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We would urge everyone near and far to participate in the public consultation about the changes to the A303 at Stonehenge.
The tunnel comes with a flyover at Countess Roundabout that crosses into the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS), a raised section would tower 8 metres alongside the precious site known as Blick Mead, the road continuing to the barrow cemetery east of King Barrow Ridge and into a tunnel portal below the Stonehenge Avenue. Traffic having been speeded up, the noise and pollution on this stretch will affect everyone: from those walking the Avenue to Amesbury Abbey care home residents, and of course wildlife road kills increase with faster traffic.
Rare bats have been found in this area recently, and the effect on the wildlife inhabiting Vespasian’s Camp will be exacerbated. We should also be concerned at the effect on the River Avon and its tributary the Till, which are important for aquatic wildlife as Special Areas of Conservation.
At the other end of the tunnel, the location of the west portal threatens views of the winter solstice alignment from the stones and emerges alongside the RSPB’s special Normanton Down reserve, so the noise and pollution will ultimately ruin it and drive out the stone curlews. The new four lane western road affects Normanton Down barrow cemetery, including the famous Bush Barrow, and is imposed on the highly important group of Neolithic long barrows running from Normanton Gorse to Longbarrow Crossroads and back towards Stonehenge itself.
Whilst removing the whole of the A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) would have some advantages, this short tunnel – of around half the width of the WHS but with both portals inside – would be devastating.
Only by making your opinions heard can this tunnel be changed!
Solstice events are much improved since English Heritage banned alcohol and imposed a parking charge, thereby reducing misbehaviour and overcrowding. But there’s still room for improvement. For one thing, thousands who are purely revellers use the “don’t pay to pray” mantra to oppose paying an economic price for the event. Consequently many tens of thousands extra pounds are spent on the event that could be better used elsewhere to protect heritage.
For another thing, English Heritage are still utterly pathetic at stopping hundreds of people standing on the stones, thereby broadcasting a message of disrespect. (Three stewards/security guards in high viz jackets and helmets – and heavy boots no doubt – were shown this morning on BBC 1, standing side by side on a stone! EH stewardship, eh? Next they’ll be supporting the wrecking of the landscape with a short tunnel!)
In addition, the gathering takes place at the wrong time and the wrong place. The monument was designed to view the winter solstice sunset from outside the stones not the winter solstice sunrise from inside them. Doing it wrong is no big deal but doing it wrong at great expense when heritage needs aren’t met elsewhere is hard to justify.
You can do it right if you wish (here’s a tour you can book) or if you prefer you could celebrate the event perfectly validly in your local town. In Birmingham for instance there are dozens of roads clearly aligned on the winter solstice sunset! We recommend City Road, Edgbaston. It runs dead straight for a mile pointing to the winter solstice setting sun. Magnificent! All proper pagans ought to be gathering there!
Jim Rayner of website www.stonehengepilgrim.org.uk and the author of ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to Stonehenge’ shares his thoughts on how, where and when the solstice should be celebrated at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge – Opening up monument field and restoring the sun gap
English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) have promised to open up monument field and reconnect Stonehenge with The Avenue by finally removing the old A344 northern stock boundary fence. Yet, no further details about exactly when this is going to happen have been released. EH may well argue that this is because the newly seeded grass areas (along the line of the old road and old visitor centre car park) need further time to establish. EH may also state that the fences need to remain whilst any changes to the shuttle bus turning circle are being constructed (the planning decision is due in mid-July 2016). For further details about this and the ‘permissible route’ for walkers and cyclists along the line of the old A344 please see www.sarsen.org . and in particular http://www.sarsen.org/2016/05/summer-2016-planned-improvement-to.html. If this proves too difficult, then new line of access could be established around the edge of the current fences to the east and along the line of the long abandoned track way running across the avenue.
The creation of a larger monument field is integral to developing the summer and winter solstices celebrations as more ‘authentic gatherings’. During the summer solstice celebrations people are especially bunched-up against the old A344 fence and the centre of the circle is overcrowded. The best view of Stonehenge is from the avenue and this location is paramount to witnessing the midwinter sunset and possibly the midsummer shadow cast by the Heel Stone right into the heart of the monument. It would also help if EH and the NT started negotiations with Ministry of Defence about removing a small section of mainly coniferous trees on the horizon in order to recreate a ‘sun gap’ for the summer solstice sunrise. This and the removal of the old A344 fence would provide the extra space needed and a visual focal point for managed open access to develop in a more positive direction for all concerned.
English Heritage is saying that people have been celebrating summer solstice at Stonehenge for “thousands of years“. But where’s their evidence? Winter solstice, yes, they have shown loads of evidence for that, but not summer. So it’s strange they are making unsubstantiated claims about the cultural importance of the summer considering they are keen to reduce numbers in the summer. Anyway, here’s the authentic solstice view that none of the attendees will see this summer, it’s by our member Jimit and it showes the winter solstice sunset, viewed from outside the stones on the original ceremonial approach ….
