Coales' Notes: A finger in the heritage pie

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: It is terribly difficult. I said to Di I obviously could not stop them getting involved with a commercial revamp of the poor old Wormwood Centre. But it would be best if I had no involvement.

She wondered if I might be interested in another idea, something her friend Lottie (the supposed journalist) had come across, while covering our Unton Festival of Literature - namely Unton's ancient standing stones. I asked, what about them? She said that was the point: apparently they were just standing there, totally unexploited. 'I think it's time we had a finger in the heritage pie.' Rory added, 'Gordon, you are that finger.'

I'm not going to turn down a few days in the country in this weather. I have made arrangements with the secretary of the Unton Historical Society, Mrs Henrietta Legg.

WEDNESDAY: By train to Unton. Staying at Old Boar Inn. On the way down I looked at a copy of Lottie's article - so far unpublished (not surprisingly). It does shed some light on the person who appears to own these stones: 'Jim Cory lives in fear. And the source of his fear can be summed up in a single phrase - the Travellers. 'New Age Travellers? Dark Age Travellers, I call them,' says Jim . . . Jim's fears focus on one date in particular. June 21. The Solstice.'

There was also a pamphlet waiting for me. 'Unton's Ring: The Bronze Age On Our Doorstep' by Mrs Legg. I asked the barman, but he'd never heard of it - always the way with locals - or her.

I took a bit of a walk this evening. It is extremely pleasant round here. And I think my plan must be to try and extend this project for as long as possible - reluctant though one is to have any part in commercial-ising unspoilt pieces of country.

THURSDAY: Mrs Legg ran me over to the farm in her car. She said the tragedy was that the ring had never received official recognition from English Heritage. There was nothing to stop it being damaged irreparably. But luckily Mr Cory was a visionary, wholly committed to his treasure. It sounded tricky. The first thing Mr Cory said was: 'So when's that article coming out?' He mentioned there'd already been a piece in the local paper.

It was only a short walk to the field in question. Quite an impressive thing, in fact. There are eight stones, three of them slightly taller than me, though it is a little hard to see how they could ever have been part of a ring. I felt I was expected to be appreciative. I remarked it must be a real privilege to have these timeless memorials in one's stewardship.

Cory said: 'Truly. And imagine the scene. The trembling line of sacrificial victims. The cries of beasts and men. Young girls. The high priest, bringing his knife down in a tense arc, again and again and again. The fosses gurgling with fresh blood. Living history. I don't want a bunch of hippies coming down here and polluting the countryside with their primitive habits.'

I said I wasn't quite clear, though, what he did want. He pointed to the other side of the road and said: 'What I would like, ideally, is to have the car park and the restaurant over there. Access tunnel coming underneath. Put this whole field under one of those geo-whatsit domes. And in the middle of it, the ring itself, restored somewhat.'

I said it was starting to sound like an 'Experience'. He replied: 'Right. The Unton Ring Experience. Interactive human sacrifice, that kind of business. Something to attract proper paying customers - not these crusties or crumblies or whatever they call themselves.'

We walked back to the house. I asked what kind of trouble he had had from travellers previously. He said warily: 'None so far. But there's the fear.' I asked, in that case, mightn't all these pieces in the papers be almost an invitation. He replied, even more warily: 'Now you use the word invitation. Which I find most interesting. Because it could work that way couldn't it - in the twisted mind of the crusty? And the fact is, Mr Coales, it had better.'

I said so he actually wanted an infestation of travellers. He said: 'Naturally. It's the only way. Ancient monument under threat. Marauding hordes. Neighbourhood up in arms. And the heritage lobby. Might finally knock some sense into the powers-that-be. And I'm only asking to build a kiosk - at this stage.'

He had no faith in the press. He intended to track down 'the convoy' himself and distribute flyers, advertising solstitial events on his property. 'Or what would you advise?' I said I noted his ideas with interest, and would consult with my colleagues. He is clearly almost deranged, even for a farmer. But I think I might be able to squeeze another week out of this one.

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