Stonehenge – Wednesday 26th September
At the very moment we hit the top of the entrance to Stonehenge a huge flock of starlings flies over and lands across the trilithons. More starlings than I’ve ever seen here. They don’t look immediately like birds but like bats, like one of those natural history films of bats leaving a cave. The noise is tremendous. They land and chatter on the lintels then fly down to the grass pecking and chattering all the while.
The other noise competing up here is gunfire. Rapid bursts from across the plain.
It has been raining but so far the southwest has escaped the excesses of the terrible weather front battering the northern regions of the UK.
We’re well wrapped up and Mark is sitting by the bridge, the low metal structure that forms part of the walkway past the Heel Stone, an ink study at 210°. It’s cloudy but breezy not windy and there are some blue areas of sky breaking through.
The crowds aren’t so mad. A few coach parties, but in this weather with wet underfoot, people don’t tend to linger. It’s a steady parade around the circle of ancient stones.
Japanese, German, a Slavic language and English pass by me as I sit on one of the wooden benches on the mown walkway. A nursery group of tiny girls and boys in hi-viz waterproofs and different coloured Wellies hold hands and march past.
People are throwing shapes for photos. A girl is on a boy’s shoulders while their young friends direct. A couple of Japanese girls laugh at each other as they pull faces and splay their arms for the camera, but it’s quite low-key today.
A party of German students walk past, chatting to each other, following each other, not even glancing sideways to look at Stonehenge. They walk across the bridge and encounter an artist. Mark is surrounded by a crowd of youth. And now they’re looking at the stones…
“If you want me to, I’ll do a jump. You say GO, I’ll jump and you snap”, says a large young man to his even larger female companion. She creases over in laughter as she looks back at the image. “You want one Katy?” “Nooooo”, she says. “That’s a terrible jump photo”, he says. I don’t quite understand what compels people to jump here. Maybe they jump everywhere? Maybe there’s something peculiar about Stonehenge that makes people want to take off?
A man stands close up to Mark and photographs over his shoulder. The starlings have gone, just disappeared, and a couple of jackdaws flit about amongst the sarsens.
But now we have a flock of German students, the dominant visitor of the moment, loads of them, trudging round, flirting and giggling, an animatedly chatty crowd interspersed with the odd teen making it obvious they are here under duress.
And the starlings return, accompanied by an entourage of jackdaws.
The odd camera is poked through the chain link fence but it’s not too busy along the road. Today seems to be a day to get on, move on, go to the next thing.
A posse of green army Landrovers is followed closely by a large green coach labelled boldly Schröder-Reisen.
Outside the fence a group of middle-aged South African tourists have just met. “Bath sounds lovely. We haven’t been yet but people say it’s lovely. It’s got the Romans and all that.” “Yes, we’re going to find a little place to stay for the night”. “We thought we were saving £5.00 here but it’s even better. When we arrived and saw the price we’re saving nearly £16.00!”
And they’re quite happy to stand and chat on the roadside, turning up the volume only slightly as a helicopter flies over.