Today I decided to call it a day on the jam Heritage Jam project. This was the first day of annual leave and I made my way by car from one end of Wales to another to spend a few days in Pembrokeshire. En route, I visited three heritage sites with different conserve stories to tell.
First up was Cymer Abbey, which is a free and accessible Cadw site. Here we found the ruins of the church, cloister and water channel of a Cistercian monastery as discussed here. This is a beautiful and tranquil site, free to visit. This prompted me to consider how we have a choice of heritage experiences; open and free, or closed and pay-to-enter but with shops selling (among other things) heritage jam. Free or jam. Open access or potted.
There were slugs aplenty on the grass around the ruins. Upon our departure, we encountered a rather rude landowner/farmer-type who seemingly steered his landrover over a puddle in order to splash my kids and me; this caused my autistic eldest daughter considerable distress but I put it down to bad driving at first. He then complained that my wife (who is disabled) had had to use the toilets adjacent to the abbey reserved for campers only. I will visit Cymer Abbey again, but I will not be patronising this mean-spirited pensioner’s camp site.
Castell y Bere
We then visited the 13th-century Welsh castle of Castell y Bere, a striking ruin upon a distinctive rock outcrop. Here again I mused about the beauty and historical significance of the site, and how we should visit such sites as much as we visit pay-to-enter sites with their heritage jam. Let’s not be flies about the jam: let’s visit many kinds of heritage site and landscape: old and recent, famous and not-so-famous. If we don’t, if we only follow the jam, we will miss gems such as this.
I’m going to blog separately about Cilgerran Castle, since it ticked quite a few of my Archaeodeath boxes. However, we parked down by the Teifi and explore the heritage boards outlining the history of the river and its surroundings down the centuries, appended to the outside wall of public toilets. We then walked up the ill-kept steep woodland path to the castle.
I have recently joined Cadw, so we got free access. Within the shop were toys for my kids and both jam and honey on sale! A feast! The wicker sculpture of a knight and the war memorial that forms the gates of the castle are further striking memorial dimensions to the ruins.
There were even archaeologists on site, doing a new survey of the outer ward and the lady in the gift shop was extremely friendly and understood about my heritage jam obsession! She was very proud of the jams she sold too.
Why End Now?
I think I have done enough to make my point. I don’t want to flog the jam to death! Moreover, I realise that my conserve-purchasing is now out of control! This evening I bought a traditional-looking apple jelly conserve as a compulsion. I think I may be a jam-oholic! Time to give it up and send the jam going underground…
Summing up – Jam Review!
This attempt at a light-hearted project has attempted to use ‘heritage jam’ as a theme to explore some dimensions of the challenges of thinking about, and engaging with, modern heritage sites. In these three days, I have visited 9 different locations pertinent to the theme and including sites previously discussed in the posts of this blog: a supermarket (Sainsburys Wrexham), a National Trust property (Chirk Castle), two pay-to-enter Cadw heritage sites (Cilgerran Castle and Valle Crucis Abbey), three open-access Cadw sites (The Pillar of Eliseg, Cymer Abbey and Castell y Bere), a country park (Ty Mawr, Wrexham) and one closed industrial heritage site (Minera Lead Mines). Sadly I couldn’t include a museum.
Through these visits, I have been able to confirm that ‘heritage jam’ has a discrete range of packaging, displays and recipes. I have been able to apprehend and appraise the wide range of ways in which jam constitutes an element of the heritage tourist experience, and how jam mediates our appreciation of different types of heritage locale.
In particular, I have identified how jam is part of our bids to ‘consume’ the past: create souvenirs of our visits and using the sense of taste to remember and reconfigure our identities through our imagining of different pasts. We saw how this is achieved by the recipes themselves, but also through packaging, potting and displaying jam. Simultaneously, jam conveys corporate identities of heritage institutions and organisations and it might even been suggested that jam embeds visiting heritage sites and purchasing consumables as gifts and for personal pleasure as part of the habitus of the heritage tourist. Clearly the National Trust do this best, but Cadw do ok too.
Consuming jam sandwiches is another way in which jam informs the experience of outdoor visits to heritage locations. Jam is a gastronomic dimension of the heritage experience; it allows us to incorporate the past into ourselves through sticky sweet consumption.
Of course, this also means that experiencing heritage jam is all about place and tangible (or jamgible) engagement with monuments, materials and space. There is no ready digital equivalent to the multisensorial character of conserving the past.
Jam is not ubiquitous, however, and most sites I visited had no jam on sale for a variety of reasons. Jam is certainly a feature of the more popular pay-to-enter sites; other sites are jam-free either because there is no shop, or there are no longer plans to maintain and open sites. For a country park, jam is clearly not the kind of produce visitors want to buy; perhaps jam is too middle class for country parks?
Jam also serves as a way of highlighting how ‘conservation’ is a discourse that seeks to fossilise the past, pot it and sell it as a brand. Jam is also a metaphor for how some monuments are ‘timemarks’ in the landscape: accruing memories like sticky jam.
What, if anything, do you think heritage jam tell us about the importance and challenges of heritage sites and landscapes in today’s world?
I hope you have enjoyed the journey and I hope you view and enjoy the final video that will present the results and constitute my 2015 Heritage Jam submission: “Heritage Jam: Conserving the Past”