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Dr Sandy Gerrard’s ongoing series of posts concerning stone row alignments, and their associated landscape tricks and treats have been generally well received here on the Heritage Journal.

StoneRowsLogo

Such has been the reaction that a decision was made to give his articles and associated research a more permanent, focused home. To this end we are delighted to announce the creation of a sister site for the Journal, and new web resource: ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ which goes live today.

The site includes a gazetteer of known and accepted prehistoric stone rows, along with a list of those rows whose antiquity or veracity is in doubt. Many of the gazetteer entries show not just basic information such as location, characteristics and so on, but many are accompanied by links to other web resources, photographs, and each region can be investigated via an interactive map.

The ‘Research’ area of the site will be of interest to many people, and many of Dr Gerrard’s articles which have appeared on the Heritage Journal to date, and more, are included here.

There will still be a great deal of information to be added as further research sheds light on possible uses of the enigmatic monuments, so please pay ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ a visit, and leave us your comments.

Dr Sandy Gerrard’s ongoing series of posts concerning stone row alignments, and their associated landscape tricks and treats have been generally well received here on the Heritage Journal.

Such has been the reaction that a decision has been made to give his articles and associated research a more permanent, focused home. To this end we are delighted to announce the creation of a sister site for the Journal, and new web resource: ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ which we are working to make public in March 2016.

StoneRowsLogo

This new web site will eventually include a full gazetteer of known stone rows covering the length and breadth of Britain, organised on a regional basis – Dartmoor is the first gazetteer area to be completed but other areas will be populated in the coming weeks and months.

gazetteer

There will also be a full analysis of rows by type, length and number of stones available at launch. As time goes on, further information will rapidly be added, including links to other resources, and it is hoped that this site will grow into a major resource and focus for stone row-based study in its own right.

Research

A further announcement (and working link) will be made available closer to launch date, but we wanted to give an early ‘heads-up’ to all those who are interested in this area of study, so watch this space!

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

TWMap

The double stone alignment at Trowlesworthy includes two roughly parallel lines of stones aligned north east to south west leading for 127.5m from a kerbed cairn (SX 57644 63985) on the lower slopes of Great Trowlesworthy Tor. The alignment is far from straight and several minor shifts in its orientation give it the sinuous character found at many rows. The row is built mainly from medium sized orthostats (average 0.37m high) although at least one more substantial stone (now recumbent) lies a short distance above the Old Bottlehill Mine Leat which cuts the row in two. There is no blocking stone at the south western end and it may therefore have originally been longer. A detailed plan of the row together with details and discussion is available the “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume 3” by Jeremy Butler.  A second row is situated to the north of this one and will be considered fully at a later date. At this stage it is perhaps worth noting that the second row includes a single line of stones and despite its close proximity has no views to the sea, a situation paralleled by the second row at Hart Tor. Analysis of sea views from the Trowlesworthy rows is to some extent hampered by the nearby china clay works at Lee Moor which have undoubtedly altered the local topography, but despite this the character of the sea views is still obvious and have not been significantly altered.

The Trowlesworthy double stone alignment in common with many Dartmoor stone rows is built across the sea view/no sea view interface. This means that views to the sea are visible from parts of the row but not from others.  In this instance the sea is visible from the upper part of the row and not from the lower length.  The largest stone (now recumbent) together with a significant shift in alignment denotes the point at which the sea view appears and disappears depending on the direction of travel. The presence of the largest orthostat and alignment shift suggests that this was a significant point along the journey denoted by the row and its precise correlation with the sea/no sea view interface is consistent with the familiar pattern being found at many stone rows. The observation first made at Bancbryn of a close and measurable visual link with the sea is one that is repeated time and time again. The construction of rows across the sea/no sea view interface is too common to be a coincidence and strongly supports the hypotheses that the siting of many rows was influenced by a need to acknowledge this phenomenon. A programme of statistical analysis is underway to establish and quantify the precise character of this relationship and demonstrate the degree of correlation between the Dartmoor rows and the types of sea view that exist. An initial pilot has suggested that the distribution of Dartmoor rows correlates with particular views towards the sea but also that other types of view and reveal are of significance. Cumulatively the evidence that is being gathered illustrates that the rows were erected in particular locations to enable particular types of view and reveals to be “experienced” by those walking along them and it would therefore be surprising if these experiences were not reflected in the activities being carried out.

