Yet again I get to visit a site that I have driven past hundreds of times but never stopped. To make up for it I spent most of the day in the Merrivale area on Nov 6, starting at 10 with the sun climbing high in the sky, slowly burning the fog away... and finishing at 4.30 as the sun sunk into Cornwall.
I had been told that there is a theory that one of the rows points directly to the Rillaton Barrow on Bodmin Moor, sadly the day was to hazey to pin point the barrow, although I could make out Stowes Hill.
Part of the day was spent with a National Park guide and several young ladies from Cornwall College who had never walked on the moor before. The guide pointed out that the rows run east to west (so!?). From my experience of stone rows I would say that is just coincidence, but there may be something in it.
I find it interesting that someone should have driven a leat right down the middle of the two rows. They obviously had no fear of superstition connected with pagan sites, or did they not realise what the rows were?
I thought that I would have to leave before sunset, but the gods were with me and provided a fantastic sky to end the day. I could post at least a dozen photos, but I won't. Maybe a couple though.
The relief to be out of the way of all that traffic and up on the moors was enough to compensate for the downpour of rain that greeted us as we were looking for the The Plague Market At Merrivale. At first this proved a little difficult as the mist swept in so suddenly and we could only see a few feet ahead of us and could see no evidence of stone rows or circles as we wandered around, although there were stones everywhere. All of a sudden the mist lifted out as quickly as it had appeared and the sun broke through shining down upon one of the stone rows now stood right in front of me. i waved across to charlie and we made our way in awe walking down these amazing stone rows. the stream running between the rows was really high and made an amazing sound that i wish i'd recorded. we spent the next hour or so looking at Merrivale Stone Circle, the menhir and investigating all the hut circles, what a place! it was very peaceful, maybe it the changeable weather but there seemed to be little in the way of traffic or other people about.
After a failed attempt a couple of years ago to find the Stone rows at Merrivale (although we did get a good close up view of the TV mast - wrong hill) it was particularly pleasing to be happening across Dartmoor again and have another go. Field notes from purejoy particularly useful, past the pub in Merrivale travelling east and next layby on right. There are loads of laybys and car parks so specific direction was useful. Wifey Deb was satisfied with just being at the rows and lay in the warm September sun with her feet in the stream, and yes when you first arrive at the stream from the climb up the hill it does appear to be flowing uphill ! Explored the rows, the cracked open cist, and not forgetting the circle and Longstone. All in all a great place. A bit crowded (2 or 3 other groups) but all appreciative.
Two good sized rows of stones. Tourist guff suggests "gateways to the land of the dead etc."
Very close to the B road so convenient parking, but get there when there's not traffic (i.e. early or late), lest the ambience be poor. Alignment is east-west (ish) so maybe sundown would be good as this might afford a nice view into the sunset.
Look out for the cracked burial cist in the middle of one of the rows.
Whenever I'm crossing Dartmoor on the pretty route down to Cornwall I try to stop off at Merrivale, there's always something new to find.
No one has mentioned yet the strange little stream that runs along behind the car park area, check it out next time as you walk down toward the avenues, can it really be flowing back uphill? It certainly *looks* like it! Also why does it chose to follow the contours of the slope when any self respecting water would surely run down at right angles?
Another riddle to add to the Merrivale enigma :)
You can see the stream in question running left -> right in this ariel photo courtesy of multimap.com:
Back at Merrivale, and in glorious sunshine. It's funny how when you revisit sites something totally different can catch your eye. This time I was just so taken by the outlines of the roundhouses (there are some as you climb up from the car park). There's quite a cluster of them, a little settlement. It felt very human. It suddenly struck me that the amount of space inside the roundhouse I was stood in seemed about the same as our little flat at home. Instead of the familiar feeling of disenchantment about our compact living arrangements I suddenly felt cheered up. If it was enough space for a Bronze Age family it was good enough for me.
Wandering further up to the stone rows it felt like they were almost in the back garden. They're certainly very close by. I wonder if this sheds any light on their use or the way they were perceived by their constructors. In my mind, perhaps it tells us how integral to their lives whatever the rows represent was. Perhaps you don't put something you only use and think about occasionally out the back of your house where you have to step over it all the time!
