Elspeth Crocket is a retired teacher of French and German, and is one of our volunteers who give up their time to share their passion for local places and history. Her family has lived in the Dumbarton area for centuries, so as a ‘daughter of the Rock’ she is perfectly placed to volunteer at Dumbarton Castle and tell visitors about it.
When did you start volunteering with us, and why?
I started volunteering at the two-day “Rock of Ages” event in June 2016. I have had a passionate interest in Scottish history since I was a primary-school child and since my retirement have been deeply involved in community life. Volunteering at Dumbarton Castle allows me to combine these interests and help to share the site’s remarkable history with locals as well as visitors. In 2015, Historic Scotland, West Dunbartonshire Council, and the Scottish government held a “charrette” to stimulate ideas about the future of the Castle and its surroundings. I found some of these ideas inspirational and wanted to help develop and implement them.
What did you do at the Rock of Ages event?
I enjoyed dealing with admissions, helping out at a variety of stalls, and providing information for visitors. Over 3,000 people turned up to watch the re-enactments, so I got to help a lot of different people. We were very well treated by HES, who provided food and drink, plenty of rest breaks, and even suntan lotion on a very hot day!
Our volunteers at the Rock of Ages
What do you do as a castle volunteer?
My main role is to guide groups around the Castle, telling its history and answering any questions. I also like to add some local touches, pointing out surrounding areas which are historically significant. From Dumbarton Castle you can see Levengrove Park, where parts of Robert the Bruces’s body are buried. I also draw attention to the site of the Leven yards where the Cutty Sark was built. The tour usually takes about forty-five minutes and visitors can then be directed to areas of interest in the castle that are not included in the tour. I try, as much as possible, to tailor the tour to my audience, providing general geographical information for overseas visitors, for example.
What are your favourite things about volunteering at Dumbarton?
I enjoy sharing my own enthusiasm for the Castle with others, particularly when I can answer their questions or supplement their existing knowledge. I particularly enjoy interacting with people from all over the world and occasionally using my language skills with French or German speakers. There are always new things to learn about the site and I like working alongside HES staff and feeling part of the team. On a personal level, I am happy to lose a few pounds tackling the Castle’s hundreds of steps!
What are the main challenges?
My guiding experience just started this year. The only slight challenge I have encountered is communicating with visitors accompanied by young children. They are obviously preoccupied, so long explanations are not suitable; it’s a case of doing your best to briefly communicate the main points of the tour. The safety of children is, of course, an ongoing challenge, something you must prioritise at all times. Apart from that, difficulties have come only from the weather – my first tour had to be cut short due to torrential rain!
Do you have a favourite memory of your volunteering experience?
During the “Rock of Ages” event I met a very timid three-year-old who was not too keen to come into the castle. We solved the problem by attaching a paper tag to her doll’s arm to prove she had paid her entrance fee. The wee girl was delighted and skipped through the gates.
What do you get out of volunteering?
I love working as a volunteer. Dumbarton Castle has one of the longest recorded histories of any site in Scotland. I enjoy sharing this and like feeling that I am doing something helpful to boost visitor numbers and bring people into the town. Being retired, I miss working with young people, so relish meeting visitors of all ages. Having to research the castle’s long history has sparked an interest in early Scottish history – a new venture for me. More than anything, though, I just like feeling useful.
Would you recommend it to other people?
I would highly recommend volunteering with HES. It gives you the opportunity to expand your own knowledge, fosters your communication skills, and allows you to discover other HES sites (volunteers are given free access to all sites for themselves and up to three friends!) Most of all, you get to know some great people while contributing to your community and to Scotland’s cultural heritage.
Has Elspeth’s story sparked your interest? Find out how you can become a volunteer and help out at a historic site, at events or other parts of our organisation.
Please note that Dumbarton Castle is currently closed due to storm damage. Check the property page for updates before travelling.