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A photograph taken this weekend by Harper Fox of C.A.S.P.N. (Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network)

A photograph taken last weekend by Harper Fox of C.A.S.P.N. (Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network)

The above photograph (taken last Saturday and posted on the CASPN Facebook page) brings home just how popular Stonehenge can be on a hot summer’s day and the practical difficulties that poses. Soon though much of what is in the picture will disappear forever – the cars, the buses, the A344, the outmoded visitor centre and the carpark – and good riddance to them all. It would be hard to find anyone that won’t be pleased.

One element of the picture won’t disappear though: the hoards of visitors, perhaps more than 1,000 of them per hour. So in reality true “splendid isolation” will remain an impossible dream. Stonehenge is a victim of it’s own popularity and no-one can save it from that. The one consolation is that while the crowds are massing at Stonehenge, those who seek out the hidden and largely unsung heritage sites within the UK will have just that little bit more peace and quiet!

A draft Traffic Plan has been produced on behalf of Avebury Parish Council. It calls for the introduction of “some specially designed, sensitive solutions to manage traffic issues that may not be commonplace elsewhere.”

[Image credit - Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action]

[Image credit – Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action]

It appears that overall parishioners support the idea of reducing speeds on the A and B roads through the Parish and the plan proposes a maximum design speed of 40mph instead of 60mph limits, either across the entire WHS or, if that is not possible, around individual focal points such as Silbury and The Sanctuary.

Specific proposals at other focal points include better provision for pedestrians and people crossing the road opposite the Red Lion, a ‘Permit Holders Only’ parking scheme in the High Street and cheap, short term parking in the main National Trust car park (so that short term visitors don’t have to pay day rates).

The report also made the point that it is important that road signs, road treatments, or other alterations are carefully designed to be highly sympathetic to the surroundings and to suit the importance of the World Heritage Site – and that at present “the great majority of road signs in the Parish are erroneous, unnecessary or dilapidated and need to be updated, moved or removed.”

Of particular interest was the proposal to develop a new ‘Avebury’ village sign which gives a greater sense of place. The plan indicated that this could be a unique design – related to the World Heritage Site – to mark the village boundaries and could be repeated for all settlements in the Parish, thereby reducing clutter by incorporating 30mph signs and simple directions for the main car park.

The Heritage Journal is about raising awareness of ancient sites and this article by sociologist Tom Shakespeare suggested a way. He says when he looks at other cultures he hasa strong sense of festival envy” – for instance Solstice is often widely celebrated abroad but far less so here and he thinks we’re the poorer for it.

Maybe it’s because solstice is portrayed in the British media (and the EH website!) as about Druids, pagans and other enthusiasts gathered at Stonehenge. They’re entitled to do their own thing but it may cause others to see it as someone else’s festival, not theirs. That’s quite wrong though, it’s everyone’s – it didn’t start with Stonehenge but far earlier, with Mankind!

So is there a case for promoting it as something for people in general to enjoy at their local ancient sites, far from Stonehenge? Such sites, often built with an eye to the heavens, make ideal venues but that doesn’t mean celebration must be in the form of speculative Bronze Age re-enactments. For most people spirituality, intonations and white robes are not part of their own appreciation of the ticking of the celestial clock. Last week 300 people celebrated winter solstice in Australia at a modern stone circle in a 21st century way. Shouldn’t lots of people have been doing that here? We’ve let our solstice slip, both physically and conceptually. Should we claim it back?

As the Canberra times reported: “Out at Bywong they steered clear of any of the pagan rituals seen at some genuinely ancient sites around the world, and instead enjoyed a barbecue, hot chocolate, mulled wine and a fun family atmosphere”.

Winter Solstice at “The Henge”. As The Canberra Times reported: “Out at Bywong they steered clear of any of the pagan rituals seen at some genuinely ancient sites around the world, and instead enjoyed a barbecue, hot chocolate, mulled wine and a fun family atmosphere”. It’s hardly a wild guess to think that 99% of Britons would prefer to celebrate solstice in that way. Oh, and by the way, in both Oz and the States (where Manhattanhenge has grown very popular) it is solstice sunset that is celebrated, not sunrise – which is much more convenient and – well – authentically Bronze Age if that’s what you want. Britain needs to catch up in all respects!

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

Soon....

Soon…..