I still thought the stone rows were fantastic, and had a power in their landscape - they're very sculptural. But arriving at the stone circle and standing stone - they left me a bit flat. The stones in the circle are tiny, the menhir tall but somehow too man-made looking.
When the Bronze Age village was here, the climate on Dartmoor was much warmer, and the people would have grown crops and farmed livestock. It was only when it became wetter and more miserable that the villages were probably abandoned. As you can sympathise with if you've ever been out on Dartmoor in the rain.
Merrivale was another site not so easy to spot in the Dartmoor fog. Coming from the West it should be relatively easy to find. As you pass through the hamlet of Merrivale (recognisable by it's pub and it's quarry), you start to go up hill and a lay-by is placed on your right hand side (south). Walk up over the lay-by and you can't really fail to bump into at least one of the stone rows, a few hundred metres away. If coming from the East it is similar, but this time the lay-by is not long after the TV mast, as you go down hill.
And Merrivale has a lot. Plan to spend some serious time here. The stone rows, the stone circle, a standing stone, barrows, cairns, lots of rocks, and even a less old boundary stone designed to confuse a little.
Apart from all the more well know stuff in most of the books I thought it was also of interest to wonder about the lesser known scatterings of ancient remnants like the barrow about half way along the South row, the barely perceivable stone row leading from the South row towards an outlier, and the stones around the standing stone to the South of the stone circle. The centre of the barrow mentioned above contained the fag end of a Marlboro Light (naturally). I'm no smoking fascist, but if you do smoke please at least take it home with you. The small stone row starts from a barrow towards the West end of the South row. I counted 13 stones (some barely tiny specks sticking out of the ground) in this row, starting from a barrow and moving towards the larger outlier. It looks like there is a barrow just a few steps to the east of the standing stone, plus 3 small stones behind it (to the south) as if part of a row. 2 other similar sized stones stand close to the standing stone, looking suspicious. A recumbent stone (210cm long)
lies just to the East of the standing stone. It wasn't until I later read Aubrey Burls 'Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany' (1995) that my suspicions made sense. He says it was once erect and it was a pair of standing stones.
At the other end of the complex, I found it difficult to make out all of the 5 cairns marked on the map amid the boundary work, but it's worth a wander.
My girlfriend and I Spent an invigorating hour on this site. Finding all the different circles and avenues was a slightly tricky but ultimately fascinating activity- partly made complex by the sheer mass of naturally placed stones in the same area as the man made structures.
When you park in the enclosed car park next to a walled sheep enclosure walk parallel to the road 2-3 hundred metres to find the two avenues that were for me the highlight of the site. The two avenues run parallel though slightly offset and are of very impressive length. The avenue furthest from the road has a beautiful mini circle in the middle with a strange hollow that was crying out to be sat in.
There are countless oddities such as the 'apple crusher ' stone which looks much like the grinding stone from a windmill but has been rumoured to be either a sacrificial altar or from a cider mill !!!???
Much like others on this page I'd be fascinated to find out the truth as to what it is !
We found the best way to explore from there is to simply wander pretty much at random around the field uncovering countless gems. There are two large circles towards the far west of the field with large standing stones in their centres - (the stream down at the bottom of the slope is also a lovely walk were we found sparkling springs, baby toads and carnivorous plants !!)
I can't recommend this site too highly and find it amazing that a site with so many different structures - all of which have an incredible number of original stones is still unmarked from the road. Surely this needs to change !??
The stone rows run E-W according to my compass; could it be something to do with the passage of the sun at the equinoxes? Walking between the stones I felt like I was following a path countless others must have taken. I felt puzzled about the blocking stones. I wondered if the path represented the path of your life (E- sunrise to W-sunset)? so the blocking stones gave a symbolic beginning and end? There is only one at the east end of the main row, but two at the west. You can squeeze through the western pair - like a celtic boundary to pass through? to the underworld? Who knows.
Stupidly forgot my camera but drew a picture instead. Check out some of the stones - they're stripey with quartz that glints in the sunshine, and dripping with lichens (grey, purple, gold) - bloody fantastic.
