Yes, you read it right. No more exclusion zones, no more barriers.
Free access for all into the
stones. That is the intent of everyone involved in the Stonehenge negotiations, the only disagreement is how soon and how it's implemented.
At yesterdays meeting in Amesbury we had the chance to examine what
was good about this
summers first step to free access and what could have been done better. There were 17 present,
representing the management of Stonehenge, English Heritage PR and archaeologists, Wiltshire
police constabulary, the Pagan Federation, Rollo for the Council of British Druid Orders, Arthur
Pendragon, myself for OBOD, Philip Shallcrass for the BDO and people from The Druid Order,
the tribe of Albion and other individuals who have been working for resolution for the last ten
years or so.
Clews Everard, the present EH manager at Stonehenge, is clear that
amongst other things,
Stonehenge is a place of ritual worship. Further more the present management want to help
facilitate access for worshipers and visitors whilst maintaining the best archaeological interests of
the site as a whole. Many times she has told me that EH want to see the Stones and other sites
being used for sacred purpose.
This year, for the first time in ten, people were allowed access
to the stones throughout the three
day period around the summer solstice. Applicants were invited to write for access by the end of
May and EH chose fifty who would finally be present. All names and addresses needed to be
submitted in May, and goodness only knows how OBOD managed this much advanced
organisation but we did! OBOD were allowed four places out of fifty at dawn (sadly no sunrise
though!), and at noon we had the place to ourselves for our own ritual, with members of the public
allowed to circulate outside the stones perimeter. Over the three day period various different
groups were granted access and all were a success from the point of view of no violence, no riots,
no damage to the stones - these are some of the very reasons why the stones were 'shut' in the
first place. OBOD were highlighted with two other groups as running a ceremony/ that was
clearly very spiritual and peaceful, and a joy to behold. As the meeting progressed it became
apparent that the management at Stonehenge have great confidence that within OBOD
gatherings there is always a high level of self policing and respect for the place, whilst at the
same time if push should come to shove all the members of our group would listen to and follow
the advice of the chosen group leader at that time. Everyone assumes, reasonably, that OBOD
groups don't riot as the first choice of action.
So, after the success of this summer - where do we go from here?
The conclusions drawn
specifically around the dawn meeting were as follows: That the system of bussing people through
the exclusion zone was felt by most to be at best surreal but by some at least an affront on their
freedom of choice - some want to process to the stones.
That whilst the police presence was on the whole fine they did seem
to overdo it with the
helicopters and dogs, they agreed with this and joked that their dogs weren't really that fierce.
That the media presence was completely over done and turned the whole
thing into a circus. It
was suggested that next year, media be invited to attend for half an hour out of the total time,
that they only come into the stones after everyone else is settled and that they get ushered out
when their time is up.
Everyone except Arthur Pendragon (who of course was in a cell at
Salisbury nick at the time)
complained to Rollo about the way he had completely dominated the central circle with his ritual -
he pleaded innocence and said that he thought we would come and tell him to wind it up when any
of our groups wanted to perform a ritual. As druids, we have a bit of a ritual problem on our hands
here and it is abundantly clear that we will need to do some negotiating in earnest before next
solstice produces the same sort of fiasco. When Val., from the PF offered to mediate between the
various groups around the issue of ritual, Rollo, Arthur and Philip Shallcrass refused to take part
and so we had to let this opportunity drop. Suggestions were that there was no ritual performed at
dawn, since the groups and individuals present at that time are so disparate with ritual space
allotted at some other time over the three or four day period (for OBOD, this was what happened
this year and it was fine). Or that the ritual should be rotated around the interested groups, so
that if there were six groups for example, OBOD would host the ritual once every six years. The
last suggestion was to work toward some sort of common ceremony. My concern is that the space
is not taken over by any sort of ritual group at the expense of ordinary members of the public
who just want to be there at that time, and there are plenty of them. To me it seems that just
because we have formed ourselves into a coherent group with a spokesperson we don't therefore
have any more right of access or right to perform ritual over and above any member of the public
who chooses to be there.
The whole issue of the exclusion zone and its implications is also
a cause of much tearing of hair
and gnashing of teeth. At present, from the eve of summer solstice until some time after dawn,
there is a four mile exclusion zone around Stonehenge. Nothing is allowed through. My own
experience this summer was the sight of lines of people desperately trying to make their way to
the Stones, having hidden in the fields all night, only to be stopped at the last fence by lines of
riot police with dogs and the rest of the full kit, batons, shields, helicopters etc. They were all
absolutely silent and as the light grew, I could see the faces of those closest and they were filled
with such yearning to be in the place where I was, it was heartbreaking. All along the skyline one
could see lines of people stood looking at the stones. The police admitted to turning away 400
people. These were the 400 that knew their chances of reaching the stones were virtually nil and
yet they still felt the need to try - how many more would come should access be open to all? Well
clearly hundreds possibly thousands - and this is the problem facing us all. How do we facilitate
the convergence of thousands upon Stonehenge and still maintain the safety of ourselves and the
stones. All those at the meeting were very clear that everyone who wanted to be at Stonehenge
should be allowed to be there, and yet there is still the fear of rioting and climbing on stones.
Indeed, there are photos from the 70's of The Druid Order performing the solstice ritual, in the
background people are standing and sitting all over the stones. I suspect that until we come up
with a workable solution to this problem the exclusion zone will be maintained. Nobody really
knows how to go about this although Arthur Pendragon suggested that there could be a ten mile
vehicular exclusion zone (excepting people with disabled badges). This would in practice mean
that any one wishing to be at the stones would have to make the ten mile pilgrimage on foot,
thereby hopefully guaranteeing the good intent of all those present. What I would really like at
this point is your feedback as individuals and as an Order, clearly we need some inspiration. I've
presented the facts as best I can in such a short piece, and to recap, the urgent issues are:
a. How do we cope fairly with the hundreds of people who wish to
attend summer solstice at
Stonehenge - the millennium is coming and this event is bound to bring more than usual.
b. In the meantime, how do we solve the problem of those wanting
to perform their own ritual
versus those who want no ritual foisted upon them. I must say there are those amongst the
meeting that are highly likely to do a ritual whatever is decided.
c. If the idea of bussing people into Stonehenge was thrown out,
then how would the exclusion
zone be maintained? - by some sort of passport? d. If we are to progress from exclusion of all but
50 to free access for all, then can anyone clearly see the steps in between those two extremes?
So please, if you have suggestions for any of the above, or would
like your opinion to be heard
contact me ASAP.
If you care about this, if it has aroused any type of feeling in
you whether joy, despair or rage,
please contact me. I will formulate some sort of stance from your feedback ready for the next
meeting in November
Please contact me as follows:
Julie Britton, email 113475.2664@compuserve. com