Saturday, 24 April 2010

Who'd 'a thought it?!

With the exception of my mum looking sultry and a certain visitor from Northern Italy looking a little bit glazed (bottom right hand corner) all the other photos are of me when I was a few years younger (just a tad)!

Who'd a thought that I'd end up guiding at Vindolanda?...a life spent going from Jarrow (where I was born)to South Shields, Ivrea (Northern Italy), Newcastle, Hampstead, Cordoba, Lisbon, Zaragoza, Newcastle, Nottingham, Kew, Richmond, The City, Canary Wharf, Hurghada (Egypt), Haltwhistle, Greenhead and then Vindolanda....obviously with a few more deviations via London and Newcastle thrown in...most notably Venezuela and Costa Rica.

I'm not really showing off because I don't think that my life is particularly extraordinary. As the volcano ash debacle has shown - we all seem to live far flung lives these days.

Anyway. I digress. Somewhat.

Yes...I DID IT!!!

After all the trials and tribulations of my "annus horribilis" last year...I finally did it.

I guided twice at Vindolanda and had three postings at the newly revamped The Roman Army Museum. (If you get a chance to go and look at the new is well worth it. At the Roman Army I talk about artefacts - religious and household. Some are real and some are copies. The visitors come and talk to me after they've seen the Eagle Eye film. We have some great conversations.)

I was very nervous to say the least.

My first group numbered approx. 30 - a mixture of families - all ages and different nationalities. I was lucky with the weather both times. The only thing I forgot to mention on the first outing was the Roman "pub" or "thermopolium" but I did tell 'em about the water wells/Barcombe Hill, the stanegate (important stone supply road), the 4th century bath house, the Roman village with its high street and butcher's shop, where Hadrian's Wall was/is, where the Vindolanda Tablets were found, the reconstructions of Hadrian's Wall, the HQ of the stone fort, the posh house of the C.O. and the reconstructions of the Roman temple, shop, house, lapidarium (replica altar area) and crofters' bothy. Then the museum...and got them there so they could enjoy the sun and a well earned cuppa. All in 45 minutes.

The second group numbered six but it was no less an experience. It was fascinating (from my side) to have to vary my delivery in relation to the size of the grouping. Obviously the second outing was more personal. We had one Dutch guy with us and two from Wales so I tailored my information a little to highlight how many different nationalities were billeted along the Wall. The Dutch Batavians built the first bigger bath house at Vindolanda and the second legion from South Wales helped build the Wall. There was a welsh chieftain, Brigomaglos, who had a Christian burial at Vindolanda. His real tombstone is over at Chesters museum. (In fact a great swathe of native tribes probably spoke a form of Welsh when the Romans arrived. For instance Carlisle comes from "Caer" Celtic for castle or fort and was recorded as having the pre - Roman name: "The wall of the god Lugus" - "Luguvalos" which the Romans simply made it into "Luguvallum".)

So I'm chuffed to bits. I did it without losing my memory, falling over or generally making a twit of myself. My younger self would have been proud and amazed. Just like me, myself, I at 43 years. Euge! Hurrah!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Now I can tell you the whole story - Part II

Photo: View over Vindolanda from Barcombe Hill. You can see the new pathway...looks like a "Y" stretching up from the Chineley Burn towards the replicas of the Wall and to the fort. (Photo taken very recently by fellow volunteer:L.B.)

I told you last year about how I got onto the Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. Volunteer Guiding Course. (Read about it again here.) Just to give you a quick recap: I applied for the course...failed to get on it. Tagged along anyway and then got on it. Yeah! It involved a lot of lectures, site visits, reading, studying, biting of finger nails to the quik, projects, presentations, "reccie"ing of sites (reconnaisance visits), two exams - one theory and one practical. The theory one was a bit of a doddle in the end. The practical one was the clincher. We, all twenty of us (approx), were studying to become Yellow Badge Guides - Affiliate Level - in The Institute of Tourist Guiding. I haven't told you, as yet, about the practical exam. But now I will...

