Sea Views at Black Tor (Stanlake)

Black Tor WPP1070971

The stone row at Black Tor (Stanlake). View from south west.

Black Tor Stanlake

Simplified plan of the Black Tor (Stanlake) stone row (Source: Meavy Valley Archaeology).

The Black Tor stone alignment at Stanlake in the Meavy Valley is of the double variety and is partly buried beneath a later historic field boundary. Forestry plantations in the area between the row and the sea make a comprehensive assessment of the sea views obtainable from the row currently impossible. Both Google Earth and Heywhatsthat websites indicate that a restricted view towards the sea exists along the entire length of the row. Fieldwork confirmed that the sea is visible from the upper north eastern end. If the row had been sited a short distance to the north or south of its actual position no views of the sea would exist.  Two separate sea glimpses of the sea are visible from the upper end of the row, but the character of the view from the lower end is currently unknown because of the tree cover. Google Earth shows the view from the lower end as very much diminished and if correct would indicate that this end of the row was established at the very limit of visibility to the sea. The very restricted nature of the view to the sea is a characteristic of many rows and implies that this particular form of visual relationship was of crucial importance to the row builders who whenever possible incorporated it into their monuments. The repeating nature of this evidence strongly supports the idea that the rows were built to interact with the landscape in which they were built and that therefore a fuller understanding of their purpose is only possible by examining their setting. Clearly this has implications for the management of these sites which should be viewed within a very broad landscape context rather than as individual groupings of stones. The row builders appear to have been particularly interested in the far horizon and where possible, the sea was incorporated into this. Albeit clearly of considerable significance, their interest in the limit of visibility was not confined to glimpses of the sea and the rows appear to have been sited to enable other dramatic changes in the form of the horizon. This is most easily expressed as reveals where different landmarks appear and disappear as you move along the row. Most rows appear to have been carefully positioned to maximise dramatic landmark reveals, the most obvious of which is sometimes the sea. At many sites we have seen how a dramatic sea view can be revealed simply by moving a few feet along the row, however the same phenomena happens with other distant but prominent features in the landscape. Clearly any journey through a landscape will involve reveals of one sort or another and indeed in a time before sign posts it would have been the easiest way to gauge progress along a route.  Even today many travellers measure progress by reference to landmarks rather than the signage. Thus for example, motorists heading along the M5 in Somerset know they are approaching the Sedgemoor Services when the distinctive Brent Knoll appears on the horizon. Navigation using landmarks would have been crucial in prehistoric times and it is therefore hardly surprising that this essential skill was incorporated into their ritual. The rows appear to denote a “ritual” journey from one special place to another and this would have been made more realistic by including as many landscape reveals as possible.  The rows probably symbolised special journeys and  if so it would be surprising if they did not incorporate aspects of a “real” journey into their “sacred way”. The need to do this would inevitably have meant routes being carefully selected which maximised visual interaction with the surrounding landscape and this is of course what has been identified. Whilst this argument is inevitably to an extent circular, solid and cumulative evidence for particular and specific visual links between stone rows and distinctive landmarks usually at the limit of visibility provides strong evidence for a link between distant landmarks and the rows.

Sea View Black Tor Google NE end

View from the top of the row (NE end). At least two and possibly three separate very restricted glimpses of the sea are visible from the top of the row (Source: GoogleEarth).

Sea View Black Tor P1070975

View from the top of the row. Modern forestry obscures the right hand side of the sea view. Prehistoric trees may have also influenced the character of the sea view. 

Sea View Black Tor P1070976

Detail of the sea view from the top of the row.

Sea View Black Tor Google SW end

View from the bottom of the row (SW end).  The sea is barely visible from this point and indeed is very likely to be at the limit of visibility (Source: GoogleEarth).

Sea View NE end

Map showing the area of sea visible from the upper end of the stone row (Source:

Black Tor Sea View SW end

Map showing the area of sea visible from the lower end of the stone row (Source:

Landmark Reveals

The row seems to have been carefully positioned to provide precise and restricted views to the sea. However, its siting may have also been influenced by the desire to incorporate a series of landmark reveals. At Black Tor analysis of the data from Heywhatsthat indicates that sizeable areas including a number of distictive landmarks at the limit of visibility appear or disappear as you walk along the row.

Black Tor 1km Red on blue

Simplified map highlighting those areas (blue) which are visible from the lower end of the row but are not visible from the top (red). Source:

As one walks southward along the row these additional blue areas are slowly revealed.  Of particular interest is the way that North Hessary Tor is blocked from sight by the nearby Black Tor. It is also significant that the substantial cairns at Eylesbarrow only become visible on the far horizon to the south east only as you walk southward along the row. From the top of the row the view towards Eylesbarrow is blocked by the nearby Raddick Hill but from the bottom of the row unrestricted views of both Eylesbarrow and Higher Harter Tor with both appearing at specific points along the row. Sharpitor, Leeden Tor and North Hessary Tor are visible from both the top and bottom of the row but all are at the limit of visibility.

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