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The likes of English Heritage and Historic England are very much into their heritage heroes and none more so than Sir John Lubbock, our greatest prehistorian, who introduced the Ancient Monuments Act which set up a system of scheduling and state guardianship which has prevailed to the present day and has been replicated worldwide.

But our present-day “heritage champions” only revere him when convenient. When the road lobby comes calling they disregard him entirely and massive new damage is repackaged as “worthwhile improvement”. Yet who can deny that Sir John would be appalled at the “worthwhile improvement” English Heritage and Historic England are promoting at Stonehenge at the behest of the Government and in defiance of UNESCO?

If you’re in doubt, consider whether he would ever deny – or they would ever acknowledge – the immutable truth of his words to the Anthropological Institute on 15th of January 1872:

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“The continued destruction of prehistoric monuments is a fact which I am sure we all deeply regret, and which reflects little credit on us as a nation.”


 

Remember this which we reported exactly 10 years ago in August 2009?

A local mayor in Alabama reckoned destroying this 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound and using the dirt as fill for a new Walmart retail warehouse store called Sam’s Club would be fine, and memorably announced: “What it’s going to be is more prettier than it is today”

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Of course, Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust aren’t rednecks. But if you strip away their high falutin’ talk, that’s exactly what they’re saying about the Stonehenge short tunnel project! So pure redneckery on both sides of the pond!

They’ve just said we’re “completely out of touch” and not “looking at the wider picture” for opposing the short tunnel scheme and that most others are wrong too: “The majority of people against doing something about the A303 past Stonehenge, do NOT live where we live!” We’re grateful, as they’ve given us the opportunity to explain some fundamental realities to them:

1. It’s true, most people who object to the scheme do NOT live in the local villages. They live in 195 countries world wide and while none of them wishes for the local villages to be blighted by rat running, all of them think the Stonehenge landscape shouldn’t suffer as a solution to that.

2. They have the sense to know a longer tunnel would prevent both the rat running and the new landscape damage and that the cost of that is tiny relative to BREXIT and HS2.

3. They also know that if this was a bland agricultural area, a few square miles with little character, there’d be no problem. But it isn’t. It’s a World Heritage Landscape, Europe’s greatest prehistoric area.

4. Hence, if STAG is supporting a short tunnel as a solution to traffic in the villages it is they not we or the people of 195 countries who are “out of touch with the real world, focusing on one thing without looking at the wider picture”. If they were campaigning for a longer tunnel which caused no damage to the World Heritage Landscape they wouldn’t be out of touch, they’d be rational and well-informed. But they’re not doing so. Blaggarding the many thousands who are doesn’t make STAG rational or well informed. Quite the reverse. It should change. It could tip the balance.

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Their latest latest is bizarre: “We’ve already conducted surveys over the past couple of years which has helped us draw up the preliminary design of the scheme. Really? But surely if you’d truly attempted to minimise damage helped by the surveys the new roads would either have been planned to follow the existing one or to bend this way and that. How could it be otherwise?

Eh?

Yet the new roads are NOT on the line of the old road at all, and as for bending this way and that to avoid damage, here’s their own image of what they plan:

Isn’t that simply the shortest (and cheapest) route between two points? Yet again Highways England’s PR department seems to have caught itself out. It’s almost as if their boss was Chris Grayling.

Oh.

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A yowling moggy is the sound of the truth being tortured. Surely no country would serve up 36 yowling moggies at a place like Stonehenge? Well, here they are. You decide.


This event saw around 200 local people gather to mark the midwinter Solstice on December 21. Having settled into a tradition over the last seven years, the occasion was launched with an ornate lantern transported to Stonehenge to be lit at sunset in an act representing the capturing of the dying rays of the old year.

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Commissioned by the Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust in 2011 and created by Andy Rawlings and Michelle Topps, the lantern is an astonishing work of art with stained glass leadwork representing the World Heritage Site landscape. The transportation of the lantern to the globally famous stones is undertaken by a local woman chosen annually as the Solstice Fairy.

