Stonehenge – Wednesday 20th March
It’s a clear icy morning. We’re up early to greet the sun along with the pagans and druids and other tourists at the Stonehenge Vernal Equinox celebrations. It’s a fairly intimate gathering of about 200 people or so come together in a shared spirit.
We don’t actually see the sun rise because the night sky gives way to cloud but still, we have a lovely couple of hours being inside the stone circle, wondering, marvelling and enjoying the various rituals offered up in the Spring welcoming.
The site is cleared ready for the start of English Heritage’s working day so Mark and I head off to Amesbury, the nearest town, for some breakfast. When we head back to Stonehenge to do a session on our Grand Tour, the change is incredible. Driving down the A303 towards Stonehenge, we can clearly see that the monument is surrounded by people – so many more than were here first thing. The car park is wall to wall with coaches and the language of the moment is Russian. Russian students queuing to get in, Russian students walking through the tunnel towards us, Russian students on the tarmac path, Russian students on the grass walkways, just the occasional Japanese tourist interrupting the flow.
What this monument means to people who venerate it and what it is to the tourist industry is thrown into stark light. It’s so very different.
“Yes, there is ship. Many ships”, says a Russian man pointing to the meadow.
The sheep spot the farmer’s Land rover enter the field and run towards him; bottoms bobbling in the sun light. The sun has found a way through the cloud and in contrast to this morning, it’s actually quite warm now.
A Japanese woman comes and sits next to me on the bench. One of her travelling companions takes a photo. I know I’m in it too but pretend I’m ignorant of the fact and just keep writing.
“That’s more slippery”, shouts a young boy as he runs off the tarmac path and skids onto the plastic matting that leads people onto the grass. “No one touch that. It’s electric,” he shouts as he hits the outer meadow and the fence protecting the sheep. I think he might be what they call a ‘challenging student’.
Suddenly the path is empty except for Mark Anstee sitting with his drawing board on his knee quietly concentrating on his silverpoint study, and the English Heritage custodians.
The jackdaws are sitting on top of the Trilithons; in the distance I can hear the boom of battery somewhere out over the Plain; a helicopter drifts across the Cursus. But all is briefly calm.
And then another coach arrival, or maybe the Stonehenge bus. A mixture of nationalities and languages, but again, mainly Russian. I’m thinking Moscow must be empty.