Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Open Access to Stonehenge Campaign (Guest Blog)

by Mardi Lee

My name is Mardi Lee, and I am one of a group of organisers for our campaign. On July 22nd we formed a Facebook group after attending the last Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. Many people were very fed up after attending the last solstice and there were a lot of complaints about the lead up to it and the open access itself.

Our campaign aims to bring real changes to the way in which managed open access to Stonehenge is run. There is only one official date of managed open access, the summer solstice, but English Heritage let us have a few hours open access at the winter solstice and the spring and autumn equinoxes, but they can withhold access at these other times any time they choose.

We are a coalition of concerned people and groups that are campaigning to bring change to our “managed open access” given to us four times a year, we want real talks that lead to our open access being run in a more compassionate and enjoyable manner. We have compromised and attended the open access as it is currently managed, trying to accept the conditions and restrictions put upon us.

We ask that:
  1. It is changed from being run as a managed event and run more as a gathering and religious celebration - for all four open access dates in place. 
  2. That the open access is run by English Heritage staff in the same respectful manner as they treat their daily visitors. Not as it is now, left to management of security firms that are not competent to deal with the various needs of those attending open access. 
  3. During the summer Solstice access the security firm/police would:-                                                                                                                                                                       A. Follow the Round Table policy of random searches, as opposed to the current overuse of such procedures taking place.                                                                                                                                                                     B. Refrain from the overuse of hand held metal detectors, unless they have a specific cause rather than usual practice.

    C. Cease their combative style of speaking and dealing with attendees wishing to enter the Stonehenge circle, when people reasonably challenge disrespectful behaviour they are often threatened with removal or exclusion with no right of appeal.

    D. That they cease all physical harm to attendees, using physical force only to defend themselves from harm. ( * See pics below) 
  4.  That English Heritage provide either one big communal open fire for people to gather round, or a few smaller fires both in the car park and near the Stonehenge circle.
  5. To increase the amount of time allocated to “managed open access”, and to treat people’s faiths with the respect given to other religions. We propose that over the period of the Summer Solstice, the public be allowed free equitable access into Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape. This would allow them to freely attend as are their needs and customs: the Sunrise; midday and the sunset. We believe the current overcrowding and driver safety problems are caused by the increasing popularity of the present “Managed Open Access” and English Heritage’s decision to end said access early on Solstice morning. These problems could be resolved in the best interests of all by extending the open access period to cover the whole of Midsummer’s day.
  6. At the Summer Solstice English Heritage permit a small stage with acoustic music in the car park, thereby reducing the amount of people in the Stonehenge circle. The way it is currently run people see open access as a night club & many turn up just to party at the Stones. 
  7. To reduce the amount of days that the drove is closed on the lead up to the Summer Solstice, providing a safe place to park rather than the roadside verges and lay-bys. 
  8. That English Heritage provides adequate shelter for attendees of the Summer Solstice, or provides a place for the erection of tents. This is to ensure the protection of vulnerable and disabled people during the night, that attendees are allowed to rest before leaving the car park site (especially exhausted, vulnerable and disabled). 
  9. That the traders are removed from the Stonehenge circle field to the field just prior to the security gate which is already used as a thoroughfare. This is in order to reduce the amount of rubbish being deposited within the circle which many find offensive. 
  10. To remove or reduce the neon lighting currently in use at the summer solstice, as they reduce the ability to experience the beautiful night sky in all its glory. Furthermore if they are reduced but kept, that the lighting is turned off as soon as possible before the dawn. 
  11. To give some assurance and disclosure that our “managed open access” will be accommodated during and after the redevelopment of Stonehenge, particularly with reference to disabled access; which is currently lacking, leaving less able-bodied to feel marginalised. 

