Sombre Stonehenge

It’s a gloomy mid-winter mid afternoon at Stonehenge and a million tourists are jostling to take selfies against a background of a scatter of grey stones. OK, perhaps just a couple of hundred tourists, but still a significant number, given the time of year, the lack of sunlight and the afternoon chill. I’m here to share this wonder with a visitor from Canada. The stones stand mute, re-erected, solid in their modern concrete foundations, an incomplete cluster of weathered rocks of unknown purpose that will out-survive us all. There is nothing magical about this. Everything is grey, cold, emotionless, meaningless. An endless queue of traffic inches past on the A303, headlights creating a glittering ribbon in the gathering murk. The tourists, having snapped their photos, join the long queue for the shuttle buses back to the visitor centre, where they will return to warmth, food and many opportunities to spend money, avoiding a mere 20 minute walk. Is “heritage” just something we gaze at because everyone else does? Should we expect to be moved by the gaunt stones, or the mounds that once protected anonymous burials, or the sherds of chunky pottery and bleached bones in the visitor centre exhibition? It is difficult, having elbowed aside some smartphone wielding fellow visitors, to peer across the “do not enter” signs and the neatly mown grass and experience anything other than heritage-itis. My gloom matches the fading light…

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