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Tales of a Tenacious Tour Guide

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Whenever I'm leading a heritage tour group around Anglesey, I always like to read aloud Tacitus's famous description of our island ancestors, lined up on the shores of the Menai, preparing for the Roman attack:

"On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that [it was] as though their limbs were paralysed."

Rhys at Din Llugwy

I can't help but follow it up with "And not much has changed if you visit Llangefni on a Saturday night."

A bad joke, I know, but people enjoy a chuckle.

Over the past two years I have been involved with a project called Mona Antiqua, co-ordinated by Menter Môn with Cadw funding to provide coach tours of Anglesey, visiting key Cadw monuments.

The basic idea is to increase the footfall, to improve access, to promote the sites, and to improve the visitor experience by providing live interpretation by an expert. My involvement initially came through the North Wales Tourist Guiding Association (NWTGA), of which I'm an active member. Currently a Green Badge holder for Anglesey and Snowdonia, I'm training for the all-Wales Blue Badge.

So when they asked me, back in 2011 "Would you like to design a tour of archaeoleogical sites on Anglesey?" My answer was a quick "Of course!"

The brief that I was given was to develop something that might showcase Anglesey's past as the home base of the Druids. Easy enough in one sense, as we have plenty of stories, including my favourite Tacitus.

But in real terms, unfortunately, we do not have much to show people when it comes to the Druids, who we know were once so powerful and influential in British culture. Of course there's Llyn Cerrig Bach, the sacred lake into which so many precious objects were thrown - as votive offerings to a water deity -- in the late Iron Age. 

"The Chief Druid" from "Mona Antiqua Restaurata", 1723; public domainDespite the huge archaeological import of the hoard found there, Llyn Cerrig Bach itself isn't yet a bustling tourist venue. When we visit, we end up on a roadside layby looking over a lake that was certainly modified in 1942 - 43. It has atmosphere for sure but nothing tangible of the Druids to see. It's certainly a case of using one's imagination here!

The second part of the brief was that this interpretation should be done as a "First Person" narrative.

"Oh my God," I thought initially, "This means I have to dress up and act! But I'm a writer and archaeologist, not an actor."

I decided to squirm out this by opting for the persona of W.O Stanley of Penrhos, a famous antiquarian. That wouldn't require much acting per se, I could be an "archaeologist," and all I really needed to find was a waistcoat and an Indiana Jones hat.

I was also asked to include Barclodiad y Gawres in my tour, which really stretched things in terms of Druidical connections, but in between the dressing up and the jumping about between the various historical periods, we certainly had fun on the tours. I explained that there was a couple of thousand years between Barclodiad and the Druids. I don't think anybody quoted "trade description," but Din Lligwy and Barclodiad in one day is certainly a highlights tour.

As I said in my piece on Din Lligwy for this website, I have never taken a group there who have not been impressed when they walk through the woods and come face to face with those massive limestone slabs and the splendour of the round huts.

We usually end up spending at least an hour up at Din Lligwy. On a sunny day of course the views are wonderful, but my aim always is to ignite visitors' imaginations: the more questions they ask, the better the tour. Questions turn into a conversation, and together we all end up imagining life here during the Roman period on this gentrified farmstead. A day well spent. 

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