We had high hopes of the newly opened National Trust information and exhibition centre in Aberdaron, but were very disappointed. I am very much reminded of the story of the emperor’s new clothes – all puff and no content.
A lot of money has been spent restoring a house at the bottom of the village and turning it into an information centre. The centre has received a lot of publicity and has been highly hyped. Views seem very polarised into those who love it or others, like us, who feel it is a wasted opportunity – dumbed down information for the five second attention span. The National Trust seems afraid of challenging or educating its visitors. I did email the National Trust with my comments before posting this review but very much felt the powers that be did not want to listen to any adverse criticism.
The name Porth y Swnt means ‘gateway to the sound’ and the centre aims to “encourage people to see Llyn in a new light through the ground-breaking interpretation which encourages people to rediscover the vast beauty of the Llyn Peninsula”. It “showcases the special qualities which make the Llŷn Peninsula so unique in terms of history, culture and environment.” I must admit, I did begin to get worried when I read the words “Journey through the layers of the landscape, read the words of local poets and discover the essence of Llyn”.
All the rhetotic is there but we came out disillusioned having learnt little about the area or what makes it unique.
The words of the local poets, particularly RS Thomas, who isn’t the easiest of poets to appreciate, were a series of disjointed one liners of modern poetry displayed on the walls throughout the exhibition. They were difficult to read and it was not easy to follow the flow of the poetry. I know poetry is very personal and what inspires one person may not another. It certainly didn’t inspire me. Perhaps I should have tried reading the lines aloud? As for discovering the essence of Llyn – forget it.
The exhibition follows a ‘journey’ through four different areas. The Deep has three stylised wooden figures representing farmer, fisherman and pilgrim with hanging gauze banners from the ceiling. Fortunately the leaflet handed out as we entered explained this as the figures could have been anything.
This moves into The Way which contains a video pod make from woven willow to represent an upturned boat. This is the sop to the pilgrim story. The video was high on visuals but low on content.
Next is The Sound which contains the lens from the lighthouse on Bardsey Island. There is a short video showing how this was brought here by helicopter, which I found the most interesting part of the exhibition. A telescope and two periscopes have images of the peninsula. I understand these were planned to be used by wheelchair users, so making them uncomfortable for adults to view and too high for small children. These were the only images of the Llyn in the exhibition. They were small and difficult to see clearly and accompanied by one line descriptions.
The final display is The Fold. This is a “space to reflect the end of the journey, a chance to take stock and think about where to visit next”. When we visited, this was a display of pebbles from from the beach which had painted messages on them…There is also a tricksy peep show of animals and birds seen on the Llyn peninsula.
We learnt nothing new from the exhibition. There was nothing on the geology which makes the Llyn unique, nor the iron age settlements, the pilgrim trail, farming and quarrying which have both affected the landscape. There were no maps. And there were no large colour photographs of the Llyn. I felt this was a major omission as the Llyn is is a stunning landscape but you wouldn’t know this from visiting. Visual impact is very important and the exhibition lacks this.
We felt this exhibition is short changing the Llyn and also the National Trust. We are not sure who the target audience is and in fact wonder if the National Trust know. We probably spent as long filling in the feedback form as we did in the exhibition. The words pretentious and ‘arty-farty’ spring to mind, followed by dumbing down.
The Llyn is an area we know well and love. We felt there was nothing in the exhibition to stimulate interest, or inspire you to go and explore further. In the words of the old fashioned school report ‘could do better’.
The centre is the white house with the traditional slate roof at the entrance to the National Trust car park. There is good disabled access. Entry is £2 or free to National Trust members. Don’t waste your time or your money.