Simplified plan showing the row and cairn. Views to the sea exist from the stones coloured  black, but no sea views are available from the part of the row coloured red.

Simplified plan showing the row and cairn. Views to the sea exist from the stones coloured  black, but no sea views are available from the part of the row coloured red.

The cairn at the top of the stone alignment. Note the way in which the row’s orientation shifts to ensure that it reaches the kerbed cairn. The orthostats denoting the cairn are larger than those used to build the row.

The cairn at the top of the stone alignment. Note the way in which the row’s orientation shifts to ensure that it reaches the kerbed cairn. The orthostats denoting the cairn are larger than those used to build the row.

The sinuous form of this row is obvious when viewed along its length from the south west. The large stones at the top of the photograph surround the cairn. The form of the row strongly suggests that perhaps it was an established path that was subsequently denoted by stones. The large recumbent stone is indicated by a red arrow. This is the point where the sea becomes visible for the first time as you walk up the row.

The sinuous form of this row is obvious when viewed along its length from the south west. The large stones at the top of the photograph surround the cairn. The form of the row strongly suggests that perhaps it was an established path that was subsequently denoted by stones. The large recumbent stone is indicated by a red arrow. This is the point where the sea becomes visible for the first time as you walk up the row.

View from the south east of the row.  The hillside is littered with substantial blocks of granite but the builders of the row selected smaller more manageable stones.

View from the south east of the row.  The hillside is littered with substantial blocks of granite but the builders of the row selected smaller more manageable stones.

The lower length of the row has no views to the sea. View from south west.

The lower length of the row has no views to the sea. View from south west.

Views from the alignment

Three images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards Great Trowlesworthy Tor a view to the sea appears at the point where the largest stone once stood.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by rising ground. Only a modern china clay tip is visible beyond the immediate horizon.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by rising ground. Only a modern china clay tip is visible beyond the immediate horizon.

The sea is suddenly revealed when you reach the largest stone.

The sea is suddenly revealed when you reach the largest stone.

Although now partly obscured by a china clay tip originally a thin slither of sea would have been visible from the cairn at the top of the row.

Although now partly obscured by a china clay tip originally a thin slither of sea would have been visible from the cairn at the top of the row.

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Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (north eastern) end of the alignment.  The view to the sea is most impressive in the middle of the day during the winter months.

Source: Butler, J., 1994, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume Three, 169-71 and 205.

Previous articles in this series:

Three years after it was written the report on the work carried out at the Bancbryn stone alignment has been released. You can see it for yourself here and a response to it here. Despite promises that only 10m of the alignment would be destroyed and that it would be treated as if it was prehistoric, this does not appear to have happened.   Around 35m of the stone alignment was finally destroyed and of this only 5m was excavated, the rest being lost with no record being made at all as a result of a mix up regarding its course. As if this was not bad enough the report’s conclusions are consistently contradicted by a catalogue of mistakes, exaggeration and the use of blatantly biased carefully selected information. Much has been made of the fact that the excavated stones were not associated with sockets, however in at least one photograph a large stone appears to sit within a cut and another one is on top of an unexcavated hollow.

The reasons for doubting the prehistoric interpretation are remarkable. Apparently the Bancbryn stone alignment can’t be prehistoric because the stones are of variable size, small, embedded into the subsoil and the alignment itself is sinuous in form. So there we have it after years of waiting we have finally been told that it can’t be prehistoric because …. well err…. it shares precisely the same characteristics as most of the scheduled stone alignments in the United Kingdom. This would be laughable if it was not so serious.

