Report on a day at Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle
Although this was carried out some time ago, the methods used and the lessons learnt still apply.
Interpretation Day about Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle, May 15, 2002
This is a report on the Interpretation Day together with recommendations for such events.
1. Preliminary Meeting, Thursday 20 September 2001
A meeting was held at Priest Weston Village Hall to discuss the best way to interpret Stapeley Hill in general and Mitchell's Fold in particular to people who are blind and visually impaired leading up to an 'open day' in May 2002. The cost of this meeting was met by a grant from the Shropshire Hills Countryside Unit's Sustainable Managed Access Project.
Those present were: Nigel McDonald and Catherine Murphy, Shropshire Hills Countryside Unit, Julia Ionides, Peter Howell, Eric Sayce, Denise and Terry Collier, The Dog Rose Trust, The Rev. Ray Fishwick, vicar of Middleton-in Chirbury
Stephen Harding and Jill Mayhew, Stapeley Hill Voluntary Wardens
Paul Saunders, entertainer, musician and storyteller, Andrew Jenkinson, Scenesetters
James Lanyon, Shropshire County Council Countryside Unit, Emma-Kate Burns, Shropshire County Archaeological Department, Laura Harvey, Education Officer at the Discovery Centre, Jon Keene, Chairman of the SW Tourism Group
Nigel McDonald opened the meeting by asking the group, as he had in his initial outline of the project which has been circulated, how they would get their message across to their intended audience. The question was also asked 'what does Mitchell's Fold mean to you and how would you convey it to others, especially those who cannot see?' It was agreed that the important feature of the area was its atmosphere and the reasons for this needed to be explored. Stephen Harding believed it was a magical place, a place where something is about to happen; Jill Mayhew stressed the sense of history and that there was always something to learn; emphasis on the long-time span was important. For Eric Sayce the starting point is myths and legends about the area, in particular the one of the cow and the witch as this can be followed up by a visit to Middleton-in-Chirbury church. James Lanyon thought that the visitor should be left alone at first to feel the atmosphere and initially make up their own minds about their feelings about it.
The literary connections and industrial history, such as the lead-mines, all need to be included. The initial discussion resulted in a decision that the actual facts and information about Mitchell's Fold and the surrounding area need to be kept separate from the 'atmosphere' which is a variable issue according to personal responses.
After lunch the group walked to Mitchell's Fold where they met up with Steve Brown who is an interpreter for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. For the walk up to the stone circle several of people wore blind folds so that they could experience for themselves what it was like not to see what was around them. Their guide described the surroundings and scenery. The path up to the circle is much improved but the kissing gate was not adequate for a visually impaired person to go through easily with a Guide Dog or someone with a backpack. However, the 5-bar gate can be opened.
At the stones the shape of the circle, which is actually egg-shaped, was discussed and Emma-Kate Burns described the archaeological information that had been gathered about the area. Steve Brown described his work and how he conveys information to a range of people with hearing problems and often blindness as well. Ray Fishwick talked about the circle as a place of worship and its importance to local people and service he holds each year to reconcile the links between the church and the circle. Andrew Jenkinson spoke about the geology of the area and the fact the carriage route went over the hill because of the marshy nature of the valleys below.
On return to the hall, over a cup of tea, Nigel McDonald asked:
'How can we convey our knowledge of the area to those who we are presenting it to - in this context those who are blind and visually impaired?
What points need to be emphasised? What had the day achieved?'
1. The peace and quiet
2. The track across the hill and its undulations created over many centuries
3. People looked or took more closely at their surroundings
4. Raised an awareness of needs and made people realise that what is
already being done can be improved on
5. The need to learn special interpretation skills
6. The consideration of a large number of issues and practical
arrangements for an interpretation day
7. The interpreters should react to the experience of others
8. More fun and enjoyment of the event on the actual day
9. It helped to make members of the group realise how the picture could be
painted for a visually impaired person
10. The importance of the input of local people was considered important
11. The realisation of the isolation of blindness and the development of
other senses to compensate
Nigel McDonald asked Julia Ionides to sum up for the day. She thanked everyone for attending and said she thought the day had helped to break down the barriers. It was important that local people were involved and she thought that those present has enough expertise among them to present a very good day. The whole process, initial meeting and preparations and actual day would be recorded, both photographically and in audio and put into a report which would be circulated to anyone who wanted to put on a similar event. For potential visitors there would be an audio guide and a tactile plan. The existing audio guide would be added to as suggested by Stephen Harding and Ray Fishwick. Gill Mayhew has written a piece on Stapeley Hill in all seasons which will be much enjoyed. Julia and Nigel will have a further meeting soon to discuss practical considerations such as the date, venues, transport, catering, guiding, which perhaps could be in conjunction with Catherine Murphy's walking group, storytelling in liaison with Paul Saunders.
