No more druid key rings

June 22, 2010

I spent the day driving around some very nice parts of Somerset and having some interesting sites of interest pointed out to me by our resident archaeologist. They included the possible site of King Arthur’s residence and also the hill on which King Alfred gathered his English troops to drive out a Viking army. None of these places would ordinarily have caught my attention, being as they were largely pretty but featureless hills; but with an expert guiding you a new perspective on the seemingly ordinary can be achieved.

We were near to Stonehenge and we got to talking about the stones. My boss used to work there and he spoke of numerous run-ins with hippes intent on…he was never quite sure exactly what they wanted but they were always apparently very adamant that the other tourists would be banned from the site when the hippy takeover eventually materialised. Again, it just goes to show there’s no group in society more in need of a bit of self reflection than your supposedly free thinking, everybody relax hippy.

The Government recently announced the cancellation of the new visitor centre project which had been in discussion almost as long as the place has existed. I wondered briefly whether this was a bad thing and would it only have spoiled or detracted from the site – i thought probably not, as long as it was well designed and sympathetic and as i understand it the current visitor centre is a hole in the ground reminiscent of a cold war bunker. This weekend i read a piece in the Daily Mail (the parents were down…) and it had a typically ‘isn’t everything shit in Britain’ piece by a columnist who had recently been to Stonehenge and had their visit apparently ‘ruined’ by someone who had told her where to park plus the very sight of the shop selling shortbread and blankets arrghhh – ‘what is wrong with this country!!!’. Obviously shops on tourist sites are a nulabor invention and something you’d never get anywhere else in the world. Anyway, this columnist was ecstatic the visitor centre had been cancelled and saw it as a key step in reclaiming British history for the Mail readership.

But a decent visitor centre – properly done and with tat reduced to a minimum – is an essential method of communicating what is important about a place and why. Otherwise the non-expert like me is left to admire the very beautiful circle of stones or whatever it is but is only able to access a limited part of the story. And seeing as this is one of the most important sites in the whole of Britain surely we should be making an exception to the belt tightening for this very special place. That now looks unlikely and that seems rather a shame.

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