FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

Stoned Again

the Rollright Stones one midsummer night (purely for research, you understand), and the arrangements were probably more typical. Some two hundred people gathered late on the previous evening. During the short night, campfires flickered around the stone circle, each fire defining its own circle - of people anticipating a coming event with more than the usual degree of certainty.

They're mostly young, idealistic, nice. They're mostly roughly-dressed, often half-dressed; known as hippies, travellers, threats to civilisation as we know it. They chat and laugh. They play musical instruments. Some take it very seriously; one stood in the centre of the circle all night, re-charging his crystal.

A fair proportion of those present belong to the broadly-based New Age community; holistic medicine, self-discovery, Green politics - people who would as soon believe in witches as not. Strangely, no one seemed to be afraid of being petrified by that elder tree. The truth is, most of them were stoned already.

As the sky lightened, we made our way across the road and stood on the mound which shafted the king behind us. We stood and stomped against the pre-dawn chill, eyes fixed on the North-Eastern horizon, until liquid red leaked past a distant cloudbank, at 4.42 a.m. British Summer Time. There were no formal rituals, just a few individual salaams to the life-giver.

By five o'clock, it was full daylight, and the congregation was already drifting away, to make the best use possible of the following sixteen and half hours, bearing in mind that most had had no sleep last night.

The owner of the Rollright land had agreed to allow this gathering, somewhat nervously, on condition that the revellers left by 5 a.m.

When that time came, the owner (a formidable looking lady) started to hustle us through the gate. But a small band resolutely refused to leave - until they had picked up every last scrap of litter. When they did leave, the stone circle looked as though no-one had ever been there.

The next time I went to the Rollright Stones, my car was broken into - in broad daylight. Not a hippy in sight - it was, almost certainly, locals.

Apparently, this is becoming an increasing problem. Enthusiasts park their cars and tromp across several fields to gaze upon some megalithic monument. When they get back, their cars have been invaded

Take care. You'll meet lots of awfully nice people at megaliths, but remember that there may be barbarians lurking in the hedgerow.

This mid-summer ceremony, or anti-ceremony, has happened here nearly every year for at least four thousand years. It has outlived a hundred gods, and makes "The Mousetrap" look like a commercial break.

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