Note: unfortunately Ray Fishwick had to return to Australia shortly after the meeting and there has not been a replacement for him.
Publicity and marketing.
2. What Next?
Those who were interested in taking part were contacted and their participation confirmed. It was decided that part of the programme would take part at the Bog Centre near Stiperstones as the County Council want to encourage the use of this building. In the end, owing to the large number of participants, the venue was changed to Chirbury Village Hall. The date was fixed for May 15, 2002.
Steve Brown, British Sign Language interpreter, was booked for the day and publicity
circulated to people with hearing impairments but in the end no one came.
Posters and publicity material was made and in December 2001 and January 2002 it was sent out to relevant organisations and publications, including the following:
- The publications Disability Now, RNIB's New Beacon, Viewpoint, the magazine of the National Federation of the Blind, On Track, the newsletter of the Confederation of Transcription Services. BT Soundings, a tape magazine for people with visual impairments.
Radio 4 programmes In Touch and Open Country, local radio and journalists who have shown interest in our work.
- To local and regional talking newspapers. One of the participants heard about the event on his talking newspaper in Hertfordshire. Playback in Glasgow is a popular talking magazine widely listened to across the UK. It was also on the Coventry Talking Newspaper.
- In addition about 100 letters were sent out to visually impaired people and organisations who are on the Dog Rose database. The information will be added to the database when it is updated in May following the event.
(Note: Audio and Braille information can be sent out free to people who are registered blind. Special labels can be obtained from the RNIB. Regular printed material cannot be sent out in this way.)
- An article has been written for Explore the Marches, a tourist magazine which came out in the Spring. An advertisement was booked and over 150,000 copies were distributed across the country, and in particular in the Marches area. The fee for this includes an article in the summer edition of the magazine, which has an even larger print run, about the event.
- An article was written for Barrierfree 10, the magazine of the Museums and Galleries Disability Association (MAGDA) about the day and a photograph of Eric Sayce and his guide dog Harry accompanied it. This came out in January and will be on the MAGDA website.
4. Summary of Publicity Requirements
- Widespread publicity is necessary to get the information around to those interested in attending. Although this takes time, it is usually all free.
The only publicity paid for was Explore the Marches and as this is only in print form,
we did not expect to get many participants from there but used it as a vehicle to spread the word about the work we are doing.
- Participants were asked how they heard about the event and BT Soundings was the one most of them listened to. One person had heard about it from Playback and its offshoot Grapevine from Falkirk. Another received the information from Insight issued by the RNIB.
- Suggested sources of publicity were the Tourist Associations and Cheshire seems to have well developed and useful one for visually impaired events.
- People attended from a wide geographical area.
- A group of 11, 5 visually impaired, came in a minibus from the Milton Keynes Walking Group for the Visually Impaired. They brought two rangers from Milton Keynes Parks Trust with them who could observe and pick up ideas. They also brought guides to go with them on the walk.
- A group of 7 came in a minibus from a visually impaired club in Aberystwyth - 4 visually impaired people with guides and 3 Guide Dogs.
- Other people came from Hertfordshire (2), Cheshire (3), Herefordshire (2 plus a Guide Dog) and Shropshire (7) plus one Guide Dog.
- All participants were active and able to walk at least up to the Stone Circle.
- Large print labels were supplied, for the benefit of the sighted helpers so that we knew who we were talking to
6. Information in Sound and Touch
Participants were given an audio guide to Mitchells Fold on CD to take home. Two additional sections had been recorded for the final version of the audio guide. Stephen Harding, voluntary warden, has described further historical aspects of the area and Gill Mayhew, also a warden and local resident, described what she sees on the hill when she walks her dogs every day around the year.
Participants were also given a tactile silk screen printed plan of the stone circle. The plans were distributed during the morning talks so that people could understand the route they would be following and the form of the circle. 100 copies of the plan were printed and 50 copies of the CD made.
It had been decided not to send out the CD to participants before the event as it was to be given out more in the form of a souvenir to take home. It would have been preferable to make a short version to send out before so that people would have more information about the place they were visiting. This could be an informal package of essential details about where, how, when and why. For those with email (the leaders of the two groups and one other participant communicated that way) it could be written and then be sent out by email.
The script of the audio guide has also been typed out so that people who have hearing impairments can read and enjoy it. This is a job which takes a long time as much of the audio guide was unscripted and spoken conversation is hard to type out convincingly.
