'The Gods are angry.' yelled the TT into the tearing wind as we walked as fast as we could towards the stones, coat collars turned up against the hail, shuddering with cold, the day suddenly as dark and icy as it had been bright and warm not ten minutes earlier.
All Trefusis Minor said was that it was bloody freezing, and he felt we'd seen enough bloody stones. I didn't reprove him for saying 'bloody'; the hail was pelting too fiercely at my face to want to open my mouth to speak, which is possibly why he said it twice, and anyway,the rest of my energy was focused on keeping the TT from being blown off her whippetty legs by the force of the storm sweeping across Salisbury Plain, up and over the stones.
Neither of the children had had any enthusiasm for a trip to Stonehenge, and visiting in foul weather had killed what tiny shred of goodwill remained toward the place. It was my idea to go and the weather was unfortunate. Knowing how I love the place, they tried to kindle in themselves a spark of interest, only to have it extinguished by the drenching we received in the short distance from the Land Rover to the stone circle and back again.
Stonehenge rouses a dormant Pagan sensibility in me; I can feel a touch of the old magic crackle out from the bluestones, feel the smoothness of the Sarcen stones, cool as snakeskin, without even touching them. It's an ancient place and I'm fanciful enough to feel greatly awed by it, to find it easily as sacred as Salisbury Cathedral, directly south of the stones themselves. It is much nicer on a rare fine day, but you do feel its power when it's brought a tempest down on your head.
Possibly, I said as we got out of the rain, the Gods were angry and sent the storm because Grandad called the new visitor's centre 'an abomination'. If I were an ancient God whom no one but a handful of Druids bothered to worship anymore, I think I'd be rather pleased with a development that cost £27million - I'd think it a fitting tribute to my majesty. But my father remembers the times he used to bring us here when my sister and I were even younger than the Infant Trefusii - when one could leave one's car at the side of the road and clamber all over the stones, lie on one's back in the centre of the circle, staring at the clouds moving in the sky, lean against the towering Sarsens and wonder at leisure on the impossibility of how they arrived there. Now, it's roped off, you have to admire from a distance, try to get close to the belief of the people who made it by means of an exhibition, rather than touching and imagining and letting your unconscious collide with more than four thousand years of mystery.
Anyway, I can wax all lyrical about having been able to play in and on the stones as a child, but I'm sure that in 2014, English Heritage is right to put the public back at one remove - I don't think a million people a year came here from all over the world in the 1970's, and I daresay the stones might suffer if people were still allowed to touch. I think my father is wrong about the new visitor centre and new way of approaching the henge - it's a huge improvement on what was there until recently, and the exhibition is thoughtful and interesting.
The Chief Druid is, apparently, unhappy that there are actual skeletons on display, rather than resin replicas - part of me thinks he is right and the originals should be buried back in their mounds, but then I slightly feel like that about the mummies in the British Museum and poor Pete Marsh and the petrified remains at Pompeii. Though, let the dead bury the dead.
So, go to Stonehenge. Go on a fine day. Do not take reluctant children if you want to quietly commune with the ancient religion. I am going to book for one of the special dawn tours, make some offering to the Gods in the hope of kind weather, and sit and stare at the stones, pondering on the questions of four and a half thousand years.