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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Shebbear Erratic

I came across this fine photo of the Shebbear Erratic, which lies on the village green.  Shebbear is in Devon, about 20 km inland from the west coast and about 15 km from the sea in Bideford Bay.

I've not seen an accurate description of the stone's geology, and it is variously described as being made of quartz (highly unlikely) or of a pinkish granite -- whatever it is, it is not local, and is therefore an erratic.

According to legend, it is the "Devil's Stone"  -- and it has to be turned over at 8 pm on November 5th every year, in order to keep the Devil at bay.  Hence the ceremony going on in the photo.

It's interesting that this erratic (weighing about a tonne) is not far from an area on the Devon coast where glacial erratics are abundant -- the big erratics at Croyde and Saunton are of course very famous. (Two of them are shown below.)  There are nine of them in accessible places along the shoreline, trapped beneath later deposits.  There is also till at Fremington Quay and other localities nearby.  Traditionally, geomorphologists prefer to think that the erratics were emplaced by floating ice -- a theory which I do not accept, for reasons enumerated in this blog on a number of previous occasions.  On the other hand, it's accepted that the till deposits were emplaced by Irish Sea ice pressing against the coastline but not progressing far inland.  We know that the Irish Sea Glacier DID progress far inland across the Somerset Levels, and to me the presence of the Shebbear Erratic indicates that the ice was thick enough, and with enough force behind it, to push well inland across the west Devon countryside.......

Big glacial erratics near Croyde in Devon

For other records of "stray stones" see this post:


TonyH said...

I know the terrain of this part of North West Devon quite well, as my parents moved to High Bickington parish [shown on Brian's map] at the same time as I became a student of Brian's at Durham University in the late '60's. I trundled, glacier - like, around the high-banked lanes of North Devon on my low - powered moped, observing every primrose and the like. But I somehow seem to have missed the Shebbear erratic, even though I was a great fan of local historian WG Hoskins, famed nationally for his "Making of The English Landscape"; he also produced "Devon".

I will next take a look in my battered copy of the latter, and also check another major local history work on Devon parishes.

TonyH said...

Well, it's a shame, but Professor WG Hoskins fails to mention, even eclectically, The Shebbear Erratic: but he was always far more involved with the HUMAN interaction with the Landscape (rather like folk such as MPP nowadays}. Natural forces hardly get a mention amongst so many interpretors of the landscape!

My other local history handbook, Helen Harris's "A Handbook of Devon Parishes: a complete guide" (2004), whilst also failing to mention the Shebbear Erratic, DOES tell us that in 1988 an unusual piece of grey sandstone was discovered on land of Rowden Farm after deep ploughing. It was identified by Exeter Museum as a Neolithic axe head, yey larger than other axe heads found in Devon.
A book, Shebbear, was compiled in 200-, by Ackland, Ron; Clark, Richard; and Lott, Ted.

TonyH said...

....compiled in 2004....(last paragraph).

Incidentally, Dartmoor (recently announced as a glaciated feature) is clearly visible on the skyline from Shebbear.

Wonder what The Devonshire Association for Science, Literature and the Arts may have in its archives, such as its annual Transactions? Also the Westcountry Studies Library, based, I think, at Exeter? Then there's also the eminent Physical Geographers/ Geomorpholologists at Exeter University and elsewhere.

TonyH said...

From memory, I thought I saw what may well have been glacial till in the terrain roughly westwards from Great Torrington. There is a tourist cycle trail thereabouts, and the till-like soil may be exposed along the trails from there towards Bideford. But I know there is also ball clay used in brick - making, and where this is exposed it gives the ground a very pale appearance.

Incidentally, for what it's worth, Shebbear is very close to the source of the River Torridge. A possibly significant place name nearby is Frithelstock Stone [another erratic?], near the village of the same name.

Anonymous said...

What a load of old rubbish (sorry erratics).

Lots of 'erratics' in service station car parks around the M25. Oh look Brian, I've found yet another non-exist glacier with an epicenter of London Bridge.

It's truly amazing that other proven 'erratics' (that you use to justify your extraordinary claims) are found only on beaches, but have nothing to do with the sea.

Aston Ished

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ashton -- calm down. We all know that large stones are humped around and used in modern building projects. Let's have some common sense here. What "extraordinary claims" are you talking about? Please be specific.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ashton -- calm down. We all know that large stones are humped around and used in modern building projects. Let's have some common sense here. What "extraordinary claims" are you talking about? Please be specific.

TonyH said...

Whoever Aston Ished is, he appears to be of the American persuasion: 'EpicenTER' gives him away.

Go away and read Brian's book properly, or take a proper look at previous Posts via BJ's excellent Search Engine on this Blogsite, THEN come back with your views. Alright?

TonyH said...

For those interested in the folklore etc of the Shebbear Devil's Stone, I recommend a look at the Megalithic Portal archaeology site.
It is fascinating to realise that Shebbear was the centre of an Anglo - Saxon administrative land unit called a Hundred. It is possible that the erratic stone may have been used as a place for those running the Motte, or local Parliament, to sit during meetings. It certainly looks well shaped for such a use, and its exotic geology may have made it seem very special to those living within the Hundred land unit. This is my own idea, having been involved in research of Motte sites in Wiltshire recently. Prehistoric barrows were used in this fashion. There is an example close to Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands.

TonyH said...

Sorry, used the wrong term in the previous Post: for Motte, please read Moot.

This was the local meeting place to decide disputes and legal matters in Saxon Hundreds.

There will be plenty on the web about the most recent research into Moot meeting places since about 2010, where County archaeological Societies got their local members involved.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Perfectly reasonable for strange stones to have legends attached to them -- if one was to dig around in the old collections of folklore by all those Victorian clergymen, one would probably find scores of them, all over the South West.....

TonyH said...

True, Brian, searching in local history libraries may reveal the presence of exotic stones/erratics long forgotten in the South West, along with explanations from folklore, similar to Merlin and Ireland's links to Stonehenge.

It is interesting to note that Shebbear Church is dedicated to St Michael. Legend has it that he threw the Devil out of heaven and the Shebbear erratic went with him!

There are numerous St Michael Churches running in an alleged line through at least Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Our friend Paul Devereux of the Pembrokeshire SPACES project has, in another life, written and investigated the origins of this line of St Michael Churches, the "Dragon Line" or similar I think. We are now getting into New Age territory!