Experiences at Stonehenge

I have been attending the summer solstice for many years, since they gave us open access to Stonehenge at the summer solstice in the year 2000. This was only given to us because people fought year in and year out, taking them to all the courts and finally the court of human rights. Alongside this, others campaigned for a return of the Stonehenge free festival, offering to pay to rent land somewhere nearby. And year after year those people that love Stonehenge and all that it represents tried continuously to get to the stones. Eventually the pressure from all this led the government and English Heritage to lift the exclusion zone in place every summer since 1984. They formed a Stonehenge round table debating group, where all interested parties put forward their ideas of how the open access would be managed. These meetings are supposed to be where all parties contribute their ideas and they all come to a compromise, thus creating an enjoyable summer solstice gathering for all. But this is not what truly happens, because English Heritage and the National Trust along with the police, fire, ambulance, Wiltshire County Council and all other authorities have a meeting first. They decide how they will run the managed open access, and then they bring this to the round table meeting. Everybody then has to try and bring a compromise to this plan, rather than discussing it and compromising openly together.

My personal experience of that time started on the 2nd June 2012, when Becky (my partner) and I went to Stonehenge to have a picnic with a few friends in the fields around the area. We arrived late morning and were greeted by other people that were already on the drove. We gathered some wood and started a small fire.

Other people arrived at the drove during the afternoon, we all shared our picnic together and caught up with old friends. People came from all different parts of the country, Sandy and Julie turned up, Sandy got his gazebo out and set up a small music set with his drums and a mic. Jez sang and played his guitar and Sandy played the drums. They were good together and people enjoyed the music, by the afternoon there were about 30 of us enjoying a picnic and music.

The National Trust, English Heritage, the police and the MOD MP’s monitored us all afternoon driving up and down the drove. Not once did they object to us being there, or stop and say anything about the music. This continued on a very regular basis, and we therefore presumed that they didn’t mind us enjoying ourselves together.

Becky and I put up a tent on the grass verge, as did quite a few others including one couple and their three children. The police had hours in which to inform us that we were not allowed amplified music of any type - they choose not to do this.

I think it was 10pm and dark when the police finally decided to do something about the situation, when a large group of about twenty police came along shining bright torches in our faces. They had an agitated attitude and began shouting for people to get out of their tents/trucks etc, trying to hand everyone a section 61 (not 100% sure may have been 63) of the public order act. They said that we had gathered with the intentions of having a rave, that we had to all leave by 1.00am in the morning. They asked us all why we were there and where we had come from, they seemed surprised when some of us told them we had only come for a picnic. They were even more surprised when they found out that we had come from up and down the country and didn’t know each other.

Sandy shut the music off exactly when they told him to. They threatened to make him produce receipts for all his stuff if he was there when they came back at 1am. They also insinuated that he had stolen his generator, as one had gone missing from nearby according to them. They threatened to take his small bus off him and Julie also, so rather than go through all this hassle he packed up and left.

The couple had spent ages getting their three children to sleep in their tent, the police woke them all up by shouting really loudly at everyone. We asked why they had not told us about the music at a more reasonable time, as we would have turned it off before they tried to public order us all. All along the drove people were arguing with the police about their unreasonable behaviour, children were crying and the police had managed to cause utter pandemonium and a huge amount of stress.

They left us threatening to be back at 1.00pm, that we would all be arrested and vehicles impounded if we were still there. Paul and Penny were told that they could stay until the next morning as he was totally drunk and could not drive, and many of us had been drinking and smoking together. Most people decided that as the music had left they would stay and see what happened at 1.00am. A few people did pack up and leave but not many.

At 1.00am one policeman came back, he said that as the music had gone and that a lot of people where unfit to drive, so we could all stay until 5am. He did say that he thought his inspector was going to be silly about it (exact words not printable lol), but fortunately had climbed down over the issue and acted sensibly. The police were convinced that we were organising a rave and they had apparently put police along the main roads and motorways to stop others getting to the drove. We were oblivious to any of this, just having a nice time in the Stonehenge environment. The police did not even turn up again at 5am, so we had spent the whole night expecting to be arrested by heavy handed police.

