From Footprints to Imprints: Curious Travellers in Wales and Scotland

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Proposed Panel for BARS 16-19 July:
From Footprints to Imprints: Curious Travellers in Wales and Scotland
A panel exploring the busy, print-saturated world of the domestic tour in Romantic–era Wales and Scotland, with a particular focus on the layered, mediated and multivocal nature of the genre. Examining landscapes viewed through an Ossianic lens, the choreographies of Thomas Johnes’s planned walks around Hafod and the ‘mosaic’ writings of women travellers, this panel will present some early findings from the AHRC-funded project, “Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1815” .

Chair: Professor Harriet Guest (University of York)

Nigel Leask (University of Glasgow) 'Your rising tear at the misery of a once-beloved country': Ossian and Thomas Pennant's Tours in Scotland, 1769 and 1772.'

The paper will look at the ways in which what Paul Baines describes as an 'Ossianic topography' has begun to change the map of Scotland by 1769. It focuses especially on how the Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-98) engages with Ossianic connections in his Tours of 1769 and 1772, and compares his approach with that of other contemporary travellers. 

Mary-Ann Constantine (CAWCS, University of Wales): ‘Somewhat of a mercenary showman’: Thomas Johnes and the spectacle of Hafod.
When J.T. Barber visited the grounds and mansion of Hafod in the Ystwyth Valley in 1803 he complained, on being expected to tip the gardener and housekeeper for a guided tour, that there was ‘something very unworthy in great men allowing their servants to exact the sums that they do from the spectators of their grandeur’. This paper explores the notion of ‘showmanship’ and performance in relation to the picturesque and to early tourism. It focuses on Thomas Johnes’s remarkable creation, over decades, of the walks and gardens at Hafod, which, with nearby Devil’s Bridge, became one of the principal attractions of mid-Wales – an area far less popular with visitors than Snowdonia in the north or the Wye Valley in the south. By the 1790s, few travellers approached Hafod without being in some sense ‘primed’ for the experience through texts and printed views: this paper considers the highly mediated and managed nature of their encounters with a place famed for preserving its ‘original wildness’.

Elizabeth Edwards (CAWCS, University of Wales): ‘Mosaic work’: Wales in women’s travel writing, 1790-1820

Focusing on some little-known tours of Wales, this paper discusses the bricolage-like structure of domestic travel narratives, which appear in works by Katherine Plymley (1792, 1802, 1814), Jane West (1810), and Mary Brunton (1815) as patchworks of places, names, and significant marks in the landscape. The phrase ‘Mosaic work’ is Brunton’s; it describes her view up the Wye Valley of a prospect bounded by distant Welsh mountains. In this paper I use it as an umbrella term for the intricate and miscellaneous intellectual landscapes created, or reflected, in women’s travel writing of the period. I also suggest, however, that three main interconnected themes flow through these texts. First, the tour is a space for empirical observation and the construction of knowledge (as for example in Brunton’s descriptions of porcelain manufacturing). Second, it’s a space for aesthetic, social, and political critique, often framed in comparative terms: the virtues of Tintern Abbey versus Fountains Abbey; the relative poverties of Welsh and English cottagers; the parallel properties, physical and moral, of Llangollen and the Scottish Highlands. Finally, the tour is a record of the imagination on the move, creatively braiding topographical reportage, ethnographic and economic profiling, scientific curiosity, and moral or ideological reflection by means of a highly literary register perhaps not surprising given the novelist careers of Brunton and West. The texts mentioned above are largely obscure; most exist only in manuscript. But this paper proposes that their thematically layered, formally heterodox qualities call for further attention.

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