When it comes to exploring a new city, we often rely on tried and tested methods to plan our trip, including guidebooks, extensive online research, and recommendations from family and friends.
But often, getting to the heart of a destination, and discovering the hidden gems overlooked by tourists, requires the personal touch – and that’s where local knowledge is invaluable.
In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has left many avid travellers considering forgoing their annual fortnight in the sun in favour of a good, old-fashioned staycation. And luckily, top tips and advice for some of Scotland’s most popular holiday hotspots can now be found in our pocket.
Hoping to encourage more of us to become “home town tourists” – a hashtag that has featured in more than 35,000 posts on Instagram – VisitScotland has just launched a podcast series which will see tour guides from around the country share fascinating tales about the towns, rivers, cities and villages they know like the back of their hand.
Hosted by Grant Stott, each weekly episode of Tour Guide Tales explores a different location, starting with an area that has put Scotland on the world stage thanks to its association with the magical romance of the Outlander TV series. Based in Linlithgow, West Lothian, tour guides Emma Chalmers and Anne Daly, from Mary’s Meanders, are wthe first guests on the podcast, and in just over 30 minutes they provide a potted history of the local landmarks which have appeared on the hit show, starring Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe.
“We started doing walking tours back in 2013, and the original idea was to guide people around our area in Linlithgow,” explained Emma. “Then the show started being filmed in and around the town, and we quickly fell through the Outlander portal.
“Now, we also do tours based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots – our namesake – as well as ancestry tours for visitors looking to explore their family history.” The tours have been especially popular with visitors from North America, but Anne hopes more Scots will show an interest in the amazing history that’s right on their doorstep – especially as it’s now possible to enjoy the Outlander experience from the comfort of your sofa.
Anne said: “Tourism has been booming, especially with visitors from overseas. But when lockdown hit earlier this year, we started doing online virtual tours and they’ve been hugely popular with people from Scotland the rest of the UK. We think a lot of people will be looking for staycations in the coming months. There are massive hidden gems to discover, and that’s what we focus on.
“Most people only think of Linlithgow as a stop on the trainline between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there’s so much history and so much to see.”
Emma and Anne delve into the past of locations such as Blackness Castle, Linlithgow Palace, and Midhope Castle, known fictionally in the show as Lallybroch during seasons one and two, and which is the most popular stop on their tour.
“People get excited when we take them to locations from the show, even locals – it’s not just people who have crossed over the Atlantic to get here,” said Emma. “You get a bit of a buzz when you stand in front of a location you recognise from the TV.
“When we go to Lallybroch, I tell people to keep their eyes closed as we go down the pathway. When I say, ‘OK open your eyes’ and they look up at the castle, they just absolutely love it.
“There are lots of teary moments when people finally get to see a place that’s been at the top of their bucket list for years.
“We’re so lucky. This really is the best job in the world.”
Although local tourism in Scotland reopened from July 15, Mary’s Meanders are being extra careful for the time being, only offering restricted numbers for their Linlithgow walking tours.
So, for now, they’re encouraging Outlander fans and history buffs to join them on a virtual tour or get a taster of what they can expect by listening to the VisitScotland podcast. And the slowdown will give Emma and Anne some much-needed breathing space before what they are expecting to be a busy 2021.
Anne said: “Next year, if everything goes well and we’re starting to get back to normal life, we’re going to be very, very busy. We’ve already had people inquiring and planning their trips.”
Tour Guide Tales will feature stories from locations including Glasgow Central Station, Skail House, and the National Wallace Monument. The 10 episodes are released weekly. See visitscotland.com/see-do/attractions/tour-guide-tales
Mary’s Meanders virtual tours start from just £8 per household, while in person Outlander tours start from £90 per person. For more information, visit marysmeanders.co.uk
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