Sad news to report again, this time that the Maen Penddu standing stone in the Conwy Valley, North Wales, has been severely vandalised. Recent photos show several carvings have been made on the stone. The cross was reported last year, but the rest seems to be more recent. The damage has been reported to CADW.
The Culture Secretary recently ordered the re-run of the selection process for a new trustee at the National Portrait Gallery, after the candidates he favoured failed to make the shortlist. So we wondered: who wouldn’t make the short list for jobs in connection with Avebury and Stonehenge? We came up with the following:
- Anyone interviewed by Historic England that opposes the short tunnel ruining the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
- Anyone interviewed by the National Trust that suggests they avoid expanding their obtrusive commercial operations inside the largest stone circle in the world.
- Anyone interviewed by English Heritage that has an opinion on how the site should be run.
Few of us need apply then. It seems you have to bite your tongue to get (or keep) a British heritage job!
It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.
This is what the weekend will involve:
Saturday May 28th
- Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
- A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
- Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
- An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
- The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
- An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.
Sunday May 29th
- Mining in Cornwall
- An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
- In the footsteps of giants
- A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
- The geomantic network in West Penwith
To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.
Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.
Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.
Many people opposed to parking charges and sobriety at Stonehenge have said they’ll go to Avebury instead. This seems to have prompted the National Trust to take action: “A new plan has been drawn up by the Trust, which owns the stone circle in the Wiltshire village, to clamp down on the growing numbers of people staying outside the village and blocking the Ridgeway, which runs along the hillside just to the east of the village. The crackdown will also see more enforcement of tighter new parking restrictions.”
However, as at Stonehenge the real motivation seems to be less about parking than an attempt to limit numbers and improve behaviour – “to curb the excesses of the revellers who gather there”, to make solstice “a more peaceful occasion” ….. “safe for everyone and respectful of the World Heritage Site”…. “We want the Solstice at Avebury to continue to be known for being a peaceful, respectful occasion which all those who care most about the henge and the village would want it to be”. To this end, “As part of the plan, the Police and Wiltshire Council will increase patrols on the Ridgeway – a byway east of Avebury where the number and behaviour of people gathering during Solstice has become a problem.”
No doubt the Trust will get a lot of stick (and Heaven knows, there isn’t a stick big enough on some occasions!) but it would be nice if the complainants at both Avebury and Stonehenge recognised that there IS a behaviour problem that needs addressing.
Some say so (see Google!) and in April 2009 Stephen Bayley of The Guardian dubbed them “a muddled magic kingdom”. He cited, inter alia, the elaborate “recreation” of a garden that was built for a 19-day visit of Elizabeth I in 1575 which went ahead “on no sound scholarly basis” and was “more Walt Disney than David Starkey” which Simon Thurley nevertheless described as “a really successful experiment”. That sort of attitude, spending shedloads of other people’s money without listening because it knows it is right has become all too familiar, right up to the recent example at Tintagel.
The latest, and most eye-wateringly expensive debacle is the purchase and now abandonment of the Stonehenge land trains in favour of buses. The claim that they were privately financed seems rather economical with the actualité but it’s a fair bet we’ll never hear exactly how much money was lost. What IS absolutely true is that not a penny of it would have been if they hadn’t been so insistent that they were right and all those who said otherwise weren’t worth listening to. Less arrogance, more listening to the public seems to be the lesson to be learned (and we don’t mean “fake” consultation exercises!) As proof that listening can actually save money, here’s what we wrote in April 2010 which, by their actions, they now fully agree with:
“So…. why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability.”
[More background from Tim Daw here]
Andy Heaton who has led a tireless fight against damage to Offa’s Dyke , today offers his thoughts on the “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. In particular, he points out what the short tunnel lobby doesn’t: even a ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge would still be 15 miles shorter than the 18 mile one now being planned to run under the Peak District!
