Stonehenge – Friday 12th October
It isn’t raining. The sky is blue, washed with light grey clouds and the sun is out, any heat obliterated by a bitter chill wind. It’s a Stonehenge day.
Walking around the stones we wriggle through a tightly packed group of visitors on the low bridge just in front of the Heel Stone. Their tour guide tells them in loud, clear and authoritative tones,
“Let’s be accurate here. It’s called the ‘Helios Stone’. And Helios in Greek means Sun.”
So now I’m thinking, why is that accurate? Who calls it the Helios Stone? Did the ancient builders of Stonehenge speak Greek?
The helicopters are up today, along with the birds, the jackdaws and crows, the flock of starlings.
Mark sits on the grass walkway just east of the Heel Stone – or Helios Stone, to be accurate. The visitors are nicely spaced, a steady flow but not mobbed. Over one of the EH staff walkie-talkies I hear, “ A party of twenty English then a party of forty nine mixed.” There’s about to be a rush.
On the byway next to the monument field is a line of campervans and caravans. Travelers have parked up, their vehicles lacking the colourful flag toting decorations of the more pagan revelers.
A slender Asian woman comes and sits next to me on the bench. I notice that her friend with the camera is including me in the shot. Another of their friends comes along and sits down next to me, she says, “I want to have my photo with you. It’s OK?” “Of course”, I say, and smile nicely for the photo. I ask them where they’re from and they tell me Thailand. They’re very gentle and polite and tell me that in Thailand they have their own ancient stones, ‘Forest Stones’, ‘Surprised Stones’ they call them. They say that their stones are not so famous, Stonehenge is known by everybody throughout the whole world. I’m thinking – EH marketing will be pleased.
It’s bizarre to be photographed by fellow tourists but English tourists probably do this all the time when they travel to more exotic locations.
In front of me, a group of young Canadians set up elaborate poses for photographs, standing either side of the shot to look as though they’re pushing Stonehenge. “Up a bit…now closer…now in a bit… closer…and up a bit…” It takes forever. But if you’re going to do it, better do it right. This might be the only time in their lives they are here.
Mark is surrounded by people. He’s managing to ignore them as they snap away over his shoulder. Once again, the older Chinese visitors seem very interested, but also younger Asian visitors. A young woman adopts a contorted semi-crouch position to get just the right angle on the artist and his drawing. Strong thighs needed for this kind of photography.
Behind Mark, along the road, a tank noisily drives by, two soldiers in neat green helmets and vivid yellow Day-Glo jackets, waist high above the gun turret.
An older Indian couple stand next to me. “Look. A tank. A tank”, she says. She pulls her scarf more securely around her head and contemplates the stones. “I used to play amongst these stones”, she says, and holds herself tightly against the wind.