The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge.

16 03 2017

For over 30 years people have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of the A303 road that runs past Stonehenge. It’s a stretch of single carriageway road with a dual carriageway at either end. As a result it’s a traffic bottleneck, especially during holiday season, and people slow down to take a picture of Stonehenge as they drive by.

A number of options have been proposed – from upgrading the single carriageway road into a dual carriageway on the existing route, to a tunnel to hide an upgraded road from view. Tunnels have been suggested that range in length from 2km to 4.5km constructed either as “cut and cover” or “bored”.

Over 50 alternate routes – some that take the road entirely out of the World Heritage Site – have been put forward, so many that the map showing them all is called the Spaghetti Diagram.

A303routes
Most recently, a 2.9km long bored tunnel has been proposed which would run about 200m south of the existing A303. The tunnel would be below the archaeological layer, well away from Stonehenge itself and remove the view, noise and fumes of traffic from the immediate vicinity of the monument.

You’d think everyone would be delighted. They’re not.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) runs from the A345 road in the east to the A360 road in the west, a distance of 5.4km. A tunnel of 2.9km clearly isn’t long enough to span its entire width, and this means that the tunnel portals must be dug into the ground within the WHS itself.

On top of that, new lengths of road and new junctions must also be built within the WHS – at the western and eastern end of the tunnel – to link up with the existing roads.

When the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS was inscribed in 1986 they were recognised as Cultural Sites. At the time, there was no designation of “Cultural Landscape” but the inscription said:

Criterion (iii): The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.

The proposal to destroy large areas of the Stonehenge landscape with new roads and tunnel portals is what has upset a lot of people.

The Stonehenge Alliance is a group that represents the views of a number of organisations, their view is that the tunnel is too short and would cause “irreparable damage to the WHS”.

SA Leaflet

ICOMOS is an important heritage advisory group to UNESCO and it firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact it would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

A group of 21 leading archaeologists who have worked in the Stonehenge landscape over decades says that the proposal has dreadful consequences for the world’s most famous archaeological site and its landscape setting.

The list of objecting organisations goes on and on – the Council for British Archaeology, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the Prehistoric Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Society of Antiquaries, the International Astronomical Union Commission on Heritage and Astronomy….

The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England have also expressed very strong concerns over the positioning of the western portal and its approach road.

Historic England said The current location is very close to the Normanton Down barrow cemetery, one of the best preserved and most significant Neolithic and Bronze Age cemeteries in the UK. The portal would certainly have a significant adverse impact upon the setting of this barrow group and upon the OUV of the WHS.

The National Trust’s chief archaeologist for the WHS says, in an appendix to the Historic England report, The western portal is very close to the Normanton Down Barrow Group while both surface routes have adverse visual and aural impacts on the surrounding Winterbourne Stoke, Normanton Down, Lake and Diamond Groups (nearly a quarter of the identified key attribute groups).

The proposal actually places the western tunnel portal directly on the Winter Solstice Sunset line as seen from Stonehenge, and the new road leading away from it runs along this alignment.

Western Portal Trenching SMR Montage

Astronomers have viewed this idea as absolutely crazy.

Prof. Clive Ruggles, a leading archaeoastronomer and key figure in the interpretation of astronomical sightlines of ancient monuments across the world says there are serious concerns that the integrity of the SW sightline from Stonehenge could be permanently destroyed, eliminating forever the possibility of visitors to Stonehenge once again seeing the winter solstice sun setting behind the distant natural horizon along the axis of the monument.

The public consultation for the initial route proposals finished on the 5th March 2017. Highways England now have several months of work ahead of them to refine their proposal to take into account the more than 7,000 submissions they’ve received so far.

Local residents, holidaymakers and hauliers have suffered traffic problems along the A303 for over 30 years, so a solution that speeds up traffic is desperately sought by Government.