Used to live near Merrivale and often return to visit this magical spot...
Has anyone else come across the large circular stone (a bit like a mill wheel) that sits atop three small stones? It looks for all the world like some kind of crazy altar... It is on amongst the main group of hut circles near the stone row. I have never been able to find anyone who can tell me what it might be.
I agree that this is a pretty special place. You have no idea of the site when driving along the road that skirts it.
I was there this summer with my family and girlfriend. We arrived at the site wet and miserable from a fruitless search for another Stone Circle (bit of a map reading mishap!) with all but myself getting rapidly bored of the idea of traipsing through fields looking for old stones.
First we found the big row, then we found the standing stone, then the circle. Spirits lifted. We then walked the big row, finding the cists. Spirits were positively animated. We all then headed off in different directions - pointing, speculating, wondering. Phew! To round it off we walked down the second row and finally back to the car.
The point is, no matter what mood you are in, these places are special and will always be special and they have the ability to lift the spirit time and time again.
I was in the circle at Merrivale for the eclipse last year ... cloudy, but still absolutely awesome. It's amazing at the variety of sites here, from rows to a menhir. I've been a few times since, but nothing can beat that eclipse feeling !
I was intrigued by references in books to the Merrivale site because of it's local name The Plague Market. Two drastically different impressions for the same place . Merry Vale (ahh green and pleasant) Plague Market..(dark and nasty). The Plague Market handle came along with the Great Plague in the mid C17th when it was decided that the old religious site would be a good place to gather the banished victims. Local people would leave food out (hence the "market" image I
suppose) and doubtless the priests would pop along and torment the poor buggers as well.
I accept that the stones would have been a local landmark but it also seems to me that the church may have picked the site in order to keep people away from the stones. Local names for the old sites are often marked by clumsy attempts to demonize them. Hence the Merry Vale became the Plague Market.
I first visited this site on the summer solstice 1999. I chose that day out of curiosity. This is a big site, a lot of work over a lot of centuries, a small stone circle an avenue, a double row, a single row, a cist, outlying single standing stones and hut-circles and other good stuff. The local legend goes that on Midsummers Eve if you stand in the neat little stone circle you can watch the sun set directly into a U shaped gap on a distant Tor off to your right hand side. If you go on Midwinters Eve you can apparently see the same effect on a similar gap on a distant Tor on your left hand side. I was surprised to see about 35 people at the site. Some villagers with video cameras, a couple of stone huggers and a couple of crusties. The moment came, the sun dipped and missed the U shape by a small amount. The villagers with cam corders complained it hadn't worked, the huggers passed no comment. The crusties at least refrained from playing their didgereedoo. Aubrey Burl refutes any astro-archeological goings on at the site but I find the folk memory of a solar observatory a tempting one. Maybe the people who built it judged their midsummers day to be when the sun set in the U shaped gap. We of course have a fixed point in our filofaxes, we should allow a little lee way. I returned Midwinter but because of dense fog I couldn't even find the circle, let alone the sunset. Either way I enjoyed the site and the fact that people had come to see magik work. It may have been in slightly the wrong place but it was a fine sunset. I wished at the time that I had someone to share it with. I met my partner a week later, on a blind date. We hit it off over dinner, it turned out we had a shared passion. Visiting Neolithic sites. Be careful what you wish for.
About four miles east from Tavistock, and close by the road which leads from that town to Moreton-Hampstead, are several Circular arrangements and rows of stones, the origin of which is unknown. The tradition prevails, that they were collected and disposed in particular forms at a time when a dreadful plague raged at Tavistock, and that the inhabitants resorted to this place for provisions. The farmers bringing their marketable commodities, and placing them on certain stones, retired to a distance, when the purchasers took the goods, and left money in their place.
Crossings Guide to Dartmoor tells us that the name Plague Market and also Potato Market came about when the nearby town of Tavistock was ravaged by the plague. The moorland people would travel to this site to leave food for the townsfolk.
He also states that the round stone is infact a millstone carved by a local who then decided it was not fit for the job