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Manchester Tour Guides.

Sports Tours, Music Tours, Ale Trails, Ghost Walks

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester and Liverpool have undergone dramatic transformations in their roles, going from industrial powerhouses to cultural, historical and cultural centres.

Ray Hoerty runs a number of diverse tours celebrating the vast wealth of history, creativity and culture these cities have to offer. From Oasis to The Beatles, from Lowry to Liverpool FC, the cities provide a fantastic array of interests and attractions. Here Digger talked to Ray about his tours and about these two great cities.

 


 

Digger: What is your background Ray?

Ray: I've been a qualified Blue Badge guide for sixteen years, qualifying in 1996. This means I hold the national qualification for guiding in this country.

Digger: What is that qualification and why does somebody need it?

Ray: I would say that, to be brutal, you can be a guide without any qualification in this country because there's no legislation that says you have to be qualified. But the advantage of being qualified by The Institute of Tourist Guiding is that they are the national body, approved by government to oversee quality and standards.

Digger: It guarantees that you know your stuff?

Ray: Yes. A Yellow Badge, or level two, would mean you're qualified to guide on site, like at a National Trust property. A Green Badge would mean that, in places like Liverpool, Manchester, York, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford - those sorts of place, they're qualified to guide in those cities. But they're not qualified to guide anywhere else.

Digger: Oh, I see, A bit like the London taxi driver passing The Knowledge?

Ray: In a way.

Digger: So you should look for that if you're going on a tour?

Ray: Yes, I think so. As a Blue Badge, which is what I hold, I'm qualified not only to guide in the city but also in the region so in my case the north-west of England.

Digger: I see.

Ray: Because of where I'm based, I do a lot of work in Manchester which is eleven miles away from me and also in Chester and Liverpool.

Digger: So you have Liverpool and Chester covered as well?

Ray: Yes indeed, because I'm qualified to cover the north-west. I can do anywhere within that area, obviously, but the reality of tour guiding is that the tourists come into places like Chester, Liverpool and Manchester.

Digger: What is it about Manchester and Liverpool that make them so creative?

Ray: Both cities are very similar in many ways. Clearly Liverpool is, and through it's history has been, a docks city.

Digger: And in a way more cosmopolitan.

Ray: It has been, because of The Mersey and the ships coming right into the city. And because it's always made its name from the sea, it is a very cosmopolitan population - lots of Irish from the potato famine. If you're coming out of Belfast or Dublin then Liverpool is the first place you come to.

Digger: It's like the UK version of Ellis Island.

Ray: Yes, it was. A lot of the Irish came to Liverpool and then across the Atlantic to New York. But an awful lot who didn't have the wherewithal to do that just settled in Liverpool or moved on because they might have had relatives in Manchester. Because both cities have obviously got big Irish populations - Liverpool more so I suppose realistically. If you were coming over 150 or 200 years ago from Ireland, you probably didn't have two halfpennies to rub together to put it bluntly. So you settled where you landed. But I think also because Liverpool and Manchester are industrial cities - Liverpool's more difficult to categorise in that sense in that its major industry has always been the sea and the docks and its history has flown from that connection. Whereas Manchester, being the first industrial city in the world - you can't compare Manchester with York, with Bath or indeed London. Although I don't think you can compare anywhere with London in terms of the population and nature compared to any other city in Britain. But Manchester, because it was the lead city, has never had the big Georgian houses in the centre of the city, so it's never been a residential city per se. It has always been that creation of industry, science and technology. I think when the industry went, and particularly in the sixties with cotton David, then everything else followed on from cotton. The engineers produced the boilers and the machines and they produced the railway locomotives and the canals that were the transport system to facilitate the production and distribution of the cotton. In Manchester particularly they didn't have a docks until they built the 'Big Ditch' which was The Manchester Ship Canal from the mouth of the river Mersey into Manchester. For eighty years it had a major docks but it never had a right to have a major docks because it's 35 miles inland, of course. So, in a way it created that. And I think because Manchester's roots are industrial, and the same in a way with Liverpool, and because both cities went through major decline in the 1960s. Containerised shipping took over and so Liverpool saw a lot of the work at the docks and ancillary work disappearing. I think they've had to go through great transformations as cities. Manchester went through it quicker and better I think, to be fair. Liverpool is catching up certainly in the last five years but I think they both HAD to be creative. Because when you lose your major industries and form of work, you've then got to redefine yourself. I always used to say that I thought Manchester was about ten years ahead of Liverpool in terms of regeneration. I think that's probably five now. One of the ways that both cities have done that, Manchester really did this first, they've redefined themselves as tourist destinations. If I'm honest when I qualified sixteen years ago Manchester and Liverpool weren't even on the tourist map in that sense. You could argue Liverpool was because of The Beatles but realistically if you excluded The Beatles then in terms of a tourist destination Liverpool and Manchester were a joke.

Digger: Totally different now.

Ray: Yes, absolutely. Today they're the third and fourth most visited cities in the UK. So they have been very successful at that process, and not totally through tourism.

Digger: Who is number two?

