Friday, 14 September 2012

A Pile of Old Stones

I had a two hour window of opportunity while Son the Elder was tea partying in Salisbury today, so I bundled him out of the car and belted up the road to Stonehenge.  

The facilities at this World Heritage Site are as down as heel as ever, although work has apparently started on the inordinately long-awaited 'state-of-the-art Visitors' Centre'.

You do have to wonder about the wisdom of the prehistoric people who chose this site, however - I mean, why so close to the A344 AND the A303?
Actually, considering the stones are supposed to have come from the Preseli Hills, 180 miles away, they missed a trick.  They could have just schlepped them down to Saundersfoot, sailed them across the Bristol Channel, then up the Rivers Torridge and Okement and they'd only have been a stone's throw (so to speak) from Dartmoor.  Which already has lots of stone circles and rows of its own.  You can go up there in August and not see a soul all day.  How much more atmospheric would that have been?   :-)  


As it is, you're no longer allowed to touch the stones, or even go within twenty feet of them.  I have a clear memory of climbing on them as a very young child, and being overwhelmed by their size and age.  My kids never got the chance to do that, thanks to the intolerance and spite of the loathsome Margaret Thatcher, although since 1999 there is access at the solstices and equinoxes.

I wonder if Constable or Turner would have included a No Entry sign if they were painting or sketching Stonehenge today?  And where would Hardy have Tess arrested for the murder of Alec d'Urberville?  In the queue for the toilets?
  


U A Fanthorpe ends her brilliant poem about the stone circles at Stanton Drew with the following lines:

Stand inside the circle. Put
Your hand on stone. Listen
To the past's long pulse.

And I'm tempted to say, how can you get a feel of a place when you can't touch it?  And yet ... there they were, crowds of people wandering; chatting in at least a dozen different languages; listening, rapt, to their audio guides and, less attentively, to their teachers; and posing for countless photos.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted proof that they'd been there, and surely they wouldn't if they had no sense of the exceptional nature of this place.

And me?  Well, I was totally beguiled, even though I've been there more than a few times.  It doesn't seem to matter how much you are herded and monitored, Stonehenge still works its magic.  Standing before those stones in their varying configurations is like jemmying open the door to the past and realising that you are standing on the edge of a precipice.  Whooooaaaa!  What's this about then?








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