The Erme Valley stone alignment can’t be prehistoric after all it has a sinuous form and stones of variable size, many of which are small.

The Erme Valley stone alignment can’t be prehistoric after all it has a sinuous form and stones of variable size, many of which are small.

Whoops! The report failed to mention the size of the stones in the nearby Cerrig Duon stone alignment, instead implying they were between 1.5m and 3m high. (Scale 1m.)

Whoops! The report failed to mention the size of the stones in the nearby Cerrig Duon stone alignment, instead implying they were between 1.5m and 3m high. (Scale 1m.)

Perhaps this alignment was “overlooked” because it did not fit the storyline. Stones of very different sizes at the single alignment at Maen Mawr. (Scale 1m.)

Perhaps this alignment was “overlooked” because it did not fit the storyline. Stones of very different sizes at the single alignment at Maen Mawr. (Scale 1m.)

Even the classic site at Hingston Hill would have failed this particular prehistoric test. Different sized stones, many of them very small combined with a sinuous character means that this row too can’t be prehistoric!

Even the classic site at Hingston Hill would have failed this particular prehistoric test. Different sized stones, many of them very small combined with a sinuous character means that this row too can’t be prehistoric!

A guest post by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Over the past few years the sorry events at Bancbryn on Mynydd y Betws have featured frequently in the Heritage Journal. For some time now the local County Council have been asked to answer three simple questions.  They have steadfastly refused to do so. If the job had been done properly they would not be difficult to answer, but sadly after months of asking the questions remain unanswered. The three questions were:

  • Why was Cadw not consulted on the scheme of works used by the developers?
  • Why did the scheme of works regarding the stone alignment fail to mention the site and instead refer to a Roman site in Gloucestershire?
  • Why has no excavation report been produced?

Having failed to get answers from the council the Ombudsman was approached and their response might surprise you.

“The Ombudsman considers complaints of maladministration on the part of public bodies which causes hardship and injustice to members of the public. We normally take this to mean that an individual has suffered personal hardship or injustice as a result of the maladministration by the body. It does not appear to me, from the information available, that you have suffered personal hardship or injustice as a result of the matters you complain of. Therefore, the original matter you complain of is not one that the Ombudsman can consider under the restrictions imposed on him by law under the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005.”

So next time you uncover dodgy goings on at county hall remember unless you are going to personally suffer hardship or injustice they simply don’t want to know and they would prefer it if you walk on by.  You would have thought this country would have had enough of this type of attitude by now – but apparently not.

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

yartor1map

The Yar Tor triple stone alignment includes three roughly parallel lines of stones leading for at least 250m, aligned NNW to SSE up a saddle between Yar Tor and Corndon Tor. Although the row now apparently stops about 70m short of the Money Pit Cairn (SX 6816 7385) there is broad consensus that it once extended as far as this cairn. The stones forming the row are generally relatively small and Jeremy Butler notes that the average height is 0.16m high.  This row has something to tell us about the attitude of the Middle Bronze Age farmers who lived here in later years. Destruction and desecration is certainly not a modern phenomenon.  Over 2,500 years ago a new generation of farmers set about enclosing substantial areas of Dartmoor with fields.  Many of these still survive and illustrate land development on a colossal scale.  The field system laid out over the Yar Tor stone row was truly massive with over 3,000 hectares surviving to this day. The builders of this field system had no use for the Yar Tor alignment and built three lengths of field boundary over it. We can therefore be certain that by the Middle Bronze Age stone alignments were no longer being revered and even by this time their purpose had probably been forgotten. This indicates a significant shift in belief and is likely to reflect radical changes in cultural and ritual practises. Areas previously set aside for ritual activity were now being incorporated into the business of living.  Whatever was originally special about these places had been forgotten or perhaps the needs of the present had rendered them obsolete. They were built by communities, used by the same communities and abandoned when they were no longer required. One need not look any further than the modern church for an analogy.  Long after the Bronze Age fields had been abandoned farmers returned to the area and built new enclosures again incorporating the earlier row in their fields.  The later use of the area has undoubtedly damaged the row but despite its relatively delicate form consisting as it did of mainly small stones it thankfully survived.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

