Life of a Guide – 7 days on the Trot!
Well, it has been over a year since I wrote my last blog as events, well work, just overtook me. The life of a guide is a busy and varied one, but it is high time I restarted my blog, so here goes.
Peak season is upon us, London is having another bumper year for tourism, and I’ve just finished working seven days on the trot!
My week started with a visit to Stonehenge at 7.30 in the morning, which meant the alarm going off at 2.45am, leaving home at 3.30am to meet the coach on Old Kent Road and then picking up the passengers from their hotel at 5.00am. As the coach driver and I both wondered what on earth had possessed us to do this trip, I was also silently praising the person who invented travel mugs – as I at least could take a cup of tea with me!
However, the early start was worth it as a private access visit to Stonehenge early in the morning with just me, my group and a security guard is very special.
Built around 4,500 years ago by Neolithic man, and perfectly aligned with the solar and lunar calendars, we are talking precision engineering long before we’d even invented engineering!
Large Sarsen stones, each weighing approximately 30 tons, form the outer stone circle, with about two thirds of each stone above ground and one third below. Coming from the Marlborough Downs, roughly 19 miles away, archaeologists estimate that it took about 100 men to drag each stone across the landscape.
The inner stone circle of Bluestones, still pretty heavy at about 5-7 tins each, come from the Preseli Hills in Wales, roughly 150 miles away. But it is the trilithons in the centre that really dwarf you. Huge sarsen stones, grouped in threes (trili is Greek for three) with two upright stones and a horizontal stone on top, there were originally five trilithons forming a horseshoe in the centre.
Stonehenge is an amazing place whenever you see it but, when you get to stand inside the stone circle in the peace and quiet with just the birds chirping, it is truly spectacular and my group were suitably overawed, with many of them confessing it had been on their bucket lists to do.
Tuesday saw me in the 1920s, as I took a group to Highclere Castle on a Downton Abbey tour. Now I love Downton Abbey, never missed an episode, so to be paid to go to ‘Downton’ and relive the television series is lovely.
The family home of the Earl of Carnavon stood in for the fictional Downton Abbey and many of its famous scenes were filmed there, from the opening of the first episode when the tel.egram boy cycled up the drive to deliver the news that the heir to the title and estate had gone down with the RMS Titanic, to the final episode when Lady Edith finally got married and lady’s maid Anna gave birth to a son on New Year’s Eve 1925.
Highclere Castle itself is a fabulous place with its elegant rooms, portraits of Carnavon ancestors, family photos of the current earl and his family (it is first and foremost a family home), and Tutankhamen objects – the 5th Earl discovered King Tut’s tomb with archaeologist Howard carter back in 1922. My group loved their visit, even if they didn’t get to see the beautiful gardens landscaped by Capability Brown in the 18th century, as the rain was torrential the whole time we were there.
As usual, I got to enjoy a nice cream tea with my driver while my group explored the house and raided the gift shop for souvenirs. The highlight though is, of course, as we motor up the drive to the house and I play the Downton Abbey theme tune over the microphone as my group laugh, cheer and clap!
Wednesday was another full day trip, this time to Stonehenge and Bath. I had a nice cup of tea while my group went up to the stone circle – I had told them all about it on the way there, so a self-directed visit was in order. Then at Bath, once I had got my group inside the Roman bathhouse and sorted their audio guides, I took the opportunity to grab a sandwich before I met them as they exited the Roman baths and pointed them all in the right direction for the various other visitor attractions and refreshment places fot hem to enjoy in their free time.
On returning to the coach pick up point to meet my group, I had a chat with the coach marshal about upcoming road closures for the annual Bath Carnival. Visiting places regularly, you get to know the coach marshals and staff at heritage sites and Steve is no exception. We always have a nice chat, I just wish I could get him to stop calling me ‘Prozac’ in front of my groups – he has nicknames for all the regular guides!
The following day was spent in London with a lovely American family. Their first time in London, so we did all the main sites; a full guided tour of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, plus a walk past No 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, Horse Guards, and St Paul’s, before finishing the day outside Buckingham Palace.
A great day, only marred by the confusion when I arrived at their Air BNB flat in Pimlico and discovered multiple doorbells and their mobile phone was switched off! Luckily, they had the sense to come outside
and look for me at the agreed meeting time – phew!
Friday was an easier day (thank goodness) as I had a panoramic tour of London on a minibus with a group of American gardeners. A late start, meeting them at their hotel at 11.30am, and an early finish as I dropped them at Kensington Palace for their visit there, made for a nice change. I had done a similar tour last year, so it was like meeting up with old friends as I had the same tour leader, lead client and coach driver from 2016.
Saturday saw me back at Stonehenge and Bath with a stop at Windsor Castle along the way and with a double decker coach and 72 passengers – eek! Even though Bath Carnival was on, the day went smoothly and on the return my driver and I settled an argument about the quickest return into London via the toss of a coin. I called heads, so we came off the M3 onto the M25 and then into central London via the M4 / A4 rather than via Twickenham and Richmond – the guide is always right lol!
My incredibly busy week saw me finish with another full day London tour for a group of 32 that included the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and a private cruise down the Thames. Unfortunately, it also included a run in with a traffic warden whilst I was picking up after the guard change. Despite the fact that other coaches were picking up their groups near the palace, he decided that we weren’t supposed to stop where the coach had (strictly speaking that’s true, but everyone does it because there is nowhere else to stop), and refused to let me board my group. I pleaded, I begged, and even fluttered my eyelashes, all to no avail. In the end, my driver moved off and I walked the group much further away to board in Victoria.
Hopefully all the other guides and coach drivers, who were happily boarding their groups, appreciated my sacrifice!
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