Born and bred in Scotland, I nonetheless spent 20 years living in exile (strangely self-enforced) both “down south” (ie. England!) and overseas. Having spent so much time living and working away from home, including in some countries you wouldn’t normally find on a bucket list (Afghanistan for one), I realised that, regardless of location, I would always be the person enthusiastically regaling colleagues and friends with tales and descriptions of the most exciting and beautiful country in the world… Their trips, real or imagined, would be entirely organised by me and of course, I would be the one showing them around.
From an early age, I was brought up in some of the most beautiful and iconic locations we have to offer. The Cairngorm mountains and Western Highlands hold a particularly special place in my heart, but having called Edinburgh, St Andrews, fairy-tale Glamis and beautiful Royal Deeside “home” at various points in my life, my love of our amazing landscape, history and culture runs deep.
So although I didn’t realise it 20 years ago, of course it was inevitable that I would end up returning to my beloved Scotland and making guiding my profession. And I love it! I get to explore my own extraordinary country and watch the delight on others’ faces as I help them to discover it for themselves too. You could say that I truly am living the dream.
So difficult to narrow it down – Scotland is such an amazing playground!
As a child, I spent many happy family holidays cycling between and playing on the many pristine white sandy beaches of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, and camping and kayaking around sheltered sea lochs from Ardnamurchan to Gairloch. The next generation of my family are still using the same kayaks and exploring the same sea lochs and romantic ruined castles (sometimes there’s no room for me so I end up swimming along behind them – presumably confusing the seals!)
Then there are the stunning North-West Highlands, north of Gairloch and up to Durness – I challenge anyone not to have their breath taken away by the landscape, from mountains to lochans to cliffs to Caribbean-like beaches and seas. There simply aren’t enough angles to capture it on film – you just have to stop and breathe and absorb it into your memory and yourself.
But at the end of the day, I always come back to the same playground – the Spey Valley from Dulnain Bridge up to Aviemore and into Rothiemurchus. It has a character that changes with every season, so much to do, so much fun to be had, and a way of welcoming you so that you know you’ll always return.
I once danced a Strip the Willow with the Duke of Edinburgh. Not sure what that means and think I’m speaking in code? Ask me about it!
Scottish Tourist Guides Association – Regional Affiliate (Green Badge) – North Highlands
Specialising in cultural and experiential tours of Scotland, I work with a full range of clients from individual private guests right across to high-end specialist cruise companies.
My favorite days have to be when I am showing off my Scotland – the behind the scenes parts that I grew up with. We have so many characters, from musicians to gamekeepers, from craftsmen and women to some of the best specialist food and drink producers in the world.
And pretty much everything is tied up with the ribbon of our stunning landscape and long and fascinating history. I still get excited by it every day, and love sharing that with my guests, whether they’re visiting for the first or twenty-first time!
A tricky one – there have been many…
One that stands out was the 7-day canoeing trip I did in a remote Canadian provincial park a few years ago with a very trusting friend. We barely saw a soul, there was no communication with the outside world, the landscape and weather changed with every day, our camp dinners became more and more inventive, and we eventually mastered the art of canoeing in a (relatively) straight line after day 3. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Then there was the time I gave up my sensible, corporate job to move to the Congo. After many subsequent years building a career for myself in the world of international development, the natural move (of course) was then to take another leap of faith and return to the homeland to become a tour guide! And I absolutely love it! The adventure continues …
I do a mean whistlestop tour through the history of Scotland from the Ice Age through to the Picts, Clan battles, the Jacobites and right up to today. Do prepare to become a prop in the story though.
I’ve also got a keen interest in the facts and debates around land ownership and use across Scotland, having lived on and explored Highland estates throughout my life. It’s a complex subject, but fascinating.
And then there are moles. Yes, the small dark velvety creatures that live underground. They became a bit of a specialist subject really by accident, but they pop up (sometimes literally) in everything and they’re amazing! From the basic facts right up to their involvement in one of the turning points in Scottish history. Seriously! Let me tell you all about it!
© Helen Ord / Wilderness Scotland
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