Early in 2019 I took a fancy to being a volunteer with Jersey Heritage who manage several of the island’s major historically significant sites. Being of more mature age than some I was encouraged to consider the job of Tour Guide, skipping the entry level job of Visitor Host. Mont Orgueil, our showpiece medieval castle, was my preference. I spent time there familiarising myself, swotted up on the history and picked the brains of more experienced guides. Each had (and has) a different approach to their tours. Armed to the teeth with new knowledge and rudimentary skills, I was let loose on the public.
That year of 2019 was great fun. I was slotted into Monday mornings and I would rock up each week for a 10.30am tour of about 75 minutes. Mondays were popular with visitors; the queues built up before opening time and it was constantly busy until early afternoon. I’d usually gather together a fairly large group and set off on the journey to the top, learning the art of guiding on the hoof. That year the visitors were predominantly from the UK but with a good proportion from Europe and elsewhere. On busy summer days I’d double up, finishing my tour at the top of the castle before trotting down to pick up a second group.
I must have made a reasonable impression as, for the 2020 season, I was taken on for a paid role, Visitor Services Assistant, two days a week. My volunteer guiding would continue subject to this new role. Then of course, the pandemic hit. Everything ground to a halt before cautiously re-opening after a few months. Even so, there were no overseas visitors and no Jersey folk wanted a tour of their local castle. Week after week us guides would turn up, hang around, drink coffee, go home again. It was a sad kind of year even though Heritage kept the sites open as best they could and without having to make redundancies, a relief for the full-time staff.
But 2021 has been better. Especially since midsummer the border restrictions have eased and the UK visitors have returned in reasonable numbers. And, slowly but surely, us tour guides have seen our groups increase in size again. Still no French or Germans though – we’re always happy to welcome our continental friends but one has to modify the banter a bit!
Into November now and Mont Orgueil will remain fully open until Christmas. Even this morning I had a lively dozen or so on the tour and enjoyed a good bit of chat with them. Hopefully 2022 will, fingers crossed, see things improve even more.