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South Gloucester has quite a concentration of ancient stones and three of them are in or near Gatcombe Park. This one, the Longstone of Minchinhampton, is very visible, just across the road from the royal estate.
It stands nearly eight feet high and consists of the knobbly, holey, licheney oolitic limestone that occurs at the Rollrights and elsewhere in the Cotswolds. For me there’s something very pleasing about the look of it – don’t ask me why but I bet you feel the same, as did the ancient people no doubt – a fact that creates a connection, perhaps the only certain one, between us and them.
There’s something else that perhaps makes it worth a second look – the fact it is an uncompromising intrusion from the past into our unremarkable and familiar world and hence a reminder that our reality is merely a moment in a vast story. Isn’t it likely that the sheer scale of the past, good or bad, must have a moderating, civilising effect upon the present? Sad then that so few such sites remain – the Cotswolds is thought to have rivalled the Marlborough downs in the number of sites that existed yet most people are hardly aware of the ones that remain.
Two more ancient sites are situated actually on Princess Anne’s land, both are long barrows (pending article), and if you visit those you’re sure to have a discussion with the police, even though you keep to public rights of way. Quite why Anne Battenburg, 9th in line to the throne, doesn’t want you to pay your respects to some home-grown original royalty isn’t quite clear but if anyone has the money the means to retaliate are at hand. The Longstone seems to be on sale so you could always acquire it and put up a notice on the gate saying: “Commoners only. Strictly no Royals”…