The topographical position of this row has much to offer our current research and the manner in which the row relates to the surrounding landscape is remarkable.  The row sits within a valley between Yar Tor on the west and Corndon Tor on the east and leads upslope from the north to the saddle between the tors. The effect of the disposition of the tors relative to the row is to restrict views to the east and west as you walk along it. It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that the northern end of the row marks the precise point from which restricted views start.  The view westward at this point may also be of significance. An eye catching view of Longaford Tor framed by Laughter Tor is visible and should certainly be described as a visual treat.

yartor4

This eye-catching view of Longaford Tor is available only from the northern end of the stone alignment.  Longaford Tor is framed perfectly by the nearer Laughter Tor. It seems very unlikely that the myriad of distinctive visual relationships like this can all be coincidences. Furthermore it is possible at the summer solstice sun may set behind the tor. Certainly something worth checking out.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

Yartor8

As you reach the cairn Sharp Tor looks as if it is sitting on top of the cairn. This visual trick and treat may of course have had considerable significance for the row builders. We have seen several reveals like this already but this one is particularly special enhanced as it is by the appearance of the sea on the distant horizon further to the east. Most artificial structures both past and present are built where they are for particular reasons and it would therefore be most surprising if stone alignments were not sited to take cognisance of their surroundings.  Here the visual treats are very obvious but the chances are that all the rows were built to acknowledge their surroundings.  Their linear form suggests that special routes were being denoted. It was clearly important that a particular path was followed and that the reveal was an important part of the ritual. The repeating pattern of links between the landscape and alignments provides a powerful indication that the rows played some part in connecting these people with their world.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

Views from the alignment

Four images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards the saddle views to the west and east are restricted by the neighbouring tors and the view to the south by the saddle itself. This is the case for much of the length of the row which of course emphasises the reveal when it happens.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

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Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (southern) end of the alignment.  It might be significant that the rising sun at the mid-winter solstice appears out of the sea triangle. Either end of the row appears to be closely related to celestial events – the top in the winter and the bottom in the summer.  A convincing body of evidence is developing that there is a correlation between the rows and celestial events although not in a manner that had been envisaged when this research began. The links with the sea are undoubtedly important but they are clearly only part of the picture and it is the complex visual relationships between the sky, water and land that seem to be being celebrated, acknowledged and sign-posted by the rows.  Each site is unique in form and location but the common thread that is developing is that they were each built to provide a special route between places with extra-ordinary visual relationships with the landscape. The stone alignment at Yar Tor is particularly informative and I would like to thank the Dartmoor Preservation Association for their recent clearance work which has revealed this extraordinary alignment.

Sources:

Butler, J., 1991, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume One, 126-7.

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into the stone row monuments of the South West. This time we are looking at the second of a pair of alignments north west of Sharpitor on Dartmoor. Last time we looked at its neighbour.

SNW1-1

The two stone alignments are situated close to each other on a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor. This time we shall look at the southern row which is of the single variety – last time we looked at the associated double row. Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown near a car park next to Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The single row includes at least thirty stones forming an 82.5m long row standing between 0.1m and 0.4m high leading a low spread mound at its western end. Unsurprisingly a walk westwards along this row provides nearly identical views and reveals to those experienced at the nearby double row although in this case the row is not aligned on South Hessary Tor, but instead points directly at the cairns at the top of the Hart Tor stone rows.

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Idealised sketch plan of the Sharpitor stone alignments showing what they may once have looked like based on Google Earth and field observations

 

View from the north eastern end of the row looking south westward.

View from the north eastern end of the row looking south westward.

Most of the stones in this alignment protrude only slightly above the ground surface.