No more... (The junction of the A344 with the A303 as it was yesterday evening)

No more…
(The junction of the A344 with the A303 as it was yesterday evening)

Today at 7:00am, 27 years after the Government promised UNESCO it would happen, the southern half of the A344 road that runs immediately past Stonehenge, over The Avenue and down to the junction with the A303 was closed forever. It’s the first tangible step in the project to bring an element of “splendid isolation” to the stones.

Over the rest of the summer the road surface will be removed and grassed over, the high fences will be taken down and the monument will at last be reunited with its ceremonial landscape.

[Incidentally, all this week there is a recruitment drive for volunteers to work at the new visitor centre and elsewhere under the auspices of the various organisations concerned. Those interested can sign up at Amesbury Library. More details are available from the Salisbury Journal.]

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This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to theheritagejournal@gmail.com

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.

henge

Not long till Solstice now. “We would love you to join us at the Henge” says the invitation. Not in Wilts but in Bywong, Australia. And not summer solstice but winter solstice – hence the invitation mentions warm blankets, mulled wine & marshmallows. Here’s a picture showing the sort of conditions that are likely….

hen snow

Sounds like it’ll be a nice celebration. It will centre on sunset, not sunrise, which is both sensible and perhaps “authentic” – and far easier for all concerned. We’ll let you know how much security and infrastructure was needed, how many people climbed on the stones or misbehaved, the amount of litter that was left and what percentage of £200,000 it all cost the Australian taxpayer.

Stone circle enthusiasts sometimes wish they could have places to themselves rather than having lots of people round them. There’s often not much chance of that at the Rollright stones….

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On the other hand, since the purpose of the Heritage Journal is to raise awareness of such places to promote their conservation, we can hardly complain. The more people that know about them the less likely they’ll be daubed with yellow paint or have the visitors’ hut burned down.

We were also going to add that more money would be available for upkeep but in fact that could be fixed very easily. The admission charge is £1 and that’s simply not enough – most people would surely think £2 or £3 would be appropriate and would be happy to pay that even if a surplus went to charity. Perhaps the odd misery guts would refuse on the grounds entry should be free, but they’re hardly a majority and the truth is the Rollright Stones are so good they’re probably Giffen goods – the higher the price the more people see them as valuable.

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It seems that a 2006 survey of summer solstice attendees revealed that …

• 50% of those questioned were first time attendees…..
• Only 15% mentioned a spiritual or religious reason for visiting, and …
• 80% weren’t members of organisations that see Stonehenge as significant!

That’s a real shock. Everyone knows that too many people are allowed into the stone circle, creating risks of possible harm to both the public and the stones – and that £200,000 has to be spent every year to combat those two risks. And for why? Because some say they have a spiritual right to have unfettered access. Maybe they do, but it seems that for the past seven years there’s been compelling evidence that only about 3,000 out of 20,000 come for spiritual reasons, only half of those who turn up have done so before and only 4,000 out of 20,000 are even in organisations that see the place as significant!

In other words, the overcrowding, risk and expense aren’t helping anyone achieve their spiritual needs, they’re simply giving a load of non-spiritual people a bit of a laugh!  Five weeks from today it will happen again. Time to re-think the whole thing maybe?

English Heritage are starting a free school bus scheme. They’ll provide up to £4 per pupil towards travel to many of their properties. It’s a great idea. However, from our point of view there’s one drawback – the list of eligible sites includes only about half a dozen prehistoric ones. Sadly, that’s consistent with how things are on the National curriculum and exactly nine years ago our colleague Tombo made a compelling plea for change in his article Reclaiming Prehistory.

He pointed out that at least three million years of ‘prehistory’ is skimmed over in only a handful of pages at the beginning of our history books and the space on any school timetable devoted to the study of pre-literate times is as nothing when compared to that spent teaching the written history of the Common Era. As Tristram Hunt has just asked in the Guardian – “How much information about Anne Boleyn can modern Britain really cope with?

Here’s a small suggestion. Maybe EH could still help with travel costs to medieval priories and stately homes but make the subsidy conditional upon brief stops at one or two little-known prehistoric sites on the way?

Coldrum Long Barrow, Kent – worth a brief stop en route to Anne Boleyn's early home at Hever Castle?

Coldrum Long Barrow, Kent  © Alan S, Heritage Action.  Worth a brief stop en route to Anne Boleyn’s early home at Hever Castle?

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I make no secret of my love of Cornwall, and on every trip there are certain sites that I return to again and again. The Merry Maidens is one of those sites, located on the B3315 between Lamorna and Treen at OS Grid Ref SW432245.

