6nd April 2016: A Year in the life of a Blue Badge Guide

About forty members attended the April meeting of the Society (the final one of the 2015-16 season) to hear Lt-Col. Dick Bolton give a thoroughly interesting and entertaining talk on the Life of a Blue Badge Tourist Guide. The guides, who are registered by a national organisation, the Institute of Tourist Guides, escort walking or coach tours in various centres, such as Canterbury, Rochester or Brighton, or site visits to specific places such as Canterbury Cathedral or Leeds Castle. They qualify over a period of 18 months to two years by attending lectures for one day a week at three different centres, and by doing private study, finishing with an exam. The speaker described the training as 'arduous'. At the end, guides need to have a general knowledge of buildings and architecture, with a historical and international perspective, and a detailed knowledge of the areas in which they specialise. They need to be able to communicate with the parties they are escorting, to create a relationship with them and be conscious of any disabled people and their needs. It is important to know the whereabouts of the loos, cafés and shops - as tourists like to go shopping. The question of communication may be difficult with non-English speakers, where the guide may be effectively at the mercy of the translator attached to a party.

When escorting coach tours, the guides have to be conscious of, and able to talk about, the countryside, and the ecology generally; what crops are growing and the nature of the local geology. They have to know about local houses and gardens, e.g. Great Dixter. They have to know and to be able to talk about such matters as the Royal Family, the Police, the Armed Forces and the British legal system generally. Opportunities to take photos are important and the experienced guide will cater for them.

Lastly Lt-Col. Bolton described some of his memorable outings, such as the time when a coach was diverted off the A303 down narrow lanes, and he had to talk about the plants in the hedges on each side of the road; a trip with an American group to the American Services Cemetery near Cambridge; a trip down the Thames from Gravesend to Rochester in the vessel Pocahontas and the difficulties in mounting a slide show in the very small cabin. He left us in no doubt that he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as a guide, having met an endless variety of groups and 'lots of lovely people'.

David de Saxe