I’m one of the generation whose family archive holds – somewhere – a childhood photo that you wouldn’t be allowed to take today. It’s of me sitting on one of the fallen stones of the Henge. I seem to recall there was an ice-cream involved somewhere. There may even have been a picnic, probably involving fish-paste sandwiches, orange squash and a thermos.
Years later we took our own children there. No such photo opportunities now. Visitors are shepherded round a circular path at a safe distance from the stones, allowed to Look But Don’t Touch, before trotting back through the tunnel to hand in their audio guides. It’s all very necessary, given the numbers of folk involved, but it’s kind of sad. It’s hard to get a perspective on our ancestors’ incredible achievement when you can’t stand underneath it, run your hands over the surface of the stone and think, how did they get that up there? swiftly followed by, If that falls on me, I’m dead.
The ‘visitor experience’ at Stonehenge has been under discussion for years. Everyone agrees that it’s unsatisfactory: nobody can agree on what should be done about it. However… it looks as though something may be happening at last. For some pretty pictures of how things might turn out, have a look at the English Heritage proposals.
Still not much chance of being able to sit on the stones with an ice-cream, though. Like the taste for fish-paste sandwiches, some things just aren’t going to come back.