In the footsteps of Saints

Date Posted: 08/08/2017

Ruth Thomason

Laura Sexton talks to Ruth Thomason from CFF and Inner Wheel about her love for visiting the Middle East and finds out what is on her destination bucket list.

Ruth’s countrywide group is made up of around 200 to 250 members who she’s gained over the past 20 years in which she has been organising group travel.

So Ruth, tell me about how you became a group organiser?

It was because I was on my own and I wanted to go places, and there’s always a singles supplement, and so I thought, why don’t I get some friends together and we go as a little group.

So I made some enquires and got set up with some more experienced people to have a look round and learn how the admin side of things work and what you do to make a group. I thought – I think I’d quite like to do that!

Do you do all the organising yourself?

I always go through an AGTO registered company. So they’ll put together an itinerary for me based on things we particularly want to see and do and I’ll try and do places where I’ve been several times. I try and put in one thing that’s new for me too, so it’s something different and not just step and repeat all the time.

Pictured: Ruth's group in Gethsemane.

What kind of trips do you tend to do?

My area of expertise is the Middle East. I’ve never made it to Syria, but it’s always been on my bucket list – to do a tour of Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon may become possible but I think people would be a bit hesitant with both. But I do a lot to Israel and a lot to Jordan.

I’ve done Jordan about five times and I’ve lost count with Israel, maybe 25 to 30 times. I like going, I’ll go when I’ve not even got a group. One I’ve not done in a while now is Malta. That’s ready to come round again and the cost is less as it’s nearer.

Where would you like to take your group in the future?

I don’t like to go on a trip with my group if I’ve not done it myself before. A place I’d really like to go to is Ethiopia. Ethiopia is really different because you get all these rock churches and Christianity started round about there; nobody really knows where but somewhere round there is where the very earliest Christian people lived. There’s a really interesting hospital there too where they help ladies that have suffered injuries after having a baby and they help them rebuild their lives. I’d like to visit there if I ever get to go.

One closer trip that I’ve not done, but will doing in the summer, is Mary Jones World in Bala in Wales and that will include mainly churches and it’s much closer to where we live in Cheshire – it’s a fairly new tourist attraction.

So, what is the inspiration behind your trips?

Well, if you follow the saints – Saint James, Saint Paul, Saint Peter – there are itineraries that fit them and this gives us an idea of where we’d like to visit.

Most my group members like pilgrimage type holidays. Most people will belong to a church or be church inclined. Usually we approach all the holy sites and if I’ve got a minister with me on the trip we’ll have a communion but if not then we’ll have a song of praise type service.

Pictured: Ruth's expertise is the Middle East.

Are there any tour operators or hotels you’d recommend?

There are three tour operators I usually use: there’s McCabe Pilgrimages, ITS Travel and Worldwide Christian Travel.

Hotels in Jerusalem I like are The Golden Walls – it’s right opposite the Demascus Gates and the food is very good; I like visiting the American Colony hotel but not to stay there as it’s too expensive. There’s the Amman International Hotel too and you can’t beat it, the staff are lovely, the rooms are amazing and the food is really good!

Has anything funny ever happened on a trip?

I went to Jerusalem and we went when the American Secretary of State was visiting, so of course they brought an entourage about a mile long with them and the traffic was gridlocked and roads were closed. So I said we better walk and so we got off the coach. We had this one man who is 90 something and he got to the top of where we were heading and he flung his walking stick in the air. And another elderly gentleman left his medication on the bus, and when he got to the top he said ‘I did it I did it’. But he had never been and it was one of his ambitions and his heart and soul were in it and it would have been sad if we’d had to find a taxi for him – it would have ruined it.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a GTO?

When it makes people happy and they thank me for doing it and tell me they’ll never forget it. For some it’s a one off and they have saved up a long time to be able to do it and you feel you’ve helped them to achieve something they couldn’t do themselves.

What would be your advice for other GTOs?

Preparation – there’s no two ways about it, you need to know your stuff and preferably have visited the country before you take your groups at least once. Try before you buy and get a feel for it.

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