“Is this your real job?”
You might think the most frequently asked question on a day tour of the Lake District would include at least something to do with the history, natural beauty or even the geology of this magical place. But no, it turns out the most interesting thing about the Lake District is the tour guide’s employment situation. Ask me about a plant I’ve never seen before and I’ll give you a ten minute answer on what it might be . Ask me about a building I’ve barely noticed before and I’ll tell you who probably lived there, how it was built, what the owner did for a living and what they had for dinner most nights. This is my occupation. But ask me if this is my ‘job’? I can’t answer that.
You see, being a National Park Tour Guide is like being a sponsored extreme sports athlete or ice-cream flavour tester for Carte-Dor – there are moments every single day when you think I can’t believe I get paid for this. Allow me to tell you about the greatest job in England.
The true beauty of a TATCo tour is the ability to improvise; our clients have a rough idea of what they will see on the day, some more than others, and providing you visit the places which are mentioned on the leaflet, you have fulfilled your contractual requirements…but this job is about so much more than that.
We’d normally start by snaking up the Kirkstone Pass – one of England’s highest roads and a particular favorite of mine since is goes straight past Limefit Park, my childhood home in the Lake District. As a kid, I would come here with my parents every Easter holiday, camping in our large family frame tent. I’d generally enjoy the holiday since I was always a sucker for the scenery and enjoyed getting driven around in my parent’s Peugeot 306s. I used to fanatice about driving around myself, having the freedom to climb any mountain without the effort of having to walk (my parents would take me hiking, mostly against my will), having the bends all to myself and being able to drive to the Sticklebarn in Great Langdale on my own terms. Some of the happiest days of my childhood were in the back on a 306 in the Lake District. I’d also get giddy every time we went near something called a “Pass”; we didn’t have passes in Staffordshire, so a road which wasn’t a road was about as exotic as my childhood got – turning right out of Limefit Park was an adventure.
Back on the tour, we’d get close to the top of the Kirkstone Pass and I’d always point out something which you’ll never find in a tour book – Whale Island. Simply a rock which sticks out a few feet above the surface of Windermere, with a bit of squinting and a lot of imagination, it could be a whale jut popping his blow-hole out of the top of the sea. Very few of my passengers ever said “Yea, I see the whale” but I think they liked the enthusiasm, the opportunity to stop and the idea that a whale might actually live in Windermere. You can also almost see my house from here, but only the privileged private tours ever get this much information.
We’d continue along the twisty and undulating roads, along the shores of Ullswater and through the superbly named Matterdale and towards the always-pronounced-incorrectly-by-Americans town of Keswick. The largest town in the North of the national park, its home to about 5,000 permanent residents and about 20,000 in the height of summer thanks to every other building being a guest house. It’s also the perfect place for lunch; I’m always happy to point out the amazing local food on offer, the fact that local business needs them and I make it very clear that if they go to a small independent food house and order some local Herdwick lamb or some delicious Cumberland sausage that their karma points will be through the roof, there will be no more global warming and that world famine will cease forever. I then go to Wetherspoons and order some chicken and a coffee, guaranteeing that not one of my sixteen passengers will be in there.
Getting back from lunch is often an event too. Immediately after is a boat cruise on the adjacent lake Derwent Water (it’s name meaning white-water water due to the stunning intricate way the Emglish Language has developed), a lake famous for the films Miss Potter and, more recently, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s good practice to not lose any of your passengers whilst out on tour, however if it was to happen, this is the place. I once heard a story of another guide (from a different company) losing his guests; he had only a family of four on board and they decided that on their journey around Derwent Water they would jump off the boat and stretch their legs. That tour finished roughly three hours late.
Ok, bit of trivia. How many lakes are in the Lake District? Fifteen? Sixteen? A hundred? Nope. One. Ask anyone that lives here, anyone that’s been and even a National Park ranger and they’ll tell you there’s one lake in the Lake District and it’s called Bassenthwaite Lake; all of the other bodies of water are meres, waters or tarns.