Thank you to Erin Lloyd Jones, a participant on the recent ‘A Way with Words’ course for this post. James Carter and I have run WWW as we call annually at Plas Tan y Bwlch in Wales for many years. It is a highlight in calendar, a place where word-smithing skills are hammered and forged. It feels appropriate to me that a course that focuses so closely on the skilled use of words has its home in country so appreciative of its bards. The story of Ellis Evans than ERin recounts below was even more poignant in this context.
As Erin says, James and I go back to Plas in February with our newest and most contemporary course, ‘Interpretation Now’. That’s the course for fast-tracking people who have to make good decisions about how to communicate with contemporary audiences about places. See here for more details.
Over to Erin …
What do you get when you mix the 18th Century mansion of Plas Tan y Bwlch, the stunning Snowdonia National Park, a whole week to be creative and, on top of all that, first hand access into the minds of two leading heritage interpretation experts? You get A Way with Words.
I could begin by saying how lucky I was to stay for a week at the gorgeous Plas Tan y Bwlch – an eighteenth century mansion overlooking a lush Welsh valley within Snowdonia National Park. I could talk about how brilliant it is to have a National Park Study Centre in Wales. And how about how fortunate I am that I can call working in places like this ‘work’?
But the real reason I feel lucky is spending a week with inspirational people in an inspirational place, learning the tricks of the heritage interpretation trade.
As an archaeologist, I see it as my job to make heritage fun, accessible and understandable. I have been working in visitor experience and interpretation in the heritage sector for over a decade and think it is the best job in the world. I share with people the stories of the places: my aim is to get them as excited about heritage as I am.
One of my biggest rules – keeping it relevant. Every place has a story and every story has a theme. This is the golden rule of interpretation!
Spending a week with interpretation experts Susan Cross and James Carter on the “Way with Words” course honed my skills and really got me excited about heritage interpretation again. It was a great hands-on experience with a lot of practical workshops, and the chance to work on real interpretation projects we had taken with us.
One of my colleagues was working on one of the most haunting stories in Welsh heritage and history.
Every year, the Welsh National Eisteddfod is held, celebrating the best of Welsh culture. It is Europe’s largest cultural competition, and every year the event culminates in the “Chairing of the Bard”. This is where a special chair, crafted by a local carpenter is awarded to the author of the best poem in Welsh verse.
The name of the winner is called out to the crowd, to make themselves known and receive their prize. But 98 years ago a name was called, but no-one replied. The winner, Ellis Evans of Trawsfynydd, or ‘Hedd Wynn’ to give him his bardic name, had been tragically killed in Ypres during the First World War.
The Eisteddfod chair was draped in black cloth and taken in procession to Evans’ home Yr Ysgwrn, Snowdonia. The Eisteddfod of 1917 is now known as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair.
Yr Ysgwrn is now in the care of Snowdonia National Park Authority, and a replica of the kitchen of the small Welsh ‘bwthyn’ (cottage) has been created by local school children at Plas Tan y Bwlch. Alongside this display is a replica of the Black Chair, recreated in minute detail by 3D print under the guidance of the National Museum Wales.
I am delighted that James and Susan are running a second course at Plas Tan y Bwlch in February 2016. I intend to be there. It is entitled ‘Interpretation Now’ and will delve deeper into planning themes and plans for countryside and heritage sites.
If ‘Way with Words’ was anything to go by I will walk away with my head swimming with ideas – and ones that I can actually action, ones that will stay with me with a new passion and, importantly, the ability and skills to take them forward. The location was superb, and a week to get my teeth stuck into a project was fantastic. But the real reason I feel lucky? I remembered why I love my job so much -and rediscovered a Way with Words.