Creating a heritage trail

A useful thing (among many) that Heritage Open Days can bring out is linking buildings and creating trails of heritage. This is done either by the history hungry punter selecting their desired scope of places to visit over Heritage Open Days, or by local organisers putting together their heritage links for people to enjoy.

© Tim Prevett - On a guided tour on the Heritage Open Days forum in Didsbury

Visitors’ pick 'n' mix

The array of local events put on by groups, civic societies or local authorities can offer a stimulating range of types of places to visit. At a recent networking forum, Steve Parle from Didsbury Civic Society talked about their varied programme of property openings in south Manchester. We also got a taster of their guided and self-guided tours, linking their heritage into a delightful trail with lots of ‘I’ve never seen that before’ moments.

For those in and around Gosport, their Heritage Open Days is shaping up to give people a huge amount of choice for DIY trails. As Gosport organiser David Taylor revealed on my RedShift Radio show, they are expecting to open up between fifty and seventy diverse locations for this year’s event.

Making use of the Heritage Open Days online directory, which goes live in mid-July, and locally produced event programmes, those eager to indulge in the smorgasbord of historic and heritage choices are able to build an itinerary as packed or as relaxed as they wish. All tailored to personal interest.

I remember fondly my own Heritage Open Days trip to Sale, south Manchester in 2010. I linked together a dovecote, cemetery and a church, all staffed by different groups. The dovecote was originally moved from somewhere else into the wonderful Walkden Gardens (something of a suburban Biddulph Grange in my opnion); we then headed for a guided tour of Brooklands Cemetery led by Sale Civic Society and sealed by a look into St Paul’s in Sale with a cupcake and cuppa. The scientist J P Joule had his pew here before his name was immortalised as the unit of energy. Next time you look on food packing and see ‘kJ’ - the ‘J’ is for Joule.

Creating a trail for visitors

Creating a trail for visitors, as a guided, or self-guided tour, is actually a very easy thing to do. And it does make sense if you want to direct people's attention to more than one place of interest, whether or not open over Heritage Open Days. My fellow blogger Lucie Thacker wrote a post about the benefits of creating clusters, which I can highly recommend.

Linking buildings and places together can be done by similarity of buildings (e.g. all of a certain period or style, by a certain architect or a similar function), contrast, variety of stories to tell, and whatever theme leaps up to be the thread by which to stitch a trail together. The fact that buildings being in the same town is enough to give common ground for a trail. When organised in an accessible, methodical way, the visitor can readily engage with the desired places. Children may need an extra incentive though - think along the line of a treasure hunt.

Outside Heritage Open Days, there is a tour of uninteresting objects in Manchester which actually sounds remarkably interesting. That’s creative ingenuity, and a trail example that demonstrates that you can create a tour on just about any theme! And fellow blogger Jim Herbert from Northumberland Council recently pointed out an interesting project developed by young people in Amble. AmbleGPX is a treasure hunt that combines online interaction with real world discovery. It shows that you can mix all kinds of media to link up places and encourage exploration in different ways.

If you decide to create a guided trail and need to brush up on your tour-guiding skills, you may find my post on guiding tours that people enjoy helpful too.

Examples from my portfolio

Which brings me to my own experience as a tour guide. Apart from straightforward “this is the story of this place” tours, my tours link heritage through a lense of the paranormal and mystical in ghost tours and the macabre through a grimey history tour.

This September for Heritage Open Days I will be putting four of my tours up for grabs, each with its own selected place and theme. In Crewe it will be my Victorian Accidents Murders and Prostitution tour and Heritage Lost, History Discovered tour. My Crewe Station tour engages the history and mystery of the famed railway junction (in its175th anniversary year in 2012), and the Nantwich Ghost Tour groups the Tudor buildings, Civil War happenings and the town’s Great Fire into a creepy exploration of heritage. To get an idea of what I do you can read Bill Pearson's blog who wrote a post after coming on a couple of my Crewe tours over Heritage Open Days 2011.

Do you feel inspired to create or follow a trail of buildings and history yourself?