Most of the stones in this alignment protrude only slightly above the ground surface.

Row leading towards the low cairn at the south western end. View from the north east.

Row leading towards the low cairn at the south western end. View from the north east.

Views from the alignment

The character of the reveal achieved by walking south westward along the row is very similar to that experienced along the adjacent double row. So instead this time the view revealed as you walk north eastwards is examined. A case is being built that the alignments were built to denote movement and that a megalithic character was not necessary. Indeed this row could have been built by a single family group in an afternoon. The stones were capable of being easily handled but this does not detract from their importance or the information they have to tell us. In this instance as is probably the case with many of the rows other visual treats are on offer, but the most obvious is the relationship between the row and the stone rows at Hart Tor. This row points directly towards the Hart Tor rows which are partly revealed as you walk up the hill from the cairn at the south western end. The Hart Tor rows are framed and partly obscured by the lower slopes of Leeden Tor which effectively block the view to the lower parts of both rows. It is anticipated that further work will reveal more examples of this type of particular precise visual inter-relationship and  these taken together with the links to the sea will allow analysis of patterns and convincingly demonstrate how these monuments were used even if we never understand why. Each row is unique in appearance and it should therefore not come as a surprise to find that they were each placed very carefully within the landscape to take full advantage of a myriad of different visual treats.

View looking north east along the row from the cairn at the south west end. The views in this direction are restricted by the rising ground leading to the blind summit.

View looking north east along the row from the cairn at the south west end. The views in this direction are restricted by the rising ground leading to the blind summit.

SNW1-7

As you walk up the hill the stone rows at Har Tor appear framed by the near ground and the lower slopes of Leeden Tor. The fact that this row is aligned on these rows and they are revealed as you proceed along the row seems deliberate particularly when one considers that the slightest difference in the orientation of the row would mean that this visual treat would not happen.

SNW1-8

Finally at the end of this row the Hart Tor rows are peeking out behind the lower slopes of Leeden Tor in the foreground.

Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time we are looking at one of a pair of alignments north west of Sharpitor on Dartmoor and next time we shall examine its neighbour.

snw1

The two stone alignments are situated close to each other on a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor. This time we shall look at the northern row which is of the double variety and next time we shall consider the associated single row.  Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown to a car park next to Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The double row measures 113m long and includes at least 42 stones leading north east from a cairn at SX 55664 70619 to a fallen blocking stone at SX 55776 70655. Despite its battered appearance this row in common with so many on the moor provides a whole series of visual treats of which the spectacular “sea triangle” reveal is but one. I have been able to visit this site since starting to research the landscape setting of the stone rows and as well as the obvious visual relationship with the sea another one with South Hessary Tor is apparent.

snw2

Idealised sketch plan of the Sharpitor stone alignments showing what they may once have looked like based on Google Earth and field observations.

The row in common with many on Dartmoor includes a “blind summit” which means that either ends are not intervisible. A sketch profile along the length of the rows illustrates this characteristic which of course creates the “sea view” reveal.

Sketch profile showing the position of stones along the row. The sea is slowly revealed as you proceed along the row from the blocking stone.  If one thinks of the stones as marking a special route then the dramatic “sea view” revelation is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Sketch profile showing the position of stones along the row. The sea is slowly revealed as you proceed along the row from the blocking stone.  If one thinks of the stones as marking a special route then the dramatic “sea view” revelation is unlikely to be a coincidence.

snw3a

Sharpitor row was not built to be an obvious feature in the landscape. The row comprises only very small stones of which these three are among the biggest. Whilst rows sometimes did make architectural statements many did not and instead include only small or indeed tiny stones. These rows can best be seen as accurately denoting the position of a special route. It was important to their builders that people walked from point A to point B along a precise pathway and what better way to ensure that this happened than to erect waymarkers which would of course have also denoted specific points along the route. Over time or perhaps from the very start these waymarkers could have had a significance of their own but it is the route itself that must have been of greatest significance and therefore it we are ever to understand at least the context in which they were built it is the route that we should be studying.

snw4

Looking north eastward along the row. The black arrow shows the alignment of the row which along its northern length points directly at the only skyline tor visible on the northern horizon. The other features visible on the horizon are modern forestry plantations.

