Stonehenge, mystery shopping and an over-excited lemur

31 01 2011

There’s an old gag that goes like this….

An American tourist arrives with his family at Stonehenge and asks one of the junior staff how old the monument is. “That’s easy” replies the young man, “Five thousand years, four months and three weeks.” “That’s amazing” says the American, “How the heck can you be so precise?” “Well” he proudly declares, “next week I’ll have been working here for five months, and I remember them telling me on my first day that it was 5,000 years old, so….”

Now, before the estimable Simon Thurley gets on the phone to assure me that such a thing could never have happened, what with English Heritage’s superb staff training programmes for new staff, I must stress that it’s a joke about the uncertainty of prehistoric dating, not a critique of EH’s induction procedures. I am also, of course, not in any way disparaging American tourists. Perhaps I should have simply said ‘A tourist arrives etc’ with nationality unspecified. Hard to say, to be honest. Levity’s a tricky thing, as I discovered when The Daily Telegraph’s Mandrake column cast its rheumy eye over one of my earlier efforts.

And some fell on stony ground, as they say…

Ancient standing stones of Stonehenge, near Salisbury in Wilthsire, England UK. © Britainonview / Martin Brent

‘Toy town with dinky electric vehicles’?


Anyway, the good news about Stonehenge is that the Heritage Lottery Fund have agreed to put forward £10 million, and the prospects of getting to some kind of resolution for the issue of how to present the stones to the public becomes significantly brighter. For some, though, the glass remains very much half empty. Indeed for Marcus Binney (writing in The Times at the weekend), the glass should have been left in the kitchen cabinet and the liquid used for something else altogether. I’d pop a link in at this point but, as you probably know, that paper operates what’s called a ‘pay-wall’ so you’ll have to make your own arrangements if you want to call up the article.

The gist of his argument, however, runs like this. The proposed visitor centre, he believes, will ‘turn Stonehenge into a toy-town with visitors approaching in dinky electric vehicles’. And in any event, he continues, they’ve chosen the wrong site for it. They should, in fact, focus all their resources on repairs and restoration rather than interpretation (by which he means visitor centres, and so on) or, better still, be stripped of their grant-giving powers and pass all the Lottery money to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and other bodies that will spend it on ‘front-line rescue of natural and man-made heritage, and not on frills and embellishments.’


The point here surely is that, yes, there will always be a long line of hard cases, where buildings and monuments – each with their own wonderful story, and each with a really strong case for support – are overlooked; while other things – less deserving in the eyes of the chap making the case – get the nod. That’s the nature of democracy and professional judgement. For my part, I believe that our heritage buck must go on more than simply renovation, important though that is, because history is a narrative (to use, without apology, a word that has become almost meaningless through over-use in public life recently) as well as a selection of beautifully preserved artefacts and buildings. English Heritage understands this, and they put it into practice with enormous skill and imagination. Audio tours, computer visualisations, historic re-enactments and all the other things they do are, largely thanks to the calibre of the people they employ, so much more than ‘frills and embellishments’.

Personally I’m absolutely delighted that the HLF have stepped in and I believe that grants like this are exactly what Lottery players would want the good cause money to go towards. And, if Marcus Binney slips a quid across the counter of his local news agent every Wednesday and Saturday for a crafty Lucky Dip, then I can only remind him that, as I said last week, rather more of his good cause contribution will very shortly be going towards heritage projects, and that can’t be bad, can it?

John Penrose blog:

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Avebury to Stonehenge – The Hero Walk 2011

27 01 2011

The Hero Walk – In support of our wounded – 26th June 2011
The Hero Walk is a very tough challenge over the high chalk downs and ridge ways of Wiltshire and Salisbury Plain. At 26 miles it forms a marathon for runners and a great challenge for walkers. This challenge is a diverse trek over marathon distance, going back through 6,000 years of British history; the magnificent prehistoric stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge need little introduction. The challenge will start in Avebury, where we will be able to get up close to the ancient stones before heading off via the mysterious ancient landmark of Silbury Hill. Silbury is the tallest man-made mound in Europe, however its purpose is still unknown.

We will then cross the spectacular chalk downs dotted with ancient earth-works, burial mounds and get up close to the enigmatic white horses carved into the chalk. In clear weather we will be able to see more here, as views of other valleys open up to us. The route takes in the highest point in Wiltshire (295m) and travels through the most active crop circle area in the world – keep your eyes open!

Crossing into MOD land you will either walk (or run!) through stunning areas little used by the general public, that have become a haven for wildlife and plants. Our route continues to undulate but the main hills are behind us and we start to anticipate the finish line at the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge. A short section of quiet road is a sign that we are nearing civilisation, and before long the world-renowned ancient circle of stones looms on the horizon before us. There is then time to celebrate with fellow walkers and runners before returning home. We look forward to seeing you there!

Avebury to Stonehenge Hero Walk 2011 Itinerary . . .

The 26-mile walk will take approximately 8-9 hours for fit and strong walkers. Our day starts at Avebury, which lies at the centre of one of the greatest surviving concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Western Europe. We’ll enjoy Avebury’s magic in the quiet of the early morning before heading via the Silbury Hill.

Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes


Dropping down into the village of Alton Barnes, we follow the Kennet and Avon canal east. From there we head south and join the White Horse trail to the Pewsey White Horse from where we have fabulous views of the surrounding chalk landscape. We descend the hill and continue along the trail to the Kennet and Avon Canal; this is a fabulous example of industrial revolution engineering. Crossing into MOD land we will either walk (or run!) through stunning areas little used by the general public and a haven for wildlife and plants. After this long day of great views and leg-stretching hills we will reach the final destination: Stonehenge, the most famous stone circle in the world.


Do your bit and get involved!
Sponsers: ‘Stonehenge Tour Company’

The Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website – Camelot Castle

25 01 2011

A hotel has purchased the internet domain and hopes to

Stonehenge light box

Stonehenge light box

exploit the famous Neolithic site’s reputation to build an online following. Camelot Castle – the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur – in Tentagel has acquired the site as the basis for a new internet news network that is aimed at providing positive stories that help inspire “man’s spiritual rise and search for truth”.
According to the Cornwall hotel, Stonehenge is the perfect vehicle for spreading this message and said it was “delighted” to have acquired what it feels to be one of the most important internet portals available. “It is a tremendous honour, duty and responsibility. Stonehenge is an eternal testimony to man’s search for truth and his spiritual legacy,” said spokesman John Mappin.
The actual site of Stonehenge is popular with luxury coach tours and is situated in Wiltshire. However, its online presence will allow it to play another role in advancing British culture, the hotel claimed.

Can anyone explain the ‘Light Box’ that is promoted on this website. I’m confused ?

Is it worth the trek to Cornwall ?
Merlin at Stonehenge (Wiltshire not Cornwall)
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Stonehenge access – A303 roadworks ???

25 01 2011

How frustrating ?  The road has been closed for a week and the work has still not started? Coach tour operators are being inconvenienced, English Heritage say visitor numbers are down and cars are cutting onto the A303 via the byway – a serious accident waiting to happen!

Stonehenge roadworks

Stonehenge roadworks


Details: A344 Wiltshire – A344 Stonehenge Bottom in Stonehenge closed in both directions between Stonehenge Fork and Airmans Cross, because of roadwork – What roadworks and wht is the road closed in both directions ?

External links:

Angry Merlin!
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Stonehenge roadworks – A303? – Jan 17th for 14 weeks

17 01 2011

Major roadworks will be taking place on the A303 at Countess Roundabout – starting on Monday 17th January – lasting for 14 weeks, which will result in diversions when visiting Stonehenge. As a result of these roadworks in the immediate area around Stonehenge there will be closures, diversions and some contra flow systems that will affect both carriageways.

Dates: From Monday 17th January the A344 will be closed from its junction of the A303 at Stonehenge bottom to the entrance/exit to Stonehenge. This closure is likely to be in place for up to 14 weeks.
We have been assured that all works are to be completed and that the A344 road closure will be lifted before the Easter weekend.

Click here for ‘zoomable’ OS map showing ‘airmens corner’ etc

Access to Stonehenge:
 Visitors coming to Stonehenge will need to access the site from Airman’s Cross; then driving down the A344 to Stonehenge.

Leaving: When leaving Stonehenge vehicles will have to turn right out of the car park and proceed back down to Airman’s Cross, before rejoining the A303 at Long Barrow. Countess Roundabout;

Details of work to be undertaken

 * Traffic signal installation on all four approaches to the roundabout.
* Widening and resurfacing the A303 approaches to, and around, the roundabout.
* Permanent 40 mph speed limit applied on A303 approaches.
* Safety barrier, road signs and road markings replaced.
* Extension of subway under A303 westbound approach, to accommodate carriageway widening works.
* Renewal of lighting columns, lanterns and installation of associated cables.
View Larger Map

Merlin @ Stonehenge (stuck in traffic?)
The Stonehenge Website

Archaeological Walk on Salisbury Plain 2011

15 01 2011

A walk to Lidbury Camp, led by former County Archaeologist Roy Canham.

Lidbury Camp, on the downs above the River Avon between Enford and Upavon, is an Iron Age hillfort first excavated by William Cunnington in the early 19th century and again by Maud and Ben Cunnington in 1914 (see article in WANHM Vol 40 (1917), pp12-36). William Cunnington discovered eleven Iron Age storage pits in close proximity and recorded the presence of two ‘British’ villages close by, while Maud Cunnington found Romano-British pottery overlying the Iron Age remains. An undated linear ditch and bank run nearby. Finds from Maud Cunnington’s excavation are in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum.

Roy has an unrivalled knowledge of the archaeology of the county, and was largely responsible for persuading the MOD to introduce measures to protect the archaeology on their land against damage from military training.

Weather conditions on the Salisbury Plain downland are unpredictable and can change quickly at this time of year. Please come prepared with waterproof clothing and suitable footwear. The walk will be about 3 miles.

Please indicate pick-up point when booking.
Depart: : Pewsey (Bouverie Hall car park) – 1.15pm; Devizes (Station Road car park) – 2.00pm;
Upavon (Antelope Inn) – 2.25pm.
Enford at about 4.45pm

* Tel: 01380 727369 (10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday)

Need an Ordanance Survey map of Salisbury plain – click here

 Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Stonehenge Solstice Photograph

10 01 2011

Stonehenge Solstice 2005 , originally uploaded by Irishphotographer.

Fantastic photograph. Lucky to get the sunrise on the solstice.

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