Those were the good old days when history was looked upon in a different light. Then you could wander between the ancient stones and, if you believed in such things you were given the freedom to feel the energy they have gathered over their 2,000 or so years by using your fingertips.
Today, archaeologists are aghast at the ‘irresponsibility’ of the previous stewards of Stonehenge. They say even touching the stones with a bare hand can leach harmful oils from the skin and damage the fragile lichen which help protect them from the elements and the span of time. Not to mention those across the millennia who have left their mark on their surfaces. Apparently, if you look closely, one such etching among the many was made by no other than Christopher Wren who, indeed, went on to build glorious stone monuments of his own design.
To help keep them intact English Heritage insist that near on a million visitors a year to the site on Salisbury Plain stand behind a rope 20ft or so from the circle with their selfie-sticks and cameras.
But for those who want to get closer without being rugby-tackled by a high-viz jacketed guard, there is a way, so long as you are willing to pay a premium of £35, and arrive at dawn, you can step beyond the rope and walk among the ancient runes.
Restrictions are put in place and every visitor is told not to eat or drink, sit on or touch any of the stones within or near the circle or do anything which could damage their surfaces. And to make sure you abide by the strict rules security staff keep a distant, but watchful eye on their charges.
While quite a relaxed atmosphere, with just 30 people at a time, you still have a sense of being one to one with these much-revered stones. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to ‘accidently brush a stone’ while you wander between the magnificent ancient monoliths, but you know it is vital you stick to the rules if the stones are to be protected for future generations and if you still want to avoid being the victim of a rugby tackle.
But it’s not only the staff who keep a beady eye on visitors, a small group of brooding jackdaws shuffle around as the light of day radiates above the horizon and begins to warm their roosts. As they wake they ruffle their feathers and fly from stone to stone while seemingly keeping their eyes focussed on the selfie-snapping groups of people wandering around beneath them.
Unlike their human counterparts the jackdaws are not discouraged, I am reliably informed, because they don’t leave their 'mess' in the same area as they roost, so do not harm the surface of the delicate stones – a lesson we could have learned long ago, perhaps.