What’s crucial to bear in mind is that whatever solution is implemented, unless a route entirely outside the WHS is found, it will have a permanent impact on the setting of one of the most important landscapes in the world, and that we all have a responsibility to the future not to make a terrible mistake.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Vernal (Spring) Equinox at Stonehenge.

25 02 2017

The Spring Equinox in 2017 falls on March 20th and occurs at 10:28am GMT. The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°. Everywhere on Earth has a day and night of almost equal length and it marks the beginning of the northern spring season.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge. Copyright

There is considerable debate in the archaeoastronomy community as to whether the Equinox had any special meaning for the builders of Stonehenge. They had no accurate clocks by which they could determine when the day and night were almost exactly equal and discovering the mid-point between the Winter and Summer solstice can be done in a couple of obvious ways.

You can count the days and divide by two. Or you can mark the summer and winter sunrise positions along the horizon and divide that line into two equal parts. These two methods give different results.

For example, counting the days between Winter Solstice 2016 (December 21st) and Summer Solstice 2017 (June 21st) gives 182 days. Half of that is 91, meaning the midpoint would fall on March 22nd 2017 – two days after the actual Equinox.

north_season

The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°

 

Using the “divide the horizon” approach causes an additional problem – at the Solstices do you mark the first gleam of the Sun appearing, the point when half of it is above the horizon or when it has fully risen and the full orb is standing exactly on the horizon?

The difference in position between using “first gleam” and “full orb” is about 1.5° because the Sun rises at an angle. As a result the halfway position could be 0.75° different depending on your choice and that is one and a half times the width of the Sun’s disc, potentially putting your Equinox out by a day or so.

In any event, there is no alignment through Stonehenge for the Equinox and what’s more there isn’t even a clear sightline directly through the monument that runs true East-West towards the Equinox sunrise position, in the way that there are clear sightlines for the Solstice sunrises and sunsets.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice photo of an equinox sunrise when it’s clear, because you can.

equinox-sunrise

English Heritage Charitable Trust allows everyone in to the centre of the monument for the Spring Equinox sunrise, in the same way that they do for the Autumn Equinox and the two Solstices, through their “Managed Open Access” events. It’s one of only four occasions in the year when open access is allowed.

It’s worth checking with their customer services department (0370 333 1181) a week or so ahead because sometimes they set the actual day of the open access to be different to the day when the Equinox occurs.

Equinox open accesses attract fewer people than the Solstices – in the several hundreds rather than tens of thousands – and there are modern Druid ceremonies which are held in the circle around dawn, so if you prefer a quieter experience then attending an Equinox is a good choice.

If you do visit Stonehenge on the Equinox please respect the special terms of entry and read this blog: ‘Respecting the Stones’

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join a specialist organised small group tour.  Use a only a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions of entry.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company offering award winning discreet tours from London. Solstice Events offer small group sunrise tours using only local expert guides.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Visiting Stonehenge this year for the Equinox or Solstice Celebrations? #ManagedOpenAccess

28 01 2017

Respecting the Stones
The conditions of entry for the Managed Open Access events at the Solstices and Equinoxes contain the following statements:

Stonehenge is a world renowned historic Monument and part of a World Heritage Site. It is seen by many who attend as a sacred place.  Please respect it and please respect each other.

Do not climb or stand on any of the stones – this includes the stones that have fallen.  This is in the interest of personal safety, the protection of this special site and respect for those attending.  As well as putting the stones themselves at risk, climbing on them can damage the delicate lichens.

… but some people seem happy to ignore these requests. I’m going to take a little time to explain that, strange as it may seem, the monument is actually quite delicate and damage to it does occur.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

The popularity of the summer solstice has grown over the years

In 1953 during an archaeological investigation a set of carvings were noticed on the inner face of one of the stones of the central trilithons (Stone 53, to be precise). These carvings weren’t the usual graffiti that’ve been incised into many of the stones over the last 200 years or so – people’s names, initials, dates and so on. They were in fact very ancient indeed, dating back to the middle Bronze Age around 1700BC and were of bronze axe heads and a dagger.

