Jane was happily browsing the BBC website last night, after checking what the weather would be like for her parents in York today. "Hmm," she said, "at least that's one sensible cut the government are making! The £25 million new visitors' centre at Stonehenge." The taxpayers' whack was actually going to be £10M, with other bits from English Heritage et al; but hopefully the whole project will be scuppered. We regularly pass the collection of grey rocks on Salisbury Plain on our way to Devon. I know they're important to Druids and hippies, but I can't think they need a state-of-the-art visitors' centre. Decent loos might come in handy, I suppose. The problem is, of course, remarkable as it is, Stonehenge is so hyped that when visitors actually get there, they aren't allowed near the stones and just see some old rocks standing in a circle - and to be honest it's not that impressive (though the original achievement obviously was). And you're charged £6.90 for the privilege! What a disappointment: you've driven all the way from your hotel in London, paid your entrance fee and walked round the henge, taken your photos - and that's it!
I've often thought we should follow the French example with the Palaeolithic cave paintings at Lascaux. The paintings there are at real risk from mould, and so they've closed the caves and created Lascaux 2, the caves in reproduction, so that tourists can still see the remarkable early art in pristine condition if not in the original. Bon idée! Why doesn't English Heritage commission fibre-glass reproductions of the stone circle, put them nearby and create an open access Stonehenge 2, where visitors can wander among the stones at will? I bet it would cost a fraction of £25M, and if one were damaged, no problem, it could easily be replaced. Meanwhile if you're interested in stone circles you'd do better a few miles north in Avebury, where there's a bigger and better prehistoric monument of stones and earthworks - which you can wander around free of charge and is much more fun for children.