Although now largely a 19th Century reconstruction, the Merry Maidens is often described as a ‘perfect circle’. This geometric shape is very unusual in ‘stone circles’, which are very rarely truly ’round’, most being elongated or ovoid in shape.

The circle is surrounded by other monuments with the Pipers, two large standing stones to the northeast being the most often mentioned. These are the stones attached to the legend, supposedly being the musicians playing for the girls dancing on the Sabbath who were turned to stone. The Pipers are not inter-visible with the circle, the story being that they ran away when they heard the St Buryan church bells ring. The alignment of the two stones with the circle, SW-NE suggests an astronomical significance.

Gun Rith, on the other hand is very visible from the circle, standing in a field just across the B3315 road to the west. Indeed, the footpath through the circle has been cut in recent times to point directly at Gun Rith, which fell a few years ago and was re-erected in place against the hedge where it had previously stood.

Merry Maidens and Gun Rith

Gun Rith can be seen against the hedge in the distance, in direct line of the mown path through the circle.

To the southwest are the Boscawen-Ros stones, one in a field, the other now part of a field boundary hedge, and both much smaller than their counterparts, the Pipers, to the northeast. A second circle of similar size was recorded by Borlase, somewhere nearby to the east/southeast, but no trace of this now remains. A large Bronze Age barrow cemetery lies to the south-west of the circle, and beside the B3315 road a short distance to the west of the circle are the disturbed remains of Tregiffian barrow – a possible Neolithic entrance grave. The cup-marked stone at the entrance to the barrow is now a replica, the original can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Like many areas of West Penwith, there’s a lot to see in a comparatively small area!

On my recent visit to Cornwall, I managed to squeeze in a visit to a site I’ve only been to once before, but have never really seen. Caer Bran hillfort rests on a hill to the south of Sancreed Beacon, and when I last climbed up to the hillfort the area was shrouded in thick mist, which afforded me no overall view of the monument.

Luckily this time the weather was much clearer, though still very ‘damp’, and I was able to get a much better impression of the scale of the fort, which is around 120 or so metres in diameter.

Lake’s Parochial History of 1868 describes the hillfort thus:

“Caer Bran Castle, i.e. Brennus’s Castle, or the Crow castle, stands on the summit of a hill six furlongs and a half to the west of the church; it consists, or rather consisted, of three concentric circles, the greatest being about 240 feet in diameter, and still in some places 15 feet in height; it is composed of earth, and, as is usual in such cases, has a ditch on each side. The middle circle was built of stone, and was at least 12 feet in thickness; a large portion of the stone has been removed for building purposes. The innermost circle is about 30 feet in diameter, and was evidently a sort of citadel.”

The PastScape entry (see link below) mentions only two sets of ramparts, the inner one ‘now very mutilated’.

Caer Bran: The outer ditch today is still quite imposing in places.

Caer Bran: The outer ditch today is still quite imposing in places.

The hill fort, which dates to the Iron Age but has much later mining remains within it, is easily accessed via a concreted track south from the Sancreed-Grumbla road at OS Grid Ref SW409295. The hillfort also contains three Bronze Age ring cairns, which pre-date the fort. Though the hill is a bit steep in places, it’s a steady climb to the summit, and I reached the pathway leading off to the left to the fort in less than 15 minutes from the road.

Approaching from the northwest, the ramparts are open for the old mining track that leads through the monument, and I was saddened to see that much of the westerly ditch was quite flooded. On the northern side the ramparts are very well defined, though there is some evidence of animal burrowing activity, possibly rabbits. This activity was mirrored on the southeastern side, but the damage was much more in evidence – although I’m a city boy, I’d guess at badgers from the size of the burrows. From the southwest, the old mining track loops away to the south and west across toward the village of Brane.

The name ‘Bran’ means Raven or Crow, and it would be easy to speculate that the hillfort is named after the same Rialobran (Royal Raven) commemorated on the Men Scryfa, some 4 miles to the north.

Other nearby monuments:

Some 75 yards or so to the east of the hillfort is a small enclosure, noted on PastScape as a pound, with a small mound at its centre.  There was some thought at one time that this may be a henge, but this idea is now dismissed. There is no public access to the enclosure that I could see. The area is rich in prehistoric monuments, with the Carn Euny settlement and holy wells to the southwest, Sancreed Beacon to the northeast and Sancreed holy well to the east. Further afield is the Goldherring settlement to the south, Bartine Castle to the west and Brane chambered cairn further to the southwest. On a clear day, the hillfort provides a good all-round view to most parts of the West Penwith peninsula.

More Information:

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