Here’s a photo from 1953 showing the ancient carvings, followed by a more recent one:

atkinson-croppedstone-53-modern

The ancient carvings are noticeably “softer” around the edges in the modern shot and this is largely due to the action of people’s fingers tracing their outlines over the course of the last 63 years. Sarsen may be hard, but it’s still a sandstone.

Some bluestones exist only as stumps and many are fallen. These get trampled over by thousands of feet at the solstices and equinoxes, and many have acquired a polish as a result.

One of two examples of bluestone are so soft that they crumble away at a touch and these have eroded down to stumps that barely break the surface of the ground.

It’s been a while since tourists were rented hammers by the local blacksmith so they could take souvenirs, but it’s not unknown even in modern times for people to try it.

vandals

Although deliberate damage is rare, it does happen. At the 2014 Summer Solstice, someone thought it’d be a good idea to start writing the date (in US format – 6.21.14) in letters about 3” high, using a marker pen, near the bottom of Stone 3.
stone-3-graffiti
This damage is permanent. The ink has been carried deep into the stone surface and the conservators have been unable to remove it.

At the winter solstice that year, another bright spark decided to annoint the sides of about a dozen stones with some kind of oil, leaving dark streaks over 18” long that will take decades to fade. If you’re going to annoint the stones with anything, then use pure spring water and not some nasty goo you’ve bought off eBay.

Thoughtless damage happens every year – candlewax from spilt tealights, rubbings with crayon that goes through the paper, forcing random items like crystals or coins into crevices, digging in the ground and even trying to light a fire on a stone.

Disrespectful damage – vomiting, urinating or even defecating on the stones – is less common but also occurs. It’s hard to imagine the kind of person who thinks that sort of behaviour is acceptable anywhere, let alone at our most famous ancient monument.

Stonehenge Summer Solsice

While standing on the stones is bad enough, climbing up them is far worse.

 

The fuzzy grey-green lichen that coats the upper reaches of most of the sarsen stones is a species called Sea Ivory (Ramalina Siliquosa) and usually only grows on marine cliffs, particularly in southwest England and Wales. It’s very easily knocked off by people brushing against the stones and large areas are destroyed by someone sliding back down having scaled any of the uprights.

There are at least 9 marine cliff species of lichen present, and how they ended up 50km from the sea is something of a mystery.

The last major study of the Stonehenge lichens was carried out in 2003. It found 77 different species, including two that are found in a particular recess of one specific stone and nowhere else on site, and another that only grows on one single stone at Stonehenge and nowhere else in southern England.

So the next time you decide to come along to an Open Access Equinox or Solstice Dawn, please be one of the people who understands how fragile the monument is and who treats it with respect.

Tell your friends too and – even better – if you find any litter that other people have dropped, please pick it up and put it in one of the bins.  Please share this article on social media and help raise awareness.

The stones, the ancestors, and the staff who do the tidying up after you’ve gone home and who genuinely love Stonehenge, all thank you! (This article was submitted with thanks by Simon Banton who worked at the monument for many years)

Stonehenge is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act and you must adhere to the regulations outlined in the act or face criminal prosecution. No person may touch, lean against, stand on or climb the stones, or disturb the ground in any way. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was). It was introduced by John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, recognising the need for a governmental administration on the protection of ancient monuments – more information

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join an organised tour.  Use a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company and Solstice Events offer small group Solstice tours using only local expert guides.

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Stonehenge tunnel plans finalised by government.

12 01 2017

Long-awaited plans for a road tunnel past Stonehenge have been finalised by the government.

The proposal for a 1.8-mile (2.9 km) dual carriageway tunnel is aimed at easing congestion on the nearby A303.

a303

The proposals involve building a tunnel for the A303 which runs past the ancient monument

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the proposal will “transform’ the road and benefit people by “cutting congestion and improving journey times”.

