A mixture of tiny, small and large stones lead towards a particularly impressive terminal stone. The alignment in background is Row 1. View from north east (Scale 1m).
On the lower slopes of a pronounced spur leading south west from Higher Hartor Tor is a remarkable prehistoric ritual complex including three stone alignments and at least 22 cairns. The rows are set close to each other and all of them have a cairn at the upper end. The terminal stones at the lower end of two alignments tower above the others which look tiny by comparison. In common with many rows the size of the stones varies considerably with many just protruding through the turf. All three terminal stones were re-erected by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1893 following excavations to identify the sockets. Several other stones within the rows had also fallen but these remain recumbent. However you define special the Drizzlecombe area must surely rank amongst the best. There is something for everyone. As well as the prehistoric ritual monuments there are several well preserved Bronze Age settlements and from later periods there are fields systems, tinworks. Whichever way you look there is archaeology starring back at you inviting exploration and discovery. There is plenty to keep you occupied, so much to see and ponder. It is therefore with some trepidation and at the risk of overload I am going to suggest that as well as looking at the archaeological around your feet that (weather permitting) you look towards the south west for views of the sea. The location of Drizzlecombe means that these views are tightly focussed but as elsewhere they would seem to suggest deliberation. In common with several other sites the alignments sit within a valley location and are nearly surrounded by hills. It is as if the site has been chosen because of the particular views where the sea appears and disappears as you move around the area. This article will deal with the south eastern alignment which is described by Jeremy Butler as Row 2.
Simplified plan showing the relative positions of the stone alignments at Drizzlecombe. Associated cairns are shown as circles. (Source: Google Earth and Butler, 1994,136).
This stone alignment measures 83.2m long including at least 11 slabs. The cairn at the upper end is surrounded by a circle stones and at the lower end is a 4.2m high granite pillar. The amount of effort involved in erecting this stone suggests that it denotes a special place at the end of a significant linear feature. The placing of large stones at the end of alignments is a recognised feature of many rows, but is epitomised at Drizzlecombe where are three alignments terminals are denoted in this way. Another characteristic of stone alignments is the variable size of the stones used to form the row. This row includes stones of many different sizes.
The alignment approaching the terminal pillar. The large mound in the background is the Giant’s Basin cairn. A ring of rushes around the foot of the cairn suggests the presence of a buried ditch. This is an unusual feature of Dartmoor cairns. It is perhaps worth emphasising that none of the rows at Drizzlecombe are aligned upon this more impressive of cairns are instead intimately associated with smaller less impressive examples. View from north.
Views from the alignment
A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the cairn at the top of the row, the second from the point mid-way along the length of the row and the third from the terminal pillar.
The view from the top of the alignment provides views of three sea triangles. The triangle on the left would also be framed by the cairn at the top of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment. The triangle on the right includes distant views to the Cornish coast.
As one walks downhill along the alignment all three sea triangles shrink, being seemingly swallowed up by the land. If one accepts the hypothesis that prehistoric peoples had a particular interest in the boundary between land and water this phenomenon which we have seen at many sites provides a strong, albeit circumstantial, case that this interest may have influenced or indeed determined with a degree of precision the positioning of their alignments.
At the point where the alignment stops the western triangle has disappeared and the remaining two are much smaller. The disappearance of the western sea triangle may correlate precisely with the end of the row, but unfortunately Google Earth is not detailed enough to provide this degree of resolution. If field observations can confirm that the third triangle disappears at this precise spot another powerful piece of evidence will have been obtained.
The stone alignment approaching the terminal pillar. Could this pillar have provided further fine tuning for the special views towards the sea. Standing in one spot both sea triangles would be hidden and the slightest shift in position would reveal first one and then the other. This type of reveal seems to be a characteristic of the alignments and may have manifested itself in different ways. View from north.
Mapping the Sea Triangles
Three restricted views to the sea are visible from the cairn at the top of the alignment. The eastern one also includes the Shaugh Moor alignment cairn as well as the sea. Each sea triangle would have been spectacularly illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to any ceremonies. The eastern arc should glisten for about 5 minutes at 3.25pm, the central arc for 20 minutes from 3.45pm and the western arc for about 30 minutes from around 4.15pm (all times are modern!). So should you be lucky enough to be at Drizzlecombe on a fine day in the late afternoon in December or January have a look for yourself and let the Heritage Journal know what you saw.
Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.