Here at Oxfordshire's Rollright Stones - a modest prehistoric circle, unspoilt, uncommercialised and on my land - I was until this year only too pleased to see the few dozen regular pilgrims who turned up to greet the sunrise on 21 June; last Saturday, however, faced with several hundred travellers and other visitors, plus dogs, encamped in a field immediately opposite the monument, I decided the time had come to withdraw the welcome mat.
For the police, there are, admittedly, special problems at Rollright, since the circle stands in Thames Valley territory while the adjacent road belongs to Warwickshire. As the first vans lumbered up on Saturday morning, the Warwickshire force responded quite enthusiastically by coning off lay-bys and sending drivers to other (non-Warwickshire) parking places; there would, I was assured, be officers on the spot until midnight. No harm then in dashing home for an hour to feed the cats.
By the time I got back, at about 10pm, the police had disappeared, taking their cones with them. Some 80 large vehicles filled the lay-bys and stretched as far as I could see along the road. Alone, telephoneless and in gathering dusk, I had to decide whether to risk letting the festivities overflow into the stone circle, or to take a firm line and close the monument for the night.
I decided to close the gate, thereby condemning myself to the role of an unlikely Horatius. For six cold and weary hours, supported by my little dog and a young doctor who had arrived hoping to spend a quiet night in his sleeping bag under the stars, I strove to explain to would-be visitors that the small monument was quite unsuitable for a large gathering. Many accepted the position and crossed back to their field; others were less co- operative and, as the night wore on, became more aggressive; a particularly determined quartet did manage to force their way in but, much to the disappointment of a photographer from the Guardian, there was no sign of robed Druids.
Around 4am, at long last, a solitary Thames Valley policeman arrived. Like me, he was probably very tired; at any rate he showed considerable reluctance to 'get involved' and patiently explained that his duties were confined to keeping the peace - if people invaded private land and declined to leave, it was civil trespass and no evictions could take place without a court order. Yes, he agreed, this could take weeks and cost a lot. He remonstrated mildly with a woman who swore at me, and then radioed, unsuccessfully, for a colleague to relieve him.
Later, Warwickshire's officers, so keen on traffic control the previous day, seemed less inclined to tackle the stationary vehicles whose drivers were now in their tents sleeping off last night's party. The law allowed them a reasonable time. How long? Four hours, it seems. As they had all far exceeded this limit, I suggested some effort could be made to move them on and give other visitors a chance to park in the lay-bys. The threat of pounds 20 fixed penalty tickets struck me as pretty useless, since I imagine few fines are ever collected from motorists of no fixed abode.
I don't blame the police. No doubt they are undermanned and overtime is expensive - also there can be no satisfaction in this sort of operation while the Public Order Act lacks any teeth. Troublemakers know how to exploit it, while landowners no longer dare give genuine visitors the benefit of the doubt. Major problems such as the occupation of Castlemorton, and minor ones like mine, will recur every summer until somebody (who?) finds an acceptable site (where?) for these gatherings.
Perhaps there are no answers. For myself, I can only give notice that if any midsummer worshippers want to celebrate at Rollright in 1993 they will have to supply watertight references and identity documents. And I shall require a simply enormous deposit, returnable only when the last of them leaves the site.
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