A public consultation aimed at drivers and residents will run until 5 March.

The tunnel plans form part of a £2bn government scheme to upgrade all remaining sections of the A303 between the M3 and M5.

Highways England’s Jim O’Sullivan said: “Our plans for the A303 recognise the national importance of the route and these improvements will bring real benefit to the region and local communities.

“The public exhibitions will provide an excellent opportunity to explain further our plans and to hear feedback from stakeholders on our proposals to deliver the scheme.”

A report by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites has recognised the benefits of the project.

At the moment the busy A303 passes within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument.

However, campaign group Stonehenge Alliance believes any tunnel shorter than 2.7-miles (4.3 km) would do “irreparable damage to the landscape”.

In 2015 it launched a petition calling for a longer tunnel which gained 17,500 signatures.

A spokesperson said: “The Alliance does not advocate new road building at Stonehenge but accepts the need to improve the tranquillity and appearance of the World Heritage Site and its setting.

“If the government insists on widening the A303 by means of a tunnel it must be sufficiently long to avoid any further damage to [Stonehenge] and its setting.”

English Heritage and the National Trust have also given their support to the option of “the longest tunnel possible”.

Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust Andy Rhind-Tutt described the tunnel plan as a “self-destructing time bomb” which would “do nothing” for traffic problems in the area.
BBC NEWS

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English Heritage are hiring a new ‘solstice coordinator’ at Stonehenge.

12 01 2017

How would you like to help organise this year’s solstice celebrations at Stonehenge?

English Heritage is advertising for a solstice coordinator to help put on seasonal gatherings at the ancient site near Salisbury.

The successful candidate will be tasked with arranging access to the stones during pagan celestial celebrations.

Druid greets the dawn at Stonehenge

Druids were traditionally allowed to attend Stonehenge for free on the solstice but there has been controversy recently over parking charges.

English Heritage is looking for somebody to: “Coordinate the planning and delivery of safe managed open access to Stonehenge for celebration of the summer solstice, winter solstice, spring and autumn equinoxes (and any other agreed seasonal gatherings).”

The salary is £20,000 pro rata on a part time basis working 14 hours a week and you must be available overnight on the night of each seasonal gathering.

There is a history of tension between the druid and pagan communities and English Heritage. Last year tempers flared when King Arthur Pendragon, Britain’s head druid said high parking charges meant solstice visitors had to ‘pay to pray’ at the sacred stones. English Heritage has also accused protestors of ‘vandalising’ the site.

According to the job advertisement, “The right person for this role will have excellent organisational skills and experience of organising events and controlling budgets. Resilience, empathy, diplomacy and a good sense of humour are a must.”

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from world famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles; from Roman forts on the edges of empire to a Cold War bunker.
Article by By JoeTSmith SomersetLive

Visit the English Heritage Jobs page

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Druid Protester King Arthur Pendragon granted Stonehenge ‘pay to pray’ court date.

10 01 2017

Senior druid Arthur Pendragon has been told he can take English Heritage to court to challenge “pay to pray” car parking charges at Stonehenge.

King Arthur Pendragon believes the £15 parking fee at Stonehenge was “an illegal charge” A senior druid has been told he can take English Heritage to court to challenge “pay to pray” car parking charges at Stonehenge. King Arthur Pendragon argued a parking fee of £15 for the 2016 summer solstice breached his human rights. Parking at the Neolithic monument, managed by English Heritage (EH), usually costs £5. A judge at Salisbury County Court granted Mr Pendragon a full hearing at a small claims court.

