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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."
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
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
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
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
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
Despite 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
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.