Diary of a Guide…Turnspits, Wally and Bluebell
Easter week brought the tour from hell, Where’s Wally and a ride on the Bluebell Railway.
Most tours go well, but now and again it doesn’t matter what you do but you’ll get the tour from hell. It all started so well as we headed out of Victoria Coach Station with a coach load of tourists on a day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath.
First stop was Windsor Castle, where I found that an elderly gentleman on the tour couldn’t walk very quickly so needed extra time and help to get into the castle. Fortunately, as an extra guide learning the logistics of this particular tour, I was able to stay at the back of the group as we walked from the coach park to the castle and help him, while the main guide went ahead with the group. Just as well, because he took twice as long as everyone else to walk the short distance. As I helped him we chatted and he told me that he was over from Florida for a ceremony at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford honouring him for his service in World War II. He’d been based in England as a 17 year old when he was an aircraft gunner on bombers. He wasn’t doing badly for 90 years old and made me laugh when he asked if the Queen was home (she was actually – the Royal Standard was flying), as he’d last seen her in 1944!
Having given the group free time to explore the castle, the other guide and I went for a cup of tea before heading back to the coach park. We knew we were in trouble as our leaving time came and went, and we were still missing three passengers – yep, the 90 year old and his companion were among them. However, they weren’t the last to get back to the coach as one man had left his elderly mother on her own in the castle and seemed surprised that she hadn’t found her own way back, even though he told me she got confused sometimes!
Having located the poor woman, we left Windsor late and drove down to Stonehenge. Warning all the passengers, not once but seven times, about the time we had to leave Stonehenge to make our lunch stop and that we couldn’t wait if any of them were late, guess what? Yep, some were late back again! Including the elderly woman, whose son and granddaughters had left her on her own again, despite me suggesting they stick together so they didn’t lose her. Just as we were thinking of leaving, she turned up, but 15 minutes after our leaving time, the decision was taken to go without two other passengers who were just nowhere in sight. It might sound harsh, but with another 70 passengers on board the double-decker coach you can’t wait forever, as it’s not fair on the rest of the group. When the two women turned up some 30 minutes later, the tour operator managed to get them a lift back to London with another coach.
Next up was the beautiful National Trust village of Lacock, but on the way we passed some military manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain and were treated to the sight of a tank crossing the main road – just caught the tail end of it with my camera (you try juggling a microphone and a camera at the same time!).
It’s no surprise that Lacock is incredibly popular as a film location as you feel like you’re stepping into a bygone era.
Cobbled streets, no television aerials or satellite dishes and streets looking as they did back in the 18th and 19th centuries. All the residents have to do is park their cars elsewhere and filming can commence. The BBC’s 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice was filmed here, as was Cranford, and the cloisters of the 13th century Lacock Abbey featured as part of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
We had a late lunch in the medieval George Inn, with its open fireplace where in days gone by a dog wheel was used to turn the meat. Bred especially to run on a wheel that turned meat so it would cook evenly, small dogs known as Turnspits were placed inside the wheel and ran to turn the spit (bit like a hamster on a wheel). Turnspits were also known as Cooking Dogs, or Vernepator Cur, Latin for “the dog that turns the wheel.” Rest assured they no longer use the dog wheel at The George to cook meat over the open fire and Turnspits are now an extinct breed.
From there, it was on to our last stop of the day, the Regency city of Bath, where the group had free time to explore the city, visit the Roman Baths or have a Bath Bun at Sally Lunn’s. The 90 year old World War II veteran was holding up well, but the man with the elderly mother wanted to leave her on the coach while they looked around Bath, and was surprised that we wouldn’t let him do that – we’re tour guides for heaven’s sake, not carers! So he got her off the coach and left her in a tearoom while he went off to explore.
Everyone was back at the coach on time as we left Bath (think they were all scared we might leave them behind) and we headed back to London, having stressed before they got back on board that it was a straight run back with no stops.
Just 20 minutes into the 2 hour journey a passenger tapped me on the shoulder as he was desperate for the toilet (not surprised as he’d obviously been to the pub in Bath). We couldn’t stop where we were, so he had to cross his legs for 25 minutes until we reached the services on the M4. I’ve not seen anyone run so fast for the toilet in ages, closely followed by half the coach who also decided they needed a toilet break.
The rest of the journey back was thankfully uneventful – aside from the very green-looking lady who’d had to be moved to the front of the coach and spent the return journey sitting next to me clutching a carrier bag and constantly asking how much longer we would be!
I was back in The View from The Shard today for a meeting, and to have a go at playing ‘Where’s Wally?’
Until 10th April you can grab an activity sheet and hunt for Wally and his friends Wenda, Woof, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw. I know it’s aimed at kids, but it’s fun. Some of the items and people to spot are in the Shard and others are on buildings you can spot from the top of The View.
No spoilers, but Odlaw was pretty easy to find, and I also spotted Wally early on. The rest were harder, although I suspect kids will have no trouble as they can usually work out anything that adults can’t. Me, well I struggled, so roped in some help – take a tip from me, the team at the Champagne bar know where they all are!
Today was a day off, and I took my mum down to the Bluebell Railway in Sussex for lunch on a Pullman Steam Train as a birthday treat.
I love a steam train – all that puff and luxury is the only way to travel and, luckily for us, it was the nicest day of the Easter bank holiday weekend.
Boarding Carriage Christine, we settled into our comfortable seats and watched the countryside rolling by as we puffed and tooted our way from Sheffield Park Station to East Grinstead and back again while enjoying a silver service 3-course lunch.
Originally known as Car 64, the carriage was built in 1928 as a 2nd Class restaurant car for the London-Harwich boat trains. She was then used on various railways before finishing her railway career on the Bournemouth Belle in 1967. Next used for promotional events as part of the Bulmer’s Cider Train, where she was renamed “Christine”, she was sold to the Venice-Simplon Orient Express who put Christine up for sale and she was finally bought by the Bluebell. She now runs as part of their Golden Arrow Pullman Dining Train, and is a wonderful experience – another bygone age.
The rest of the bank holiday weekend was, of course, a washout as Storm Katie hit, but down at the Bluebell Railway, everything was just lovely.
In case you’re wondering, lunch was delicious; asparagus wrapped in bacon, roast lamb and chocolate profiteroles. Just a great way to spend a spring day, chugging along in the spring sunshine, passing old signal boxes and picture-postcard stations with the puff of the steam engine and the toot of the whistle ringing in our ears.
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