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The lighting of the lantern is undertaken whilst a guardian ritual is enacted by an overseeing Druid.

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Having been lit the lantern is transported to Blick Mead, where it is placed adjacent to the spring to await the lantern procession that has been gathering meanwhile in Amesbury.

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The Solstice Fairy then leads the gathering of adults and children, each carrying their own lanterns, in procession to Amesbury Abbey.

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Here the participants are greeted with mulled wine and mince pies, thanks to the generosity and hospitality of the Cornelius-Reid family and the Amesbury Abbey Nursing Home.

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On departing the Abbey refreshed and proceeding to Blick Mead, the procession forms a circle around the lantern to take part in an enjoyable and thoughtful ceremony reflecting on the year that has passed and the year to come.

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When the circle breaks the participants return home, meanwhile the lantern is safeguarded overnight then transported back to Stonehenge to be extinguished on the midwinter Solstice line as the sun rises the following day.

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Participation in the lantern procession is free and the tradition has been embraced by local people in an act reconnecting them with Stonehenge and the Mesolithic community that inhabited Blick Mead. Many thanks to Jeff Welch for sharing his wonderful photographs of the event this year. Please note that Blick Mead is on private land, access is not possible throughout the remainder of the year.

 

 

 

 

Last week, Highways England’s contractors drilled two boreholes directly into the most sensitive area of Blick Mead. These boreholes, installed for measuring water levels in relation to the A303 tunnel scheme, were excavated without anyone present from the Blick Mead team that over many years has painstakingly researched 100% of every bucket of material recovered from the site.

Not for the first time we are obliged to question the lack of awareness and sensitivity in the approach Highways England have adopted in their surveys on behalf of the A303 tunnel project. Does anyone honestly still believe Highways England’s claim this Stonehenge tunnel scheme is a “heritage project”? Come off it Highways England! Come off it Historic England! Come off it National Trust! Come off it English Heritage Trust! This is self-serving vandalism!

Pictured Andy Rhind-Tutt discovers the Highways England borehole that has been sunk in the path of the auroch hoof prints the Blick Mead project revealed in 2017.

We recently received a letter from one of our readers, who wished to remain anonymous. Although only conjecture, the letter makes some interesting points regarding the proposed Spanish amendments to the World Heritage Committee’s drafts to the UK re the A303 scheme at Stonehenge. We reproduce the letter here in full:

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Why Spain’s stance on the A303 scheme near Stonehenge?

I wish to support our country. Often I scratch my head at money seemingly taking some precedent in decisions, but one wonders whether it is more important to protect wonderful sights and have imagination fuelled beyond the calculations. Some say yes, some say no, and many do not seem to care, their imaginations increasingly filled by with ever the reality of being able to put a plate on the table and spend more time with their loved ones.

For the last 100 years the car has become a necessity for many, and a driver, excuse the pun, for economic development and continued growth, it keeps people in purpose and freedom. Granted, there are probably too many of them, but this is what we do, we find things and make them into something else that enables a cycle, just like how people once built Stonehenge and made it from boulders from a landscape far away. But there is only one Stonehenge, unlike the cars; and whatever you may think of it, be it a big calendar, a grand gathering place for people to share or enlighten or a sacred place, it’s just there and it’s made it this far.

And so, to question of the Spanish intervention at the WHC42; backed by Burkina Faso, Hungary, Brazil, and Zimbabwe. It was interesting to see that the Spanish amendments (see below) to the World Heritage Committee were in order to undermine protection advised in the initial drafts presented by the WHC mission to the UK.