How convenient by the ancients, making the big moment sunset instead of sunrise. No-one has to stand around waiting all night and, because it’s mostly not dark, it involves a lot less security and infrastructure. The Australians can confirm that’s the case. Here’s their winter solstice sunset celebration at “The Henge”, Bywong. No expense, no security, no infrastructure, no stone climbing, no litter, no damage, no moaning!
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”. Imagine that! Hot chocolate, mulled wine and a fun family atmosphere!
So who stole OUR solstice?
Some people opposed the imposition of parking charges at Summer solstice and say the whole cost of staging the event should be borne by English Heritage. They call EH “greedy” for thinking otherwise and accuse them of treating Stonehenge like a “cash cow”. Up to now we’ve been broadly on EH’s side on this – they are short of money (which has implications for the welfare of hundreds of heritage sites, not just Stonehenge) and the cost of financing the annual solstice party is a great burden – so why shouldn’t the attendees contribute? (A few dozen Druids maybe not, but thousands of party-goers, yes.)
However, the question arises: is there a limit to the amount of money that EH should extract from Stonehenge without becoming vulnerable to the accusation they are using the monument disrespectfully as a cash cow? It is prompted by this, their current planning application for improved parking: “If approved, it is hoped that these changes, plus an improved drop off/pick layout at the Stones, will create a more flexible service, providing up to 900 visitor journeys in each direction every hour at peak times – compared to the current maximum of 600”.
That implies that at peak times there will be 900 people processing round the stones every hour, an increase of 50%. Will that be just too many? Will the Stonehenge visitor experience be eroded to an unacceptable extent? If 900 is considered seemly, what if parking could be extended further, would 1,900 be OK? As guardians, shouldn’t EH announce what they think is a reasonable limit lest the jibes about Stonehenge being like Disneyland come true by incremental steps?
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.
Alcohol is to be prohibited at Stonehenge solstice celebrations!
No-one can deny it contributes to the all-too-frequent damage and disrespect so this is an excellent, heritage-friendly move.
We ask only one thing of EH: please don’t negotiate or compromise by even a thimbleful. A duty to protect is a duty to protect and shouldn’t be subject to negotiation or requests to act otherwise by anyone.
There are signs that the solstice at Stonehenge is increasingly being celebrated in the way the evidence suggests is “authentic”. See this….
Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust
At 6pm on 21st December Amesbury will be holding its 5th Annual Solstice Eve lantern procession from the Melor hall, to the Abbey for mulled wine & mince pies and then to the Mesolithic Spring, where the public will find the Solstice lantern lit by the dying embers of light at Stonehenge a little earlier in the afternoon. Do please join in this amazing experience and take part in a 5000 year old tradition.
and this …..
Stonehenge Solstice Sunset Tour
Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset. It is thought that the Winter Solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer Solstice and exciting recent archaeological revelations prove this theory….. We will be there for sunset! Witness the sun setting at Stonehenge from the ceremonial Avenue….. A unique opportunity and a truly magical experience!”
What’s not to like? Right day, right time, right place instead of wrong day, wrong time, wrong place! Shouldn’t English Heritage be encouraging those thousands who claim a traditional “right” to do it all wrong to start doing it right? After all, apart from watching the wrong phenomenon at the wrong time they’re doing so from the wrong place so the effect intended by the builders is completely lost to them and they are doing it in such numbers that both damage and disrespect (and a lot of expense) have resulted previously. It’s a funny way to show they care for the monument. They really don’t have a leg to stand on.
Following the recent wide publicity we would like to make our position clear regarding solstice celebrations at Stonehenge:
We have no objections whatsoever to solstice celebrations at Stonehenge subject to the simple proviso that they don’t involve damage or disrespect to the monument by which we mean significant litter, urine, vomit, faeces or deliberate marks on the stones – or any climbing up or standing on them (both of which are not open for debate as they are illegal under the government regulations by which English Heritage is bound).
We feel those obvious parameters should have been imposed many years ago on a zero tolerance basis and we look forward to the speedy publication of measures to achieve them. We trust the reforms will be announced not debated and that they will be judged by results this summer and will be revised thereafter as necessary. To this end we call for the prompt publication of a full damage and disrespect status report for each year from 2000 to 2014 and for each year thereafter.
We suspect that most people will agree and we are heartened by this from the Free Stonehenge Facebook Group: “Just to reassure The Heritage Journal that there are in fact many Druids and Pagans in complete agreement with the Journal’s position and are steadfastly campaigning for something to be done ….” It is surely now time for English Heritage to listen to the majority of people for whom respect for the site is the priority.