A little enthusiasm, please!

This summer, during a lovely week in Pembrokeshire, my husband and I visited Pembroke Castle.

Pembroke Castle from outside

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.

Pembroke Castle towerWe’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.

Pembroke Castle from inside

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!



19 thoughts on “A little enthusiasm, please!

  1. Eric Klingenberg says:

    Sounds great you made me want to go! We had a similar bad experience in a house with a guide who hadn’t noticed we had a group of kids. We had the English dilemma of how quickly can we leave without appearing rude.

  2. WriteMindsWritePlace says:

    Quite agree, Helen. It’s the same in school. I ended up doing a history degree because I was lucky enough to have inspiring history teachers. But so many people I know said they hated history at school because it was boring. Such a shame. Visited Pembroke Castle a couple of years back and loved it.
    Francesca Burgess

  3. Saxon says:

    I, like Francesca, had a particularly inspiring history teacher at my high school & ended up doing a history degree. Small world hey! I believe that history, told well, should just be a collection of stories. It does have a connotation of old men, grey suits and dusty bookshelves. But as you say if the enthusiasm is there from the ‘teller’ most seem to be won over. I would caveat that by saying that even the ‘most enthusiastic’ story-teller should have some kind of time limit. 😉 Nice post & a follow from me. Cheers

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting! I see what you mean about a collection of stories – that’s very much what this particular guided tour was, each concentrating on an influential occupant of the castle, rather than just a list of names and dates. Great stuff!

  4. annestenhouse says:

    It’s really difficult this issue, I think, Helen. We stayed on in York last w/e and visited several guided sites. There was one where one of the guides droned. She was either oblivious to her audiences’ reactions – sidling round the room and sliding into the corridor when someone else entered by the first door – or she’d been given a script which she was following like a call-centre operator. And she was enthusiastic – can’t fault her there. Sometimes I just like the atmosphere and ambience unadulterated, but I suppose that’s the writer in me. anne stenhouse

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hi Anne. Lovely to hear from you. I certainly think that a droning voice can dull even the most exciting of narratives. Such a shame, though, if the guides don’t realise they are losing their audience with it! I agree that there are some places where it’s nice just to soak up the atmosphere, and if the guide is dull I have no qualms about surreptitiously slipping away! 🙂

  5. rosgemmell says:

    Great post, Helen, and fantastic photos. Sounds like a brilliant tour. I ended doing history as part of my degrees yet the one of the most boring teachers on earth spoiled any enthusiasm I might have had for the subject at school!

  6. gwenkirkwood says:

    I love history, especially the details of life and living in a different period and a good guide with knowledge and enthusiasm can make such a difference. I rather like the listening devices they have on the Royal Yacht where they point out different articles and points and you can either skip or listen again. Even my son and grandchildren approved.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hi Gwen. I’ve only tried the listening guides a couple of times – once at Muncaster Castle and once at the wreck of the Mary Rose, I think. You’re right, they can be a happy medium – useful if you want to dip in and out, or the tour times don’t suit.

  7. Lynne Shelby says:

    Not sure if it’s still running, but some years ago we went to Kentwell Hall, where everyday life was re-created each summer by people in Tudor costume, going about the house and grounds ‘in character’ – it was a brilliant way to learn about the details of life in Tudor times. I can also recommend the Regency House on the Royal Crescent in Bath where the guides in each room are ready to talk, but leave you to potter if you’d prefer. Also in Bath, the listening guides at the Roman Baths are excellent, with different tracks for adults and children.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for the tips, Lynne – it’s always good to hear of successful visits. I love places where the time period is recreated! And I really must do Bath properly sometime – I only went on a day visit years ago.

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