One wonders whether it has anything to do with potential tenders to Ferrovial / Cintra who are lined up as possible contractors (the others being Hochtief or Skanska/Strabag) and the proposed £1.6 billion finance scheme, or a timetable? I infer no wrongdoing or bias here, or indeed any lack of integrity, noting that the qualified diplomacy on display at the WHC was very impressive. However we must be careful with wanton speculation as there could be a plethora of other reasons; some have said Gibraltar, others may note that the WHC Spanish delegate is the wife to the ex-Secretary of Spain for Industry and Tourism, who knows, the PP in Spain are noted for dodgy deals?

But perhaps if the site wasn’t protected and debated about as it has been, the less scrupulous amongst our own might have bulldozed it already and stuck a big Mickey Mouse ride and a McDonalds on the site for a fist full of dollars; no EH jokes required.

Of course, we are not in the halls of power to make the decisions about cashing in and developing the land or highway, or for me, even comprehend other significances that may be a bit stranger. But if it is the case that it may be done deal, then the best possible solution needs to be found, as was originally proposed by the mission who came to assess the site of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), so that other people can wander past, or get some vibes, or whatever in generations to come.

Sometimes I think it is just that simple, imagination is a treasure. Is it greater to us folk, than not sitting in a traffic jam for a bit longer, and is it worth more than a public/private contract deal that could literally cut corners?

We have failed in the past through not knowing how to best understand or protect our places of interest, and we learn and guide from this. The OUV should be looked after, all agree, looked after for future generations; but only to the very best of our engineering and planning ability, and with the utmost credence given to the concerns of the community whose work it is to protect and learn and teach from our heritage, alongside the developers. The Spanish amendment reduces this real value for this scheme required for some of the community and was unnecessary. And just maybe, if they were around today, the engineers of Stonehenge might well agree.

Kind regards,

(redacted)

London

Hmmm… so would you or anyone feel it right that a developer that wanted to build in your neighbourhood was allowed to sit in final judgment of the planning department’s recommendations?

That, in short, is what is happening with the now £1.7 billion Stonehenge tunnel.

The Transport Secretary instructed Highways England to adopt a tunnel within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and following the planning process will make the final decision whether or not it goes ahead unless successfully challenged in the High Court.

The “result” of consultations on options for widening the A303 across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is yet to be announced – or “presented through an undemocratic lense” one might say. There will be no surprises. It will be said to point to popular and expert enthusiasm for the protection and enhancement of the World Heritage landscape – hoorah! – but a version of protection and enhancement which will have an unspoken opposite effect. How could it be otherwise, given Highways England’s and the Government’s stated aims? Let no-one be in doubt: their primary aim is not to protect and enhance the World Heritage landscape and it never was. They can only do that without building a surface dual carriageway.

This is a tragedy that has been long in the making. In 2012 Simon Jenkins smelt a rat about the Olympic opening ceremony. Was its depiction of rural Britain as “a land of fields and ploughmen, cottages, cows, sheep and horses, of Glastonbury, cricket and the Proms” a cover for a more radical vision, and was the countryside in the cross hairs of the Government and its developer friends (who kindly helped them fashion the new Planning approach)? Should the name of the ceremony be changed from “The Isles of Wonder” to “Goobye to all that”?!

Time showed that his discomfort with the direction of travel was justified and in the following year, in a piece titled “Our Glorious Land in Peril” he reiterated his view that the new presumption in favour of sustainable development, defined merely as profitable, was the most philistine concept in planning history and he spoke witheringly of the architects of the policy:
“None of these politicians shows any awareness of the beauty of the rural landscape. All live in prosperous cities and probably holiday abroad. Urban renewal is beyond them. That English people should treasure their countryside, as polls show they do overwhelmingly, is beyond them.”

Now that one of our most loved views, the free view of Stonehenge from the A303, is intended to be snatched away forever, his words still have great resonance:Ministers may win Right-wing guffaws in think-tank saloons. But it is their deeds now being scratched and scarred across the face of England that we shall remember.” The scratches and scars, if allowed to happen, will outlive Chris Grayling and the rest by millenia.

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