Hill O’ Many Stanes, Caithness, is the best preserved and most dramatic of the multiple stone rows.
Twenty nine multiple rows are currently recorded in Great Britain (Figure 1). An interactive map providing access to details on these rows is available here. They all include at least four lines of stones. Most are “fan-shaped” in form (Figure 2) although some consist of parallel rows of stones (Figure 3). The great majority (22) are in Northern Scotland and the remainder are in the Western Isles, Wales, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The obvious concentration of rows of this type in Northern Scotland (Figure 4) can be no coincidence and what is perhaps more remarkable is that small numbers have been found elsewhere. The distinctive “fan-shape” of the Northern Scotland rows does not with the exception of the possible row at Yellowmead on Dartmoor to have been a characteristic of the others in Britain. This might suggest that these rows should be more properly considered as a different type of site to the others and to have a localised distribution, whilst the others might be more properly seen as complex settings rather than rows. These rows are certainly very different in form to the others and consist predominately of small and medium sized stones. Six of the multiple rows consist only of small sized stones. Twenty-two of the rows include both small and medium sized stones and one (Hill O’ Many Stanes) includes a few large stones. Multiple stone rows were therefore not intended to be grand architectural statements and are often difficult to trace on the heather covered hillsides on which most are found. The choice of small stones is likely to have been deliberate as large slabs were readily available in the vicinity but never used. The Hill O’ Many Stanes has the most rows with 22 separate lines having been identified. The average number of rows is 8 and a total of 230 separate lines of stones have been recorded. The longest multiple row is Corringdon Ball, South on Dartmoor which includes at least seven separate rows extending up to 178. The average length is 43m and the shortest row is the possible one at Learable Hill 3 which is only 8m long. A total 1890 stones have been recorded at multiple stone rows, but this is likely to represent a significant understatement as many stones are likely to be buried beneath the turf.
Figure 1 Distribution of multiple rows. There is an obvious cluster in Northern Scotland. Clicking on the map will open an interactive version permitting access to individual gazetteer entries.
Figure 2 The Hill O’ Many Stanes has a distinctive “fan-shaped” plan form. (Source: survey by H. Dryden 1871). Original held by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and an online version is available here at Canmore.
Figure 3 Simplified plan of the Corringdon Ball stone alignments. Corringdon Ball South shown in black (Source: Butler, J., 1993).
Figure 4 Distribution of multiple stone rows in Northern Scotland. Clicking on the map will open an interactive version permitting access to individual gazetteer entries.
Much of the recent work on the multiple rows in Northern Scotland has been carried out by Myatt and Freer. Much of their work is available online (See References). A significant cluster of rows survives in the area south of Wick where 9 multiple rows can be found in close proximity. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that this area also hosts a significant concentration of chambered cairns. The relationship between the chambered cairns and the stone rows may be significant and worth examining. One really cannot over-emphasize the considerable difference between the Northern Scottish multiple rows and the megalithic rows of Central Scotland and Argyll and Isles. It is hard to believe that they could have served the same function so great is the difference in their form. With the possible exception of the row at Yellowmead “fan-shaped” rows are confined to Northern Scotland and this suggests that the society that built and used them was different in at least once crucial aspect to the people who built the other types of row.
Whilst not of the fan type it is perhaps worth drawing attention to the fact that the two Welsh multiple rows (Hafod y Garreg and Hafod y Dre) are found less than 800m apart on the same hillside in North Wales. There is no obvious explanation for this anomaly, although it does serve to emphasise that the character of the rows in any one area or region can vary considerably. For whilst there may be a preponderance of one type and form of row in any given area anomalies are a recognised feature.
Figure 5 Very little of the Yellowmead multiple row on Dartmoor survives and could be the product of over enthusiastic restoration. If so, all the “fan-shaped” rows are confined to Caithness and Sutherland. This limited distribution is not one shared by any of the other types of stone row.
Figure 6 The multiple row at Borgie Bridge includes at least five rows of small and medium sized stones.
Figure 7 The Garrywhin multiple rows stand near the Cairn O’ Get chambered cairn.
Multiple stone rows are mainly “fan-shaped”, found in Northern Scotland and always include small stones. They may have more in common with the Exmoor stone settings than the single, double and triple stone rows. They have traditionally been seen as a form of row and are therefore included in this website, it is however almost certain that they would have served a different purpose to the other rows.
Butler, J., 1993, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol. 4 – The South-East, Devon Books Exeter, pgs. 91-93.