The next day myself and Becky went for a long walk around the landscape at Stonehenge, it was the first time we had done this. Normally we would turn up the day before the managed open access, park along the verges from airman’s corner and watch the vehicles build up, go into the Stones, and then return home the next morning. So it was lovely to be able to spend time walking around, exploring the barrows and hearing the skylarks singing. During the day more people left but others turned up, Becky and I had to leave Sunday evening and go back to Bath.

We returned again three days later to find that once again the police had been down and told them they had to turn the music off or leave. This was a personal sound system in a van, not some huge rig or stage throwing a party. There were about 15 people left parked along the drove, and as people went off to do stuff others would turn up. Most of the people where extremely friendly, and it was great to meet so many nice new people we didn’t know. During the next five or six days we sat and chatted about so much stuff and played acoustic instruments (during the day), gathered our wood and water, went for long walks and got to know each other a little more. Every time someone turned up with some amplified music, we got loads of hassle from the police even though we would not have it on loud.

Becky and I went home again on Sunday the following weekend, giving a friend our phone number. We left our tent up on the drove intending to return in three days time. Two days later I received a phone call saying that everyone was moving onto the Ridgeway at Avebury and that the wind had destroyed our large tent. I rushed back to find that once again someone had turned up with amplified music and they had all been told they must leave if they are playing music. As it was now getting closer to the summer solstice managed open access, people wanted to party. The next morning we all left the drove and headed to the Ridgeway at Avebury. There were already other people parked up when we arrived, and we walked into Avebury village and brought some very expensive necessities. We walked down through the stone avenue into the village, and went and visited the Hobbit tree which myself and someone else climbed. It was a great laugh and we all enjoyed the outing, even though it rained on us quite a lot. When we returned to the Ridgeway a small sound system was set up and people were dancing and enjoying the music, at no time during the rest of the day or night were we stopped, although we did still get some police monitoring us.

The next morning I awoke to slugs and snails all over my belongings and the small tent I had brought. I got out of my tent and thought “where are the Stones?”. I had to make a choice between staying on the Ridgeway and being able to play amplified music or going back to the drove and hoping some other people turn up. I went back to Bath and picked up Becky, and on the way back we decided between us that we would return to the drove. We went back to Avebury and packed down the tent and said bye to people, we had met a lush bloke called Dean whilst on the drove and he said he would return with us. We returned to the drove and set up camp again. During that day people that turned up wanting a party we directed to Avebury. Over the next few days a few more people joined us and once more there were about 15 of us, we played acoustic music and had a laugh. Several times during the nights I tried to sneak into the Stones only to be repelled by security, until eventually three of us snuck in with a private party as the sun was rising on a very misty morning. We had five minutes in the stones before English Heritage staff noticed us. They shouted at us and were extremely angry that we had got in. We stayed at the drove until the 17th of June, as they were evicting it and closing all access to them over the summer solstice period. We went and parked up in a lay-by at Woodhenge, where we stayed until the morning of summer solstice open access.

By now all the lay-bys were full of trucks, busses, vans and cars. The police had to constantly drive round monitoring all the people and where they had parked up, as the day wore on more and more people arrived in the area. The traffic slowly built up and caused more chaos on the roads; more than if they had been allowed to use the droves. It was only on the day of the summer solstice itself that they set up the infrastructure for the coming event. All day long we waited, until finally at 7.00pm they started to let us in. This in itself caused problems as everyone was desperate to get into the car park. Also, people wanted to go into the monument for sunset ritual, which created a mad rush situation.

