So, while we should have been on a workshop and holiday, I was stuck in that limbo between the medics telling me it ‘looks like cancer’ and them doing something about it. I was determined that, before the doors closed on adventure, at least for a while, we would have at least one more. And it needed to be a good one.
We had revisited Rollright, paid our respects at Churchill’s grave, nodded to half a dozen White Horses and spent some time with the great stones of Avebury. There was really only one thing left that we could do… at least at this end of the country. And, even then, it would be pushing it for me to drive the distance.
We had to go to Stonehenge.
As a child and young woman, before the barriers and management rolled in, roping off the stones to protect them from further damage, I had spent a lot of time with them, getting to know the feel of them and wandering amongst their strange presence. Since before the building of the henge and circles, before the barrows, it would seem that humankind has held this place sacred, as not only settlements but burials have been found here dating back a full ten thousand years. We had passed the site several times now on our travels, each time considering that we ‘ought’ to visit the stones, as Stuart has seen them only from a distance… and each time deciding that we just could not do it.
The stones, seen from the road in high summer, seem like some magical creature with its wings clipped and caged in a zoo, visitors are funnelled around the outside of the circle at a safe and respectful distance. There are crowds. Noise… hubbub. On the one occasion I had taken friends there who are sensitive, it had ended in grief and tears… the atmosphere is wrong. No matter how carefully the authorities site their visitor centre, how lightly they appear to touch the landscape, the simple fact that around a million and a half people come to visit this one stone circle, every single year, cannot help but leave its psychic mark.
But this year, there had been the COVID lockdown. The site had been closed for month. There had been less travel, fewer visitors… time for the stones to take a deep breath and recuperate… There had to be something good to come from the social distancing measures.
And, given the circumstances, this might well be not only our best chance but also our last to visit the most iconic stone circle in the world. It had to be done.
But, we would still be kept at a distance from the stones… behind the barriers… walking around them in frustrated circles… and you really need to be within the circle. Having known it myself in earlier times, I wanted to be able to share that experience… because it changes everything.
I booked our timed tickets… and could not believe that I was lucky enough to be able to book, for that day, when it is usually fully booked months, sometimes years in advance, as part of a handful of people who would be allowed beyond the barriers, within the stones, after hours. A wholly unexpected birthday gift would, ‘coincidentally’ cover the cost. As compensation for missing both the Scottish weekend and our holiday, it was as much as we could do… and all fell into place so neatly…
And yet, I still pulled up at the visitor centre filled with trepidation. It had been a long time since I had last visited Stonehenge, up close and personal… What impact has the new centre had on the landscape? It looked quite discrete to be fair, at least now when it was empty of visitors…
What protective measures would be in place and would we really be able to get a feel for the stones in the way I remembered? Our ever-present robin seemed to laugh at my fears as we waited for the bus that would take us across the monument fields. We could only wait and see…