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The Ambient Rambler's Book of Journey - Stonehenge - Summer Solstice 1989/90/91

The Great Salisbury Plain Hide and Seek Championships

Our 1989 jaunt to Stonehenge began approaching lunchtime on June 20th, with my friend Tim and I stumbling towards a hitching spot on the A11 southbound out of Norwich.

After about an hour, a car pulled up and a couple beckoned us to climb in. These kind people turned out to be the parents of a guy I would later befriend at Norwich School of Art, but at that time all our thoughts were focused on getting to Wiltshire.

We were dropped off at the exit for Wymondham, said our thanks and waved as the couple drove of into the town. We picked our way down the roadside verges of the bypass. A little while later as we passed the other side of Wymondham, the very same couple picked us up again and took us to Newark! Kozmik Ken was on our side that day.

As the afternoon was getting on by now, we decided to catch a coach from Newark to London, get ourselves onto the M3 by public transport and start hitching again from there.

After a short walk we found the bus station and were about to go into the ticket office when a young chap in a smart suit, looking very much like a yuppie of the time strolled up to us and asked, "are you going to Stonehenge?"

Tim and I exchanged quizzical glances and hesitantly replied, "yes" expecting the guy to be a copper (these were suspicious times).

"I'm going past there and can give you a lift all the way" he said and began to lead us towards his brand spanky new, bright red XR5. I climbed into the front passenger seat, still not quite sure what to make of him, glanced down at his selection of tapes and noticed a number of Gong and Hawkwind albums. "Perhaps he's not so bad after all" I thought to myself.

He later told us that he was in fact a druid and was on his way to a solstice gathering in Devon. He'd spotted us walking through the town and had turned back especially to pick us up.

So with Kozmik Ken smoothing our way and a fair wind behind us, we breezed towards Wiltshire enjoying the (by now) late afternoon sunshine.

Once we had passed Andover, the police checkpoints began to appear. But in the Dapper Druid's shiny new car, we were waved through with a doff of the cap and a cheery "very well sir".

We were dropped off at the heel stone - much to the amusement of the police - and the best dressed druid I'd ever seen continued on to Devon. No sooner had we begun to admire the view of the stones, the copper were on us to move on. It was early evening now and they we getting keen to clear people out of the area. So we walked on a while onto the A303 and sat watching the sun beginning to hang low over Stonehenge. The big sundial still marking the passage of time 4000 years on.

Here we met a law student from Leicester Poly, who had come along to challenge the validity of the exclusion zone. By nine o'clock, the police where getting very insistent that we disappear all together. A van full of them boiled up to us and began making it very clear that we would be arrested if we didn't leave immediately.

"Two or more people together inside the exclusion zone form an illegal procession" we were told as we were handed leaflets showing the excluded area.

"Well, how about if we stand away from each other" piped up the law student. This was not well received!

"How about if two of us go and one stays" he continued.

The coppers were starting to get pissed off now, but personally, I thought it was a sound bit of logic!

"Fuck off or we'll arrest you" replied the copper with the leaflets. It seemed that faced with that stark choice, our legal challenge was over. A bit of a negative point in a day that had been so positive up to now. We'd have to fall back on plan B... hide!

Tim and I made our farewells to the law student, who seemed to still be up for arguing his case, and made our way down a track across the plain. Once out of sight, we sat down next to a barrow and ate our sarnies watching the sunset. As the darkness began to draw in, we noticed a number of lights in the sky. Not an advanced race from another galaxy come to rescue Stonehenge from the dark powers of Thatcherite ignorance, but Wiltshire Constabulary in their flying machines.

We watched the helicopters whirling around in the increasing darkness until it became apparent that one of them was coming our way, right down the track that we were on. It's searchlight illuminating the path and surrounding fields. We scurried into a nearby bush and pulled our dark coloured sleeping bags around ourselves.

What happened next is something I will remember for the rest of my life! The helicopter got closer and closer until it was hovering probably no more than twenty feet directly above us. The down draft from the rotor blades was whipping the bush up and the noise was deafening. The helicopter moved into the field next to us and hovered, scouring the ground with it's searchlight. My sleeping bag was over my head and I was peering out of the smallest gap I dared to make.

I'd seen the helicopter scene at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, and films such as Escape from Colditz where escapees are hunted down by uniformed authoritarians, but this was real. And they were looking for us! The whole incident probably lasted no longer than about thirty seconds, but it had a dream like quality that seemed to last an age.

