Tag Archives: guiding

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!

Q and A Part 2

So here are some more questions about me and my work as a guide…

What do you do when you’re not guiding?

Alongside my guiding, I work as a freelance German-English translator.  I am fluent in German – which I am also fully qualified to guide in – and the combination works well as I can do as many tours as possible and take translation work for other times.  When I’m not working I love to read, either novels or books on history and travel.  I also spend a lot of time listening to music – varied styles but rock music is my favourite – and attempting to play the guitar.  I am a keen sports fan, especially ice hockey, which I have been watching since the age of 7, cricket and football.  I try to keep fit by running, swimming and walking.  As you might expect, travel is a big passion and I am always finding new places to explore, in this country and others.

What is your favourite castle?

To be honest, I think that most castles are fantastic places to visit, as they have links to some of the great people and events in history.  Many are also very impressive buildings in scenic locations too. If I had to pick one, however, it would be Kenilworth Castle.  Mainly in ruins, it has enough of its buildings left to retain some of the atmosphere of its glorious past, while its countryside setting and sandstone construction make it extremely picturesque, especially when the sun shines on its walls and makes them glow.  I prefer exploring ruined castles with my imagination and a good guide to visiting better preserved or reconstructed ones with costumed staff and the like, as I think this helps to bring the place to life much more effectively.

And what about stately homes or country houses?

Again, they are fascinating places, as each has its own stories.  While I am keen on what I would call “big history” – kings and queens, great events and so on – my real love is social history, and I am intrigued to discover as much as I can about the people who lived and worked in places, what they might have been like and how they lived.  The best houses manage to convey this effectively through their choice of how they present themselves.  Generally, I tend to prefer smaller ones to the huge palaces, but I have to make one exception here as my absolute favourite is Burghley House near Stamford in Lincolnshire.  Everything about it is impressive, from the architecture to the gardens to the absolutely stunning paintings and wall decorations to the presentation of the house and the family who created it.  Every time I go there, I am amazed all over again and I highly recommend a visit if you haven’t had the chance yet.

Where do you most like to unwind with a well-earned drink after a tour?

My drink of choice is real ale, and I’m fortunate that I get to sample the delights of local pubs and brews throughout England.  It is hard to mention just one favourite but if I had to choose it would be the Red Lion, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  It is a small local pub with a long tradition, and serves superb food and a great choice of regional ales.  Our Birmingham Graveyard Ghost Walks finish there too, so I do literally get to unwind and refresh my vocal chords after tours there on quite a regular basis!

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.

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.