I walked up to the Stonehenge Circle with Becky, Dean carrying the Wally box (The box which held Phil Russell’s ashes - the organiser of the first Stonehenge free festival), a Druid called Pete and my good friend Teapot Circus. Pete they let walk through without trouble, Dean they insisted opened the box for them to search. He opened the box but refused to let them touch the contents. They did at first try to insist, but Dean just explained about the box and said it was a sacred object they had no right to touch. Teapot Circus tried to take his umbrella as it looked like rain, but he was told he could not enter with the umbrella as it could be used as an offensive weapon. I took nothing with me apart from my car keys and myself so that I would not have any hassle from security. I walked through the Heras fencing gate system without being stopped and searched, Teapot was searched, and Becky was not. I was walking ahead and thought I had got through without hassle when someone told me to stop, and did I mind being scanned. I told him of course I minded being scanned and I didn’t want to let him. He grabbed hold of my arm and insisted I let him. I asked why I was being scanned as all I had on me was my car keys, that I didn’t have knives; guns and pick axes or anything else on me. I was told I was being aggressive, that if I continued I would be removed from the monument and not be allowed access. Even once he had scanned me and found nothing on me, he still stood extremely close holding onto my arm and being very aggressive in his words and actions, my friends thought I would explode into violence as they know I don’t like being confronted in this manner by anyone. I managed not to hit him even though I would never normally allow anyone else to treat me like this, after five minutes of aggressive behaviour on his part he let me continue into the stone circle properly.

Becky and I watched a lovely sunset ritual done by the druids, and then we walked around the stones. Looking and gently touching them, it is a truly inspiring place to see and visit. But it is when the people of the tribes gather within it that they truly come to life, when past and present blend. We then went back to the car park to see what was happening and if anyone we knew had arrived, and listened to music and chatted about the past month.

We went back to the monument field later on in the early hours of the morning and there were thousands and thousands of people crammed into the Stones and wide area around them. There was a lot of drumming in the middle of the stone circle, with a lot of others dancing and singing, and the whole area was lit with the glow of artificial lighting. Fortunately the night sky was cloudy, otherwise we would have missed the amazing night sky in all its glory. Not long after we arrived back at the monument field it started pouring down. We then got a call from Becky’s son Oliver saying he was on his way from Bristol. We both had three layers on and by the time Oliver arrived, having had his takeaway supper examined by security (all he was carrying) both me and Becky were soaked to the skin. As was he also of course. We had trouble finding each other and I went off to find him while Becky waited by the gate. He found Becky and they phoned me up. When I tried to return the way I had come I was forced to walk all the way round instead of going over one low wooden fence by security. We were all completely fed up by this time and it was obvious that there would be no sunrise alignment with the dawn. None of us fancied trying to get past the obnoxious security at the gate, so we decided to leave whilst we could still get out of the car park due to the mud.

If we had not spent time before hand meeting people on the drove and just turned up for the sunrise, we would have been sadly disappointed. As it was, we had had the most fantastic time meeting lovely like-minded people, chatting and finding out that so many of us are going through the same stuff. The event itself was a disappointment mainly because of the security's attitude to people, and the silly restrictions and conditions we have to endure to get our little bit of managed open access.

After the summer solstice at Stonehenge many people of all walks of life were unhappy about the way our open access is being managed, and after chatting with a lot of people about the issue of open access I decided it is time we stopped moaning and did something positive and good to change this situation. The difference for me between going to Pilton festival and Stonehenge is that at Pilton I go for a party and to get smashed with my friends. I expect to have to go through all the hassle of security when entering, as this is the norm when going to a paid festival. When I go to Stonehenge I go for different reasons entirely, my main reason is to say my respects to nature; life and the elements. It is to meet old friends and family I knew when on the road, as I now live in a flat. It is to bring energy to and from Stonehenge, it is a sacred special place to me much like a cathedral is to Christian worshippers.

I don’t go to Pilton festival anymore, it is too big and commercial and I hate the hassles that come with it. At the end of the day it is a festival, of which there are many more, so I don’t feel bad not going. Stonehenge is a sacred temple used for worship of nature and life, a gathering place of the people of all Britain and far beyond. Would you agree to strict terms and conditions the next time you want to go and worship god in your cathedrals, conditions that restrict and stifle what it is really intended for? We the people of Britain have, and still do, consider Stonehenge a sacred place to celebrate the gift of all life, and we are trying to unite together so that we can collectively bring change for the better of all those attending and all those charged with running our managed open access and all other access we are permitted.

