by the rising ground of Burford Down in the foreground.


After 168m only the westernmost sea triangle is visible. The other two disappeared in the course of 40m.


After 220m the final sea triangle disappears behind the rising ground of Burford Down. For the next 208m there is no view of the sea.


After 428m a sea triangle slowly emerges from behind the brow of the Burford Down. Reveals such as this perhaps formed part of the ceremonies associated with the alignments.


From the cairn at the top a narrow band of sea is visible.  During winter months the low sunlight reflecting on the sea creates a “beam of light”. This impressive natural phenomenon could have been incorporated into the ceremonies.


Map showing the arcs of visibility from the northern end of the alignment.  Each sea triangle would have been illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to the ceremonies. The easternmost arc would have been illuminated from about 2.30pm until 3.40pm, the central one at 4.15pm and the westernmost arc around 4.20pm.


Map showing the arc of visibility from the kerbed cairn at the southern end of the alignment. The beam of light would have been visible from around 11.40am until 2.15pm and varied in intensity according to the weather and date.

Previous articles in this series: