‘Well, it’s cold up there in Buxton’. First impressions – what do we want to tell foreign visitors about us?.

TellTale is hosting Slovenian interpreter, Janja Sivec. Here, as our guest blogger, she writes about her first impressions of Buxton – and its interpretation.

When we think of first impressions, we usually think of people we have met. But this time I had an opportunity to explore and think about first impressions that places leave on foreign visitors. Sitting at home in Slovenia, I could only imagine what awaited me in England. I knew very little of the place  where I would be spending the next 12 weeks, learning about heritage interpretation.

My first impressions were created in Manchester when I showed the ticket to the bus driver, and he said “Well it’s cold up there in Buxton”. I thought to myself, ok every place has a reputation but there must be more to Buxton than just cold weather.

 

Buxton

Welcome to Buxton

I must say that the bus driver was right; Buxton lived up to its reputation. It is cold here. But the other thing that made a great impact on me when I first arrived was the beautiful architecture, so different from Slovenia.

As I knew so little about the place I thought it would be a great experiment to see what I could learn about Buxton as a foreign visitor. My hosts had told me a little bit about the place and its history, but I wanted to create my own impressions through the steps that most visitors take.

I went to the Tourist Information Centre and the local Museum. The Tourist Information Centre (TIC), is well hidden on the edge of the Pavilion Gardens and offers tourists a very traditional, structured service i.e. tourist information, promotional materials, souvenirs etc. The most interesting thing about the TIC is an area where local artists display and sell their art. And that was a good first impression, the TIC support local artists in Buxton.

Talking to a/the very friendly Tourist Information Officer(s), I received basic information – about the town, how to get around, what to see and so on. All very helpful, but all very basic (such as Poole´s Cavern is 15 minutes’ walk away, the heritage route with the Opera House, the university with its biggest unsupported dome, The Crescent, St. Ann’s Well and the Museum & Art Gallery).

Interestingly we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the town before they started to explain what more there is to see around Buxton and in the Peak District. I tried to start a conversation about the real stories of Buxton, what is its identity, how do the Tourist Information Officers see it, but that didn’t get me far.

So I went on exploring.

DSC_0429My choice for the next stop was Buxton Museum. Walking through the town centre, up the hill, looking upon these amazing buildings, I was ready to hear a story of this charming town.

We didn’t start off on the right foot in the museum. When I walked through the doors they first asked me if I would like to use their computers. I was a bit confused! Are they part of the museums’ exhibitions, interpretation? No it was free internet access.

The Museum has three main exhibitions; Boyd Dawkins’ study, the archeology and geology of the Peak District in the ‘Wonders of the Peak’ time tunnel and an art collection display.

DSC_0428

From the exhibitions I was guessing that geology and archeology are very important to this area, but I didn’t get the answers why. A big part of the exhibition is about the Romans, but what is there to say about them? They were everywhere and from my first impressions of the town, maybe not the most important in its development. I was still waiting to get to the stories of Buxton that I see through the window today. Those stories came, but not in the museum.

I found out that the best guides and the best stories are the ones told by local people who  live in the town, know its history and character , and show you little hidden stories that you don’t get in the Tourist Information Centre or in museums. They tell you the stories that are not written in brochures and you wouldn’t notice walking alone around the town. But they are already my second and third impressions!.

So why are those stories usually so much more interesting than the official ones? Interpretation is based on what we think will be interesting to our visitors, but do we take the time to ask them if that is true?  Would somebody from Slovenia be more interested in Romans or in the Victorian era? There is no easy answer to that question, but I see it like this. We have Roman remains all around Europe, but we have to travel to the UK to see and sleep in a Victorian house. And Victoria was a queen! We don’t have those.

 DSC_0458

The other problem is what we think people know about us. I have heard the comment: “they probably thought you knew about Buxton water, everybody knows that!”

Do they really? I didn’t. 

Click here to find out more about  TellTale and our work.

For more from Janja read her blog (in Slovenian) – or her posts that will appear here regularly over the next couple of months.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Cultural difference, Good places to visit, Heritage attractions, Interpretation, Museums, Stories, Tourism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ‘Well, it’s cold up there in Buxton’. First impressions – what do we want to tell foreign visitors about us?.

  1. Regan says:

    Interesting insight. I’m assuming that Buxton considers its main target audience as ‘locals’ (by which I mean people from other parts of the UK). That being the case, things like Victorians, Romans and Buxton water may well be things that ‘everybody knows’. But how to bring ‘outsiders’ up to speed without covering too much familiar ground for everyone else?

    I actually think maps are a really helpful interpretive device in this context – they give visitors the lay of the land (literally) and can summarise a lot of important facts at a glance, particularly since a lot of history is a consequence of geography. You can put a lot of context in a well designed map graphic.

    In the Aboriginal Cultures Gallery at the South Australian museum, they recently added a large, backlit version of the “Tindale Map” of Australia. This map, developed by anthropologist Norman Tindale in the first half of the 20th century, shows the boundaries of the many Aboriginal nations and language groups that span the continent. Visitors encounter it on their arrival to the gallery, and I find most do spend a fair amount of time investigating it – looking for familiar landmarks but re-presented in an unfamiliar way.

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