Bronze Age Vision of a 20th Century Man

By Gillie, Oliver | The Independent (London, England), July 6, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Bronze Age Vision of a 20th Century Man


Gillie, Oliver, The Independent (London, England)


DAWN at Stonehenge, and as the first rays of sun began to show on the horizon Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, paced about restlessly. Stonehenge is his responsibility and he has a vision of how the site could be transformed to provide a purer experience devoid of the 20th century clutter that spoils it.

Mr Stevens was re-enacting an ancient ritual, the observation of sunrise. And, as it was in ancient times, he was also present as a supplicant - seeking approval for a vision. The early Bronze Age men who farmed the Wiltshire fields almost certainly used Stonehenge for such purposes, seeking to determine the right time of year for the planting of crops and blessings for the harvest.

It was 4am and the stones appeared as silhouettes against the eastern sky. A light mist lay in the folds of land so that trees on the horizon appeared to hang in the air. But there was no enduring peace to contemplate this ancient landscape. A convoy of three large petrol tankers with bright headlights blasted their way down the A303, disturbing the unique magic of the place.

"I want people to be able to walk again among the stones and feel the excitement of it all," Mr Stevens said. "With the present arrangements they have to walk on a dreadful tarmac path and are held back by a rope. We want to change all that, but the first step is to get rid of the roads."

The Department of Transport has been oblivious to the importance of Stonehenge as a national and international monument. It developed a plan to expand the A303, which runs within a few hundred yards of the site, into a four-lane highway. But the Department reckoned without Mr Stevens, who admits that he shouts at people, including ministers of the Crown, when they seem not to be listening.

"I don't shout very often but Stonehenge is just too valuable to be destroyed by a road plan. I told the Department of Transport that there was no way they would get their plans through," Mr Stevens said. "The Department of Transport has never encountered opposition like this before. We are their statutory advisers so they cannot just ignore us.

"The department is prepared to build a small tunnel but it would do nothing to protect Stonehenge from traffic. They have also suggested an alternative route but it would pass through other ancient sites which are scattered all over the land arround Stonehenge and we don't want that.

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