Tensions at the Stone Circles

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The Western Daily Press reports on the tensions and difficulties of balancing the needs and desires of various groups at the world-famous Avebury henge and stone circle. While not as instantly famous as Stonehenge some twenty miles away, the site has become a popular alternative gathering point with Pagans, travelers, and tourists for solstice and equinox observances.

The National Trust, which owns much of the village, has found itself caught in the middle of several different interest groups: English Heritage wants to preserve the stones, the council wants to keep roads open, the police want to stop anti-social behaviour, the pagans want to uphold their right to their religious observances and residents want the three-day ‘invasion’ kept to a minimum.

For now local residents have decided to continue allowing limited camping near the site, not so much for selfless reasons, but because they are genuinely afraid of “significant problems” if they outright ban camping at the site. Many still recall with dread observances from 2005 and 2006 when disorder and chaos ruled the day and seek to avoid a repeat if they can.

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In 2005 and 2006, residents complained of chaos and anti- social behaviour with complaints of drunken revellers urinating in gardens, rubbish left everywhere and emergency service vehicles unable to get through the village. The situation has improved in the since with first police and council officials clamping down on cars parked outside the designated car parks and then the National Trust not allowing camper vans and travellers’ vehicles into the main car park. It has meant numbers at the solstice have more than halved, with many travelling on to Stonehenge.

Despite the popularity of the site and the thousands of visitors, the residents are facing a town in slow decline without a proper post office, no school, and until very recently, no local shop. It’s little wonder the remaining residents are ambivalent about their seasonal “guests”. Meanwhile, due to the global economic downturn, sites like Avebury and Stonehenge are being starved of much-needed funds that could go a long way toward making improvements and easing tensions between locals and visitors.

I think it’s hard for Americans (and other non-UK residing Pagans) to understand the emotional and spiritual resonance these sites hold for the British Pagans (and the British in general), so I won’t venture to guess as to what could solve all the problems faced here. I suppose that time will, in the longer run, finish off the last vestiges of the declining village at Avebury. Allowing The National Trust (which maintains the site and the village) to transition the site into a purely tourist-going affair. But in the meantime, tensions will no doubt persist, and one hopes that local Pagan leaders will be at the forefront of ameliorating mistrust and fear among Avebury residents.