Monday, 7 August 2017

Tourist trap?

I've been  thinking a lot about tourism lately and the good it does versus the damage. 
Recently on Orkney we visited Maes Howe, the stunning Neolithic chambered tomb, where later, Vikings had left their graffiti. 
So often, I had pored over pictures and now I was about actually to enter the tomb.  Anticipation made my blood run faster.
We checked to make sure that no massive cruise liners would be disgorging their passengers on Orkney that day, then booked our half hour slot. 
We arrived fifteen minutes early, as instructed, and loitered in the gift shop full of tartan packs of shortbread and Celtic jewellery.  
By this time, the mystique had dissipated rather.  
As we waited,  I saw Pascoe trying out a virtual reality headset. It was for people who were not able to enter the tomb - not everybody could crouch down to get through the entrance passage. 
I tried it on.  I could see clearly the stone construction of the tomb around me.  Circles indicated where there were graffiti.  If I clicked on them it showed me the Viking runes and translated them into English. I could explore the tomb with an uninterrupted view
Why did we even need to go in, damaging it with our breathing and touching?

At last our turn was called, and a guide escorted us and sixteen others to the entrance to the green Telly-Tubby style tomb mound where swallows flittered round our head.
We crept along the lengthy passageway and the first thing I saw on entering the tomb itself was another swallow.  While everybody was assembling in the beautifully constructed stone chamber, I pointed out the swallow's nest to Pascoe, close by on the wall.  The guide said "Ah yes, those chicks are nearly ready to fledge."  As he spoke, the four young birds launched from the nest and whirled around our heads inside the ancient monument.
"Correction," said the guide, "The chickss have fledged."
Now a moment like that, I could never have gained from a VR headset.