We caught up with Blue Badge qualified Scotland tourist guide, Paul Gladwell, about his love of taking groups to new places, why they’re important and his must-visit spots when travelling north of the English border.
How did you become a Blue Badge Tour Guide for Scotland?
My wife saw an advert for the course online and since I have always readily showed visitors around Edinburgh, I suppose I seemed a natural fit. I passed an initial interview and then embarked on 18 months of intense study, practical tests and exams which I basically did in my sleep as my daughter had just been born and I was really sleep- deprived!
What would you say is the best thing about showing groups around the country?
There is an incredible variety of attractions and landscapes in a relatively small area so you can provide a really exciting, varied day from virtually any starting point. Also every group is different so you have to size up pretty quickly what they will appreciate and tailor your commentary accordingly which helps keep the job interesting.
Are there any hidden gems that you’d like to share?
It’s not quite as hidden now, but if you make the effort to go north-west of Inverness you have one of Europe’s most beautiful wildernesses all to yourself. It’s extraordinary how many people are only interested in ticking off Skye and Loch Ness and not much else.
Why are groups important to Blue Badge Guides like yourself?
Guides cater for a very diverse range of clients and groups definitely make up a significant proportion of this. Some are purely incentive based whilst others are more tailored but Scotland definitely has enough to provide a memorable experience regardless of your expectations.
If you had to pick, what is your favourite attraction or place that Scotland has to offer?
I really like the National Museum of Scotland as there is so much there that has literally changed the world and people are quite surprised by that. Also, I love beautiful scenery so anytime I’m heading into the hills I’m a very happy Haggis indeed.
It must be nice getting back out and about again after the pandemic…
That’s the understatement of the millennium! It was utterly heartbreaking being unable to do what I enjoy especially as there was little light on the horizon for so long. I went from no bookings in over a year to 15 in my first 30 days back and I just want to work all the time now.
Why do you think it is important that groups use Blue Badge Guides when visiting somewhere new?
Two reasons in particular. Firstly, the basic professionalism required to ensure that the day goes smoothly has been drummed into us. Secondly, the guide is going to know their stuff. You can’t blag your way past the amount of work it takes to get the badge.
What would you say is the best time of year to visit Scotland?
Each season definitely brings different rewards. Summer is great for the outdoors as the days are so long and the heather is blooming. Winter is good for visiting the cities as the queues are so much shorter so you can get more done if you wish.