This summer, during a lovely week in Pembrokeshire, my husband and I visited Pembroke Castle.
I’m often happy to potter around such places on my own as long as there are decent information boards to read, but since we had plenty of time, we decided to join the free guided tour to give us an overview of the castle’s history.
We’ve joined guided tours around historical places before, and mostly the guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their own way . . . but Gareth at Pembroke Castle took enthusiasm to a whole new level. With an animated delivery, he exuded history from every pore. A retired history teacher, he made no apology for the fact that he would talk the hind leg off a donkey, given half a chance, and that his tour would probably take longer than advertised because he frequently got carried away. Ours lasted an hour and a half! The man knows his history. He loves his history. And even though he must have given the same tour over and over, he was more than happy to impart his knowledge with verve and no sign of tiring of the subject.
So, why am I so enthusiastic about this man’s enthusiasm?
Well, a good few years ago, when my daughter was around eight years old, I accompanied her class on a school trip to a historic house as a parent volunteer. It’s probably best that I don’t name the venue. The trip was fun overall with various different activities, but part of it involved a woman telling the kids all about life in the house at a particular period of history. Now, my daughter and I love history, but even I was bored. The woman’s delivery was okay at best, but there wasn’t much indication that she empathised with children of that age group and it all fell so flat. Dressing up a couple of the kids in period costume injected a little life, but it could have been so much more fun, somehow.
In short, there was no real enthusiasm – and of course it’s that element that will inspire the history lovers and, perhaps more importantly, engage those who otherwise might not see the relevance of a few relics or some old stone walls.
Which leads me back to Gareth . . . Our group was a mixed bunch of all ages, and yet he seemed to cater for everybody, from gruesome stories of attackers being spiked by the portcullis or having their faces melted by boiling urine for the kids 🙂 to a detailed account of the castle’s history, its occupants (in particular, the knight William Marshall and later Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor) and their politics for the adults.
He wasn’t in the least offended if the kids got bored or if people wandered away and came back later – I think he was just happy to have an audience for his passion and to be able to pass some of that passion on to whoever was willing to absorb it. The day we visited, the other tour guide was unable to come to work, so Gareth was taking all the tours that day – and yet I suspect his last tour of the day will have been as enthusiastic as the first!