I took advantage of the beautiful weather at the weekend to test out one of 4 digital trails Buxton Museum are currently piloting as part of their Collections in the Landscape project. The apps offer trails based around Buxton Waters, Stories of Shopping in Buxton 50 years ago and a Dovedale family activity trail, but I was particularly keen to try out their Arbor Low digital trail.
Buxton Museum & Art Gallery have used a Stage I Heritage Lottery Funding to explore digital access to the collections, inside and outside the museum, bringing together the landscape and the archaeological and geological artefacts found in them. The digital trails are still in the pilot stage and the Collections in the Landscape team have used Collections Ambassadors, Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, get people involved and elicit feedback.
I was interested to see what information had been provided about the history of the construction and later excavation of Arbor Low and nearby Gib Hill and how this information was presented. As a young child, I lived in Middleton-by-Youlgrave only 2 miles down the road, and although Arbor Low was a very familiar place to me I knew very little about it, except that it had been excavated by Thomas Bateman among others, who had lived at Lomberdale Hall, between Middleton and Youlgrave.
The site is set high on the limestone plateau, and as Dr John Barnatt, Senior Survey Archaeologist for the National Park, explains in the audio, it can be seen from a long way away, but is hidden when nearby until the entrance is reached, deliberately enhancing its mystery.
The app provides a tour of 5 stops which visitors can either view on a map or as a list, and access in any order. Clicking on each stop provides a choice of audio commentary, or detailed text illustrated by photos and drawings of excavations, finds and people. In the audios Dr Barnatt expresses articulately the fascination of the sites for both archaeologists and the general public, talking about how Arbor Low was probably used by the people who built it and later visitors to the area; why the architecture of the monument was deliberately dramatic; what we know about the barrow and the finds (including human remains), and what that means the site might have been used for, and the excavations of Gib Hill. I learnt the stone circle was built between 2500 and 2000 BC, around the same time or slightly later than Stonehenge.
There was some variability in signal strength, but I found, having explored the app before my visit and again afterwards, in its current state of development, it successfully answered questions raised during the visit, and brought the human element to this a dramatic, ancient monument.