As It Happens

Local residents complain after 'Disneyfication' of King Arthur site

Bert Biscoe strongly disapproves of plans to add Arthurian-themed attractions to Tintagel because he says the real, authentic history of English village should be celebrated. Not the fairytale version.
Tourists explore the grounds of Tintagel Castle in southwestern England. (Daniel Lovering/AP)

A town councilor in the UK is objecting to the commercialization of Tintagel castle—a site where history and legend both run deep.

"Our concern is if English Heritage can come along and carve a face in the bedrock, how long before they carve a druid face in Stonehenge?" - Bert Biscoe

Legend has it that King Arthur was conceived with the help of Merlin's magic at Tintagel — the site of a castle in northern Cornwall, in the UK.  But Bert Biscoe, a town councilor says there is much more to the place.

"It is an ancient site that goes back into the early medieval period," Biscoe tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's got serious archaeological remains … but it also has significant geological remains as well. You can see the story of the planet unfolding in the rocks."

The face of Merlin was carved in to the rock by a local artist. (English Heritage)

English Heritage, which runs the site, announced plans to add an eight-foot tall statue of Arthur, a foot bridge to the castle and they've already carved the mythical wizard Merlin's face into the bedrock. The plan has historians howling.

"This site, in its own way, is as important in British culture as Stonehenge," says Biscoe. 

"Our concern is if English Heritage can come along and carve a face in the bedrock, how long before they carve a druid face in Stonehenge?"

Bert Biscoe is against turning the Tintagel site into a place just for tourists. (democracy.cornwall.gov.uk)

A group of 100 local historians objected to the "Disneyfication" of the site. While Bisoe is not affiliated with the group, he agrees completely with their objections.

"We take archaeology and history and geology and science very seriously," says Biscoe. "We want to present these things with integrity. We don't want to commercialize them and trivialize them because we feel is what you're doing is removing the quality of the story as a result."

English Heritage told BBC that plans for its "outdoor interpretation scheme" received planning permission last year, with support from locals. Biscoe laments that the process for receiving the permission doesn't do enough to consult with people.

Part of English Heritage's plan for the site includes this bridge, which they expect to be done in 2019. (MRC/Ney & Partners/Emily Whitfield-Wicks)

"We've always respected the archaeology, and we've always encouraged people to appreciate it and enjoy it but not to overly exploit it. It really is a matter of balance and involving the community," Biscoe says.

"People all over Britain feel excluded from the process that's been going on"

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