By Humphrys, Geoffrey
Contemporary Review , Vol. 264, No. 1541
IN recent years, the traditional Summer Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, on June 21, the longest day of the year, have caused clashes between hippies, Druids and the police. This has led to eight hundred police officers being drafted into the area, with up to twenty thousand vagrants gathered around the stones, making the site look more like a transit camp than an ancient monument.
Why the hippies chose Stonehenge for their demonstrations is as big a mystery as its origin. John Aubrey, the seventeenth century antiquary, advanced the theory that the ancient Druids erected the stone circles as a temple. Modern radiocarbon dating methods prove him wrong, establishing that most stones were in their present positions at least two thousand years before any Druids arrived in Britain!
Repeated vandalism has led to a barrier being erected around the stones, and during the past four years a four-mile exclusion zone has been enforced from June 11 to June 24. Alex Rosenberger, a spokesman for the New Age Travellers movement stated, 'This exclusion zone is the only one left in the whole of Europe. It is an unjust breach of human rights'. This complaint has still to be resolved by the European Court of Human Rights.
In 1985, a study group of the English Heritage Commission proposed building a new six million pound enclosed visitors' centre three quarters of a mile from the stones. It considers the present facilities for visitors 'woefully inadequate' and wants Stonehenge to be seen in a manner befitting its importance.
The improvement plans have not been implemented due to lack of funds, but English Heritage has a new chairman, appointed last year. Jocelyn Stevens has a reputation for getting things done, and he regards improvements at Stonehenge as his top priority. There are now eight possible sites for a visitors' centre being considered, and its cost has escalated to about fifteen million pounds.
Meanwhile, modern Druids deeply resent their exclusion from the Stonehenge site on June 21. They are members of the Church of the Druid Universal Bond, who claim to be the counterparts of the ancient Druids. Traditionally they keep vigil through the night, then witness the uncannily accurate Summer Solstice sunrise. It is this spectacle which has attracted genuine sightseers from all over the world.
Prior to the police involvement, the Summer Solstice ritual started with a single file of some seventy white-robed Druids processing round the outer mounds and stones. They solemnly stop at four different places, leaving at each a symbol of the four main elements -- earth, air, fire and water. Moving in serpentine manner, the procession enters into the inner ring of massive stones. If the sky is clear, the first rays of the rising sun fall upon the Heel Stone, cast centrally down the avenue leading to the inner stone circle, then cut precisely through the middle lintel and light up the Altar Stone, on which human sacrifices were once offered. …