STONEHENGE will soon have something new to show off.
The site, dating back perhaps 5,000 years, is getting an early Christmas present in the form of a £27 million visitor centre.
It will include, according to English Heritage, “a bright and spacious café with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 260” and a bigger shop.
This prompted the BBC to recall a cheeky 1980s advertising campaign by the Victoria and Albert museum in London which promised visitors “an ace café with a nice museum attached”.
It might be premature to launch a similar campaign in Wrexham or Flintshire just yet.
After all, many like to walk to the top of Moel Famau. Though there are workers up there shoring up the Jubilee tower, they are probably not installing a kiosk selling hot chocolate and sand sculptures of the Clwydian Range.
Bailey Hill in Mold gets its fair share of foot traffic, as does Caegwrle Castle, where families used to picnic, despite the lack of castle-themed tea towels and fudge.
Then again, the castle is crumbling and the Bailey that gives Bailey Hill its name hasn’t been around since the 1300s.
It quite literally would be a café with part of a nice landmark attached.
And what of Flint Castle?
The castle is still imposing, despite being partially flattened on Oliver Cromwell’s order, with its Savoyard French-style construction, remaining towers and the traces of its moat.
Even so, the site has been targeted by vandals in recent years, and Welsh heritage group CADW only got around to approving the installation of a Welsh flag this summer, so a tea room is unlikely to surface any time soon.
For our more fully formed landmarks, like the National Trust-run Erddig and Chirk Castle, the tea-room has become an institution.
Joanne Thompson, assistant visitor services manager at Chirk Castle, had no illusions that some people swung by to sample the edible, rather than historical, goods.
She said: “Members of the National Trust know they can get a good cup of tea and a piece of cake. We know from feedback that people will stop off just to get a teacake.
Certainly at Chirk it’s part of their decision to come. I think if we didn’t offer proper tea or lunch options, it wouldn’t be quite the same.”
It is worth noting National Trust members have continual access to the houses and gardens, so there’s nothing to suggest these people haven’t already explored the antiquities of the castle.
Joanne said: “One of the draws is a lot of our produce is local, that’s one of the National Trust food policies. We’ve also got a farm shop where we sell items like locally sourced sausages, pheasant from the estate and a lot of our own and vegetables, as well as items from the Village Bakery at Coedpoeth.
“When we can’t source from around Chirk we bring in Welsh products like liqueur and cheeses. But the sausages are the biggest success.”
According to Joanne, the café is so popular it frequently runs at capacity, even though a kiosk helps cope with demand.
Will Chirk be planning a Stonehenge-style expansion?
Joanne said: “Well that’s a difficult one because of the nature of the building. It’s a case of finding the right location, but it is something we have been considering.”
So for historical sites that don’t have cafés or extensive gift shops, should they start serving up cream teas too?
Peter Alexander, 43, based in Rhyl, is a freelance heritage consultant for venues across the region.
He said: “It all depends on your audience and on the heritage attraction’s links to local businesses. I used to be curator of Ruthin Gaol. That didn’t, and still doesn’t, have a café or any refreshment area.”
He acknowledged there is a ‘National Trust’ audience.
“When I worked for them at Penrhyn Castle, 10 years ago, it was expected visitors would spend £7 while on site, over and above their entry fee or membership,” said Peter.
“At Ruthin it was much less so. At Plas Newydd, Llangollen, marketing the café was becoming as important as marketing the house and gardens when I left.”
He added: “Generally speaking the independent museums don’t have cafés. It’s not just a money thing. It’s due to staffing, mostly by volunteers.”