People turn up for dowsing with a variety of aids and assistants. Alan brought his dog, Toby. Graham brought a banana. I brought my wife, Ros, who senses a lot, but whose hand-crafted bits of coat-hanger resolutely refuse to move.
There is a lot to see, feel and take in at Merrivale! While there may be longer rows, bigger circles, taller menhirs and better preserved kists, nowhere on Dartmoor is there quite such a collection of interesting antiquities in such close proximity.
Despite the intrusive activity of farmers, stone-cutters and quarrymen over the years, much remains for the archaeologist to investigate, the tourist to photograph and the dowser to sense.
The main physical features are two double rows of quite small, but precisely placed, stones. The southern row is over 250m long, yet barely 1m wide. The northern row is a little shorter at both ends, but otherwise similar in appearance. To the south west of these rows stands a circle of (now) 11 stones – and due south again the unmistakeable sight of a Menhir.
There is also at least one further row leading to a cairn just to the south of the southern row, which ‘has the appearance of an afterthought’ (Burl 1995). The existing circle may have been augmented by other larger stones, now only detectable as shallow pits (Petit 1974).
To the east of the longer row is a bank of earth containing numerous large boulders, described by Worth (1953) as an ‘old bank’ and by Butler (1995) as a ‘reave’. My own dowsing suggests that the residual energy here implies that this was once a more significant feature.
The whole area is peppered with cairns and kists, some in significant locations, implying a long history of sacred and/or ritual use. The continuing habitation of the area is further indicated by the presence, nearer to the modern road, of a number of well-preserved hut circles and the foundations of a warrener’s house.
I have heard it said that there are as many as 14 energy lines within the double stone rows alone. Before this visit I’d only ever found four or five, but imagine my surprise when both Alan and Annie chased earth energy lines that I had never been aware of. The whole alignment is a veritable Celtic knot of interwoven energies. Ros thought it resembled the shape of a DNA model.
Intriguingly Sullivan (1999) implies that leys run just the length of the rows, stopped (or delineated) by the blocking stones at the end of each row. I tended to agree, but Alan was more sceptical. There are certainly other leys crossing the site. One line, which I had always thought to be a ley, because of its straightness, is blighted by recurrent negative energy, apparently due to the impact of activities at the recently defunct Merrivale granite quarry. This line turns out to be a deceptively straight earth energy line. Alan had another crack at rebalancing it, but my experience is that the negativity will be back by the next time we visit.
The bank, reave or whatever to the south east of the southern row is something of an enigma. Why would a field boundary have such an intricate pattern of energy, incorporating spirals around burial mounds?
The Menhir is reputed to have a hot-spot, which is particularly noticeable in winter. Is this just a bit of embedded quartz, or is it something to do with the stone’s chakras - or both?
Leading from the Menhir is an energy line which runs to the nearby field wall - and then through it, appearing to use a ‘fairy hole’. The comparison here with the Feng Shui principle of not blocking energy flows is compelling.
Near to the standing Menhir is another smaller marker stone, which was re-erected in 1895, but has subsequently fallen again (Burl 1995). The presence of a large number of young cattle who had come over to have a bit of fun with Toby may explain this phenomena!
All over this section of moorland there are energies that meander and intersect, often marked by sheep tracks and forming spirals around seemingly
inconsequential lumps of granite. One such rock is nearly black and was dowsed by David to contain a tin compound. These spirals also seem to mark spots where stones have been removed. If we’d had enough inclination, perhaps we could have found some of them - or even retrieved them from the walls or the cottages that now contain them (in case any local farmers are reading this - that was a joke!).
The practical use of the rows is a fascinating dowsing topic in its own right.
Evidence of an astronomical connection is ‘unconvincing’ (Burl 1995), yet others have been drawn to the setting of the midsummer sun, which seems to fall into the notch on nearby Staple Tor, when you stand at one end of the northern stone row. The rows dowse as having been of religious significance - and the energy patterns around the stones may have been reinforced by processional paths.
The circle dowses to having had healing properties. As if to confound anyone dowsing for its last date of use, we met a group of new-agers using the circle for an impromptu ceremony venue, tai chi platform and drumming stage. The words and the symbols may be different, but as they say, there is only one path - and this is as good a place as any that I know to place a foot on it.
Many thanks to Alan Neal for providing his experience and support - and to Annie Holland for the plans, which we can use for some retrospective map dowsing.
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland & Brittany - Aubrey Burl
Atlas of Antiquities – Jerermy Butler
Prehistoric Dartmoor – Paul Petit
Ley Lines – Danny Sullivan
Worth’s Dartmoor – R. Hansford Worth