My tourism degree taught me many things. It taught me that you should never underestimate the value of Wikipedia, you should never directly copy from Wikipedia and you should never let anybody know you used Wikipedia. Well, finally, I can say that something I learnt at University came in handy this week.
Walking into our tour office, I was greeted with ‘What do you know about the Cotswolds?’ My answer included making reference to literally everything I knew about the Cotswolds (a solid four things) as resultantly I seemed like I had a pretty good grasp on the concept of touring around there. I’m always up for a challenge and I quite enjoy travelling so I thought I’d go for it; what’s the worst that could happen?
I had a week to prepare which is plenty of time for three days away (I’ve had less time for a whole season at times) so I knew I’d be able to put a good tour together, taking six Americans from Heathrow airport to famous historic Oxford, cute but pretty random Moreton-in-the-March and the monumental Bath. I had been to all of these places before, although my time on these prior trips was spent either sat in the back of a Seat Leon trying to convince my parents to play my music in the car or, in the case of Bath, pursuing my first true romance. I was, however, enthusiastic about the concept and knew I’d be able to make it work.
Of the week prior to the trip, three days of this were days off; perfect opportunity to get my head down and do some learning. These were, however, the first actual days off I’d had completely to myself since, oh I don’t know, September the previous year. Eight months of work stood between me and then so I thought I’d take some time out and properly enjoy my three days off – Scafell Pike, Hellvellyn and a swim in Rydal plus three – four hours of research was planned. Luckily, I’m pretty handy with a smartphone, so I spent much of this time walking around the Lake District reading about the amazing places I was set to visit. Thanks Wikipedia.
Two more days pass and I’m far too busy on Tinder dates and watching Late Night Fiasco play their funky sounds in Ambleside Tavern to even consider doing any “book” research. I did, however, make sure I had data left on my phone plan which I could use for, you know, more Wikipedia.
So the day comes when I’m driving down to the airport to stay in the Heathrow Mercure before meeting my clients. ‘I’ll do an hour’s research on some places before I go to sleep’ I think. But then I check my route south and I’m driving ten minutes from my Grandparent’s house so I give them a call and arrange dinner. So obviously, I’m not going to be at the hotel with an hour or so to spare before bed time so I do no research that night either.
So, I wake up Sunday morning, pack my suitcase, walk into the restaurant and I have ten minutes before I need to leave the hotel. Plenty of time to gain a lifetime of knowledge about the entire South of England.
I arrive at the airport about fifteen minutes after their plane landed. Knowing it would take some time for them to come through the gate, I got myself a bottle of water, made myself a nice sign and preceded to wander around terminal five, half looking for them and half looking for pretty girls coming home from their travels. I don’t know what it is about girls in airports, but they look far nicer than girls in bars and nightclubs. I wait for fifteen minutes. Then thirty. An hour passes and their flight is removed from the arrivals screen. I make conversation with a delightful transfer driver and we ponder all of life’s mysteries. Eventually, two hours after their plane landed, I get an enthusiastic lady wondering towards me going “It’s us! It’s us!”. Sure enough, my clients had found me.
We begin our journey towards our first destination, the hotel in Oxford where they’ll be spending the night. On the drive, I get a asked a multitude of questions relating to driving, laws and English culture. We talk in depth about the NHS, the US, New England in particular and how beautiful trees are. Before I even had chance to tell them that Heathrow Terminal five was once voted the world’s best and Heathrow Terminal one doesn’t even exist anymore, we were in beautiful Oxford…and just in time for the end of breakfast.
The rest of the tour went very much like this. Some bits of trivia picked up from the internet were blended with my knowledge of generic English countryside, local knowledge picked up from here and there and a Radio 4 programme about agriculture I’d listened to in the car on the way down. I had managed to put together enough information and knowledge to provide my six passengers with a few days of gentle relevant conversation. Of course, having Sat Nav in the car helped too (“It highlights the traffic so it’s better to have it on the background”).
They are currently exploring Bath at their own pace and me, I’m sat in the pub writing this post. This evening I pass over to my colleague for the rest of their tour and hopefully he’s as prepared as me – generic countryside knowledge, data on his phone plan and interesting stories from travelling America’s East Coast. God forbid he actually knows about the areas – he’ll make me look under-prepared!
My clients had a fantastic time – their comments and feedback was great. The quaint English countryside did most of the work, the vehicle the rest with a little bit of charisma thrown in for good measure. I certainly enjoyed it. I hope I see this group of people again; they were great to spend time with, confirming the theories of tourists are the best people ever and Americans really are as great as you think they think they are.