“Why do you want to visit that? It’s just a few rocks off the motorway!” This was many people’s response when hearing that I’d be going to Stonehenge. My brother and his wife, who both live in South Korea, had come to visit for the week and wanted to see one of England’s most famous prehistoric site. I wonder what it is that neutralises a person to their own country’s relics of the past but then they completely u-turn and transform when visiting cultural heritage sites abroad.
As expected our visit to Stonehenge was cold, wet, grey and spent under hoods and umbrellas. It was perhaps one of the strangest visiting experiences I have had to a cultural site. I became more aware of how people conduct their visit. From my observations people had fleeting engagements, quickly read the interpretation panels, had their photo opportunity and then returned back to the visitor cafe. And that’s exactly what me and my family did! It was jarring and became a stark reality of how culture is valued. It could have simply been the awful weather that encouraged visitors to take haste. Or is it that “culture” is widely available and becomes disposable to the consumer? It allows visitors to have their photo opportunity and then leave without ever really connecting with the site and the past.
As someone with a profession in heritage, it’s a bit shameful that this is my first time exploring Stonehenge in the twenty seven years of me living in England. However, it is not so surprising when put in the wider context of domestic visiting trends to cultural and heritage sites.