UK Guardian: The curse of Stonehenge…

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2006-01-30 09:26:52

Attachments :… The curse of Stonehenge will remain until it is handed back to the druids This world heritage site is a national disgrace. Consultants have made millions but achieved nothing in 20 years Simon Jenkins
Friday January 27, 2006
The Guardian
West of Amesbury on the A303, the road dips and rises towards a meadow in the distance. In the meadow stands a clump of grey stones, looking like dominoes rearranged by a shell from the neighbouring artillery range. The clump is Britain’s greatest stone-age monument. Nobody can touch it. Stonehenge is cursed. I have bet every chairman of English Heritage – Lord Montagu, Sir Jocelyn Stevens and Sir Neil Cossons – that no plan of theirs to meddle with the stones will ever work. This week the latest tunnel proposal collapsed, following last year’s rejection of a new visitor centre. The fate of the site is consigned to that Blairite neverland called “consultation”, joining St Bart’s and Crossrail among the living dead, projects which move only because they are maggot-ridden with costs. I have attended many Stonehenge consultations. They are raving madhouses. The sanest people present are the pendragons, druids, warlocks, Harry Potters, sons of the sun and daughters of the moon. They have a clear use for the stones and speak English. Weirdness sets in with Wiltshire county councillors, health-and-safety officers and archaeologists, all of whom think the stones are theirs as of right. But for total extragalactic dottiness, nothing tops the Ministry of Defence. It moves only in twos, each official with a soldier doppelganger at his side. These people lay claim to the stones under ancient brehon, mortuary and gavelkind, if not by line of descent from neanderthals. To them Stonehenge is a sacred receiving dish, like the one recently discovered in Moscow, a relic of a long-forgotten Wiltshire chapter of the KGB. To the ministry the stones are a crucial link in a chain of extraterrestrial defence, located at the southern tip of the feared Swindon Triangle. In the late 1980s a road to some proposed new visitor centre cut across an officer’s vegetable patch at Larkhill Barracks. The ministry instantly declared the patch vital to national security. The Army Board even took the matter to Downing Street and a meeting with Margaret Thatcher. When she furiously overruled it, the board marked her order “urgent” and threw it in the bin. Stonehenge may be vital for national security but, as a world heritage site, it is a national disgrace. It comprises the stones, a temporary shelter, a public lavatory and a concrete tunnel. In 1992 Lord Montagu commissioned the architect Ted Cullinan to design a new centre, which was rejected as too expensive (at under £1m). Consultants were brought in and, after a myriad of plans, suggested a new one at £67m, which was accepted as about right. It was located over a mile from the stones, requiring some sort of train for the disabled and, at one point, a glass replica for those who did not want to walk. Further trains were proposed for everyone until the place was getting like Clapham Junction. No sooner were the railwaymen at work than the roadbuilders wanted some of the action. They thought to put the A303 in a tunnel. Tunnels are like computers in Whitehall, costing a fortune and never quite happening. The A303 tunnel began at £125m. Someone then discovered that Wiltshire was made of chalk and it soon cost £470m. This is what killed it. The “Stonehenge experience” is back to c1600 BC. There are still sceptics who refuse to believe that these stones are cursed. What evidence do they want? The place was the crossroads of neolithic Britain and is clearly a cat’s cradle of ley lines and hidden forces. There are more spells round here than in Hogwarts. You cannot drive from Savernake to Devizes without encountering devil’s disciples, screaming mandrakes and shooting dog stars. On a full moon you will see defence-ministry virgins dancing across the Great Bog of Wylye clad in nothing but white papers. How anyone thought they could push a tunnel through this lot defeats me. I cannot see the point of Stonehenge in its present form. It is a monument to the cult of the picturesque ruin. Even for neo-ancients, the aura of crumbling, overgrown antiquity was lost when the stones were twisted, propped up and rearranged by the Ministry of Works and the site turned into a municipal rockery over the course of the 20th century. The remains have been thoroughly surveyed by excellent archaeologists and their findings have been published. The stones are disappointingly small, coming alive only at solstice and through the filtered lenses of coffee-table books. Avebury’s stones are more evocative and the great Rudston monolith in Yorkshire more imposing. Stonehenge is a place of pagan worship and as such should be handed to those for whom it means something, the druids and astronomical clock-watchers. They should be given a lottery grant and told to put the stones back in working order. The henge’s essence is the astronomical alignment of its circles and avenues. It needs to be complete. We do not leave sundials out of line or watches without escapements or grandfather clocks without chimes. There is no difficulty in this. The missing sarsens came from Marlborough Down and the missing bluestones from Pembroke’s Preseli Hills. Reconstructed, Stonehenge could make sense again, other than just to archaeologists. There is no doubt that these henges have iconic status. There is (or was) a carhenge in Nebraska, a fridgehenge in New Zealand, a tankhenge in Berlin, not to mention foamhenges, sandhenges and woodhenges galore. A false start on restoration was made by millennium enthusiasts in 2000 who tried to ferry a bluestone from Pembrokeshire up on to Salisbury Plain. The project was hit by the curse and the stone fell off its barge into the Bristol Channel. But the intention was admirable. Stonehenge is a work not of art but of religious architecture, designed for a purpose. It deserves the dignity of completion, not the sadness of ruin. That is the cry of its genius loci. Until this decision is made, the curse will remain. It will defeat every minister, official, quangocrat and coach operator. As Stonehenge magnetises hippies and nerds, so it repels bumbledom, and will continue to do so. It is a place of infinite patience. It has, to put it mildly, time on its side. English Heritage and successive governments can fiddle. Traffic will thunder past and warplanes roar overhead, but they will not do so for ever. The stones will survive. Eventually a brave soul will arrive, restore them and lift the curse. One group alone has defied the spirits of this place. One freemasonry has been granted power by spontaneous combustion of John Prescott’s ectoplasm. The knights with the Gift of the Golden Fee are our old friends, the consultants. While the stones sit bleak and tourists languish, the planners, engineers, accountants, lawyers and publicists have for 20 years made millions out of Stonehenge. They stick like exotic lichen to each heelstone, capstone and altar stone. The sun never sets on their countenance. For them every lottery ticket is a jackpot. They know the secret of the runes. Nothing gets done. But in Blair’s country of the blind we can rest assured that the one-eyed consultant is king. simon.jenkins@guardi…Related articles15.09.2004: Analysis, Maev Kennedy: Set in stone?22.06.2004: News: Happy crowds at Stonehenge for summer solstice21.06.2004: News: Stonehenge builders identified16.06.2004: Comment: attempts to suppress solstice are doomed16.06.2004: Interview: stone circle expert Julian Cope13.06.2004: Analysis: Neal Ascherson on the Stonehenge plans05.05.2004: News: Druidic doubts over Stonehenge tunnel plan Useful – English HeritageSave StonehengeStonehenge OrganisationStonehenge Historic Landscape – National TrustA303 Stonehenge – Highways AgencyStonehenge A303 realignment planStonehenge inquiry – closed May 11 2004     Privacy policy  

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