7. Information to be sent out
For a day and walk of this type, detailed information should be sent out before. This should include:
- Type of terrain that will be encountered
- Obstacles that might be encountered - stiles, narrow bridges, no dog
- Length of the walks and if there are options as to the length
- Positive aspects of the walk
- Footwear and outerwear requirements
- If snacks and drinks are needed on the walk
- Refreshments that are being provided
- Provision or not of toilets on the walk and before and afterwards. This is a
basic but very important issue to many people.
- Make sure that they know that both guides and transport can be supplied if
necessary. Both should be made available, perhaps through the local
walking club and Dial A Ride service.
- Mobile telephone contact number for emergencies on the day
8. Practical Considerations
Allow plenty of time. It takes longer than you think to get people on and off transport, get boots on, queuing for toilets and other activities. The timetable we set out was ambitious and hard to keep to as both mini-buses arrived late.
In addition the number of people attending was larger than expected. We did not want to discourage people from coming as we were keen to get as wide a geographical spread of people as possible in order to demonstrate that there is a demand for this kind of activity and to tell people about Mitchell's Fold and what a magical place it is. We also wanted to
include as much information as possible to make people feel it had been worthwhile coming a long distance. However, it may be preferable to limit the numbers of blind and visually impaired people to 12. Again, availability of guides and transport can be factors when deciding on numbers.
Nearly everyone likes home made cakes! Make the day even more memorable by providing these if you can. Denise Collier made wonderful cakes for tea which was much enjoyed by all.
9. Form of the Day
The form of the day was talks about Stapeley Hill and Mitchell's Fold:
- Stephen Harding talked about his role as voluntary warden and what the area means to him, as well as some tales about it. He has a very distinctive voice and has taken part in the audio guide and would also be the leader of the longer walk over the hill in the afternoon.
- Andrew Jenkinson talked about the geology of the area and how Stapeley Hill was formed millions of years ago. He brought geological samples with him that people could touch and explore. These had Braille and large print labels attached to them.
- Emma-Kate Burns explained about the archaeological finds in the area that had been left by people living there in the Bronze Age. She brought original artefacts and replicas with her for handling; these also had Braille and large print labels attached to them. As she and Stephen Harding have pleasantly differing views on some of the finds on Stapeley Hill, they made a good double act which kept everyone entertained.
Working out how to organise the handling of objects in the time available for such a large group was a difficult problem that we still need to resolve. We had planned to put the items on tables around the rooms with someone nearby who could explain about them. This was the only solution for some of the geological specimens which were heavy to pass around. However, during the talks, especially the archaeological one, people asked if the items could be passed around. We did this but the problems that arise from this approach is that, as it is passed around, people are examining an object sometime after it has been discussed and are having it explained to them while the speaker is still talking. In the case of archaeology, real artefacts are scarce and precious, although Emma-Kate did bring several, and replicas are expensive so it is not possible to obtain many.
- Tom Wall of English Nature talked about the birds that can be heard in the area. These were played from a CD which had been specially put together for the event to illustrate the wide range of bird life in the area. The audience was well informed and knowledgeable about them. Tom also distributed combs and greaseproof paper and got everyone to 'cuckoo' with them.
- Paul Saunders then tried out bird calls on some wooden pipes but the audience, although amused, was not convinced of their accuracy. He then called everyone to lunch with his medieval bagpipes.
Also attending the day were:
- Two guides and a volunteer from the Bishop's Castle Walking Festival. They hope that they might be able to include a walk for blind and visually impaired walkers in their 2003 programme.
- Two members of the Shropshire County Council Countryside Unit who wanted to learn more about the area and how organise a similar day.
- A member of the Shropshire Hills Countryside Unit who is responsible for access in its broadest sense
After lunch everyone went by mini-bus or car to Stapeley Hill where we walked up the track to the Mitchell's Fold stone circle, led by Paul Saunders and his medieval bagpipes. The track and approach, of nearly 1 mile, is fairly smooth walking and everyone made good progress in the rather windy but dry conditions.
Along the way, Emma-Kate talked more about the people who had inhabited the area and Andrew explained more about the geology and what was underfoot.
Everyone listened delightedly to the skylarks who performed perfectly. Some people heard a curlew and the ravens were croaking. Tom suggested some people might like to walk through the dried bracken to enjoy the crunching sound underfoot.
At the stone circle, Paul got out his medieval harp. The strong wind plucked the strings in Aeolian fashion, which added to the mystery and atmosphere of the area. Paul then told the story of Mitchell's Fold and the magic cow and the witch.
People walked around the circle, explored the stones and then those that wanted to walked a further 3 miles, led by Stephen and Emma-Kate who continued their dialogue! The mini-buses then took the others back to the hall for tea before going back up the hill to
meet the walking group. Those in the hall were asked for their reactions to the day and all had enjoyed the day and learnt a lot about the area. The group enjoyed the longer walk and the mini-buses picked them up to take them back to Chirbury for tea. They walked faster than the mini-bus drivers had expected and were waiting for us to collect them. This emphasised the use of mobile phones for this type of communication, providing there is a signal in the area.
