A Taste of Dartmoor

Around lunchtime on the Sunday I couldn't keep away from the stones any longer, so a small trip to the east edge of Dartmoor was planned. I wasn't too ambitious and aimed to reach just three sites: a tomb, a stone circle with associated stone rows and a fantastic double stone circle.

fig. 1 : The Spinsters' Rock

fig. 2 : My wife at the Spinsters' Rock

Our first stop was one of my prime targets to visit this week: the remains of a tomb known as The Spinsters' Rock (SX 700 908) (see fig. 1). Three large stones (each 2m tall) support a massive capstone (see fig. 2) in the manner of the tripod dolmens such as Legananny (County Down) and Ballykeel (County Armagh) as well as many of the tombs found in North Wales.

The tomb was re-erected after it fell and the site's name is attributed to this event, for it is said that three spinsters performed the task before breakfast. I personally think that this is a bit of a corruption of an earlier story: The three upright stones were witches (hence the spinsters link) who stayed out past daybreak (hence the before breakfast link), probably on the Sabbath, and were turned to stone. Many of the sites in this region have similar stories attached to them, as do some in Ireland.

fig. 3 : Fernworthy stone circle, Dartmoor

From here we made the journey down some very narrow roads to Fernworthy resevoir where, just a short walk away, there are two very interesting sites. The first of these is the megalithic complex at Fernworthy (SX 655 841). This monument consists of a stone circle (see fig. 3) and three avenues formed with stones just 40cm high and 1.5m apart. These rows extend from the stone circle to the north, south and east although only the northern one is near complete. At the end of the northern avenue is a low blocking stone that is set at 90 degrees to the avenue's axis.

The stones of the circle are arranged so that they increase in height from where the northern avenue meets it, where there is also a gap equal to the width of the avenue. If the blocking stone that is at the end of the northern avenue was brought 100m up to the circle then the whole stone circle would be of a form very similar to the axial stone circles of County Cork and very like Carrigagulla (County Cork) in particular.

The second site that is easy to reach is the twin stone circles known as The Greywethers (SX 628 831). Unfortunately, the weather turned for the worse and we decided to head for home rather than get stuck on Dartmoor in a downpour. For a look at these restored circles see the relevent page on The Modern Antiquarian.

fig. 4 : The Plague Market at Merrivale

I wasn't really satisfied with being beaten by the weather as I'd really hoped to visit The Greywethers, so I decided to head for the multiple stone avenues of The Plague Market at Merryvale (SX 550 740). We drove through some of the thickest fog I've ever been in to reach the car park and walked up the hill hoping that we were going in the right direction. Soon the stones appeared in the misty haze, looking like a fossilised army marching across the moor (see fig. 4).

fig. 5 : The main row of The Plague Market at Merrivale

The longer of the two rows is well over 300m in length with a small cairn at about its mid point. The stones rise in height as they stretch east and west from this cairn. At the west end there are two 1.4m tall portal stones. At the east there is a large blocking stone. There is an open cist burial to one side.

fig. 6 : The standing stone next to Merrivale stone circle

The smaller avenue is half the length of the other and seems to have lost more stones - perhaps it was once longer. Both avenues have a 1m gap between their sides (see fig. 5).

A few hundred meters to the south there is Merrivale stone circle (SX 553 746). This is a low circle that is hardly visible and impossible to photograph in the fog and long vegetation, but beside it is a massive standing stone over 3.5m tall (see fig. 6).

It really was time to head back now. The fog was getting worse and it started to rain heavily again. Next time I would be heading southwest to see some sites around Bodmin Moor.



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