Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Summer Solstice Changes at Stonehenge

There are two changes that being implemented and they have little relationship to each other apart from getting people annoyed.
Firstly the car parking charge: it costs a charity money to provide it, paying to park is not unusual, even when attending a religious ceremony. It would be hard to not to have to pay if you wanted to drive and park for a service at Salisbury Cathedral. So a charge would appear to be reasonable. Is £15 reasonable? It seems a lot and will lead to a lot of people trying to avoid it. The hope is that they will get the bus but I think it is more likely they will park in Larkhill and on any roadside they can. It could be argued, and I would, that the cost to the community of such unplanned parking means that the car parking charge should be a more nominal amount or not introduced.

The second change is an alcohol ban. I have never drunk alcohol at Stonehenge and I have cleared up on my hands and knees on the morning after the solstice for the last few years as a member of staff. I have also taken my young daughter to the solstice.

It is interesting to read  Dennis Price's thoughts ( https://eternalidolinterlude.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/stone-cold-sober-at-stonehenge/ ) :

"I wandered around for hours, talking to the others who were patiently waiting to be allowed in to one of the most enigmatic and mesmerising locations on the planet and it was clear to me that everyone just wanted to have a good time, to relax and to be present at a place and time that somehow elevated the spirit and provided a tangible connection with something greater than ourselves.
These people all went on to enjoy their stimulant of choice at Stonehenge, whether it was the company of like-minded others, the cool night air, singing, poetry, live performance, the presence of the eldritch stones, alcohol or some other substance, all without in any way making others feel uncomfortable and all adding to the enjoyment of the collective experience. Unfortunately, there were some visitors who quite literally did not give a shit for the feelings or enjoyment of anyone else, and they conducted themselves accordingly.
So, I think it will be a great shame if alcohol is indeed to be banned at the Stonehenge open access events, because it will be demonstrably unfair on the overwhelming majority of people who venerate the place and the occasion, who have consideration for their fellow pilgrims and for the monument that has become the centre of their celebrations. It would be great if those who felt compelled to drink themselves into a vomiting, urinating, defecating, foul-mouthed, vandalising, shambling stupor in order to honour the achievements and beliefs of our ancestors could do this somewhere else..."

Quite. The security team members are professional and every year get better at their jobs. It is a pity there have been so many changes in the EH Solstice management team and the accumulated wisdom has been lost. Just like a well run pub it needs proper policing, the drunks and the wasted need to be ejected and the families who want to spend a summer evening and night on a blanket with a picnic and a glass or two encouraged. It is obvious that the annoying revellers aren't tanked up on alcohol but on substances beyond my knowledge.

More interestingly is how EH has portrayed the problem they want to solve, and how this year's pronouncement differs from previous reports.

7/4/2016 English Heritage said it had seen more "drunken and disrespectful behaviour" as crowds had increased each year.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-35990687

Year - number of arrests - estimated crowd from contemporaneous news reports

2009 - 37 - 36,500
2010 - 34 - 20,000
2011 - 20 - 18,000
2012 - 37 - 14,500
2013 - 22 - 21,000
2014 - 25 - 37,000
2015 - 9 - 23,000

2014 - "Kate Davies, English Heritage's manager of Stonehenge (email:kate.davies@english-heritage.org.uk), believes all sides have come a long way since the days of the exclusion zones, describing today's event as a "peaceful celebration enjoyed by many thousands".
She puts their success down to a "close working relationship" with the druid and pagan groups as well as Wiltshire Police."

2015 "23,000 people went to Stonehenge to watch the summer solstice sunrise this morning but the General Manager of the site, Kate Davies, English Heritage's manager of Stonehenge (email:kate.davies@english-heritage.org.uk), says that is fewer than she was expecting. She added that the celebration was a calm and peaceful one that passed off with relatively few problems"

(this post was originally written as a comment on https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/stonehenge-solstice-reform-why-theres-no-alternative/ )

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