The day finished later than we had intended owing to the late start and the time it had taken to get people around. Unfortunately there was not time to visit Middleton in Chirbury Church, but perhaps next time. There is a description of it in the CD.
The lesson we learnt from this is that it would be preferable to have a base where we could walk from and not to have to transport people to where they are to start the walk. However, this is not always possible: either there is no suitable hall or meeting place, which was thought necessary in case the weather is poor and so that information can be given about the places being visited. Many halls are in small villages and the nature of the streets and
lanes, which are often narrow, must be taken into account when walking with a group of blind and visually impaired people. Traffic can be another problem, both from the point of view of the danger of moving vehicles and also obscuring the sound of the country environment.
As far as the interpretation was concerned, it is assumed that visitors would know little about the area and therefore the main story of the place to be visited should be the focus and the other talks hinged around that. We did this to an extent but could have made it even more pointed in that direction.
1. The Interpretation Day showed that there is a demand for this type of activity. There are a number of visually impaired walking groups around the country.
2. Publicity has to be widespread and sent out well in advance with reminders at a later date.
3. Information has to be produced, or available on request, in a range of formats - large print, audio and Braille.
4. Speakers and guides need to have training on interpreting and guiding visually impaired people. It is particularly important to stress the use of appropriate language and not use information such as 'over there' and 'up here'.
5. People are willing to pay a reasonable amount towards cost of the day but it would still need to be subsidised or sponsored if speakers and others taking part are paid, as is reasonable.
6. Participants seemed to appreciate the range of subjects that were covered and all said they had learnt something.
7. We asked people if they would like to know about future events, either put on by the Dog Rose Trust or other organisations. They all said they would and had no objection to their names being passed on to organisers of similar events with the parameters of the Data Protection Act.
8. The Dog Rose Trust will follow up this event by visiting some of the groups that attended and ask them about how they found the day and about their ideas for future events.
9. The Dog Rose Trust organisers were pleased with the day. There was a positive attitude of all who attended and a determination to encourage others to put on this type of activity.
Julia Ionides, Administrator, The Dog Rose Trust
From John Fleming, a blind participant on the Interpretation Day. We asked John to write a short piece about the day for sending to relevant publications and what he wrote is given below.
It was a very good day on the 17th and I was very glad to be there. Many
thanks for all your time and hard work given over to organising such an
On Wednesday 15th of May 2002 I had the good fortune to attend a day set up and organised by the Dog Rose Trust. I am a totally blind person, and the day's events were geared to accommodate and allow visually impaired people to appreciate and enjoy some of the lovely things around us in south Shropshire.
The day's activity was based at the meeting point of Chirbury village hall. In the hall we heard a few words from each of the speakers for the day just introducing us to the different aspects of the environment and countryside of the area. These included: the walking terrain with tactile maps, geological features with rock samples to handle, bird song with sound recordings and historical information with archaeological examples to handle. This gave a good taster to prepare for the afternoon's field walk.
After lunch, with the transport and helper/guides provided as needed, we visited Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle and had the opportunity to walk over Stapeley common. Each of the speakers expanded on their earlier talks 'on site' which set the atmosphere and gave greater understanding and interest to this ancient site and the surrounding environment. Those of us who took the option of the walk over Stapeley common, were lucky enough to hear a few of the more rare birds like the skylark, meadow pipit, cuckoo and curlew. In the late afternoon we returned to the hall for tea and cakes which were much appreciated after walking in the fresh country air.
The enjoyment and appreciation of the day's activities was greatly enhanced by the way in which the various contributing speakers explained their part. The provision of the tactile maps, used in conjunction with the audio descriptions of the different walks, particularly increased one's comprehension and mind's eye picture of the various parts of the South Shropshire countryside.
An excellent day such as this one, organised by The Dog Rose Trust and funded by the Shell Better Britain Campaign, demonstrates clearly that people disadvantaged by visual impairment can be included to enjoy and appreciate the pleasures available around us.
From Padma Cheriyan, Chair of Milton Keynes Walking Group
Just a short note to convey our congratulations and thanks on the success of the Interpretation Day yesterday. Our group enjoyed it enormously and we are all full of admiration for your hard work in organising such an imaginative event for the visually impaired. We have brought home many ideas that might appeal to our members. Kindly convey our most sincere thanks to all involved in making the day so very enjoyable to us.
Best wishes & kind regards,
Milton Keynes Walking Group
Bucks Association for the Blind