A Tale of a River – a European Heritage Days Story
A Tale of a River – a European Heritage Days Story
In 2008, the local action group - LAG Asón-Agüera-Trasmiera - was established in Northern Spain to re-establish the understanding, appreciation and connection of local people with the Asón river which runs through the area. Access to the river’s water was once an essential aspect of how communities lived – defining locations for settlements, influencing agricultural choices and impacting tangible and intangible elements of culture – but the group felt that “the bonds between the elements of heritage left by the river and our personal stories and shared history are becoming weaker and weaker”, and set about changing these perceptions.
Past Work and Engagement with the Community
LAG Asón-Agüera-Trasmiera started their work by investigating the past connection previous generations had with the river with an inventory of the industrial archaeology found on the river basin. Water mills and forges, factories and railway stations all showed the importance of the river to the economy and work, while bridges, washing places and aqueducts showed the interactions of people with the river on a daily basis. In 2018, the group then launched what it described as a “small but ambitious project” called ‘Forgotten Heritage of the Asón River’ to engage with local residents. Producing an online map of the archaeological features catalogued, publishing a book and holding exhibitions was one aspect of this, alongside a programme of direct participation activities and initiatives. These included an artist-led day where children were encouraged to observe the river through drawing workshops, as well as a photographic competition for both professional and amateur photographers to capture the visual nature of the river. Other activities included walks with nature and culture experts explaining the area and telling stories at various locations, and a series of interviews with elderly residents about their life and work by the river which were then published on the project’s website.
Participation in European Heritage Days Stories
In 2018, the group also took part in European Heritage Days, organising events in 16 villages to shine a spotlight on elements of the area’s lesser-known heritage. “Convinced that a sustainable future in our villages requires that the (weak) bond that still exists between heritage and people does not break, but becomes stronger and full of meaning”, the group also submitted their project as a European Heritage Days Story. ‘A Tale of a River’ story was published in 2020 and a grant was awarded for €10,000 to further expand their work and reach a wider audience. The funding was used to develop three key aspects – improving facilities along the river path walk, producing a documentary and promotion and dissemination of the project and its outcomes.
The documentary was designed as way of collating and contextualising interviews with the local community about their connection with the Asón river. Original plans included collecting new stories, although this was unfortunately not possible due to safety precautions during the pandemic. However, the organisers were able to hire an audio-visual company to rework the footage taken in the 2018 interviews to highlight “the links between the ‘almost forgotten’ heritage of the river and our common history”, resulting in a 23-minute video of interviews and archival images. Although the interviews are all with local residents, the documentary also “aims at connecting both with the local population and a wider audience that can identify with the experiences, feelings and stories told, even beyond our borders”, and features English subtitles to help achieve this. The video was released for the public to watch on YouTube and embedded on the project’s website in March 2021 and has since been viewed over 1,600 times; a public screening of the documentary is also planned. The documentary with English subtitles can be watched on the Oficina Comarcal de Turismo Asón Agüera Trasmiera’s YouTube channel.
Enhancing the River Path
The River Path project had a dual purpose; to both improve the physical condition of the existing walk and to enhance it with information boards. A specific area in need of maintenance was the San Pelayo stone Bridge in Arredondo which needed cleaning and structural repairs, and these were completed by a stonemason from one of the local villages. The additional visitor information added comprises of sets of boards positioned at five specific locations along the route in Arredondo, Ruesga, Ramales de la Victoria, Rasines and Ampuero, covering both village and rural settings. Most of the text, photos, drawings and translations into English were supplied or sourced by the LAG’s staff, with an external company commissioned to finalise the design and printing. The boards are now installed in-situ and organisers hope the information provided will “enrich the use of a path that nowadays is a recreative feature, by linking the walking activity to the acquirement of more profound knowledge of the space that surrounds it”.
Promoting the Activities
One of the key outlets for the project is its website, www.patrimonioolvidadodelason.com. This now features dedicated sections about the project, with plans to add more content in the future. Those walking on the River Path are also encouraged to visit the website through the use of QR codes on the information boards which link back to relevant pages online. The project has also been featured on external websites, including the those for European InfoPoint, the General Direction of European Funds of the Regional Government of Cantabria and the Regional Government official press release site. Social media has proved another important channel, with posts on the group’s Twitter account being echoed by other organisations such as the Rural Development Network of Cantabria and the Rural Development Network of Spain. A visit by the Regional Minister of Economy to the LAG Asón-Agüera-Trasmiera’s offices also provided an opportunity for further coverage of the project in regional newspapers.
More information on the ‘A Tale of a River’ project can be found on their website, as well as on Twitter via @PIECantOriental. This project was part of the European Heritage Days Stories initiative which has been renewed for 2022 to help share more amazing heritage stories from across Europe. Watch this space for information about this year’s winning projects…!