Stonehenge – Wednesday 24th April
The building works by the new visitor centre are full-on today. The roads are busy with diggers and dumpers; the shells of the new buildings seem covered in men with hard hats.
The field of rape next to it all is showing the first hints of yellow.
It’s a lovely afternoon.
Getting out of the truck in the Stonehenge car park we’re greeted by skylarks. Their songs are incredibly loud. The only interruption is a regular ‘crump’ as artillery explodes across Salisbury Plain. It sounds like the MoD is blowing things up again.
Arthur Pendragon is here in civvies, his posters lined up along the wooden fence on the way in to the entrance booth. He’s talking to some visitors. It looks like they’re getting pictures of him, and autographs.
Mark sets up his stool on the tarmac path and continues the silverpoint study.
It’s pleasantly un-busy. A regular flow of people moving past but it’s not mobbed. I can hear Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese but everyone seems to be quite relaxed, enjoying the warmth and the aura of the ancient site.
A tour guide walks round with a small group. She’s telling them about the Aubrey Holes, a circle of pits found around the edge of the Henge and named after a seventeenth century antiquarian, but their exact purpose unknown. “So in another thousand years, they’ll find evidence here and say this used to be a walkway,” says an American man walking on the tarmac path. “Yes”, the tour guide laughs.
A sprinkler is watering the grass inside the guide rope. This seems so bizarre. Our time here has been largely characterized by wet weather and soggy ground. The grass walkway has been frequently closed during the winter because it’s been so slippery and boggy.
A woman walks by swinging a black linen shopper printed with bright illustrations of the Tower of London. Another visitor on the Monarchy and the Ancient Brits Tour.
A couple of young men sit next to each other on the ground right up to the guide rope. They hug their knees and just look at he stones. After a while they get up and start taking a series of photos with their camera set on a timer. They look back at the images and are not too pleased. It doesn’t seem to be working very successfully.
Other Russian speakers come by and do the honours taking photos while the young men jump for several shots.
Inspired by the activity, a sort of Mexican wave of jumping pictures is triggered around the grass walkway.
A group of three young people arrive and unpack a rucksack: a long white shirt, a red over-shirt, white beard and bishop’s hat. One of the boys pulls the outfit on over his jeans and t-shirt and poses for photos. He looks very funny, and knows it. Of course other visitors take photos too, including me.
There’s a sudden swell and I can see a person holding up a lollipop sign. The afternoon coach parties are here. The petite Chinese girls rush to take photos of the sheep, European couples take photos of friends giving piggybacks and throwing those holding-up-the-stones poses.
Across the circle I can see Mark, the Stonehenge artist sitting concentrating, completely engulfed by visitors.