Kirsty, Ken and Tim, three of Wilderness Scotland’s most senior guides talk about what they think makes a good guide and how an experienced guide can take your clients under the skin of an area gaining access to those special experiences that make sure their time in Scotland is truly memorable.
Over her ten years guiding with Wilderness Scotland Kirsty Chuchla has earned the title “Insider” and she knows exactly where the most special experiences lie. Here Kirsty tells us about how she changed an itinerary to undertake a midnight cruise to Mousa, one of the Shetland Islands, during the ‘summer dim” when, at this high latitude, the sun never quite sets.
“We were up on Shetland where we had a week of walking and it wasn’t in the itinerary but I knew of a boat trip out to the island of Mousa and its well-preserved Iron age tower known as a broch – it was June around the summer dim and it is at that time of day that tiny Storm Petrels arrive in their thousands to nest in the walls of the stone broch on this uninhabited island.
We set off from the Shetland mainland about 10pm and then we had to wait a bit for the summer dim. Then the birds start to come in. They fly around the broch and then eventually find a little hole in the walls and fly in.
We were there to around two in the morning. The sky was alive with these tiny birds swooping and circling and the broch hums with their call which sounds like a croaking frog.
At one point high-up inside the broch, we were less than a metre from these ungainly little birds trying to find their nest. The whole evening – the not quite setting sun, the remote location, the perfectly calm sea and the whole spectacle of the storm petrels coming into nest made it a magical experience.”
Tim Willis reveals how he comes to understand his clients’ needs and how to remove the burden of planning and timing so that the client gets away from the overcrowded honeypot sites and instead discovers the places that only a local could know about.
“First of all, it is about the preparation. You need to research the walks and the area and have a range of options to react to the needs of the client and give them as good a time as you possibly can.
Good guiding is more than just taking people from A to B – good guiding is so much more. It’s about tapping into the character of the client, really getting to know them and trying to inspire them. Some people need mindfulness and for others, it’s a bit more of wild time out in the hills and a good guide will get each of them there across the course of a trip.
If you are from a very busy lifestyle and have a lot of pressure in your job the last thing you want to do when you come to Scotland is to have to work hard, work out where you have to go and, how it can all go together – you want to be able to sit back and relax and have people facilitating your trip who are going to talk to you, really understand what makes you tick and be flexible every day.
For me it is interactive and people stop being clients and become good friends. Outside the van and up a mountain we are all in it together.”
Ken Keith has lived a few places in Scotland and he knows the locals well. Here Ken tells us about a special walk on a section of the remote north-west coast close to his home where he always encounters at least one local character willing to talk.
“I was brought up in Edinburgh but from the age of two, I have visited the area around the beautiful Achmelvich beach in the far north west of Scotland. I fell in love with the place, the surroundings and the people and ten years ago I decided to move up here with my wife.
One walk that I love doing is from Clach Toll and following the coastline through Achmelvich and then taking the Baddidarach path down to Lochinver. It’s maybe ten miles. It is not about distance, it’s about, wildlife, scenery and the people you can potentially meet – you are passing close to crofts and houses and with over 50 years of visiting and living here I have got to know the people personally. There are some real characters.
I don’t set anything up because that could be false but on that walk, I will bump into somebody and people love chatting. The clients ask lots of questions – how long have you lived here, how do the kids get to school and how do you live off three cows.
People can get focussed on getting to the top of the hill but I have taken clients on this walk and they have been reluctant but it is a robust walk and meeting true locals who live in the north west of Scotland along the way transforms the experience.
One fella, I often meet on that walk, was a lecturer in English at Edinburgh University commuting there each week. They have a self-sufficient croft, five acres of native woodland, sheep, cattle and pig. They make their own cheese, wine, butter and the only thing they buy every now and again is oranges. The clients love to have a conversation with someone like that. I try not to overthink it, take a back seat and let it all happen naturally.”
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