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The northern part of the alignment is orientated directly on the prominent South Hessary Tor.

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The cairn at the south western end of the row is far from obvious. Many terminal cairns are slight in character.

The blocking stone (behind the ranging rod) which is now recumbent was the largest stone in the row. 

The blocking stone (behind the ranging rod) which is now recumbent was the largest stone in the row.

Views from the alignment

Three images derived from Google Earth are presented to illustrate the “reveal” that is attained as you walk along the row starting from the blocking stone at the north eastern end. The first one is from the blocking stone, the second at the point where the sea first becomes visible and the final one is from the small cairn at the south western end. This reveal is real but is it significant?  Over the past few months, similar examples have been presented and certainly the picture that is building up is one of consistence. All of the rows we have looked at have an observable link to the sea and the precision of that relationship is often remarkable. The sea of course is but one (although important) element in a landscape and the work at Sharpitor has shown that other features within the natural landscape may have been acknowledged. Detailed fieldwork will be required to assess other visual links, but it should really not come as a surprise to find that the alignments were built to take full cognisance of their surroundings. The builders of the stone alignments would have a sense of place and it would therefore be more remarkable if their monuments ignored the world in which they lived. The stone rows therefore probably provide an insight into these people’s sense of place and it would be unwise to ignore the clues they have left behind.

snw9View looking south west from the blocking stone. From here everything is hidden by the rising ground.

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As one walks up along the row a small closed sea triangle appears on the horizon. The land forming the top of the triangle is provided by the Lizard in Cornwall. This view is visible only when the lighting conditions are perfect and its consequent rarity may have made it doubly special, worth denoting and even celebrating.

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Arrival at the cairn brings a particularly fine grouping of sea views.  On the right is the closed sea triangle, in the middle a pair of stacked triangles and on the left a narrow slither which under certain lighting conditions looks like a beam of bright light emanating out of the ground. It is hard to believe that this remarkable sight is a coincidence particularly given that the row itself leads you to this point opening up this vista as you proceed along their waymarked route. It feels as if these people are showing us what was important to them.

snw12

Map showing the arcs of visibility from the cairn at the south western end of the alignment. The eastern arc would have been illuminated by the winter sun for two hours from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The spectacular light show as the sun moves over the sea during this time is noteworthy and it would surely not be too fanciful to suggest that a people with a known interest in the movement of the sun might wish to celebrate this and perhaps in the process formalise the event.

One can’t help but notice the similarities between the movement of the sun and the movement of people implied by the rows. This is an idea that needs further thought but the reveal identified at many rows may in some way be connected with sunset and sunrise.

A final point worth making is that around 12th January the sun sets into the closed sea triangle to the west. Certainly the rows we have looked at so far have all implied winter use and this too may point us in a profitable research direction.

Previous articles in this series:

Heritage Action member Mark Camp is an author and tour guide. Here, he relates some of his thoughts about the Colvannick stone row on Bodmin Moor.

Colvannick1

According to the Modern Antiquarian website, it’s 11 years since I ‘discovered’ this stone row. At the time I was relatively new to prehistoric sites, being more interested in industrial archaeology, and so was happy just to snap a few photos and try to trace the row through the gorse bushes.

In the years since I think I must have visited every stone row on Bodmin Moor, from the tiny row at Carneglos to the undulating row on Fox Tor. I have talked about them on guided walks and given talks about them, but in all that time I have never been able to describe to people why they are where they are. On Dartmoor rows tend to have a reason, in that they nearly always terminate at a cairn or taller stone, but not on Bodmin Moor. They don’t follow any particular direction, often they are not on the skyline, or even high enough to be seen above the grass!

