National Trust Lecture in Saintes
As you may already know, Salisbury Museum and the Musée archéologique in Saintes have exchanged exhibits from their collections for a year. In Saintes there is the Stonehenge room at the musée and in Salisbury museum there is the collection of Roman artefacts discovered in Saintes.
In May 2012 a group of ramblers came to Salisbury for a walking holiday. Part of their itinerary was a visit to Stonehenge, not just the stones but a guided walk around the Stonehenge landscape. Catherine O’Sullivan, an SSTA member and a National Trust volunteer guide at Stonehenge conducted them, giving her commentary in French. To say that they were amazed by what they saw would be a considerable understatement. They, like many others, thought that Stonehenge was just the iconic stones, they had no idea of the richness of the archaeological landscape in which they stood. To many it was the highlight of their week.
On the strength of this, last autumn Catherine received an invitation from Saintes to go over and to give a talk, in French of course, about the Stonehenge landscape as part of the musée’s Stonehenge programme. Very bravely she agreed and on Wednesday 25th September she arrived in Saintes where she was greeted and accommodated by Bridget Brennan. She did, however, have to pay for her keep, for apart from the talk she was asked to give presentations at the musée to two groups from the local schools, one of primary age and another of secondary age.
The main event was the talk on the 27th at 7 pm at the Hostellerie Saint Julien, which, having been part of an old convent, gave the occasion an historical ambience. An audience of over fifty people came to hear the talk. Catherine started by giving some background on the National Trust, for which there is no equivalent organisation in France. She explained her role as a volunteer guide at Stonehenge and how the trust manages the landscape whereas English Heritage manages the stones. That complication out of the way she explained a little about the history of Stonehenge and how it developed over one thousand years. She then gave her illustrated “virtual” tour around the landscape, describing the barrows and the cursus, amongst other things. Using a map she was able to describe the position of Durrington Walls in relation to Stonehenge and explained the latest thinking that Durrington Walls was the land of the living whereas Stonehenge was the land of the dead, with the river and the avenue being corridor between them. Then, asking her audience to use their imaginations, she ended her talk by describing the possible journey taken by the procession on the winter solstice and what they would see as they approached the stones.
The audience obviously enjoyed the talk and there were some questions afterwards. There must have been a programme on French TV about Stonehenge a few months ago covering the controversial subject of lay lines, so this was raised. Apparently questions of this nature come up at almost every talk given on Stonehenge so Catherine was able to answer by saying that there were many mysteries about Stonehenge and this was just one of them.
It was not all hard work for Catherine and Bridget and other members of Amitiés Saintes Salisbury looked after her very well. One of the highlights was when Marie Claude Daguerre gave her a conducted tour around the town. Catherine’s visit was a great success and has done a lot towards Anglo-French relations and the Salisbury Saintes Twinning in particular.