Category Archives: South East

What is the difference between the Blue Badge and a Green Badge?

blue badgeThe Green badge is the second highest level of guiding qualification and shows that a person is qualified to guide in one particular city. The Blue Badge is the highest level of guiding qualification which covers several counties.

A Green Badge Guide may hold a badge for more than one city, and a Blue Badge Guide may hold a badge for more than one region. The badge will state where the qualification is held for, for example the one shown is for the Heart of England region which covers Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire.

In addition to the badges, guides can train to receive an endorsement, which is for a particular building or place. I have the 2012 Venues endorsement which covers the places used for the London Olympic games.

What is the Blue Badge?

blue badgeThe Blue Badge is the highest level of qualification there is for guiding in the UK. It takes between one and two years of study to earn. Each badge covers one region, which includes several counties. For example, mine is for the Heart of England which covers the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire.

The course covers guiding techniques for walking tours and coach tours, and how to research and design a tour as well as all the relevant knowledge. Guides are expected to be able to talk about national level topics such as history, education, politics, architecture and art, in addition to having specific local knowledge.

The assessment process is rigorous with 4 written exams, 4 practical exams and coursework. There is also an additional exam for anyone who wishes to guide in a language other than English.  I took the language exam for German, so that is also covered by my qualification.

Harry Potter Studio Tour, Leavesden

A couple of years after the final film in the series was released, Warner Brothers opened their Harry Potter studio tour at the Leavesden studios where the films were made in March 2012.  With original sets, a huge number of props from the films, interactive sections, demonstrations and much more, the tour is an absolute must for Harry Potter fans of all ages.

Entry is by timed ticket, and to start the tour a group of you watch a short film before being taken into the studios by one of the guides, all of whom are wonderfully enthusiastic.  I won’t spoil the surprise of where the tour begins, suffice to say the first stop is incredible and really sets the scene.  The rest of the time is self-guided, as you make your way through two sections of studio buildings, with recreations of many different sets and exhibitions of props and original costumes.  Between the two buildings is the back lot, containing some of the outdoor sets, a few exciting surprises, and an opportunity to sit down and enjoy a snack, including your chance to try the “Butterbeer” so popular with Hogwarts students. Extremely sweet but delicious!

Hogwarts Great Hall

The second section is more about the technical side of the films – the mechanical creatures and props made, CGI, visual design etc. and is absolutely fascinating, but still has enough interest and excitement for kids.  One of the great things about the attraction is that you can just wander round and look at everything, or if you want more detail you can read the info panels and watch the film screens located in each section.  Or, for the really in-depth tour, you can pay for the audio visual guide, which is an iPod like device containing not just commentaries on the tour (voiced by Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the films), but interviews with actors and film makers, along with short video clips demonstrating how the movies were created.  I think the choice of how much detail you want is a big plus point, as children in particular can just enjoy exploring and seeing the amazing exhibits, while adults can get a bit more background if they want to.  The technical information, demonstration films etc. and the sheer number of original items from the films on view are part of the reason why I believe the attraction is a great day for any film fan, even if they are not specifically Harry Potter addicts.

Hogwarts castle model

As with all such attractions, you exit through the gift shop.  Here, you can buy pretty much anything Harry Potter related, from toys to costumes, to books, to wands.  A great selection, although not much in the “pocket money” range or things you could buy as a little gift for several friends or family.  The complex also includes an excellent snack bar and coffee shop, with an outdoor seating area.

The car park is huge, and the place is easy enough to find, situated just off the A41 near Watford, within a few minutes of the M1 and M25.  There is a free bus service to and from Watford railway station, as well as buses from Central London.  As you would probably expect, the tickets are not cheap – £28 for adults, £21 for children, and must be booked in advance online.  But there is certainly enough to see and do to stay for well over half a day (they recommend a minimum of 2 ½ to 3 hours, but that would be quite a cursory visit in my experience).  That, along with the sheer uniqueness and excitement of being on the sets of blockbuster films, make it relatively good value compared to other major attractions such as the big castles, safari parks, etc. that are the major competition for big family days out.

All in all, I would certainly recommend the studio tour – it is a must for Harry Potters fans of all ages, a great family day out, and a fascinating experience for film fans.

To find out more about the tours I offer and how to book them, visit my website.

Going for Gold…Guiding At The Olympics

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The summer of 2012 was an amazing summer of sport, with the Olympics and Paralympics capturing the imagination of the entire nation over a six week period.

While I hadn’t bought tickets for the games myself, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to share in the incredible atmosphere on the second Saturday of the Olympics.  I was booked as a guide for a German corporate group, who were based in Birmingham and had a trip to London and the games as the highlight of their stay in the UK.  While they had stadium tickets – the last night of athletics competition, tickets priced at around £450 each! – I was given a park pass, but I was delighted with that, as it gave me a great chance to explore the whole of the park and to watch the action on the big screens.

I had first seen the Olympic Park when it was a building site, when we had a site tour as part of our “2012 Venues” guiding accreditation in early 2011.  While most of the buildings were up by then, at least the shells of them anyhow, there was no landscaping or anything like that and I was excited to see how that muddy, chaotic construction site had been transformed into a venue for a global event.  My excitement only increased through watching the events on TV in the days leading up to our visit.

From the moment we arrived in Stratford, it was an amazing experience.  The atmosphere was one of celebration and friendliness, personified by the volunteers who directed us from the station to the park entrance, checked our tickets and got us through the airport-style security checks. It has been said so many times lately, but the Games Makers were as much stars of the event as the athletes, helping to make everyone’s time at the games special, easy and enjoyable.

After escorting my group to the stadium entrance, I set off to explore the park.  Was I impressed – I certainly was! Plenty of space, well laid out, excellently signposted, and attractively designed as well, especially the beautiful wild flower meadows next to the waterways and around the stadium.  And everywhere smiling faces from a hundred different countries, all sharing conversation, banter, beers and the true Olympic spirit, captured so unbelievably well by everyone involved in the organisation and delivery of the games.

With my exploration complete, I made my way to the “live site” to watch some athletics – Mo Farah was going for a second gold medal in the 5000m that evening! The siting of the big screens (and they were BIG) on an island in the river, with seating areas on both banks turned the space into a second stadium, and the atmosphere was electric.  They say that the stadium crowd was at its very loudest as Mo Farah was on his last lap, well the same applied to the crowd at the live site, as everyone was on their feet cheering the local boy to his wonderful second gold.  As if that wasn’t enough, we later witnessed Usain Bolt and his team-mates round off the night by breaking the world record for the 4x100m relay, to huge acclaim throughout the park.

While in some ways jealous of my clients, who got to see it all in the stadium itself, I feel very privileged to have been there on that special night of sport, to have sampled a bit of the atmosphere, and to have had the chance to wander around the whole of the park during the evening.

My clients, needless to say, had an amazing time too, taking unforgettable experiences back to Germany with them. Now the games are over, the Olympic Park is sure to become a major attraction for visitors from this country and overseas, and I look forward to taking many more groups to the places where those great sporting achievements happened in the years to come.

To find out more about the tours I offer and how to book them, visit my website.