Saturday, 21 June 2008


This seemed appropriate today.

I've been to Stonehenge been 3 times.

The first time I went, and I have to hazard a guess, it was summertime 1976. My dad let us have the car for a week’s holiday and Stonehenge was on our hitlist. It was very late at night as we came along the A344 so our first impression of the stones was of a looming presence in the darkness. We parked up, let our eyes adjust and went to try to get closer, but found a chain fence along the roadside keeping us out. We slept in the car, in a layby which turned out to be the main carpark. In the morning damn tourists started arriving and then we noticed the gift shop, a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember) and of course, the tunnel under the road to get to the stones. In those days access was unrestricted, you could go right up and pat them. I did, and it was a great feeling somehow to bond with the achievements of people from so long ago.

The third time I was there I was with my (ex) wife in about 1992. She was/is a keen archaeologist and went on to get a good degree (last I heard). We toured South West England, taking in: Old sarum, Cern Abbas, Uffington, Avebury, West Kennet, Silbury hill. The obvious places, and of course Stonehenge. There we found: damn tourists, the gift shop, a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember) and of course, the tunnel under the road to get to the stones. Which were now closely encircled by a barbed wire fence closing off the public.

The second time I visited Stonehenge is below the belt.

Stonehenge Festival - 1984

At dawn I was across at the stones watching the Druids, see 40:40. Sunrise was much quieter than the video depicts. Later on things got a bit more stroppy but at sunrise, strangely, I remember the crowd being more hushed and leaving the Druids to get on with it. Rapt in our own experience (or should that be wrapped?). The actual moment was pointed out by someone with a digital watch* as the event was obscured by clouds. Look at the height of the sun in the video, that's long after sunrise.

What do I remember from that free-for-all?

  • No damn tourists. The people who were there, were there to celebrate a particular day. As was their right.
  • Festival gift stalls selling things I might like to buy.
  • A more varied diet than a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember).
  • The tunnel under the road to get to the stones.
  • Inner city Unit playing 'Raise the Bones of Elvis' (sorry no link).
But now we are many years on from this. We have a responsibility to those stones and to our heritage. Do we allow unfettered access or put a glass dome over it for all but the privileged. In the latter case how did this lot get in as part of what was supposed to be a serious archaeological dig?

In fairness Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright were reworking a previous dig, which has it's own recursiveness. The overall science seems to be valid but I question the two week time frame and the 'do it for the media' attitude. That is a ridiculous way to do archaeology on such an important site. Had it had been left for another 50 years, how much better would we be able to study it?


*Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Anonymous said...

Please enlighten me as to what happened the 2nd time you went to Stonehenge. Thanks.

Andy Holroyd said...

Hi Anon

The rest of the post is 'under the fold'.
Click on the "Grow into these trousers... >>" link, or the post title, to see it all.


Andy Holroyd said...

UPDATE: we had a strong but very mellow blotter or two on that second visit etc.
I think the same should be prescribed to the *ankers who led to this recent fiasco.