How did you get into your field?
By accident really. I was looking for a part-time or distance learning course to occupy me during the winter months in the Scottish Highlands – they can be rather dark and wet! I came across a course at my local university to study and train as a tourist guide covering the Highlands. As I love chatting to people, as well as taking about the Highlands, I knew it was perfect for me.
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
As I run a village post office and visitor centre in the Scottish Highlands, I was already used to sharing information about the area to visitors, so the transition wasn’t too difficult. Lots of practice and looking at the Highlands through a visitors eyes has helped.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There’s no typical day as a guide. Every group is different. Every visit is different; even to an attraction you know like the back of your hand. One day I could be leading a group of fifty cruise ship passengers on a shore excursion explaining the countryside around us. The next taking a small group on the world famous Jacobite Express steam train. The next exploring a barren battlefield, with just two people on a private tour, bringing alive the events of nearly 300 years ago.
Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?
People are on holiday when you tour with them. They want to relax and enjoy themselves. My guiding style reflects that, if I am relaxed and enjoying myself I know my guests will be too.
What is the best part of your job?
Travelling through the Scottish Highlands and sharing that experience with guests from across the world. It’s a privilege to share that with other people.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on a tour or trip?
Standing on the ramparts of Urquhart Castle alongside Loch Ness barely able to see anything because of a snow storm. There’s an almost eerie silence when it snows like that. Then all of sudden it stopped, the sun came out and the landscape was transformed, the castle and mountains blanketed in fresh snow, glistening in the late afternoon sunshine.
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t enjoy?
The administration can be tedious, who enjoys bureaucracy and form filling? I want to be out and about exploring the Highlands, instead of sat in front of a computer screen. However, it’s a necessity when you are planning a tour for your guests.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
A good guide has to have an enquiring mind, always wanting to learn more about their subject and needs to be genuinely interested in other people. Mix that with a sense of humour, flexibility when circumstances change and a willingness to go the extra mile for guests and you have found a perfect guide.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
With a tour guide you get a different insight to an area. You hear the local myths and stories, you see the often small details that normally go unnoticed, you find the hidden places only someone local knows about, you get to share some of the culture of a place. You get an experience that a guidebook can never really provide.
Without giving away your secrets, tell us the types of things about your area/activity that only a guide would know about the Scottish Highlands?
Only a local guide would know the quieter backroads away from the crowds, the deserted beach down a dusty track, the monument hidden away amongst the trees, the secret viewpoint to get a different photograph of a well-known attraction or the perfect café to get a decent coffee and a home-baked cake.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
In Scotland, look for someone who has qualified with the Scottish Tourist Guide Association. It’s a guarantee that they have undertaken a rigorous course of both academic and practical training, and reach the highest professional standards. Also look for someone who talks about “you” in their tour descriptions rather than “I”. After all it is your holiday or trip – not the tour guide’s holiday.