Cosdon triple stone row on Dartmoor
Eleven triple stone rows are currently known in Great Britain. They all include three separate, roughly parallel lines of stones. Compared with other types of row the amount of variety in form is much less although this may in part be explained by the relatively small number of examples. There are no short triple stone rows, all of the rows include small and medium sized stones, with four having a few large stones whilst 10 have no cairn at their upper or lower ends. The typical triple row is therefore more than 20m long, includes no or very few large stones and has no direct funerary associations. Their distribution is very much focussed on SW Britain.
Distribution of triple rows.
The reason why a third line of stones was added is not clear. We cannot be sure if these rows started off as single rows that were initially “upgraded” to double before finally being “enhanced” with a third row or whether they were designed and built with three rows from the outset. A third row has the effect of providing two separate way-marked routes. It is tempting to see one of the routes being established for movement up the alignment and the other for travel downward, however there is absolutely no evidence to support this contention beyond the fact that this is how we do things today. Most of our roads are single carriageway but there are also many lengths of dual carriageway. Both types of road carry out the same basic function and therefore there are no logical grounds for doubting that single, double and triple rows were any different. The different forms would have reflected the needs of their builders and the considerably variety in form is likely to reflect this.
Long Triple Rows with no terminal cairns
Looking north along the Challacombe Down triple stone row.
Distribution of long triple row with no terminal cairns.
Most (8) of the triple rows are of this type with the “classic” examples being found in SW England. The single example in Wales at Craig-Y-Fan Ddu looks genuine and has been the subject of an excavation. Survey however identified a pair of small standing stones beyond the rows which might suggest that this site was once a multiple stone row rather than a triple. The remaining triple rows with no terminal are all in SW England with five on Exmoor (Beckham Hill, Chains Valley, Cheriton Ridge, North, Furzehill Common 5 and Halscombe) and two on Dartmoor (Challacombe Down and Holne Moor).
Long Triple Rows with cairn at the upper end
The Money Pit at Yar Tor stone row on Dartmoor (Scale 1m).
Distribution of long triple rows with cairn at the upper end.
All three long triple rows with a cairn at the upper end are on Dartmoor. The impressive alignment at Cosdon has blocking stones at its upper end as well as a kerbed cairn containing two cists, whilst the rather mutilated example at Yar Tor has a very fine kerbed cairn known as the Money Pit containing the more usual single cist. The third example at Soussons Down was probably destroyed during afforestation.
Triple rows are extremely rare. They do however serve as a reminder that the form of stone rows is very varied and that their paramount characteristic is individuality. No two rows are the same, they share characteristics, but the diversity in form and character is immense. Triple rows may just be another example of this and illustrate a flexible society where freedom of expression and interpretation were to some extent celebrated rather than condemned. The rows formed a focus for ritual activity and their variable form may hint at subtle differences in the way that they were used. The absence of short rows and any rows composed only of large stones within this type is almost certainly of significance and indicates that none of them are likely to have had an astronomical function.
First Published: 13th October 2016
Last Updated: 26th October 2019