I came to the conclusion that Bodmin Moor’s stone rows were rows of stones and could be where they are for many reasons. I have not even found any proof to suggest they were all erected at the same time, whatever time they were supposed to be erected. I have always taken it for granted that they date back to the Bronze Age and were built by the same people who created stone circles and erected standing stones. But I don’t make any claims to being an expert and as I say to people who walk with me, I can only give you my ideas, I may be completely wrong!

But recently, through the Heritage Journal, the thoughts of Dr Sandy Gerrard have been brought to my attention. I was lucky to meet up with Sandy on Bodmin Moor a few weeks ago when he was giving a guided walk on industrial archaeology. After looking at humps and bumps and the occasional hole for a few hours we got to talking about stone rows and his thoughts on their setting in the landscape. Sandy has put forward the idea that rows lead to viewing points, maybe of the sea or a hill or other features in the landscape. To see an example of this check out his thoughts on Leedon Tor and his other posts on the same subject.

Bearing this in mind, I recently retraced my steps to Colvannick Tor, just off the A30 in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It’s not the most visited part of the moor and looking back on The Modern Antiquarian, I was the last person to add any postings from there… and that was August 2004! Which surprises me as it is only a short walk from a layby and much easier to access than say Fernacre Circle or even the Cheesewring! Saying that, I actually approached from a southerly direction, parking beside the Millpool firing range and walking via St Bellarmins Tor.

The first stone you come across is close to one of the range marker posts (a word of warning, don’t go looking for the row on a day when the red flags are flying – you might get shot!) and is all on its own. Is this the southern end of the row? It’s difficult to say, there are no other standing stones nearby and you cannot make out the main body of the row from here, so is it part of the row or was the row longer, or is it just a stone that is standing? Working on Dr Gerrard’s idea, the only feature in the landscape that comes into view at this point is the main tumuli/cairn on top of Brown Gelly to the east. Until this point it has been hidden by other hills.

From here there is no way of working out where the other stones are, it’s just a matter of walking in a general direction northwards. Recent cutting down of gorse in the area has cleared things a little but it’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact I missed the next stone and had to double back to find it. This is the leaning monster that I first found back in 2004. And from here it is possible to pick up the row heading north (or to be correct NNW). There are four uprights/leaning/lying stones here, all a good size, and from them it is possible to continue on the same bearing to find the last stone further on. This stone is a good four foot high and there is another stone lying nearby on the same bearing. Like the southern stone, you ask the question, is this the end stone?

I am pretty certain there are no more stones standing between here and the A30 but that doesn’t mean there are not some lying in amongst the gorse. Like most of Bodmin Moor the area is also littered with stones, plus in the early 1900s there was a China Clay works built nearby and chances are some stone was sourced locally for building work. But let’s take it that this is the northern end of the row, what can we see?

Away to the north east are the two summits of Roughtor and Brown Willy, but we have been able to see them all the way up the row, so are they relevant to the end stone? Looking south you can see the sea, probably St Austell Bay in the distance and to the east several hills including Brown Gelly. But from here looking west we have Colvannick Tor blocking any view, its actual summit out of site and in the low evening light it is just a mass of shadow and gorse.

But then I spot something. Atop of the hill, in amongst the silhouettes of gorse there appears to be a stone. I might not have seen it in daylight, or I might have taken it for a sheep. I decided to make for it, just to check it out. It was a stone, not the tallest, only about two to three feet high, but from it the view west suddenly opens out and I can see down over the moor and out across the fields to the shining sea beyond the north Cornwall coast. Is that why the stone was put there? If I had continued northwards from the row I am not sure if I would have got the view before another hill came along, so this summit was a lookout point.

Colvannick2

What’s more, as I stood there I thought I could make out a broken circle of stones radiating out from the standing stone. Now I have ‘imagined’ stone circles on the moor before and I am not making any claims here, but there are stones there and they create a circle of a similar size to others on the moor.

