Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/j ... ng-historyWill Self: has English Heritage ruined Stonehenge?
The summer solstice, King Arthur, the Holy Grail … Stonehenge is supposed to be a site of myths and mystery. But with timed tickets and a £27m visitor centre, does it herald a rampant commercialisation of our heritage?
The cafe at the new Stonehenge visitor centre was packed; it was showery outside but inside the atmosphere was thick with the distinctive aroma of wet Gore-Tex – a smell I always associate with the British heritage industry. Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage – and therefore the pre-eminent guardian of our nation's physical remains – was delighted: "I'm glad there isn't any room," he said, leading me between the tables, "it shows we're doing something right." He found us somewhere to sit, near a couple who appeared a little bit more alternative than the tourists: she was wearing a long gypsy skirt and a garland of daisies on her head; he sported a hessian jacket and held a staff topped with a carved goat's head. Smiling, Thurley called my attention to the ageing hippies. For him, they were yet more evidence that English Heritage is on track; the long impasse during which the facilities at this, the most salient prehistoric monument in the country, have universally been regarded as a disgrace, has at last ended. At 4.43am on 21 June, when the sun rises above the rolling plains of Wiltshire and, cloud willing, its rays come fingering their way through the grass to touch the mighty sarsens and bluestones of the Henge, it will be a moment of joy for all concerned: the battles of the past between druids, crusties, conservators, archaeologists, seers and sightseers are over – thousands of them will be there, ready to celebrate the dawn of a new age for the Neolithic.