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Given the recent balmy (if somewhat damp) conditions the opportunities for visiting our favourite sites in the snow have been somewhat limited. A covering of snow can sometimes enhance a visit and allow different aspects of a site to be appreciated. The amount of snow and the character of the site can result in spectacular scenes and can result in a memorable day out. Remember though don’t take any risks and be doubly careful as conditions underfoot can be treacherous and always check the weather forecast as it is very unwise to get stuck outdoors .
It’s fair to say that every area has it’s fair share of ‘Hollywood’ or tourist archaeology sites – those must see monuments that aficionados such as us hunt down and visit on a fairly frequent basis. But it’s equally fair to say that those same sites are only the tip of the iceberg as far as sites worth a visit are concerned. And again, there are probably as many more sites again where there is nothing to be seen at all – all the archaeology is buried, or covered in dense undergrowth.
Once again, I’m visiting West Penwith in Cornwall, an area many would argue is one big Hollywood site. It’s difficult to travel down any of the lanes there without being within view of at least one prehistoric monument. And yet, after 15 years of visiting the area several times a year, I am continually surprised to find yet ‘one more site’ I’ve not previously visited. In the early days I relied upon the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic Portal web sites to find my way around – both excellent resources in their own right. And the Defra Magic web site allows access to information on many Scheduled Monuments (and numerous other data layers). But more recently I have come to rely on the Cornwall Council Interactive Map for my jaunts to the southwest.
The site works in a similar way to the Defra Magic application, whereby different layers of data can be activated or deactivated as required. I usually start with a standard set of layers activated; Leisure: Rights of Way and Right to Roam land, and Historical: Sites and Monuments Records and Scheduled Monuments.
There are many more layers of possible interest to choose from, but even with this subset, when zoomed in the map gets very busy! Sadly, there’s no way to filter based upon era, but the prehistoric sites are designated by red markers which are easy to see. Clicking on the map on a specific point (or area) will pop up a key panel with links to additional information – for the sites we’re interested in these links usually point to the Heritage Environment Records (HER), held on the Heritage Gateway web site. If clicking on an area which may be covered by more than one item, e.g. a settlement site within a Right to Roam area crossed by a Right of Way, the Key panel will show the first item it finds, but other items will be indicated in the header bar (“1 of 3”). The items can then be scrolled through using the supplied back/forward buttons.
The system is very easy to use, though the amount of information presented can be a bit daunting at times! Of course, it would be equally simple to use the Heritage Gateway to perform a more precise search, but using the map enables you to see where the selected site sits in relation to other HER records in the immediate area (and those all-important rights of way!)
Using the Cornwall Interactive Map and the Heritage Gateway I now have a plan of sorts and a list of targets to visit for my upcoming trip, some of which will no doubt feature in forthcoming articles.
The Heritage Gateway is an excellent resource covering the whole country, and I’m sure other counties will have similar facilities to Cornwall to explore their own areas via mapping – if you know of any good examples, please let us know in the comments.
If I have one small criticism of the Heritage Gateway, it’s that despite the initiatives for Open Access Archaeology, it’s just not possible to link through to the source documentation and reports. Sometimes (especially for us non-academics), a citation is not enough.
ArchaeoSoup (an excellent video series on YouTube) raises an interesting question close to my own heart: Disabled Access at Archaeological sites and Museums. Now I’ll state up front that there has been many a time when I’ve had to leave my better half in the car whilst I trundled off across fields, or up stoney lanes to visit some of our sites – it’s not easy pushing a wheelchair in such conditions! But there again, there have been several pleasant museum visits that we’ve enjoyed together.
Museums are often situated in older buildings, not designed for the modern requirements of wheelchair access. Steps and narrow doorways abound, though it has to be said that many have done as much as they can to enable access. Sadly though, we’ve visited several where upper floors have been unavailable due to the lack of a lift. Even the venerated British Museum can be difficult to navigate with a wheelchair – we wasted a lot of time, and covered a lot of ground looking for suitable lifts on our visit there last year. Even the volunteer guides weren’t always aware of the location of the nearest lift, or the shortest route to get to a particular gallery.
The legislation covering ‘disabled access’ seems to be a minefield. An internet search found lots of information, but very little that a lay person may easily understand. The following seems to be a summary of the main legislative points though (taken from the Disabled Access UK web site)
Disability Discrimination Act 1995
Together with related Codes of Practice, it introduces measures aimed at ending discrimination and gives rights to the disabled.
- Since December 1996 – it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason related to their disability
- Since October 1999 – providers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services
- From October 2004 – requires service providers to assess obstacles and make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.
Disability Discrimination Act 2005
Designed to extend rights for disabled people, and clarify and extend provisions of the DDA 1995. It extends the definition of disability, and gives protection against discrimination for people in public service, such as councillors.
There are strong new disability equality duties for the public sector in delivering its services.
It also removes the grey area of private members club exemption from DDA responsibilities, and extends and details Part 5 DDA Transport.
Amendments on housing adaptations are also introduced.
On a visit to Flag Fen last year, we were pleased to be offered free use of a powered wheelchair, which was suitable for most of the terrain there, allowing entry into the reproduction roundhouses, a real experience! But more recently, West Stow could only offer access to the display buildings, and the pathway only went so far into the actual ‘village’, leaving the reproduction houses off-limits. This, we were told, was due to ‘soft ground’ but the question remains: if Flag Fen (build on a fen!) could overcome such obstacles, why not West Stow?
Of course, not every site is suitable for disabled access, particularly when you start to look at some of the ancient heritage sites that we love so much here at the Heritage Journal. The requirements of agriculture and stock control, and the sheer remoteness of some of the sites means they will be forever out of reach of disabled visitors (or indeed, those with young children in pushchairs).
