Tag: Chester

Download my new Haunted Chester audio tour — now available via VoiceMap

My lockdown project is complete.

I used quieter time over the last few months to tinker away at a creative project, creating a new audio tour to my home city of Chester.

The result is Haunted Chester, a 60-minute circular walking trail based on the tours I lead for Chester Ghost Tours.

Those tours have been in hibernation during lockdown, returning hopefully in May.

But, meanwhile, you can download this self-guided tour to your smartphone and explore with just my voice and a detailed map to accompany you.

It’s the ultimate in social distancing.

VoiceMap uses local writers and guides to create quirky walking tours that offer local-knowledge insights and insider tips.

Here’s what my new tour promises:

If you like ghostly goings-on and spooky stories, then this walking tour around the centre of the historic city of Chester offers tantalising tales of the supernatural.

We’ll visit some familiar landmarks — but don’t expect a dry history lecture.

I know my home city well and will be highlighting some of the hidden corners that you don’t find on typical tours. After all, I’m a local boy and I’ll be sharing my insider knowledge.

On this tour, you’ll hear about:

• Roman soldiers still guarding their historic garrison
• The grisly tale of Chester’s last public execution
• The ghostly monk that haunts the city’s spookiest passageway
• Chester’s only official exorcism

Allow one hour for this walk. There are plenty of cafes and bars along the route for a quick coffee stop.

Whether it’s your first time in the city, or you’re a local keen to learn more about your home, Haunted Chester is the perfect way to see it in a different light.


Download the VoiceMap app to your phone and search for Haunted Chester, or use this link:

https://voicemap.me/tour/chester/haunted-chester-a-spooky-stroll-around-the-roman-walled-city

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Travel Trends: The rise of the high-tech tourist guide marks a new frontier

February 21 marks International Tourist Guide Day, celebrating tourist guides as cultural ambassadors for their home regions.

But guides — and that’s me pictured above, leading a ghost tour of Chester — haven’t had much to celebrate of late. As tourism fell victim to the pandemic, many guides found their livelihoods taken away overnight.

Some refused to give up, however. They adapted their craft for virtual tours and continue to embrace evolving technology to reinvent tourist guiding for the post-Covid recovery.

Virtual reality

London Blue Badge Pepe Martinez was an early adopter, reimagining his themed walking tours, such as London’s old East End and Street Art, for a locked-down audience last spring.

He has since trained over 400 guides in technology-enhanced guiding skills. “I’ve guided more people in the last year than I had in the last ten. It has really opened my eyes to the value of virtual tourism,” he says.

“While they can’t recreate the visceral experience of face-to-face tours, virtual tours do offer a unique level of connectivity and interactivity that my clients have readily embraced.”

Another convert is Bath-based Fred Mawer, a Blue Badge Guide to the Southwest of England.

Fred, who is developing new, themed walking tours around Bath, sees the value of virtual tours both in their own right, and as teasers to entice potential clients.

“Virtual tours can sometimes be more effective than live tours, for example bouncing people around between locations, or zooming into details,” he says.

He has also found new practical applications having honed his virtual skills. He was recently approached by a company to conduct virtual tours of the University of Bath campus to prospective international students.

“Even when so-called ‘normality’ returns, I expect to see sustained demand for virtual tours.”

Live broadcast

As well as the professional guiding skills of local knowledge and engaging storytelling, the secret to successful virtual tours is to keep the technology relatively simple.

While some tourist boards have invested in VR technology, Pepe guides with just Keynote (for presentations) and Zoom loaded onto his iPad. This even works for live-remote tours, such as broadcasting live from a museum.

“VR is phenomenal,” he says, “but it’s still three steps ahead of where my clients are right now.”

For Emma Fox of Manchester Guided Tours, pivoting to online tours required a new skillset.

“Keep it concise — 45 minutes with a Q&A to end. I use strong, engaging visuals, and like using Google Maps and Street View to add value,” says Emma, who is currently planning virtual tours of Worsley village in advance of the opening of RHS Garden Bridgewater in May.

“While I miss the chemistry of live tours, I’ve found the format allows for more creativity and flexibility.”

There will always be a place for the eye-to-eye contact of guides in situ of course.

Indeed, the Institute of Tourist Guiding (ITG), which represents members across England, Northern Ireland and Jersey, recently launched a pay-it-forward Blue Badge voucher scheme to gift a tour to friends and family once restrictions ease.

But, at a time of vaccine passports and £1,750 hotel-quarantine bills, technology-enhanced tours are more than just a stop gap, relieving pent-up demand for travel experiences.

Audio tour

Is this a chance to reinvent tourist guiding for a whole new chapter in the travel journal?

