I’ve remembered it’s coming up to that day again. I went to Stonehenge for the solstice once. I’m glad I went, but I doubt I’ll go again. There were a couple of big disappointments.
One was the lack of a visible English Heritage presence. There were an estimated 20,000 people there who wanted some connection to the past. I would have thought that was a good target audience for EH. At the very least there’s money to be made with the Solstice 2012 t-shirts to be sold. The official solstice blankets for those who forgot to bring one, solstice kagouls and umbrellas for when it rains and so on. It’s also an excellent time to attempt guilt-tripping people into joining EH to support access to ancient sites. They might have trouble with this last one as they’re not known for supporting access to Stonehenge on the solstice, but it’d be worth a try. The impression I got (rightly or wrongly) was that EH had abandoned the site for the night.
A reveller welcomes the arrival of lager and, possibly, the Sun.
The other was the sheer mess around the site. Everyone got a bag as they went in for their rubbish. It doesn’t have to look like this. After all the fighting over access in the 1980s and 90s, is this a place people come are they here to celebrate or to conquer?
On the plus side I got a lesson in the difference between modern Pagans and New Agers. The Pagans tended to look dignified and patient. Quite a few had their ceremonial robes on, but not all. The easiest ones to spot were those who’d let their beards down for the night.
In contrast the New Agers were laden with mystical kit, and were often very purple. They’d looked agitated and annoyed. Every time someone elbowed in the ribs, she’d be wearing a pointy hat as if to compensate for the clothes she was wearing would ideally be on someone taller. There’d also be a purple scarf and purple jumper hidden beneath at least half a dozen medallions. I should have heard them coming with the various esoteric bangles and bracelets they were wearing.
I’m told that June 26’s post wasn’t my first experience with the New Age at West Kennet. I don’t remember my first trip there, which was when I was five. My Da does though.
Inside the West Kennet long barrow
We went on a family trip one summer. I went running off and climbed up the barrow to look around. There’s not a lot to see from the top of the barrow apart from fields. There’s Silbury Hill, but when you’re five you don’t realise that hills aren’t meant to be perfect hill shapes. I did manage to find something interesting.
Whoever restored the site had given some thought to illumination. Long barrows are naturally dark places. In this case the concrete roof built into the site wouldn’t have helped. To solve this problem little skylights were fixed into the concrete. They were translucent, so you could see through them but from the inside they let a little light in. I was five, so I thought stamping on it might be a good idea.
It was a terrific idea.
The barrow was hollow, so I found that by stamping on the skylight I could make a big boom noise. For a five year old this is the a discovery as exciting as finding a new planet or a new continent. So I stamped and I stamped. Boom. Boom. Boom. My Da came up to see what trouble I was getting into*. He saw what I was doing and, being a responsible parent, told me to stop it. Being curious he then had a stamp himself. I took that as a signal that I could stamp too and we got quite a rhythm going. We carried on doing this until my da was distracted by some people leaving the barrow. They were plainly stoned, but nonetheless also terribly excited. He caught the word “heartbeat”.
This doesn’t mean that all mystical experiences in barrows are fake, but if you’re an ardent believer of paranormal stuff it’s useful to remember it’s not just the truth that’s out there. I am too.
*the thought that I was half a mile from anywhere and therefore couldn’t get into trouble never crossed his mind.
A photo carefully angled to hide most of the tourists outside West Kennet Long Barrow, because I hadn’t planned on writing up the visit this way.
I decided to take some time to tour Avebury recently. Along the way I stopped off around Silbury Hill and took the short trek up to West Kennet. It’s a long barrow, a tomb dating from the Stone Age. Effectively it’s a house of the dead. Huge stones were used to build a long narrow passageway with side chambers and then the whole thing was covered in earth. They’re strange places because rather than each chamber being for an individual or a family, it seems to have been a type of bone. So people’s forearms were put together in one place, ribs in another and so on. Coming up on this day I noticed the outside had quite a large number of visitors outside. I found out why when I went to go inside. A group were trying to have a collective chant in there.