When one arrives to the Nine Ladies stone circle one cannot escape from hearing the noises of quarrying. Large lorries drive regularly up and down narrow Derbyshire Dale lanes – I ended up having an encounter. I had truly arrived to the site of the longest running protest camp in the UK history.
A visitor starts to feel there is something special of this place when one notices a large number of votives hanging from an oak tree nearest to the stone circle. Not all visits are recreational or by trekking parties but by people having religious beliefs who find this place spiritual. I had heard about the protests from my friend who used to go to the Stonehenge midsummer happenings before the children. I had come to a place that represents the many challenges facing the archaeologists, heritage professionals, local communities and environmentalists. We definitely have both local, national and world-wide issues. A parable of our modern times.
The Nine Ladies protest camp came to an end in April 2010. For almost nine years the ecowarriors manned and womanned their tree houses and tepees in order to fight the Peak District National Park being used for quarrying. Early this millennium a quarry company called Stancliffe Stone told about their plans to reopen Endcliffe and Lees quarries at Stanton Moor. A Stanton Lees Action Group was formed and a group of people concerned of the environmental consequences moved in to the vicinity of the circle and did not leave even if they received orders to leave. When the situation was the most heated in 2004 with an imminent eviction order hanging above the heads of the tree house dwellers, there were more than 100 protestors on the site.
Ultimately, the protesters did not leave until the then local government secretary Hazel Blears had decided that Stancliffe Stone's planning permission was to be revoked and the company got in exchange the right to quarry at Dale View, in an area that was less sensitive. The last 20 protesters did not pack up until they had the decision in writing. This was a story of co-operation and resilience where the ecowarriors in and out of tree houses worked with the local community to counteract the quarry that would have had grave consequences to the nearest village.
The stone circle lies now at the crossroads of trekking routes and a continuous stream of visitors passes by while visiting the Peak District. However, not all visitors approach in peace. There was a cardboard sign from Historic England noting the damage to the site from August 1. This was accompanied by a small feather votive. The letters carved to the 10th flat stone were easy to spot. In addition, one of the upright standing stones had painted graffiti on it. This is low-level heritage crime, something nobody is going to pursuit. Nevertheless, it is highly detrimental to this site and similar damage is inflicted to other sites. Even Colosseum does not escape this type of vandalism.
So, the lessons of my visit? The communities have to fight any silly plans, since it has been made quite clear that there is no local empowerment but central government tries to forward plans in the name of ‘progress’. They can be successful if the joint effort and an undeniable case for preservation are there. In addition, our heritage will require respect and this will take some education. Teenagers on a dull weekend evening will do silly things but they will perhaps know better in the future.
The protestors at Old Oswestry Hillfort, the spirit of Nine Ladies is clearly with you.
Photographs from the Ecowarrior Camp, not preserved to the new generations, on Colin MacPherson's web page.