The Campaign So Far
  • We have started a paper petition (1100 signatures so far) with a stall, we have an online petition :- which has 440 signatures currently, giving us a total of approx 1500 signatures since July.
  • We have started a Facebook group where groups and individuals debate the issues of our open access, the more of us that join the greater our voice will be together. Please feel free to join and take part, so far we have produced a seventeen point document. This was far from correct and so we sent it to King Arthur (who attends the round table meetings and therefore will know English Heritage's response to them), he gave us his ideas about how we should correct it if we wanted to be taken seriously. We debated his ideas balanced with our own, we changed the document to 11 points. By rewording the document we managed to reduce the number of points but kept the same content, this also meant we could not be given a standard reply. Anyway, join us for our continued debate on the campaign :-
  • We have attended a round table meeting, where we managed to get our aims document on the agenda for the next meeting on the 1st Nov 2012 in Salisbury.


  1. Sorry, but not only can I not see this ever happening, I don't think it's even desirable. TBH, LESS people in the stones is preferable to more. It comes down to this--do we have a monument treated with some modicum of respect or a free for all resulting in irrepairable damage? Last summer was bad; people even defecated in the circle (yes,really, and hired cleaners and 'evil' EH were the ones whocleaned up the muck, only a few of the pagans who profess to love the circle so much. (And being a pagan this embarrasses me. A lot.) Someone also wrote on a stone in felt pen which was absorbed into the porous sandstone. And then there's Arthur on about the 'ancestors'...but then there's everyone drunkenly staggering over the bank in which over 100 people are still buried, eroding their graves forever! And people like to touch them, yes, for some reason(I am not sure why people can't connect without pawing)...again, this damages the hundreds of carvings (some recently found) which are in a very fragile state.
    You do know also that Stonehenge almost certainly was never used for large gatherings in its day? And worship of nature? Tell that to the man buried in the ditch with arrows in his back c 2300 BC. It was not some fluffy place. Ever.
    As for your suggestions--fires? With drunks? Again, what about damage? And tents? Pegs in the ground? Again, this seems so selfish...who cares about the stones as long as IIIII get something out of it. Go pitch up at Durrington walls where the Stonehenge people actually stayed and WALK the avenue to the Stones like they did, if you really want to be 'in tune'with the ancestors!

  2. Oats have been to another Round Table meeting on the 1st Nov 2012, the agenda was Oats aims and the winter solstice open access.
    A fuller account of this meeting is being posted on our facebook page today, at this meeting we debated point 3 in detail. It was decided that a mock video should be made detailing the do's and dont's of how attendees should be treated, and that the 3 security firm heads will attending an RT meeting to be briefed on this issue.It was also stated that if we wish to see a reduction in the security, we as attendees must become involved e.g volunteering to be peacestewards.
    It was decided that due to EH's responsibilities under health and safety the event had to be a managed one, and could not be changed to be more organic.
    It was also decided that removing the traders from the Stonehenge field would not have the desired effect of reducing the amount of rubbish in the Stonehenge field, so these 2 points are now off the agenda.
    The rest of our aims shall be discussed in future round table meetings, we had the support of Arthur's druid warband and the other pagans present.
    Once again we are not trying to destroy Stonehenge which is a place many of us love and respect, but as we can no-longer have a free festival(at stonehenge or anywhere) or 24/7 open access it is important that what we have got is a good place to go. Stonehenge open access is more than just going to re-affirm our thanks for life, nature and the planet, it is and always has been a gathering place of the tribes. A place to meet and spend time with like minded people, family and friends.
    But at the same time it is important that everyone respects and helps to protect Stonehenge. There will always be a few that act in crass ways, and it must be these people that are made accountable not the majority of respectful people.

  3. Hello Mardi,I too was on the drove on June 2nd and shared your experience of the ridiculous,heavy handed and over the top response to our imaginary"rave".I have since met and spent time with Becky and yourself on the drove.I fully support the campaign and gratefully appreciate the work Becky and yourself have put into it.I look forward to catching up with you both at the winter solstice next week.Love and peace from Arth and Rachel.