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Is the world going to end tomorrow? Probably not, but it may well turn out to be a bad morning for someone in English Heritage at Stonehenge.
The usual tight and increasingly odd winter solstice restrictions apply; Access only permitted at 7.30am in time for sunrise, with attendees to leave by 9am so the gates can open for paying customers at 9.30am as usual. But this year being potentially apocalyptic, further concessions have been promised for the actual point of solstice at 11.11am. The solstice observants who’ll be thrown out at 9am will be allowed back in at 11am for a short period “if conditions allow” after hanging about for 2 hours.
Of course the recent survey showed that if the original users of Stonehenge used it to observe Solstice alignments, it would most likely have been the winter sunset from the Avenue, not sunrise and the idea of bronze age man observing the exact point of solstice verges on the lunatic fringe. But we’ll save all that for another day.
Attendance at Stonehenge for the winter solstice sunrise has been growing rapidly over the past few years with 600 attending in 2009, 2,000 in 2010 and 5,000 last year (figures are estimates from BBC news articles). All the indications are that this year will continue the trend, in fact English Heritage were warned at the Stonehenge Round Table meeting back in November that this is looking like a bumper year. Its slightly worrying then that Peter Carson (Head of Stonehenge) has said that “we are not able to accommodate any more people than last year”. Are there contingency plans if 10,000 turn up? What about 15,000? Hopefully someone has worked out what to do if several thousand people refuse to leave the stones for the 2 hours between 9am and 11am, let alone what will happen if 15,000 people are denied access to the monument at all because “the ground conditions are considered poor or if it is felt that access might result in severe damage to the monument”.
If you are planning on attending, English Heritage would like you to go by bus as parking will be highly limited, especially if numbers exceed last years by not very much at all. There will be a special bus service from Salisbury bus station at 6.30am which will drop off at the existing visitors centre. Again, hopefully plans are in place if several thousand people turn up for the buses.
The most recent weather forecast is predicting a dry and fairly mild night, probably not the only prediction that English Heritage don’t want to come true tomorrow.