8012908913_1b46a670da_zOther druids and pagans were at the court to support King Arthur Pendragon, who was joined by other druid and pagan supporters to protest outside the court, believes the £15 fee was “illegal” and excluded 12,500 from the event. He told the judge at the allocation hearing that the claim was not about money or costs, but the fact it “unfairly targeted his religion”. An estimated 23,000 people attended the Neolithic site in 2015 compared to 12,000 in 2016 The increased charge was introduced to encourage more people to car share or travel by bus, but Mr Pendragon said he wanted to prove EH was wrong to turn him away when he refused to “pay to pray”. A spokeswoman for EH said: “This was a procedural hearing establishing the next steps and we look forward to presenting our full case at a later date. “As legal proceedings are ongoing it…

Mr Pendragon asked that the date for the full hearing does not clash with the spring or summer solstice.

PAY TO PRAY NEWS LINKS
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-38558778

http://www.spirefm.co.uk/news/local-news/2193973/king-arthur-pendragon-taking-english-heritage-to-court/

https://www.wbnews.info/2017/01/king-arthur-pendragon-granted-stonehenge-pay-to-pray-court-date/


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2017 Stonehenge Opening Hours, Entry Prices and Tickets.

2 01 2017

Stonehenge Opening Times and Entrance Prices.
English Heritage advise to expect a visit to last around two hours. Please see the table below for opening times for 2017/18, with some seasonal variability, and entrance prices for adults, children, families, seniors and groups.

visitor-centre2

The Stonehenge Exhibition and Visitor Centre

There is 10% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together plus a free place for every additional 20 paying passengers. Free entry for coach driver and tour leader.

If you come by car you will park in the car park outside the visitor centre. It is free for people purchasing tickets to enter Stonehenge, there is a charge if you are not. Tour buses have their own separate coach park.

All Members of English Heritage or National Trust must show a valid membership card on arrival to be granted free parking and site access.

To enter the Stonehenge Exhibition at the Visitor Centre you need a full ticket to Stonehenge, anyone can access the café, gift shop and toilets though, for free.

Very Important!  Book Your Stonehenge Tickets in Advance 
To be assured of entering Stonehenge the best way is to reserve timed tickets in advance on the English Heritage web site or if you need more flexibility and without the time constraint you can purchase discount advance Stonehenge tickets here

Tickets to Stonehenge are booked by half hour time slot, the website showing you how many tickets are still available for your chosen date and time.

Note: you cannot reserve tickets on-line on the day of your visit, you must reserve before midnight latest on the day before. Only a very small number of tickets are held back each day for walk-up visitors.

Note: the last admission time is two hours before closing time of Stonehenge. Closing times are variable according to month of the year (see below)

Stonehenge Admission & Opening From 1st January 2017 – October 2017

Admission

Opening Times

Adult

£15.50

16 Mar – 31 May

09.30 – 19:00

Child (5-15)

£9.30

1 Jun – 31 Aug

09.00 – 20:00

Students/Seniors *

£13.90

1 Sep – 15 Oct

09.30 – 19:00

Family Ticket †

£40.30

16 Oct – 15 Mar

09.30 – 17:00

Last entry 2 hours before closing
Members of the National Trust & English Heritage enter free
Prices are valid until 31st March 2017* 16-18 yr olds + seniors 60+† 2 Adults and 3 Children

~ Closed 24th to 26th December

2017 STONEHENGE OPENING TIMES

1st JANUARY 2017– 31st MARCH 2017

Monday 9:30 – 17:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 17:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 17:00
Thursday 9:30 – 17:00
Friday 9:30 – 17:00
Saturday 9:30 – 17:00
Sunday 9:30 – 17:00

1st APRIL 2017 – 31st MAY 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

1st JUNE 2017 – 31st AUGUST 2017

Monday 9:00 – 20:00
Tuesday 9:00 – 20:00
Wednesday 9:00 – 20:00
Thursday 9:00 – 20:00
Friday 9:00 – 20:00
Saturday 9:00 – 20:00
Sunday 9:00 – 20:00

1st OCTOBER 2017 – 15th OCTOBER 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

16th OCTOBER 2017 ONWARDS
Opening times will be available nearer the time

For more information please visit the official English Heritage website

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