After gaining limited open access at the turn of the millennium, it has been disappointing to see that English Heritage have banned alcohol and also introduced a parking charge which effectively means that at the summer solstice two brand new restrictions are in force (and perhaps others parts of the year to follow, once the precedent is set by attempt?). Very little mention is made of the fact that in any case, body searches were carried out to ensure that a four can maximum of beer or similar drinkwas not exceeded. Nothing but vagueness has come out of asking for specific restrictions on ceremonial mead and here’s the irony-English Heritage sell both wine and mead in their gift shop (at the time of writing).
No one seems to realise that by banning alcohol, it will increase the danger of people drinking before they get to the stones, or excessively downing drinks very quickly, to make effects ‘topped up’ in an attempt to make their ‘buzz’ last as long as possible.
There will be some that will find ways to get other substances past the barriers and checks and even with the most thorough or random checks, plenty will get through. Plus the added bonus of some attendees being fully aware of these checks and getting completely overwhelmed by rapid consumption. The big losers in all of this situation are those that just want to attend the solstice and have the choice of a drink or not.
Now it gets even worse. Despite only having four clear days where the ropes are taken down and you are not put through the English Heritage tourism process, (for which they have made in excess of £ 20,000,000 per year ) the small concession to make the parking free on the adjacent field next to the stones has a new £15 charge for vehicles and larger ones at £50. The aim is to make people pay by using public transport but since the selling off of the national bus companies and railways, English Heritage seem to be living in the past by not realising that rail and bus fares have rocketed upwards way beyond the national inflation rate, as measured by goods, petrol, commodities over the last 20 years.
For example, a train taken from London with a return (with rail services not running to suit attenders) I got a price just below £100 and a bus tour was quoting direct at £90. London is relatively close, but if you are taking the train to Salisbury, you then have to transfer to a bus service for £10 return to add-on to this fare. In addition to this, to stop people parking and refusing the new parking charge this year, none of the conditions of this rural area (by the main A303) trunk road to the South West have any of the previous years restrictions relaxed. This means that English Heritage have effectively tried to ensure there is charged monopoly on parking. Even disabled drivers spaces are subjected to the same charge.
The same cost in petrol from London would be £40 and of course, friends can share the cost to make this lower, you cannot do this on public transport except for some rail discount cards.
Up until the mid 1980’s there had been free festivals there but whatever you’re opinion on whether they could have continued (and yes there were a minority making it difficult for the vast majority of peaceful attendees), when these were not happening for the vast majority of the rest of the year, anyone could just go up to the stones and spend some time with them. Instead, the Stones are now roped off for 361 days a year and pre booking time visits are very much the norm, although some spiritual groups can pre arrange private access, this is outside of the exact times of the traditionally agreed dates for the two equinoxes and solstices.
Even if Stonehenge is not for you, perhaps preferring a local sacred site of little grove or altar, perhaps you may even go to other larger barrows or stones with easy or challenging access or even missing the exact dates of the solstices to avoid the larger numbers, I hope you may join me in the campaign to defend what is rightfully ours and just for only four times a year, not be restricted or charged. English Heritage have made the site a lot more famous, including advertising via leaflets to people’s homes and advertising in London for coach trips. The footfall has increased dramatically and this includes the general marketing of the four quarters celebrated, but this is very much projected in such a way that it becomes a place not for its historical significance, but almost like a music prohibited festival and something to simply put on the ‘bucket list’.
There is still a vibrant campaign to get a free festival established in proximity of Stonehenge and most people who cherish the site as a place to return to would like to see English Heritage keep their cash from the visitor centre interest for the ‘one off’ tourists, but it should never have got to the stage where you are forced to use their car park and go through their visitor centre. When Cecil Chubb gave Stonehenge to the nation, I am absolutely certain he would be livid and be at the front of the queue of protesters and probably launching a legal challenge to get the stones back, in order that it could be given to some sort of independent body which did not allow such an aggressive and insatiable grip in its monopoly of the stones. You can see the stones afar but not get much closer to them than the roped off circle around them by taking your car down some ancient roads (droves) but most are highly unaware of them.
So why do I care?
If they take Stonehenge away from the spiritual reverie and freedom to attend in the way I have mentioned above, then other sites could also follow. English Heritage have already been instructed that they will get reductions as a management body to look after monuments and other less old historical places. Stonehenge and Dover castle attract a high revenue and income, but lesser sites are now being given the tourist treatment. For example, a carving of Merlin’s face was commisioned by them as a way to get tourist numbers to increase at the legendary caste of Tintagel, with its links to Arthurian legends. They then installed a transparency effect statue of an assumed Arthur of artistic interpretation shortly afterwards and tis was expressed as an idea to get ‘tourist numbers up’.
Please consider joining the growing concerns against these terrible changes happening and for further information, please go to the following links:
http://www.warband.org.uk -The home page of King Arthur Pendragon (Arthur Uther Pendragon on Facebook)
Facebook, search box, type in FREESTONEHENGE and also SECULAR ORDER OF DRUIDS.
Dancing Hare has produced a song titles Stonehenge, another one regarding the returning of the ancestors remains to their intended burial sites (Hallowed Ground) and if you google Stonehenge Freedom Song, a solo song by Matt puts all the current and historic concerns about what is happening at this sacred place into the meting pot. They are all on You Tube.
As a final irony, it is rather inappropriate to cite worry about damage to Stonehenge when you have a tourist organisation that will not think twice about carving directly into the rocks at another location and erect statues inappropriate and highly tourist orientated.
If the same conditions were applied to a lot of the revered cathedrals and churches in this country and they were run the same way as Stonehenge is currently, there would be an uproar. We should not have to pay to worship at the stones, even more so on the most important four points of the pagan, druid calendar and other faiths that also follow these pinnacle points in the wheel of the year and the seasons. How many would tolerate seeing their own local vicar being charged car parking, graves dug up to attract visitor numbers and then charge not only the congregation, but the vicar, organist and choir an entrance fee and then apply paint to the regular Sunday services notice and say “Services only allowed on Christmas Day and Easter”? “You must park in our car park down this lane with double yellow ‘no parking lines’ installed along its whole length. You must visit the church gift shop before gaining access (entry £10) to the inside of the church. Private services will be by arrangement. Please consider buying our organic blessed wine, but please note, communion is strictly banned from this year, as we caught a couple of people in the graveyard to the rear of the church that were sleeping off some alcohol that aren’t spiritual at all. “,
Not all that find Stonehenge a spiritual place are robed pagans and druids, there are the quiet single pilgrims, Hare Krishna, those that revere its astrology , ley lines or powerful energy, history or geometry. It’s archaeology and the fact that it encompasses a sacred site that is far more than the initial appeal of the iconic stones that draw you to the landscape in the first instance. The barrows and burial grounds, the other henges below the top soil rediscovered and the nearby Woodhenge, whilst Avebury also beckons in the distance. There are those that just love the landscape and peace and those that travel from place to place and the spirit of Stonehneg as a meeting point for celebration, sharing time with friends before moving on to another sacfed site is of equal importance.
We have to stop this special and ancient place being just a highly controlled and theme park operated experience, where a short visit is then photographed, ticked off the ‘to do’ list and start seeing it as one of the most enduring ancient temples of the world, to be kept open, accessible, affordable for pilgrims from all directions and beliefs.