Stonehenge Before The New Agers

I have often heard that nobody bothered to go to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice until the Age of Aquarius brought folk with long hair and strange cigarettes to stay up to watch the sunrise, but W H Hudson of course, in his ramblings roudn the west country, has some interesting points to make.

“A little after midnight on the morning of  21st June, 1908, a Shrewton [the village he was staying in] cock began to crow, and that trumpet sound, which I never hear without a stirring of tghe blood, on account of old associations, informed me that the late moon had arisen or was about to rise, linking the Midsummer evening and morning twilights, and I set off to Stonehenge. It was a fine still night, withotu a cloud in the pale, dusky blue sky, sprinkled with stars, and the crescent mon coming up above the horizon. After the cock ceased crowing a tawny owl began to hoot, and the long tremulous mellow sound followed me for some distance from the village, and then there was perfect sinlence, broken occasionally by the tinkling bells of a little company of cyclists speeding past towards ‘The Stones’. I wa in no hurry: I only wished I had started sooner to enjoy Salisbury Plain at its best time, when all the things which offend the lover of nature are invisible and  non-existent. Later, when teh first light began to appear in the east before two o’clocck, it was no false dawn, but insensibly grew brighter and spread further, until touches of colour, very delicate, palest amber, then tender yelow and rose and purple, began o show. I felt then as we invariably feel on such occasions, when some special motive has called us forth in time to witness this heavenly change, as of a new creation:

The miracle of diuturnity

Whose instancy unbeds the lark,

that all the days of my life on which I had not witnessed it were wasted days!

O that unbedding of the lark! the world that was so still before now all at once had a  sound; not a single song and not in one place, but a sound composed of a thousand individual sounds, rising out of the dark earth at a distance on my right hand and  up into the dusky sky, spreading far and wide even as the light was spreading on the opposite side of the heavens – a sound as of  multitudinous twanging,  girding, and clashing instruments, mingled with shrill piercing voices that were not like the voices of eartly beings. They were not human nor angelic, b ut passionless, and it was as if the whole visible world, the dim grassy plain and the vast pale sky sprinkled with paling stars, moonlit and dawn-lit, had found a voice to express the mystery and glory of the morning.

It was bu 8 minutes past 2 o’clock whtn this ‘unbedding of the lark’ began, and the heavenly music lasted about 14 minutes, then deid down to silence, to recommence about half an hour later. At first I wondered why the sound was at a distance from the road on my right hand  and not on my left hand as well. Then I remembered what I had seen on that side, how the ‘boys’ at play on  sundays, and in fact every day, hunt the birds and pull their nests out, adn I could only conclude that the lark has been pretty well wiped otu from all that part of the plain over which the soldiers range.

At Stonehenge I found a good number of watchers, about a couple of hundred, already assembled, but more were coming in continually, and a mile or so of the road to Amesbury visible from ‘The Stones’ had at times the appearance of a ribbon of fire from the lamps  of this continuous stream of coming cyclists.  Altogether about 5 or 6 hundred persons gathered at ‘The Stones’ mostly young men on bicycles who had come from all the Wiltshire towns within easy distance, from Salisbury to Bath. I had a few good minutes at the ancient temple when the sight of the rude upright stones looking black against the moonlight and star-sprinkled sky produced and unexpected feeling in me: but the mood could not last; the crowd was too big and nosy, and the noises they made too suggestive of a bank-holiday crowd at the Crystal Palace.

At 3 o’clock a ribbon of slate-grey cloud appeared  above the eastern horizon, and broadened by degrees, and pretty soon made it evident that the sun would be hidden at its rising at 1/4 to 4. The crowd, howver, was not down-hearted; it sang and shouted; and by and by, just outside the barbed-wire enclosure, a rabbit was unearthed, and about 300 young men with shrieks of excitement set about its capture. It was  a  lively scene, a general scrimmage, in which every one was trying to capture an elusive football with ears and legs to it, which went darting and spinning about hither and thither among the multitudinous legs, until earth compassionately opened and swallowed poor distracted bunny up. It was but little better inside the enclosure, where the big fallen stones behind the alter-stone, in the middele, on which the first rays of the sun would fall, were taken possession of by a crowd of young men who sat and stood packed togetgher like guillemots on a rock. These too, cheated by that rising cloud of the spectacle they had come so far to see, watned to have a little fun, and began to be very obstreperous. By and by they found out an amusement very much to their taste.

The most amusing case was that of a very tall person adorned with an exceedingly long, bright-red beards, who had oon a Glengarry cap and a great shawl over his overcoat. The instant this unfortunate person stepped into the arena a general wild cry of ‘Scotland for ever!’ was raised, followed by such cheers and yells that the poor man actually staggered back as if he had received a b low, then seeing there was no other way out of it, he too rushed across the open space to lose himself among the others.

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