Stonehenge – Tuesday 21st May
The word ‘blanket’ is absolutely appropriate today. A blanket of cloud is hanging in the sky, making the roof of the world seem somewhat low. The good news is, it isn’t raining.
We arrive at Stonehenge in a sea of French School children. They’re excitedly disembarking from coaches in the car park and chatting noisily on their way to form queues to enter the monument field.
“Vous Calmer”, shouts a teacher.
As we reach the top of the entrance slope another load of school children, French again but slightly older, stream towards us and the way out. Their mood of excitement hasn’t diminished on their way round the stones.
Mark sets up his stool, sits and continues his silverpoint drawing in front of the lichen encrusted Trilithon. He’s engulfed by small people jabbering away in French but clearly interested in what he’s doing. They all appear to have cameras. Mark does a valiant job of just getting on, obsessively worrying the detail of silver on his paper.
The guide ropes along the grass walkway have been moved. They’re now back to the summer position, right up near the Henge ditch again. It’s so much nicer. There’s suddenly an intimacy all the way round. Yes, you observe the stone circle at some distance still, but it feels so much closer than it has all winter. And the grass walkway is wide; people are jumping for photos and children are rolling and sitting on the grass, and it’s soft and bouncy under foot.
All in all it feels like an enormous playing field and people are clearly enjoying being here.
A Chinook flies across the Cursus, its double blades shaking the air as it goes.
The skylarks are particularly tuneful today, their song rising above the traffic. In the far distance I can hear the rapid fire of guns over Salisbury Plain.
A young woman, I think she’s Indian, sits with her back to the guide rope, the stone circle behind her. She’s sitting cross-legged with her wrists resting on her knees in a type of yoga position. Her boyfriend lies on the grass in front of her and takes her photo.
A really small girl in a purple anorak and stripy tights rolls around on the grass then lays still, face down while her parents stand and chat over her.
A line of open-backed buff coloured Land rovers drives along the A344. On the back of each vehicle, pointing up towards the sky, is a large gun on a stand.
The Chinook flies back. People stop and look, many taking photos before returning their attention to the Neolithic stones. It’s a shame it’s so dull. I’m not convinced anyone’s going to get a really good photo today.
“I’m not sure I want to be in these pictures.” Says an American woman to her friend. “ Oh, don’t worry,” her friend says, “No-one will be looking at you, they’ll be looking at the stones!” and they both laugh.
A group of Chinese visitors, four men and one young woman, walks by. They’re dressed very expensively in a conscientiously clubby way. She’s wearing a beret and shorts and has incredibly long hair that reaches down past her waist. It’s coloured a sort of browny-red, and she’s carrying an obviously expensive handbag on long gold chains. The men are all wearing designer jeans and conspicuously stylish sunglasses that they don’t remove, despite the lowness of the sky.
And I’ve only just realised that the sheep have gone. The electric fence is still up. Maybe they’re in a dip somewhere in the field? That’s the most significant change with the repositioning of the walkway. We’re nearer the stones, but further from the sheep. I know that’s the point of coming here, being near to the stones, but people do love those sheep.