I recently enjoyed a trip to Stonehenge with my husband. It was about an hour’s drive out of our way but Wiltshire is a beautiful county in the autumn and we rarely turn up anywhere on time so we made the diversion as we returned home to the North. I’m passionately devoted to the North. Nothing makes me more proud than being a Yorkshire woman born and bred. Very occasionally friends and family manage to lure me away for a couple of days but I’m out of my comfort zone as soon as we pass Leicester Forest. I’m not even all that keen on London. I like the big industrial northern cities, the kind of places Lowry painted with his little matchstick men. Factories, canals, smog…the honest grind of the working northern man. Rather a dichotomy really when I stop and think about it – I’m the pagan who finds beauty in industry….
But I digress. Stonehenge…. I spend a lot of time in stone circles, blessed as we are in Derbyshire to have so many close by. But I knew Stonehenge would be different, I anticipated a certain level of commerce so I wasn’t surprised when we drove up to a huge wire fence surrounding the site and a sign pointing me to the visitors centre. Yes, that’s the modern world all over. An ancient monument over two thousand years old and one of the most incredible achievements of mankind and where do they expect you to spend your time? Huddled indoors looking at a few photos they’ve stuck up with blue tak and being charged £7.30 for the privilege of doing so. Sometimes I could just tear my hair out!
I couldn’t really see the point of paying anything. I was happy to pay when we went to Winchester Cathedral because they need the money for the maintenance, but I’m really sceptical about where my Stonehenge money would have gone. Those stones seem to have done a pretty good job standing there without my £7.30. And I rather resent paying for a silly audio headset that will spoil the whole ambiance of viewing the monument anyway.
When I visit an ancient monument I want to sense the atmosphere, I want to run my hands over those weathered stones and imagine what they must have seen in a life time hundreds of times longer than my own. I want to absorb the vibes of one of England’s most spiritual sites. I don’t want to walk round with a headset on, looking like some vacuous tourist who can’t find the gift shop.
Its such a shame. When we went to Arbor Low, (claimed by those who live in Derbyshire to be the second holiest stone circle in the country due to its position on the crossing of several ley lines) it was so secluded I was able to spend time in the circle meditating. I was able to use it for what it was built to be used for, a place of peace and worship. I was able to touch the stones and connect with them. At Stonehenge those people who did pay to go “beyond the fence” didn’t get anywhere near the stones. They just got to walk a huge circle round the stones, a circle cynically designed to take as long as the audio tape to walk round. They were fenced off from the monument itself. I don’t know why they bothered, I got just as good a view from the other side of the fence. And fortunately my husband is pretty tall so he was able to take some pictures over the top of the fence without the wire getting in the way (see pic), so win win really.
I believe the only time you can actually get up close to the stones themselves is on Summer Solstice when it becomes a magnet for every pagan, druid, witch and new ager in the country. Actually it looks rather fabulous with all those people gathering together to use the circle for its proper purpose. I bet the stones really look forward to Solstice. I might go next year. I really might. Who knows - the power of Stonehenge and the lure of seeing it as a pagan rather than a tourist might be one more thing on the list to prise this northern witch away from her beloved north….
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