One batch of us were doing the Eastern sites on Hadrian's Wall - Wallsend Fort, Segedunum and South Shields Fort, Arbeia. Another batch of us (me included) were studying Vindolanda Fort and The Roman Army Musuem, the site of Carvoran Fort, in the Central section of Hadrian's Wall. The final bunch were covering the Western side - Senhouse Museum and Fort at Maryport and Hard Knott Fort in the Lake District. We only discovered late on in the course that we would only be examined at one of our two sites for the practical exam. On our cluster we would be examined on how good we were as guides at Vindolanda. (The Eastern Cluster would be at Segedunum whilst the Western Cluster would be at Senhouse Museum.) Overall we had to achieve a 60% pass rate.

Tom Keating and Jan Williams, both Blue Badge Tourist Guides, arranged (along with HWH Ltd.)for our course of study to take place after long consultation with The Institute of Tourist Guiding and administered it in a firm but fair way. This level two exam normally ends up with a certificate being issued but we were the first ones to get a proper yellow badge (if we passed the course). Again as negotiated by Tom and Jan. Good on them!

We started in April and finished at the beginning of July. Our practical exam at Vindolanda took place on a scorcher of a day - July 2nd. Our examiner was another Blue Badge Guide whom we'd not met before.

We all dressed smartly and sensibly as instructed. We couldn't wear hats (despite the sweltering sun) as the examiner would not be able to see our full faces. We all wore our Vindolanda Trust name badges. We (hopefully) had all the knowledge at our fingertips and bottles of water at the ready in our knapsacks in case we keeled over through dehydration. We were primed to be informative, humourous, concise and caring! ("Look out for those lumps and bumps!"...)

There we were all assembled in the atrium of the new visitor centre with the fountain tinkling merrily in the background whilst we tried not to listen to the pleasant ding-a-ling of the wind chimes and concentrate on what we had to do for the next two hours. We started bang on 10.30 am. The examiner (accompanied by a senior member of staff at Vindolanda) picked one of us out at random to start off and so away we went. It was amazing how much came out of our mouths/memories under ideal climactic conditions...

We tackled the introduction, then the Romano-Celtic temple, the water wells, the bath house, the C.O.'s house in the vicus/village (there's a story behind this), the butcher shop, the tree outside the fort (near the "pub"), the HQ or Principia (my turn!), the C.O.'s house in the main fort with the tale of the lost dog, the Northern Gate and latrine and roundhouses, then around to the S.W. area of the fort where the Vindolanda tablets were found. Up we went to the replicas of Hadrian's Wall, the interval turret and timber milecastle gateway, back down to the earlier bigger bath house (my turn again!), down the hill to the reconstructions of the Roman temple, shop, house and milestone. We [the temperature was now approaching Mediterranean levels] explained about the nearby replica lapidarium (altars and tombstone) across the Chineley Burn and the history of the museum. We then went inside the museum and pointed out the many delights of the smaller finds contained in various cases. How welcome was the shade and cooler air! Before we realised it our torture was nearly over. The tortuous tour was at an end.

The Blue Badge Guide and Senior Vindolanda Staffer went away to confer and compare notes. Ten minutes of suspense were terminated by wide smiles saying that the exam was finished and, most importantly, no-one had been asked to repeat any section. (We'd earlier been told that that was a good sign.) It began to sink in that nobody had failed... Thus, in time-honoured fashion, we went off to celebrate...waving at the newly unearthed altar dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus along the way......

The results of our hard won endeavours are shown here in the following photos. (See if you can spot me!) Our yellow badges were formally presented to us last Wednesday night at Tullie House by Linda Tuttiett, Chief Executive, Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. and Jan Williams, Blue Badge Guide. Our volunteer co-ordinator, Kerry Shaw, kicked off the proceedings with a slide show of photos taken of us over the course of the course (sotospeak) and handed over to Linda and Jan for their mini speeches. All in all it was a fab evening and such a joy to finally receive our badges at long last. We can now wear them with pride on our tours to be! If you are anywhere near Hadrian's Wall this Easter or Summer...come, see and hear us............! (Venite! Videte! Audite!)