Stonehenge – Saturday 15th September
We arrive about ¾ hour after opening and already, the car park is heaving. Coaches are emptying their cargos of international visitors; the queues waiting to get in are impressively long.
Up at Stonehenge the voices are mainly American, a mixture of ages but some very energetic and ambitious posing going on for photos.
“That’s so great! That’s the album cover!” says one young man as the people pyramid in front of him collapses. “Okay. Are you doing any jumping pictures? One second. Okay, now I’m ready”.
“Oh, come on… stop sounding so ancient” an older lady says to her travelling companion as they walk by.
I sit close up to Mark. He’s been finding it difficult the past few days when people insist on talking to him and so prevent him from working. Most people seem to think he’s engaged in some sort of leisure activity. I’m in protector mode. And people are really quite excited and animated and boisterous. It’s a strange mood. Someone throws a jumper at a girl posing for a photo. It lands on me. “Really?” she says to her friends, then collects the jumper with a “sorry”.
A large party of Chinese visitors floods onto the walkway. A couple of men stand really close up, stepping on our coats and leaning over to see what Mark is doing. There’s nothing much to see right now. He’s just starting a study at 320°.
An Italian lady asks a Korean woman to take a photo of her and her husband. They communicate in a strange English, but are very polite towards each other.
I know it’s a Saturday but I haven’t felt it this busy for a while. There’s a fever to get everything possible done here then get out and on to the next thing. “You want me to take a picture?” says a woman, “Yes, I speak American.” “I speak tourist!” is one exchange to our right. To our left, a conversation in animated Italian – something again about taking photos. It is the main pre-occupation.
There’s a woman in a green top with dyed dark-red hair sitting on a blanket and meditating close up to the guide rope opposite the Heel Stone. I notice she’s got plugs in, little earphones to her iPod or some-such. I’m wondering now if there’s a cruise in. There’s a swell of people of a certain age in casual comfy clothing.
A burst of pop music and some clapping punctures the atmosphere. A group of about twenty older teens, mainly girls, tight jeans, long hair, hoodies, are doing a synchronized dance routine for a video camera in front of the stones. Lots of excited Italian and some ‘na-na-na’ singing, it’s very funny. They get to the end of the track and applaud wildly. A few metres round, another group are launching themselves into the air for that all-important ‘jumping picture’. It’s a lively day today. I realise these groups of teens are International schools. They’ve got those helpfully labelled rucksacks identifying them.
A man sneezes fulsomely close by. Mark says, “Nice!” A family make incredibly loud nonsense noises to catch the attention of their baby for a photograph. The baby is sitting precariously on the grass to our left. It’s unfortunately ugly. But no matter, it has clearly won the hearts of its parents. “We’re standing at Stonehenge,” says a man into his cell phone. I guess it beats “We’re on the train.”
And then there’s a lull – the sound of the traffic on the A303, some motorbikes, and another swell. A young woman leans over Mark. “This is amazing!” she says. “Thank you.” Says Mark, looks at me, and shrugs.
“The problem is you’re too high,” instructs an English man to a group of Italian teens. They obediently all crouch next to the guide rope and he takes the photo.
“This is the fate of most ancient monuments”, says an older woman walking around with a chap in a panama hat.
The path outside the chain-link fence is busy. People wait for a gap in the flow of people on the path inside to get a shot of the famous Stonehenge circle.
Towards the end of the day we spot a man across the Henge dressed remarkably similarly to Mark – same colour work trousers, same colour shirt, same brown derby type hat. As he gets closer we stop him and ask if he’d mind posing for a photo with Mark. Turns out we’ve met John Pleasants, Professor of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina. An expert in ancient sites of South America but on his first visit to Stonehenge. He recognises that there is a type of ‘field’ dress. I guess even though he’s on holiday, he is in some ways, on a field trip.