Monday, 13 July 2015

Do we need to rewild our historical landscapes?

Rewilding is the cause of the day, and one I am completely in favour of. Where we can we should bring back lost species and habitats to the land, and protect our oceans and remaining wild places. In wildlife protection too we must learn to let go a little, and adopt a more hands-off approach to conservation, allowing natural processes greater space to flourish. Rewilding offers, for want of a snappy phrase, the chance redemption through restoration.

I have argued on this blog too that rewilding is a philosophy, not an end process, and one which should be extended to our towns and cities. The corollary of more wild land will be denser, greener cities. I believe it will benefit our health, our economy and make us happier. And there is growing evidence to support that theory.

Yet perhaps we need to extend the philosophy to encompass some aspects of our cultural landscape and archaeological heritage too, for there is, to me, something profoundly depressing and alienating with the way that parts of our heritage are dealt with. The commodification, the huge car parks, the vast visitor centres.

I accept that it is difficult. In world of billions of people and hundreds of millions of tourists, perhaps the potential for mass destruction is simply too great. Perhaps the only way to deal with such an onslaught of global sightseers, myself included, is to chaperone us into a pre-packaged cultural experience and send us on our way before we can do too much harm. Perhaps. But in doing so we are losing something too.

Stonehenge (old visitor set up, but I think the fences are still there)
As with nature the best archaeological encounters and experiences are those which form part of life, which are discovered, which contain some shred of adventure. Do people really take much away from their miniature train ride around whatever the hell it is they are looking at? I don't. Is it really necessary to raise millions and millions of pounds to maintain sites as museums that might otherwise slowly blend into the land around them, waiting to be rediscovered on a daily basis by walkers? Do we need another cafe and reception hub?

Again, I am aware that this may just be anger at the increasing walls we put around ourselves, or pointless longing for something that can't exist. I accept too that there are many many instances where this does happen, but I also think that there is a kernal of truth in this frustration. A site does not seem to be considered complete until it is not only protected but packaged, re-packaged and sold as an up-to-date experience. The interactive displays and virtual tours bored me as a child and bore me more as an adult. And they defeat the purpose, cutting us off ever more efficiently from the thing we are there to experience.

There is dishonesty too. You can, apparently, still walk very close to Stonehenge, it just takes a little effort. Yet almost nowhere will you be told this. The entire apparatus is geared to driving to a designated car park, paying £16 and enjoying the ride. And maybe it is doing its job, for it has stopped me from going.

Nonetheless, I would still like to see it. Perhaps I will try a dawn mission, a manufactured adventure, and see how close I can get, on my own. Again, maybe we are doing it right, but somehow I feel not. 

1 comment:

  1. Do go and visit Stonehenge. Despite the massive carpark and visitor centre, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The fences are gone and large areas of former farmland are now opened up for roaming, and there's lots of encouragement to do so. Credit where it's due.