Nipped along Sunday to the National Trust visitor centre at Sutton Hoo and who should be there but King Raedwald himself! As you can see he was sporting a rather fetching three quarter length warrior jacket in tan leather and a nice replica of the solid gold belt buckle that is one of the most breathtaking Anglo-Saxon pieces in the British Museum.
A review of the visitor centre appeared several years ago in the Daily Telegraph. The reviewer found considerable fault with the centre, lacking as it does, so much of the genuine treasure, and further that the shop, car park and centre destroy the ‘spookiness’ of the burial mounds. Well the treasure belongs safely in the British Museum and there is little that can be done about that. And I suggest that anyone with a spark in the head approaching the mounds through the mist on a winter’s day would still find them suitably spooky. On other days they can seem as pleasant and bucolic as any English country scene.
Numinous or not, apparently many of the visitors are too lazy or uninterested to walk out to the mounds, preferring to rubberneck aimlessly about the shop and cafe. As the reviewer himself states however, the visitor numbers are up from around 3000 a year before the NT took over to well over 100,000 now. If only half of them wander over to the burial ground … Plenty of people at the mounds on Sunday. Each person’s light in the head is their own. I fail to see how the NT can be criticised for that. Not to omit that the NT stepped in to preserve this priceless area for the nation when nobody else would. It is now safely in their stewardship. There may be a worry about the intensively farmed land behind the mounds. I don’t know how secure it is and the article makes a valid point here.
What is wrong with a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake? Yesterday King Raedwald was behind me in the queue. He politely ordered an Anglo-Saxon sausage. Now you don’t get that at the British Museum.
We all have our moans and I have to take issue with the NT capitulation on the exhibition film. I have seen it described as being now ‘much improved’. Not to me it isn’t. The first film was all about ‘spookiness’. It told its story with atmosphere and images. It was short on facts. Obviously a critical mass of folk demanded more facts. The very same facts that are delineated clearly around the exhibition itself. I was worried a couple of years ago when on exiting the film a man behind me turned to a woman and said ‘What was that all about?’. It was perfectly clear to me what the film was about.
The female narration of this new film struck me as rather officious and more in keeping with the delivery of monthly sales figures than a feeling of Sutton Hoo. The poetry also lacked the gravitas of the former narration. King Raedwald was often depicted striding about the burial mounds. He looked lost as if he didn’t know the way around his own cemetery or how to get back to his hall. I kept hoping there would be a helpful slave to point him in the right direction.