The stone alignment is far from straight and curves towards the terminal pillar. 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 3.
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 149.5m long and includes a single line of at least 69 slabs. The length of this alignment is exactly the same as Row 1 which is unlikely to be a coincidence and will have been important to their builders. The cairn at the top of the row is only 20m away from the one at the top of Row 2 and the view towards the sea is therefore only very slightly different. The row is far from straight and has a number of subtle changes in alignment along its length. This point is worth stressing because there is a popular misconception that these rows are absolutely straight. The lack of alignment precision indicates that an absolutely straight line of stones was not a necessary requirement for the builders and users of these places. Indeed given how easy it would have been to create a perfectly straight line this could not have always been seen as important.
The sinuous character of this alignment is clear. Could it be that the stones were erected beside an existing path? The plan form is very reminiscent of paths leading between two points. The stones may therefore be waymarking a ritual route which had already become important to the people who lived here in the Late Neolithic. View from the north east.
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 is very similar to that from the cairn at the top of Row 2. Despite the close proximity of the two viewpoints it would seem that the western sea triangle might be entirely closed with the closure being provided by the Cornish coast leading south from St Austell. The precision of this visual inter-relationship is of considerable interest and potential significance and certainly merits further exploration.
As one walks downhill along the alignment all three sea triangles shrink, being seemingly swallowed up by the land. The closed sea triangle on the west may have been of particular interest. 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 ends the very last vestiges of the eastern sea triangle are visible. Effectively the terminal pillar denotes the point at which the sea views disappear. Again the precision of this relationship really does imply a strong correlation between the row and the sea. The frequency of such precise relationships supports the idea that stone alignments were sited to acknowledge, denote and celebrate the boundary between the land, water and sky.
The stone alignment leads away from the cairn in the foreground. View from north east.
Mapping the Sea Triangles
The views from the top of the row are almost identical to those from row 2 and the same map is used to illustrate the arcs of visibility. The eastern arc 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!).
Update (13th October 2019)
On 7th September 2019 this row was re-visited and photographs of the sea view taken. As you walk down the row the sea view shrinks until by SX 59156 67010 it has entirely disappeared. This is another example of a stone row built across the limit of visibility to the sea.
Standing at the top of the row the sea appears on either side of Eastern Tor and beyond is Dodman Point. On a particular clear day the Lizard Peninsula will also be visible.
Zoomed view of the left hand sea view. Under certain lighting conditions this would appear as a brilliant beam of light and this may have been of interest or significance to the people using the row.
Zoomed view of the right-hand sea view with distinctive Dodman Point beyond.
At SX 59156 67010 only a tiny triangle of sea is visible and one more step it disappears entirely.
The sea has now disappeared.
At the end of the row the distant focus is on Dodman Point. It can surely be no coincidence that the builders of the row chose to end it at the point where a far distant promontory is at the limit of visibility . On a simplistic level it’s a like a window into another world.
Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.
First Published: 21st February 2016
Last Updated: 14th October 2019