Sea Views at Sharpitor NW 1

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The northern part of the alignment is orientated directly on the prominent South Hessary Tor.

Location

On a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor are a pair of adjacent stone alignments. The northern row (Sharpitor NW 1) is of the double variety and its near neighbour (Sharpitor NW 2) is a single row.  Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown next to a car park beside Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The double row measures 113m long and includes at least 42 stones leading north east from a cairn at SX 55664 70619 to a fallen blocking stone at SX 55776 70655. Despite its battered appearance this row in common with so many on the moor provides a whole series of visual treats of which the spectacular “sea triangle” reveal is but one.  I have been able to visit this site since starting to research the landscape setting of the stone rows and as well as the obvious visual relationship with the sea another potentially informative one with South Hessary Tor is apparent.

Plan

Idealised sketch plan of the Sharpitor stone alignments showing what they may once have looked like based on Google Earth and field observations

The row in common with many on Dartmoor includes a “blind summit” which means that either ends are not intervisible. A sketch profile along the length of the rows illustrates this characteristic which of course creates the “sea view” reveal.

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Sketch profile showing the position of stones along the row. The sea is slowly revealed as you proceed along the row from the blocking stone.  If one thinks of the stones as marking a special route then the dramatic “sea view” revelation is unlikely to be a coincidence. 

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Sharpitor NW 1 row was not built to be an obvious feature in the landscape. The row comprises only very small stones of which these three are among the biggest. Whilst rows sometimes did make architectural statements many did not and instead include only small or indeed tiny stones. These rows can best be seen as accurately denoting the position of a special route.  It was important to their builders that people walked from point A to point B along a precise pathway and what better way to ensure that this happened than to erect waymarkers which would of course have also denoted specific points along the route. Over time or perhaps from the very start these waymarkers could have had a significance of their own but it is the route itself that must have been of greatest significance and therefore it we are ever to understand at least the context in which they were built it is the route that we should be studying.

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Looking north eastward along the row. The black arrow shows the alignment of the row which along its northern length points directly at the only skyline tor visible on the northern horizon. The other features visible on the horizon are modern forestry plantations. 
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The cairn at the south western end of the row is far from obvious. Many terminal cairns are slight in character.
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The blocking stone (behind the ranging rod) which is now recumbent was the largest stone in the row.

Views from the alignment
Three images derived from Google Earth are presented to illustrate the “reveal” that is attained as you walk along the row starting from the blocking stone at the north eastern end. The first one is from the blocking stone, the second at the point where the sea first becomes visible and the final one is from the small cairn at the south western end. This reveal is real but is it significant?  Over the past few months, similar examples have been presented and certainly the picture that is building up is one of consistence. All of the rows we have looked at have an observable link to the sea and the precision of that relationship is often remarkable.  The sea of course is but one (although important) element in a landscape and the work at Sharpitor has shown that other features within the natural landscape may have been acknowledged. Detailed fieldwork will be required to assess other visual links, but it should really not come as a surprise to find that the alignments were built to take full cognisance of their surroundings. The builders of the stone alignments would have a sense of place and it would therefore be more remarkable if their monuments ignored the world in which they lived. The stone rows therefore probably provide an insight into these peoples sense of place and it would be unwise to ignore the clues they have left behind.

1 Bottom of row

View looking south west from the blocking stone. From here everything is hidden by the rising ground. 

2 The reveal

As one walks up along the row a small closed sea triangle appears on the horizon. The land forming the top of the triangle is provided by the Lizard in Cornwall. This view is visible only when the lighting conditions are perfect and its consequent rarity may have made it doubly special, worth denoting and even celebrating.

3 top of row a

Arrival at the cairn brings a particularly fine grouping of sea views.  On the right is the closed sea triangle, in the middle a pair of stacked triangles and on the left a narrow slither which under certain lighting conditions looks like a beam of bright light emanating out of the ground. It is hard to believe that this remarkable sight  is a coincidence particularly given that the row itself leads you to this point opening up this vista as you proceed along their waymarked route. It feels as if these people are showing us what was important to them.

Map with lines

Map showing the arcs of visibility from the cairn at the south western end of the alignment.  The eastern arc would have been illuminated by the winter sun for two hours from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  The spectacular light show as the sun moves over the sea during this time is noteworthy and it would surely not be too fanciful to suggest that a people with a known interest in the movement of the sun might wish to celebrate this and perhaps in the process formalise the event.

One can’t help but notice the similarities between the movement of the sun and the movement of people implied by the rows. This is an idea that needs further thought but the reveal identified at many rows may in some way be connected with sunset and sunrise.

A final point worth making is that around 12th January the sun sets into the closed sea triangle to the west.  Certainly the rows we have looked at so far have all implied winter use and this too may point us in a profitable research direction.

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