So how does this all sit with the CBA stance of ‘Archaeology For All’? Archaeology for Some? Why not tell us about your experiences of access at sites? Were staff, where available, helpful and understanding? Or have you had a nightmare visit to a heritage site?
The English Heritage Commissioners have just joined the chorus of scepticism over the proposal to split up the organisation. They have said they can’t commit to supporting it until “unacceptable financial risk” is mitigated. The plan is for a one-off £85 million grant for a new organisation to both manage and improve the National Heritage Collection of more than 400 properties and then to become self-financing within eight years.
It is based on the Government’s projected figures of an 86% increase in membership and a 31% increase in visitor numbers. Nice growth if you can get it but clearly the Commissioners have doubts. They “welcomed the proposed model” (how polite!) but have warned that its success is “critically dependent” upon having “financial certainty” (or “enough money” as most people say!)
The Heritage Alliance have similar doubts: “Visitor figures are notoriously volatile as events such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease have shown…..it would only take one or two significant events to derail this model” (like unprecedented bad weather and flooding for instance?). They also recommend the money is paid in one lump sum to avoid a change of heart by the Government! The National Trust has also suggested that after eight years when the money is gone the model may become “unsustainable”.
Harmless, simple, elegant and inclusive. It’s a shame that it won’t be going to Stonehenge this year. But next year it will. Surely?
(Incidentally, the Disabled ramblers’ Winter Solstice ramble at Stonehenge has also been called off – due to parking problems. That’s two highly worthy, harmless Stonehenge solstice events cancelled this year.)
Last Monday Amesbury Town Council said they were cancelling the event “due to problems with access to the planned starting point at Stonehenge, predicted traffic problems and rising costs.” Congratulations then to Councillor Fred Westmoreland and the Trustees on behalf of Amesbury Museum, for doggedly facing up to and overcoming a series of objections and obstacles.
The route has had to be changed but as Councillor Westmorland said: “It would be a different route and not involve Stonehenge but it is better than nothing. It would be cheap, cheerful and local. It is short notice but I’m sure that people would want to be part of it and it would be a shame not to have a lantern parade at all.” As big fans of the parade we totally agree. The precise nature of the “problems with access” at Stonehenge is unclear and it’s a real shame the Stones won’t be included this year but so far as we understand it EH are in favour of the parade in principle so the important thing is that there will be a parade, the tradition has been established, and hopefully it will include Stonehenge next year when the new access arrangements have bedded in.
It’s no secret why we are such fans of the parade. We think that public engagement with Stonehenge should involve a much wider spectrum of the public than at present. In addition, we think holding solstice celebrations in what may well be the authentic spot at the authentic time at minimal public cost is far preferable to holding them at the wrong spot at the wrong time at horrendous public cost. The fact that this year the former gathering will be absent and the latter one will be taking place is pretty hard to defend.
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
Now that millions of pounds worth of new infrastructure is in place at Stonehenge is it time to consider if the way it is used should be expanded? It’s going to remain a mass tick-box for the world’s tourists of course, plus it will host Solstice and Equinox gatherings, but is that it? Shouldn’t it now be used for a whole range of events and interactions?
We’ve previously suggested some new ways Stonehenge could be used. However, as Sarah May has pointed out there’s always a tension at heritage assets between the need for conservation and the perceptions and aspirations of the many groups that see them as theirs: “There is a process by which buildings, places and objects come to take this more distant role permanently. They are extracted from the lived landscape. No longer available for the kind of rough and tumble interactions they may have enjoyed, they become objects of veneration.“
However, if that tension can be resolved (and surely it can be by applying a test that few would criticise: does the event conform to the need for conservation and safety?) then isn’t there a strong case for expansion? If it’s everyone’s monument then isn’t everyone entitled to use it in a way they would like, not just some people? It’s hard to see a downside to that proposition (except that the monument needs to earn its keep, but that can no doubt be worked round by adjusting the where and the when of events). Also, it’s a proposition that has already been tested with great success: the lantern procession seems set fair to become an established part of the cultural calendar and the Fire Garden event last year was a great success (prompting Mike Pitts to write: “Like summer solstice but with gentility…. The stones close and personal and erratically wrapped in flames and paraffin smells in the growing darkness, thousands of people politely queuing, one man making gentle electronic music surrounded by a quiet crowd, a comfortable friendly gathering …. Soft, arty French eccentricity from La Compagnie Carabosse”).
This is not to say that anyone should be deprived of their current usage. They have a right (subject to the need for conservation)- but so does everyone else and at present the range of options is narrow – for no obvious reason other than the fact that that’s how it is.
The latest “Stonehenge Round Table” meeting has just been held. They’ve been held monthly for many years which is a lot of words and a lot of miles so we were interested to hear it was announced that a new forum for Stonehenge management is going to be set up, evidently so that people can “input their thoughts; ideas, experiences etc.”
The obvious question is: will that be “in addition to” or “instead of” the physical meetings? It’s hard to see how the latter would still serve any purpose – particularly since they have long been subject to complaints about expense, procedural shortcomings and general lack of effectiveness, all of which might be improved by an online facility. Also of course a tiny number of people turn up compared with how many may visit the forum. So it will be interesting to see what happens.
Also, if an online forum is to be launched it would be irrational for there to be facilities for public discussion of solstice celebrations without also allowing discussion of (for instance) the forthcoming admirable Amesbury lantern procession and any other possible gatherings involving completely different sets of stakeholders. A more catholic (with a small c !) approach to planning and designing celebrations or gatherings at Stonehenge might grow out of this simple decision to set up a forum and that could surely only be a very good thing? So again, it will be interesting to see what happens.