Eventually, it rose back up into the sky and continued its path across Salisbury Plain. I turned to Tim and said, "Fucking hell! They really mean this don't they?"

Having a huge, whirring lump of state machinery nearly land on your head can do much to damage your resolve. Our plan to make a break for the stones at daybreak didn't seem quite as attractive anymore. We both felt pretty freaked out and we began to pick our way across the dark plain.

Every so often we'd meet with people heading to the stones and stop and chat. But by then we'd decided that we'd like to watch the solstice sunrise from a slightly less forbidding spot and we did just that from the barrows at Winterbourne Stoke.

We never found a festival, and after sunrise we began to make our way back to Norwich. We both walked the ten miles or so to Salisbury. On the way through Salisbury, I spotted the actor Windsor Davis and was amazed by the redness of his face! Tim decided to hitch, I decided to get the coach and slept the whole way to London Victoria.

While waiting for the Norwich coach to come in, a couple of coppers decided that I looked like a bit of a 'stop me and buy one', and I was forced to endure the indignity of a search in the middle of the coach station. But after that nights events, it felt a little bit like getting off lightly!

After 1989, I went again in 1990 with a mate called Bob the Beard (impressive facial hair).... remember hitching down n' getting a lift with a bloke going to Glastonbury and landing up in Amesbury.

We dossed in the woods by the river and hung around the Friar Tuck Cafe quite a bit. We met up with a few other folk in there and ended up with a bit of a posse.... including a couple of girls from Widnes and a girl who'd travelled all the way from Switzerland to see the solstice at Stonehenge. She hadn't reckoned on exclusion zones and police harassment, a got quite upset. Especially when she dropped a tab and fell into a bunch of stinging nettles.... poor girl had expected a big festival full of mysticism and earth magic.... and found something akin to the Berlin Wall!

Bob and I got on TV when a local news crew filmed us walking towards the stones!

Next year in 1991, Bob and I went along to the Spring Equinox, which consisted of standing on the road by the Heel Stone with floodlights pointed at us, and a ring of security guards around the stones. The odd brave soul would dare to jump the fence and run towards the stones. Only to be very roughly handled out again. Still, I got to hold Arthur Pendragon's sword and mumbled along to a service held by Rollo Mauphlin.

For Summer Solstice 1991, four of us hitched down there in 2 groups. I took a mate from Art College called Ed, and Bob took a lad called Paddy.

We got the lift of a lifetime when two lads from Stevenage (called Nick and Steve I think) picked us up in a lovely old J2 camper and drove us to a festi at a place called the 'Rat Run' near Andover.

It was a long, thin festival down a bridle path with a big dance tent in the middle. By now Ravers had started to appear at free festis, and there seemed to be a fair bit of friction between the city kids and the travellers. Dub rigs were being replaced by House music and there was a lot of bits of pink bog roll lying around. Pissing the travellers off, 'cos their dogs ate the human shit and died of distemper. So the whole festi had a bit of an edgy air to it.

The chaps in the J2 slung a tarp off the side for us to kip in, and we stayed for five days. I had a couple of dodgy Strawberry blotters which were a bit up n' down all the time, so I went for a laydown. I could feel every beat of my heart like a cannon shot and convinced myself that I was dying! As I laid there I became aware of a presence right in front of me. I opened my eyes not to find the Angel of Death, but a huge dog with it's nose pressed against mine... I jumped up n' chased it off, to find that the fucker had eaten all my sarnies n' had to spend the rest of the week cadging food!

Our best hitch ever continued when the J2 lads offered to drive us home to Norwich. On the way we stopped off at the stones and a few of us jumped the fence at the Heel Stone. Security gave chase while a bunch of tourists cheered and clapped us on. One lad made it into the stones and was filmed by a bunch of Japanese tourists as he was frog marched out again. We ambled on to Avebury where things were a little more chilled.

The next year, I gave Stonehenge a miss and stayed in Norfolk for a solstice party at Wymondham. I fancied spending my solstice eve celebrating rather than hiding... which is exactly what they wanted of course! I didn't go back to Stonehenge again for 11 years, when we stopped off on our way to Glastonbury in 2002..... I noticed that they've made the fence at the Heel Stone higher!

Kozmik_Ken Posted by Kozmik_Ken
26th September 2003ce

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