Tag Archives: coach tour

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!

Are there any hidden extra costs?

blue badgeThere are no hidden costs, but there may be additional ones. If you book a Blue Badge Guide for a tour that involves staying away from home, you will be responsible for the cost of the guide’s accommodation, evening meals and soft drinks. You may also be required to pay the guide’s travel expenses to and from your meeting point, and you will need to pay for their entry ticket to any places that do not offer free entry to Blue Badge Guides.

However, your guide will agree all charges with you beforehand, so there will be no nasty surprises at the end of your tour.

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.

A Day in the Life of a Blue Badge Tourist Guide

I’m up early because I’m doing a Meet and Greet at Birmingham Airport this morning. I’ll be welcoming a group of 6 people from their flight, making sure that they have no problems, such as lost luggage, and then escorting them to their coach. I’ve already checked that the coach is there, so I’ve got time for a coffee while I wait for the flight to land.

After this I’ll be jumping in my car and heading into Birmingham city centre. I’ve been booked to meet a group from a conference in one of Birmingham’s hotels, and to give them a walking tour of the city, finishing at the restaurant where they will be having lunch.

I’ll grab a quick lunch myself, and then it’ll be back in my car and out to a primary school on the outskirts of the city. The Year 6 children there have been learning about their local area in geography and their teachers have booked me to do a coach tour of the city.

Then it will be back home so that I can pack my case ready for a multi-day tour with a group of German tourists. I will be meeting their coach from the ferry tomorrow and accompanying them for the next five days on a trip that will include Oxford, The Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon. The coach company has chosen me because of my fluent German.

Often this would be the end of my working day, but today is Friday which means that tonight I will be dressing up in a top hat and a long black cloak for a public ghost walk. It will start with a few ghost stories in a city centre coffee shop, and then continue with a 2 mile walk around the city with plenty of stops at haunted buildings, streets and graveyards along the way. We always finish at a haunted pub, where I’ll have another coffee to warm up – I’d love a pint of real ale but I’m driving – and then I’ll pick up a takeaway on the way home. I usually read or watch TV for a while to unwind before bed, but I don’t want too late a night. I shall need to be up early in the morning because it’s a long drive from Birmingham to Harwich.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth Tour

A Trip to Middle Earth

With the release of the first instalment of the film adaptation of The Hobbit in December, there is a renewed surge of interest in J.R.R. Tolkien and his work at the moment.  Peter Jackson’s movies are, of course, shot in his native New Zealand, using some of the country’s beautiful and unspoilt scenery.  In fact, both showings of The Hobbit that I have attended were preceded by a trailer using the film locations as an advert for visiting New Zealand.  One of Jackson’s main collaborators – Richard Taylor whose company is responsible for most of the effects in the films – even once claimed that “Middle Earth was created in New Zealand”.  Now while I think the landscapes of the films is stunning and provides a wonderful backdrop to the stories, it is an indisputable fact that Middle Earth was created in Tolkien’s imagination, based not on New Zealand (where he had never set foot) but very much on his own experiences of life in the England of the early 20th Century.  In particular, his childhood in Birmingham had a profound impact on him, and many of the events, scenes and people he encountered in his early years have direct parallels in his later writings.

For those of us who are Tolkien fans and are fortunate enough to live in Birmingham, it is a source of great pride that our city provided inspiration for some of the most popular and enduring books of the 20th Century.  As a tour guide in the city, sharing this Tolkien heritage with visitors and other local people alike is one of my passions.  With that in mind, I have researched and produced my own half day tour of locations associated with Tolkien’s life, and identified how his experiences are reflected in his writing.  I am delighted that Midlands Discovery Tours, in which I am a partner, will be running another Tolkien’s Middle Earth Tour on 24th February this year, giving me another opportunity to help people discover the fascinating events of the writer’s life in our city.

For any new writer, the advice that’s always given is “write about what you know” and that is exactly what Tolkien did, in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and all his other works set in Middle Earth.  People may wonder how an epic fantasy tale full of magic, swords and armour, elves, wizards, orcs and hobbits can possibly be based on a young boy’s childhood in an industrial city in Central England.  Of course, even I would not suggest that the fantasy aspects of Tolkien’s work had much to do with Birmingham – it’s a culturally diverse city these days, but I am yet to see an elf strolling down New Street. But if we look a little deeper into some of the themes that run through the books – such as progress , war, love, friendship, sacrifice – and the attitudes and emotions of his characters, we find a great many similarities between fact and fiction.  Even some of the places and landscapes of Middle Earth appear to be clearly based on Midlands locations where Tolkien spent time during his early years.

From the (at the time) rural backwater of Sarehole to the industrial heartlands of Western Birmingham and the Black Country, we can trace the true origins of Middle Earth.  That is exactly what our tour is all about – combining sections on a coach with several short walks, we really do follow in Tolkien’s footsteps and get a much better understanding of the man and his work.

If you would like to join the Tolkien’s Middle Earth tour, tickets are available online and more details can also be found on the Midlands Discovery tours website.  The tour can also be done as a special event for schools or other groups who want to find out more about Tolkien’s roots in Birmingham.