Friday, 25 November 2011

WOTGA Weekend 19-21 November 2011.


I'd been teaching a class of Welsh learners in the morning at Bangor University. The aim of the class was to get the group to chat in Welsh so I took in a couple of old 7" records by the Sex Pistols and a band called Essential Logic who were an early Rough Trade band, with the aim of discussing "songs that changed my life or had a big effect" - something along those lines.

Some of the class also attend another class of mine on 'Archaeoleg Gogledd Cymru / North Wales Archaeology' which runs every Wednesday morning in Llanfair PG.
Anyway we had a wonderful morning, they all engaged, some talked about Bob Dylan, some about "Flower Power" and another lady about the Rave scene in the mid-90s so as you can see they come from different backgrounds and are of different age groups.
But the point of all this is that this was an excellent start to the day, we had a good session and suddenly I realised it was nearly 12-30pm and I'd promised Dave Durrington NWTGA secretary that I would volunteer as a taxi service from the Celtic Royal Hotel in Caernarfon to bring some of our South Wales colleagues over to the Telford Centre in Porthaethwy (Menai Bridge).
So back to Caernarfon, just in time, quick snack in the bar, full car and back towards the Telford Centre.

As I arrived at the Telford Centre we were greeted by Dave Wagstaff who along with Dave Durrington had arranged the schedule for the weekend and we were then given a guided tour of the exhibition by Bob Daimond.
Due to the large numbers in attendance, part NWTGA local contingent and part WOTGA visitors it was decided to split the group in two, one group to do the Menai Bridge Town Walk - around Church Island / Belgian Promanade and the other to cross the Bridge with Bob. Both parties then to meet under the Bridge.

We had trained for our Green Badges at Menai Bridge, so it was a tough choice, follow a Menai Bridge guide around the same route or stick with Bob and see what we could learn. The walk along the Belgian Promenade is a good one but at the last minute I decided to stick with Bob and off we went along Telford's Suspension Bridge, stopping at the commemorative stone near the Bridge Inn, which is in the same style as the milestones and then proceeding to the middle of the bridge for a bird's eye view of Porthaethwy.

Crossing the bridge on food never ceases to be an amazing experience, it's interesting to note how close you are to the traffic and how narrow a squeeze it is for the larger vehicles to pass through the towers. It was also quite interesting to have Bob pointing out some of the older buildings of Porthaethwy and reminding us how little there was here before the bridge.

As we rejoined the other party beneath the bridge, once again, and this never ceases to be a superb experience, just the process of looking up at the bridge towering above us, the huge limestone blocks, the cars and lorries passing overhead. We moved along past the Bowling Green to look at the proposed site of the new Interpretation Centre near the old Porth y Wrach site.

Then back to the Celt for a meeting.For many of us our first WOTGA meeting. Quite some time was spent discussing Social Media. Some struggled with this and others embraced the new ways. My contribution to the debate was to agree that this could be a CPD action point but also to point out that Facebook and Twitter can actually lead to work.
As an example I was offered a job recently to guide Iraqi Students around Beaumarais following a posting about Siwan's sarcophagus on my Facebook page - so proof that this generates paid work. Look at it as advertising or promotion - but I am now convinced that it is of value to us as businesses to fully engage with Social Media.

Following the meeting we had an excellent presentation by Anthony Tavener on the Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens - a site we were due to visit the following morning as part of our CPD. What a man with a vision - quite remarkable what he has achieved in such a short period of time and without public funding. Hats off !

Neil Johnstone of Menter Mon also gave a short presentation, very well delivered and to the point as it was close to 7-30pm and everybody ready for supper after all the Menai fresh air. Neil of course has worked closely with many of us at NWTGA on the Mona Antiqua series of coach tours around CADW sites on Anglesey, a project which will continue during the 2012 season.

