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The Plague Market At Merrivale

Multiple Stone Rows / Avenue


Merrivale, Devon by KPH.

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.
Posted by KPH
26th June 2000ce

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