A couple of weeks ago in the Guardian, there was an article outlining how the government intends to set in motion plans for a high-speed railway line from Manchester to Leeds and an 18 mile underground road tunnel beneath the Peak District. The predicted cost of all this is £6bn . . . . . . . but government projects are never within budget, so it’ll cost at least double that amount. Oh yes, by comparison with the example above, perhaps the ‘long’ tunnel that has been suggested for Stonehenge, should be renamed as the ‘modest’ tunnel ? A ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge, would still be 15 miles shorter than the ‘long’ tunnel under the Peak District. Perhaps they measure things differently in Wiltshire? Perhaps Stonehenge should be relocated to the Peak District and placed atop the new 18 mile tunnel?
The problem with a tunnel is that a couple of miles of brand new, four-lane highway would have to be bulldozed through the World Heritage Site. Outside the tunnel, the World Heritage Site would be split in two, by a noisy and unsightly dual carriageway (four-lane highway). It would need to be securely fenced and with long cuttings leading down to tunnel entrances. Oh yes, it would need to have a high level of lighting – day and night – these requirements are mandatory and as such, there is no scope to minimise any impacts. The stone circle might not be subjected to physical harm, but its landscape setting would be badly damaged and other important archaeological remains would be destroyed.
A situation exists, in which there is a one-off opportunity to secure the long-term future of Stonehenge – a heritage asset of unsurpassable importance. There is still time, to ‘get it right’; however, my concerns lie with the fact that the government and HE/NT seem prepared to accept compromises. I’m used to the government acting this way, but I’m massively disappointed with EH – the (so-called) guardians of our heritage.
Mike Pitts has probably rendered a service to Stonehenge by demonstrating that gatherings there going back to 1901 were not “free access” protests. Anything in support of modern calls for unregulated and unlimited access is best examined and demolished. In any case such calls are looking progressively unrealistic and English Heritage has now confirmed they won’t back down on charging for parking (which presently costs them £60K to lay on!) and banning alcohol at solstice gatherings. Indeed they aren’t in a position to do so as they’ve been directed to expand their income from £97.8m to more than £122m by 2023 and they have a statutory duty to eliminate damage and disrespect. Some in the Free Access lobby disagree:
On the other hand, here are two compelling witness statements about Summer Solstice. First, from Dennis Price of Eternal Idol who has been studying, writing about, appreciating and speculating upon Stonehenge for many years. Here’s his account of taking his children to Summer Solstice:
“These should have been idyllic celebrations and for the most part they were, but they were always marred at some point by the appalling behaviour of others. I am as enthusiastic a proponent of the delights and benefits of alcohol as anyone alive, but these ideals rapidly faded whenever I encountered the snarling, incapable, vomiting, belligerent, foul-mouthed drunkards, men and women who have made their deeply unpleasant presence known at every Summer Solstice I’ve attended.
Then there’s the matter of the clean-up of the monument on the morning after, when the English Heritage employees have regularly had to deal with the results of the ruins being defaced and actively vandalized by stoned, drunken morons who have lit fires on the stones, smeared them with oil and the like. Worse still, the custodians have had to remove vomit, excrement and every conceivable variety of human effluent from within the circle, a task that no one should have to perform at Stonehenge.”
Second, there’s the view of Frank Somers of Amesbury Stonehenge Druids which puts the “Our Temple” claim, the bedrock of all resistance to regulation, into neat perspective:
“Most people gathering at Stonehenge for summer solstice are not pagan at all. The vast majority of those who peddle and consume recreational drugs and who get completely drunk there have come for a free ‘party’ thrown by English Heritage, are not pagan. Druids have struggled to maintain any meaningful spiritual presence, outnumbered as we are, and unsupported by the authorities. We would love it if all of those who came, could come with peaceful hearts and open minds. The majority do. Pagans, the ones who really love Mother Nature and revere the ancestors who built Stonehenge, despair greatly at the litter and the presence of hard core drugs. It’s no longer a case of a few hippies smoking cannabis. Today, ketamine, assorted pills, ecstasy, Z’s, etc. are all being used. With so many youngsters there it really is dangerous.”