I believe so. I had started training as a Green Badge Guide to Chester and North Wales, combining my love of storytelling with street-level knowledge of my Roman-heritage home patch.

With UK staycations set to be popular again this summer, I’ve used my time during the current lockdown to develop a VoiceMap audio tour, Haunted Chester, to download to smartphones.

“Looking to the future, I think guides will work with fewer large groups and be busier in the winter months as virtual tours evolve,” says Pepe.

“And I guarantee that delivering virtual tours will be included in most, if not all, guide training in the future.”

As one of the new-generation trainee guides, it feels like guiding is overdue for a major shake-up. So, park the coach and retire the giant follow-me umbrella, the future of tourist guiding is a blended approach.

I’ll see you on Zoom.

Read the edited feature, Take a tour guide … to the places you plan to visit published in the Daily Mail.

Read my latest newsletter for a quick catch-up on my media and travel projects

Travel has been off the agenda for the last few months.

But I’ve still been working and planning, combining journalism projects, media training and tours.

For the quick catch-up, read my latest newsletter.

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Behind the scenes as Chester Zoo prepares to re-open to visitors

Preparations for post-Covid visits to Chester Zoo.

The moment the gates swing open on Monday morning is one staff feared they would never see.

“We were three weeks away from closing down,” says Jamie Christon, Chief Operating Officer, pulling up the collar of his Chester Zoo fleece against a sudden downpour.

“I went through the four stages of grief in 48 hours. Then,” he smiles, “we decided to fight.”

Chester Zoo found itself threatened with extinction on June 1 when the government ordered it to remain closed indefinitely — despite having put measures in place to make visits Covid secure.

The subsequent fundraising campaign secured over £3m in a week to ensure the zoo, founded in 1931 and home to 135,000 animals, could be saved.

The public support contributed to the announcement by Boris Johnson this week that English zoos could re-open within a partial easing of lockdown measures.

“We had been haemorrhaging money since closing on March 21,” says Jamie. “It costs £0.5m per month to feed the animals alone.”

Fresh start

Mandatory online tickets (including those for members) are now on sale, although visitor numbers will be limited to 3,000 per day — compared to an average of 10,000.

But, while all three wildlife areas, plus the nature reserve, will be open, visitors will notice changes to comply with social distancing.

So, what to expect? I’ve come to Chester Zoo for a preview.

Beyond the gates, I find a series of 2m markers leading to self-scanning ticket booths and the first of 30 hand-sanitisation units on site.

A pressure-value system will operate at the entrance to manage numbers, Jamie explains, so ticket holders are advised to avoid the 10am opening queue.

Walking around the 128-acre site, we inspect some of the pinch-point measures installed at the more popular attractions, such as the elephant and giraffe enclosures.

New protective screens, regularly deep cleaned, stand between visitors and animals and stand-off markings on the floor indicate the line to stand behind.

Footsteps illustrate the viewing points behind the line to maintain social distance between visitors.

The new rules will take some getting used for both the visitors and animals. When we approach the Humboldt Penguins, splashing playfully in their giant tank, a couple swim over curiously.

“Some species, such as the penguins and giraffes, are very social animals,” explains Jamie.

“The eerie quiet of the zoo during lockdown has been disconcerting for us all.”

Day trip

If you’re making a day of it, then 12 kiosks are opening for take-away snacks and all the toilets will be open, albeit with queueing outside likely until a traffic lights system is installed.

The picnic benches have been strategically placed at 2m intervals.

All inside habitats and the gift shop will, however, remain closed for now. Some sections of the play areas for children are still roped off and the ATM is closed.

We finish our tour outside The Oakfield pub, the restored former family home of zoo founder George Mottershead.

It’s also closed, although the beer garden may open in coming weeks as Government regulations evolve.

It may be a while, however, before visitors are allowed back into the cosy library room to admire the archive of Mottershead family photographs over a pint of Deuchars IPA.

Despite the clear markings, the main challenge, I find, will be enforcing social distancing.

This task falls to some 100 furloughed staff who have returned to work, many retraining as welcome staff with a “friendly but firm” brief to ensure visits remain safe.

Looking ahead, there are plans to extend the opening hours to include two weekday evenings until 8pm, plus cheaper afternoon-only tickets as visitor numbers are slowly increased.

The zoo will also run more of the virtual-tour days that proved so popular online during lockdown.

Picnic time

Jamie will be there to open the gates on Monday morning and is hoping for blue skies, the re-opening ensuring the zoo’s conservation work in 40 countries worldwide can now continue.

“My advice is to bring a picnic and make use of the new outdoor spaces. We’re delighted to welcome people back,” says Jamie, who is planning a much-needed UK staycation for the autumn.

“After all, people power saved our zoo.”

Read more at Telegraph Travel.