Where the experts travel: Gwen Keating

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Gwen Keating

Gwen Keating

Gwen Keating is a Green Badge Guide in Newcastle –upon –Tyne, a season ticket holder of Newcastle United since she was nine, and when I met her, was awaiting the Saturday derby game with Sunderland.

What made you become a guide?

After I retired from working in a bank, I was able to indulge two loves; travel and my city. I have been doing it for ten years and Tom –her husband –for 15. Being a guide allows me to travel a lot and since my husband is a blue badge guide meaning he can take tours around Northumbria and Cumbria as well, we can get the best of both worlds. Between them there business, Personalised Touring Services, takes individuals, couple, groups and coach parties on visits. Tom prefers providing tours that involve walking, getting out in the countryside and the Roman heritage that is to be found all over the area.  Gwen, on the other hand, was taken to plays by her father almost as soon as she could walk and, buildings and places reflecting the history of the city.

Many people have pre-conceived ideas when they come to Newcastle and I like showing them that Newcastle isn’t how they thought. The ones I prefer are these that are locals. They have much more set ideas and I enjoy showing them the city they don’t know. When they leave my tour you can sometimes see the pride that they take in Newcastle now that they have been shown some of the highlights of the city they never appreciated before. Down on the riverside, for example, Trinity House dates to the 1500’s and is part of secret Newcastle. You can only enter by arrangement and inside you’ll find the logbooks of Captain Cook and links to Henry VIII. At the Guildhall you can see the seventeenth century courtroom and the mayor’s parlour. Few places still have remaining examples like those.

Did you know that they used to run whippet races across one of our bridges because it is exactly a quarter of a mile long? It’s little nuggets of information like that that make a site more real to the visitor rather than just saying we have seven bridges crossing the Tyne, the Romans built the first one and this is one of the seven!

Apart from the Guildhall and Trinity House, what do you suggest visitors see?

from one part of the castle to the other - bisected by the east coast mainline linking England and Scotland

from one part of the castle to the other – bisected by the east coast mainline linking England and Scotland

Within the city they should certainly see the castle. Few people realise that we have one and some have even asked why we built it either side of the railway line! Go there this spring when the new heritage facilities open. People should also go and see some of the pretty coastal villages around here like Craster, known for the Craster kippers, Newton-by-the-Sea and Warkworth. Go as well to Lane 7. It’s a bowling alley but it serves marvellous food. Book ahead, because although this sounds a little surprising because it is a bowling alley, it can be difficult to get a table. The locals all know just how good the chef is.

The Central Arcade is a hymn to Victorian majolica work and that’s where you’ll find the tourist office as well. Sadly the office is being closed down this spring as local cutbacks take effect but the arcade is such a beautiful place to see.

This year, Newcastle has three world cup rugby matches being played at St James’s Park so that gives visitors an opportunity to see our city.

How do you plan a holiday?

I suppose being a guide that is natural for me to adopt the same approach. I always e-mail the concierge of the hotel at which we are staying and ask them for which local guides they recommend. They will know those that provide a good service and those that might not be so good. In Lisbon we were recommended to a guide called Bruno who collected us in an old German army ambulance. It could go up any hill, it was a wonderfully unusual vehicle and, as a guide, he was exactly what you want, knowledgeable, courteous and helpful.

Where do you like to holiday?

Grenada

Grenada

I’ve become very fond of cruising because it enables you to see lots of places in a relaxed way. I never take the excursions though because they are so expensive.  I contact local guides in advance and book those myself. The advantage is its cheaper but I’m not with a group so we can stay longer at one place and skip others if they don’t appeal. It’s a tailored served approach that I like.  Or, when we land, we hire a local taxi to take us somewhere and ask them to collect us at 4pm to take us back to the ship. In fifteen years of doing this, I’ve never been let down. When this interview appears I’ll be heading off for a long cruise around China and the Far East so we’ll be there for Chinese New Year. Did you know that 27 cruise ships docked in Newcastle last year?

I like the Caribbean for sunshine and relaxation and the rum’s pretty good as well! I like Grenada and Tortuga – part of Haiti – and the quieter islands. There’s a Rolls Royce abandoned on the beach on one of the islands! Sydney I love for the harbour and getting the ferries across. I’ve been there twice now. I like Corsica and Sicily, Elba and Sardinia so may e I have a thing about islands. La Gomera in the Canary Islands is a favourite. They have a language there which goes back hundreds of years which is now being taught in the schools. The volcanic soil is a different colour and life is quitter than the main islands.

In the UK, I love Devon and Totnes in particular. I like sailing down the River Dart. And, of course, Newcastle where I’ve lived all my life.

Where would you like to visit that you haven’t been to?

I should like to go to the Falklands. My youngest was stationed there for a while and loved it so I’ve had a yearning to see what’s there. I haven’t been to Brazil and that’s a place I’d love to visit.  Ho Chi Minh City is another place but I will be seeing that on the new year cruise I’m taking.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Where would you return to if you could? 

There are so many places that I should like to return to; Sydney and La Gomera obviously and the Caribbean. I’ve taken more than thirty cruises and love it. We have a favourite company because it allows us to build up points and get extras on board when we book a new cruise. But wherever I holiday I can come back to Newcastle and still learn a little more about my city.

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