Category Archives: Free

Q and A – Part 3

What’s the best thing about being a Blue Badge Guide?

There are lots of things I like about it but I’ll pick just a few.  Firstly, the opportunity to show off the best of our country to visitors from all over the world.  Whether I’m helping local people find out things they never knew about their home city, or taking international guests to famous attractions, sharing my knowledge and the locations themselves with people is something that gives me a real thrill.  Secondly, working with all kinds of different people from a huge range of backgrounds.  Especially on multi-day tours, you have a chance to talk to them about all kinds of things.  Thirdly, it is a job that allows me to pursue my own interest in history, culture and discovering new places.  Making a living out of something you love doing and that gives people enjoyment is a privilege that I truly appreciate.

And the worst thing?

Like any freelance job, probably the lack of stability and uncertainty of work is the worst thing.  Also if uncontrollable circumstances such as adverse weather, traffic jams or whatever interfere with an itinerary, as this makes me feel bad for the people on the tour, even though it is not my fault.

What’s your favourite countryside in England?

I enjoy getting out into all countryside areas to be honest, and I would recommend rural England to anyone.  In fine weather, there is nowhere to match it.  But if I had to pick a favourite, it would be the Peak District.  It has a great combination of gentle and more dramatic scenery, along with some attractive and interesting towns and villages, such as Matlock and Buxton.  There are also excellent places to visit like Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall, both of which I highly recommend, and love taking groups to.  Growing up in Nottingham, it was an area that I’ve known since I was a child from school trips, walking and youth hostelling holidays in my teens, and when I learned to drive I spent numerous days cruising around the roads and lanes of the area.  I know most of the routes there very well, which leads to some strange looks from coach drivers, when I direct them down an unexpected road during a tour.

For the ultimate English tea?

One of the pleasures of my work is the need to try out local places to eat and drink in locations I’m going to be visiting with groups (purely for research you understand).  So I consider myself something of a connoiseur of tea shops.  There is something quintessentially English about afternoon tea, especially in rural areas, and they are popular with most visitors.  Among many excellent places I have found, my favourite is Juri’s, which is in Winchcome in the Cotswolds.  It is run by a Japanese family, and the owner is a fellow Blue Badge Guide who qualified on the same course as I did.  You don’t just have to take my word for how good it is, they won the “National Tea Shop of the Year” award from the English Tea Council a couple of years ago!

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Cannock Chase

Not far outside Birmingham, you will find Cannock Chase, which is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a lovely place for a picnic. It is a really peaceful place to stroll around, with trees, heathland, and streams – and if you are quiet enough and lucky enough you may spot a glimpse of the deer that live there.

You can take a stroll and follow your nose, or pick up a leaflet for self-guided walking and cycling routes from one of the visitor centres.

The chase is also home to two military cemeteries and Freda’s (the mascot of the New Zealand Rifles) grave.

For tour planning, or to book a Blue Badge Tourist Guide, visit www.iabtours.com

Nunney Castle

It’s small. It won’t take you long to look round – about 15 to 20 minutes is plenty – but if you are in the area, Nunney Castle is worth a look. It’s free to enter, so you don’t need to worry about wasting money on somewhere so small. The castle itself has a proper water-filled moat and if you look closely you’ll see lots of fish. In the summer there are beautiful blue damselflies skimming the surface too.

The village is picturesque with an old church, and there is a fabulous cake shop with a selection of cakes to tempt your tastebuds. All in all it’s a great place to stop for an afternoon tea.

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For my ideas of places to visit, have a look at the photo albums on our Facebook page.

Winterbourne House and Gardens

Winterbourne House is one of Birmingham’s hidden treasures – even many of the locals don’t know it’s there. It’s just a short walk from the Birmingham University campus, and easily accessible by bus and train.

The house is small, but beautifully furnished and there are very informative displays – many of which you can touch. For the children there is a games room with clothes to dress up in and old-fashioned toys and games. Admission to the house is free.

There is a small charge if you wish to visit the gardens, but it is well worth the price. There are 7 acres of land which includes landscaped areas and woodlands, pathways, a fishpond, a greenhouse containing enormous cacti and succulents, and a chicken coop amongst other things. You will also find the old washhouse with some of the equipment used, and a selection of wooden hoops for children to play with.

There is a tearoom which offers a selection of hot and cold food, and plenty of places where you could have a picnic.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

The Pen Room

Situated in the Argent Centre, on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, just a few minutes walk from the city centre and Brindley Place, The Pen Room is one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets.

It is a privately owned museum dedicated to celebrating and preserving Birmingham’s heritage as a global centre of pen-making. With fascinating exhibits from the great pen makers of the area and a wealth of well-presented pictures and information from the archives, it is a museum that truly captures the essence of its subject.

There are lots of activities to try, and a chance to try out historic pens, ensuring that all ages will enjoy a visit. What really makes it special are the staff whose knowledge, enthusiasm and friendly welcome set the pen room apart.

Because of its location, it’s easy to combine a visit to the Pen Room with a stroll around the fascinating Jewellery Quarter, with its excellent selection of shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

Sutton Park

Sutton Park, in the north of Birmingham, is one of the largest urban parks in Europe, with 2400 acres of land. There are paths suitable for bikes and pushchairs, but you are also free to leave the path and stroll at your leisure through the trees.

Although close to Sutton Coldfield town centre and several main roads, the trees shelter the park from noise, and once you have stepped through the gates it is easy to forget that you are in one of the largest cities in the country.

You may be surprised to learn that in addition to the wildlife you would expect to see in a city park – birds, rabbits, squirrels – it is also home to a number of Exmoor ponies. You may also stumble across more domesticated animals too: nestled away near the Town Gate, there is a donkey sanctuary, and local farmers use parts of the park for cattle grazing.

There are car parks at every gate, and plenty of cafés, pubs and picnic areas inside the park area.