Stonehenge – Monday 22nd April
We drive along the A303 today, the bit of the road that actually passes Stonehenge to remind ourselves of that view of the stone circle – the one you get travelling to or from the West Country. It’s still special. The ancient stones appear suddenly in the landscape, a weird and wonderful relic of a time past.
Today, a figure in long robes is striding around the outside of the stones, a dark cloak billowing behind her in the wind. It’s Siobhan. She looks so perfect next to Stonehenge and I know that visitors are thrilled to see her here. I’ve watched them.
We turn up the A344 and approach the car park from this direction, park up and stop to get a coffee from the café on the way through to the monument. A middle-aged man is also buying a drink. “I remember them putting the ropes out years ago,” he says.” It was temporary back then! Now though, they’ve really screwed it up.” He sugars his drink and stirs it. “Right now, we come here for forty five minutes,” he continues, “But with all the changes down there it’ll take two hours. All the tours are going to go to pot!”
I know that in the history of Stonehenge, the changes here are merely a blink in time, but Mark and I are aware that somehow our Grand Tour is partly registering the end of an era.
We’re here until the summer solstice and apparently later that week the A344 will be closed for good. There will no longer be a through route past Stonehenge on this road.
At the end of the year, all visitor operations will be transferred to the new centre down the road, and no doubt, the man at the café will have a whole new set of complaints.
I’m glad Mark and I are doing our project now, while things are as they are. At least now when the weather turns, and it does, we can run and shelter in our trusty truck just yards away. At the end of the year we’d be parking a mile and a half away.
For most visitors I’m sure it won’t make any difference. It’ll all be a thrilling new experience, and for many, one they’ve looked forward to for years.
Up on the tarmac path Mark uncovers his silverpoint drawing, sits and continues it.
A large group of Chinese visitors arrive. They’re all clearly delighted to be here, taking it in turns to form different groups in front of the stones and smiling broadly for the photos.
The jackdaws are still nesting, carrying twigs about inside the stones. The sheep are munching in the meadow. One has got a chronic limp but still manages to keep eating.
Across the A303 a tractor is pulling a contraption around a large field, a yellow barrel type thing and long metal wings that spread out over the sprouting crop. As it sprays, clouds of mist rise up into the air and drift over the traffic and up towards us. Modern farming.
People stop to take photos of the artist. It’s the usual variation of shots – over the shoulder, crouched behind, standing ten feet to the side. Somehow an artist drawing seems to help fulfil that wish for a romantic encounter with something ancient and English. Though in reality, very few people have drawn Stonehenge over the time we’ve been here, and only a fraction of them have been British. It’s funny to think that by Mark being here some visitors will always equate Stonehenge with someone drawing it. I guess it’s the same for those who meet Siobhan here. They’ll always have Stonehenge in their minds as a place where a shaman resides. Wish fulfilment complete.