I hurried on, puffing and sweating, toward Stonehenge. I passed wooden signs pointing to places called Ratfyn, Larkhill, and Netheravon. There was a sign pointing to Middle Wallop, which I now see is nowhere near Stonehenge, but just in case I wanted to walk five miles in the opposite direction, I would know which way to turn. Note to self: One would pass Palestine to get to Middle Wallop, and one could also visit Nether Wallop or Over Wallop while in the vicinity.
It ended up being a four-mile hike, in 90F+ heat. I didn’t encounter any bulls; I also hadn’t brought a water bottle or a hat or applied sun screen. But what were a few age spots compared with the opportunity to see Stonehenge?
Now—would they let me in? I walked along a dusty gravel road lined with caravans and tents. Were they Travellers, or hippies, or what? Many had placards declaring, “Free the Henge!” or “Make the Henge Free for ALL!” and “English Heritage are Selling YOUR Heritage!” The protesters, who appeared to be permanently camped there, sat in lawn chairs drinking beer, smoking weed, and barbequing who-knows-what. They wore uniforms of tie-dyed shirts, dread locks, and lots of tattoos. Some were friendly, some were menacing.
Gee, I thought, this wasn’t a very appealing entry to such a historic site. Some people might find this scruffy protest charming, and if I hadn’t been tired and hot and thirsty and in a hurry I might have stopped and chatted with the ones who appeared nonthreatening. I gathered that they were protesting that English Heritage charges people admission to Stonehenge—£18.20 for adults. I can understand how, if you are unemployed as all these people appeared to be, that would be a prohibitive amount. However, given that the road was strewn with cigarette butts and empty beer cans, Stonehenge could look like Glastonbury post-concert in no time if they let everyone in for free.
I kept trekking and finally presented my printout to a guy wearing an English Heritage vest. He did that British thing—the low sucking in of the breath and clenching of teeth.
“Oohh…I’m very sorry miss,” he began.
Damn! I was afraid of this; he wasn’t going to let me in because I was 25 minutes late.
“This isn’t a real ticket, you see,” he said as he shook his head and looked at it as if he wished he could wave a magic wand and make it a real ticket, whatever that was.
“You’ve entered at the wrong end. You’ll need to go to the visitors’ centre and exchange this voucher for your souvenir ticket, which is what we collect here.”
“Wha … where is the visitor center?” I asked with trepidation.
“About a mile down that road,” he waved in the opposite direction to where I had come from, “You can’t see it from here.”
“But I just walked four miles!” I groaned. “This place isn’t set up for ramblers, is it? It’s all car centric.” I intentionally used the word rambler instead of walker, hoping he would feel that, despite my Mee’-neh-soda accent, I was sort of British, and he should let me in because this was my heritage.
He hesitated and then, after looking shiftily from side to side, said confidingly, “I’ll let you in, but you have to promise to go back to the visitors’ centre afterwards to exchange your ticket.”
“Oh I promise!” I lied.
“There’s a lovely café and gift shop there, too,” he added. “And you can take a shuttle bus.”
He had me at café.
Stonehenge. When I had asked Lynn and Richard and Possum at breakfast what they thought of it, Lynn had replied “It’s a bunch of big rocks in a field.”
And so it was.
Stonehenge was the latest in my grand tour of ancient sites, including Machu Picchu, the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul; Petra, in Jordan; Tikal, in Guatemala; Lalibela, in Ethiopia, and multiple other places in Israel/Palestine, Peru, Mexico, Malta, and El Salvador. At least I was in, which is more than I can say for the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni in Malta, which was closed for renovation when I arrived.