Colvannick3

This is just an observation by somebody who enjoys walking the moor and has no archaeological expertise apart from what I have read in books along the way. I feel that the landscape offers much more than what a book ever can, but at the same time we need experts to decipher what we can see. Colvannick Row is there for everybody to look at and next time you hurtle down the A30 towards West Penwith, take time out and stop just past the Temple turn and have a walk across the moor, see what you can see?

Colvannick map

Our thanks go to Mark for being inspired by Sandy’s work, getting out there to look for himself, and then submitting this article.

Afterword: Sandy Gerrard has subsequently desk-checked this row, and his findings will appear in a followup article in the near future.

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

Sharpitor1

The Sharpitor West single stone alignment includes a 132m long line of stones leading south west from a cairn at SX 55058 70749 and incorporates at least 54 stones, some of which are now recumbent. The alignment is situated on the south west facing slope of a pronounced ridge leading west from Sharpitor. Despite being a really rather obvious alignment it is sobering to note that this alignment was first recorded as recently as 1963. This is surprising because the alignment includes a number of large uprights and the terminal pillar stands 1.2m high.

Sea views framed by the land exist, but one particular phenomenon is worth a special mention. There are three arcs of visibility and the western one which is the smallest includes a second triangle formed by the estuary of the River Plym.  The effect is one triangle sitting above another one and for this reason “stacked triangles” seems an appropriate descriptive term. Such an arrangement could have been of special interest or significance to the alignment builders and may have influenced their choice of this site.  Sea-level changes combined with the considerable alterations to the estuary caused by tinworking waste are acknowledged problems and we cannot therefore be entirely confident that the estuary triangle would have appeared as it does today. This said it is probable that a water triangle of some form would have existed at this location perhaps formed by a slow flowing river rather than the estuary we see today.  The changes in the form the Plym estuary make it is impossible to establish the precise character of the original visual treat provided by the juxtaposition of the sea and river triangles but the evidence does strongly suggest that there would have been something which in turn could been acknowledged by this alignment. Individually the visual relationships between the sea and the alignments are simply observations of fact but taken together the repetitive pattern that is emerging points to a link and it is this cumulative weight of albeit circumstantial evidence which provides the backbone to support the contention that the siting and therefore the function of the rows was in some way directly associated with the interface between water, land and sky.

Sharpitor2

The terminal pillar at the south western end of the row. The flattened triangle of water formed by the Plym estuary is visible is a slither of white surrounded by land. When the alignment was erected sea levels were lower and the water may not have been visible from this point. Indeed it may have disappeared at this spot.

Views from the alignment

Two images derived from Google Earth are presented below. Up until now slightly enhanced and labelled images have been used. These views are all about the relationship between sky, water and land and I think that this new style portrays the crucial visual date more clearly. I would welcome your feedback on this change. This series of articles as well as presenting hopefully an interesting and fresh way of looking at this enigmatic form of monument is also intended to provide an insight into the archaeological research process – warts and all – and you are most welcome to contribute.

The first illustration represents the view from the lower south western end of the row and the second one from the top of the alignment.
Sharpitor3

View from the lower (south western) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.  The fourth expanse of water visible from the point is the Plym Estuary and the illusion of one triangle stacked upon another may have been of particular interest to the builders of this alignment.

Sharpitor4

Compared with some sites the difference between the views from the top and bottom of the row is very slight. More of the eastern sea view is visible from the top but otherwise there are apparently no remarkable differences. In reality the alignment may have been focussed on the triangle of estuary water. The sea levels were lower when the alignment was constructed and this may mean that originally the near water would have disappeared as one walked down along the row.

Sharpitor5

Map showing the arcs of visibility from the upper (north-eastern) 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. At the mid-winter solstice the “stacked triangle” arc of visibility should form the focus of the setting sun – certainly something worth checking out. 

Sharpitor6

This obvious stone alignment was not discovered until the 1960’s.

Previous articles in this series:

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