Saturday morning was the toughest of all jobs. "Guiding guides". No seriously I enjoyed the experience. First visit was to Cadnant Gardens. What a gem. Anthony took us around for first hand experience of what we had heard discussed the previous evening.
Interestingly, Plas Cadnant was built by John Price who was an agent for the Bayly family of Plas Newydd and who no doubt was inspired by the gardening of Humphry Repton at plas Newydd. I was recently sent an email by John Harris one of the guides at Plas Newydd after discussing with him the Plas Newydd Cromlech situated on the lawns near the cricket pitch.
A cromlech situated within the grounds of a hall like this could so easily have been a Romantic addition to the landscape but given that this area of S.W Anglesey on the limestone is an area common with other cromlechs we  assume that the cromlech does date to the Neolithic. This has been accepted to a degree by Frances Lynch (1995).
From John's email I read that Repton had in fact suggested placing a marble plaque near the cromlech to celebrate the Druidic origins of the stone. The Druidic origins were due to Henry Rowlands's theories presented in his book "Mona Antiqua Restaurata" - he suggested the capstones were druidic altars - "garreg yr allor".
Rowlands bless him was not entirely correct, but he was responsible for the first archaeological survey of Anglesey and his only reference book at this time would have been the Book of Genesis. So I do argue that Rowlands deserves credit not mockery - he was of his time - and the book is highly collectable these days.

So we may conclude that the cromlech was standing before Repton's time. he did not build it, unless this was a double bluff of course ??????
Following the visit to Plas Cadnant we drove towards Tai Cochion, Brynsiencyn, site of recent excavations by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2010 and 2010 on a Roman settlement near the banks of the Menai. Interestingly the Tai Cochion lies almost opposite to Segontium, the Roman fort at Caernarfon established in 78AD during Agricola's campaign.
The other noteable feature of the Tai Cochion site is that it is undefended - this is not a Roman Fort and pottery finds may suggest an early C1st date for this site. This means that within about a 20 year period of establishing the auxillary fort at Segontium we see a trading post here near Brynsiencyn - the Romans and the native (Celts ?) are trading and co-existing. So there must have been a degree of political and economic stability at this time.

Dave Hopewell of GAT kindly supplied plans of the site - as we were having to do this sat on the bus and looking over at fields with no visible remains.

We can also suggest of course that taking on the Roman army was never the best idea - so did the "Anglesonians" (Monwysion) simply decide to live with the Romans rather than fight them ?
The Menai Strait of course was crossed by Suetonius Paulinus  in 60/61AD for his attack on the Druid stronghold of Anglesey. In effect we are having to re-rite history here, the end of the resistance, peaceful co-existence and even nearby sites such as Caer Leb and Din Lligwy are suggestions of native "villas" - suggesting that local cheiftians or well off farmers may have been "Romanised" - both sites have produced material culture dating to the Roman period.

“On the opposite shore stood the Britons, close embodied, and prepared for action. Women were seen running through the ranks in wild disorder; their apparel funeral; their hair loose to the wind, in their hands flaming torches, and their whole appearance resembling the frantic rage of the Furies. The Druids were ranged in order, with hands uplifted, invoking the gods, and pouring forth horrible imprecations”. TACITUS

As we headed around the corner from Tai Cochion I'm sure everyone appreciated the views over the Strait back towards Caernarfon, my job was done and a "panad" was well appreciated at Anglesey Sea Zoo our next stop. I have visited the zoo several times with my young boys, so I skipped this and headed straight for the panad having done my hour or so on the mic.

The highlights of the afternoon for me was the tour of Holyhead Port and the rare opportunity to visit and indeed climb the old Lighthouse overlooking the Fish Dock.(Thanks Dee and thanks to the Maritime Museum boys)
The Port is of obvious interest as this is where we pick up our American clients who come in on the Cruise Ships so any extra information, TVPs, is always handy, certainly if there are any hold-ups it's always good to have some back-up stories.
We did quite a bit on Skinner - a lot of stuff that was new to me and some gory details of his death - which we may be able to use in the right circumstances or as we sometimes say "too much information" .... but along with Skinner's home, the monument and of course St Cybi's Church and the Roman Fort it's an understatement to say that there is some really good stuff here in Holyhead - even from a coach !
The other interesting feature is the Aluminium Jetty where the coaches turn around - this is an experience in itself and hard to imagine on a November afternoon like this what it's like during Summer with a Cruise in and hundereds of tourists trying to find the right bus ready for a day's outing in Snowdonia. Cruise days are certainly an experience, almost a "spectacle" with entertainment on the jetty, buses lined up, all systems go.

John Cave of the Maritime Museum also took a group photo on the jetty

Then it was on to the Lighthouse

And a view from the top

All in all a brilliant brilliant day out and a superb weekend. To return to my post-punk roots there was a song by a Leeds based band in the late 70s, a band called The Gang of Four and a song called "At Home He Feel's Like a Tourist" and it just struck me on top of the lighthouse that indeed  "At Home I am a Tourist" !

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