During the time of Covid health of myself and my clients could only be assured by implementing several measures. Some are fairly easy such as cleanliness and sanitising. As the tours I am running are in the open air with room for social distancing, I opted not to use a mask unless clients requested. Not only would it ruin the traditional costume effect but would impede lip reading and communication of my expressions.
However, the most important measure maintaining social distancing- brings extra challenges. I teach tour guides and I am always stressing the fact that in the days of apps and recordings we have to use the advantage of being real people - show our personality, read our audience's mood, use eye contact and body language. This gets more difficult the further away our clients are - as does another important role of a guide keeping clients both safe, away from traffic etc. and comfortable out of sun, rain wind whilst also doing our best to not disturb businesses and other members of the public.
At the time of writing, in Wales we are only able to guide one other household but I hope that soon this will be lifted as, after all there are more than one household in the shops at anyone time and that is inside. I planned for when we can have many households but every household in the group will have to be two metres away from every other so my first measure was to limit the number in a tour to 8. Also, though I have a loud voice, it is not fair on people outside the tour if they have to endure a loud commentary ruining their quiet enjoyment of the streets.
I also have to be heard and know from previous experience clients generally like the technology of listening devices where the guide speaks into a microphone and clients have ear pieces and can hang back to walk slowly or take a photograph without missing the commentary. It also means a commentary can take place whilst moving.
However, this technology does require guides to change their techniques. For instance we can't do our usual "on your right.." as you don't know which way they are looking and you have to be extra careful with safety advice to ensure clients come to no harm if they are guided, while walking, to look up at say, a rooftop. I have also had clients lose me as they hang well back reassured by my voice and then find in a crowded place or roads with lots of alleyways they don't know which way I've gone if directions are not spelled out.
My first decision was to decide between apps on phones or self-sufficient machines. There are quite a few apps that work between the guide's phone and the clients. Some use blue tooth, some data and some wi-fi - locally if available or via the guide carrying a portable router. There are disadvantages and advantages in all of them. Overseas clients would find data expensive and in parts of Wales you cannot even get 3G. The apps are evolving quickly with add-on such as "find me" if clients get lost or the ability to download images such as "what this ruin looked like" However the main disadvantage I could see was the time and complications for clients who would have to download an app. My tours are short generally less than two hours and I didn't want a large portion of that time to be wasted setting up the technology. Also, my primary reason for using them being constant social distancing and the variety of ages and operating systems on clients' phones meant that I wouldn't be able to just say "give me your phone and I'll sort it" So I decided to purchase "play and go" hardware.
The main disadvantage of this - for me - was cost and thereafter maintaintance. I then had a techie friend look at specifications and bit the bullet, swallowing the cost of several hundred pounds and ordering a set from China.They took two months to arrive.Testing will be awkward as again, i am only allowed to meet one other household. How will it go? I'll let you know!
Researching and Making a Costume
Once the idea of Conwy Tours had formed I decided to make tailoring an authentic costume my lockdown craft project. I excitedly began researching the internet and was relieved to see from historic postcards etc. that there was quite a range of acceptable Welsh lady costumes though there were several essential items. The tall black hat obviously (which I would not even attempt to make!) and a bedgown. Very confusing since a bedgown was worn anywhere but in bed! It is a cross between a jacket and a dress. I would also need a fitchu (muslin neck scarf) and a mob cap
On turning to my old friend the internet I found a fantastic pattern for a late 18th century redicote which is a type of bedgown at www.blacksnailpatterns.com.
I was very impressed with the instructions
I was in lockdown so one problem was fitting a dress to myself so I decided to invest in a dressmaker's dummy which I named Annie. She was incredibly useful. I also bit the bullet expenditure wise by ordered some expensive lightweight mohair suiting. I thought if it was worth doing it was worth doing properly and also I wanted the costume to be comfortable to wear in the Summer. Part of the cost was recouped by getting the checked cotton for the petticoat an the muslin for the fitchu (the scarf that preserves one's modesty and warmth) and cap very cheap.
The pattern contained some strange items which were essential to the authentic look of the costume. The first was a padded split bum - yes exactly what it said to get that late Georgian bustle effect. The second was a set of pockets - like Lucy Lockett lost. These tie under the petticoat and are accessed by splits in it.
I also had to experiment with making a mob cap to go under the tall hat. I tried with a couple of different diameter circles sewing them together and then two rows of stitching to insert elastic - don't know what they used in the 18th century - probably smocking but I had already cheated by using an electric machine. You can only take authenticity so far!
The lined redicote was quite complicated to sew and I think every piece got sewn on upside down or back to front and had to be unpicked and resewn at one time or another. I was so glad I made a toile or rough from old tablecloths first. I then discovered the pattern was designed to be worn over stays and was cut with at least an inch off the waist. That was not going to make for comfortable workwear so I made Annie my size and recut the bodice. I had to insert boning - again not authentic - no whales were hurt during the making of this garment! I also had to do a lot of maths to ensure the back gathers were accurate and regularly spaced around the tailed back.
The petticoat was relatively straightforward apart from the maths to get the pleating so that it fitted the waistband - In fact it is a little big so I added some hooks to adjust. The hemline threw me at first then I realised of course it had to go over that big bustle and still be straight at the bottom. Phew - my work uniform was ready - all except the tall hat which I bought from a wedding outfitters. A pair of black boots - or slippers for hot weather completes the show.
Covid Crisis prompts Change
I have been a tour guide for 20 years and for the last few years had been happily touring England and Wales enjoying showing American groups the delights of the British countryside and heritage.
I enjoy travelling and through the winter have been exploring the world. I was on an extended trip through Africa when I heard of the increasing problems Covid was causing in the travel industry .
Shortly after getting home, like everyone else, I found myself in lockdown with my inbox constantly pinging with job cancellations including several into the next year - 2021. Once I'd sorted those long-intended home jobs and got some chickens for company, I began to wonder what I could do to with the hours - increasingly looking like months - stuck at home when I was used to roaming the country with enthusiastic holiday makers solving their problems as a tour manager and entertaining them with an interpretive commentary.
I have always believed in dividing my time to ensure I get a good mix of physical activity, brain exercise, socialising, creativity and having a goal to work towards. I was listening to a business blog and heard a comment about wise companies spending in a recession and saving in a boom.
This got me thinking about what I could do that would give me an income in the near future and keep me busy whilst restricted to my homeland and the government then awarded a grant to the self-employed affected by the disruption. It was soon obvious that overseas visitors would take a lot longer to return than the British and for at least this season people would feel more comfortable staying in self-catering accommodation than mingling in hotels.
North Wales has traditionally had the large part of its visitor market being the home market. There are many large parks of caravans - these days better called lodges and a lot of those are holiday homes for families from Liverpool and Manchester. Soon they would be flocking back as Wales' lockdown forbade travel of more than 5 miles and anyone staying overnight. Three months in a city in a lockdown with the kids at home - they would be desperate to come back to the coast and would want things to do whilst here!
Ten years ago when I lived in Snowdonia I had helped a friend with a ghost tour in Caernarfon. We found that early evening was the best time - the shops had closed and people were looking for things to do before dinner - or after tea if they had young children. The adults wanted a tour of the town with the local and national history and the kids were tempted to come along by being promised ghost stories. I thought of the town tours I'd been on in York and Edinburgh - costumed guides were always a hit and I knew how many photographs were taken of the lady in Welsh costume outside the smallest house. Having a sense of place of being in Wales was important to me.
I decided that my project - and future income - would be to develop Conwy Tours
Amanda Whitehead Official Wales Tourist Guide.