Ray: Edinburgh, and London at number one. And in terms of visitor numbers, Liverpool and Manchester were at three and four with the official statistics twelve months ago. It always depends on how you count the figures and who you include, of course. But having said that what I can say without any question is that when I started in 1996 to try and make a living as a qualified guide it took me five or six years to have enough work to do it for most of the year. Today that isn't the case because many, many people - hundreds and thousand of them, see Manchester and Liverpool as great places to visit. Alright, you might not spend a fortnight of your holidays in Liverpool and Manchester but you're certainly going to spend a long weekend here as a base.

Digger: What can people expect from your tours?

Ray: From my point of view you can expect to have perhaps any preconceptions overturned. Because if we went back ten, fifteen or twenty years, the thought of anybody coming to do tours in Liverpool or Manchester was almost anathema to people. They would never think of coming to these cities and yet they are so soaked in history and heritage. It's a fantastic story and a fantastic journey. Clearly, if we're looking at music, then, of course in the 1960s the kingdom of music was, without question, the Merseybeat sound - The Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Cilla Black and so on. But also if you're looking at the music scene in the late seventies and early eighties that mantel that Liverpool held in the sixties was then passed on to Manchester with 'Madchester' - groups like Joy Division, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, New Order, Oasis - you name it. And even up to today with Elbow. Although they are from Bury, so you could argue Greater Manchester, the big city is Manchester and so that defines them.

Digger: They still sound like Manchester boys to southerners.

Ray: Well they do, and without any question, if you ever listen to people like Guy Garvey talk - he talks in terms of Manchester and not in terms of Bury. And that's what I would expect.

Digger: So who are the people coming on the tours? And what feedback are you getting?

Ray: Typical people? Well, there's a wide-ranging age group, literally, so you're getting anybody from their late twenties all the way up to their sixties and seventies. Remember that if we're talking about Liverpool's heritage, and certainly the 1960s, we're talking nearly forty or fifty years ago. Therefore that age range of people, when they were teenagers, The Beatles and The Merseybeat was something they knew all about because it was something they grew up with. If they were in Japan, America or wherever. Looking at the demographic, David and particularly for Liverpool rather than Manchester, but Manchester too to an extent, it's masses of Americans and Japanese. They have a strong connection and affinity with The Beatles.

Digger: My favourite tours of yours would have to be the Music Tours and the TV and Film Tours. What are your personal retro passions Ray?

Ray: My passions have always been music. Strangely enough, I was never a massive Beatles fan I have to say. Although I'm a child of the sixties in that sense I was much more into The Rolling Stones and things like that rather than the clean-cut Beatles. Not that I didn't like their music, but if I had to make a choice. I suppose I'm in the right place too, David, because one of my other great passions is football and of course with Liverpool and Manchester...

Digger: You're perfectly placed.

Ray: Yes, I'm in a perfect place at these iconic football cities and I get a lot of my tourism business, if it's not music-related tours, from sports tours as well. The other thing we've seen a massive growth in David in the last five years or so is what I would call a two-centre approach with tour operators nowadays. Because what you find increasingly is that now people are not just coming to base themselves in Liverpool or in Manchester - they're doing that but they want to see the other city as well. So you find with lots of the tour operators and the people that I see from all over the world, wherever they're based, part of their itinerary is going to include the other city.

Digger: What are the best and most enjoyable aspects of running Manchester Tour Guides and the tours?

Ray: For me, meeting people from all over the world. Every day's a different day David.

Digger: How big are the tours Ray?

Ray: I do a lot of coach work so my groups can be anything from twenty people to fifty people. For the popular walking tours I tend to be restrictive on those. I know there are guides out there who, if there are 100 people that turn up to do a walking tour then they'll do one for 100 people and I think that's ludicrous. (Digger laughs) I'll be honest. I make a very specific point that I will not take more than 25 people on a walking tour. I do that because, from an aesthetic point of view, I think if you've got more than that they're not getting good value for money. If you've got forty or fifty people in your group, no matter how good your voice is, some of those people are not going to hear what you've got to say. The other side of that when doing a walking tour is that you're going to cover much less ground in the same time with fifty people than you would with twenty people. If you think about it, it's logical and I just think if you're taking money off of people to do tours they're entitled to have the best tour you can give them. And the only way that's going to happen for me is by not dragging fifty people around, many who can't hear and only covering half the ground you should have. So I keep the tours smaller and seek to offer good value for money.

Digger: What sort of comments and feedback do you get from people?

Ray: I'll give two particular examples if I can. I did three or four days of tours in Liverpool and the surrounding area at the end of last year for a group from the Kent area. They had decided that they were going to Liverpool on a cultural stay. They were going to the Anglican Cathedral to an opera presentation within the cathedral and seeing another show in the days they were here. I did five days with them, based in both Liverpool and Manchester and the region. Their view was that they had never anticipated, even though they'd booked the itinerary, how friendly the welcome would be, how wonderful the cities were and what an incredibly fabulous time they would have while they were here.

Digger: That can't be bad can it?

Ray: I think that's part of breaking the preconceptions.

Digger: I've been up to Liverpool several times in the past five years and I'm just knocked-out by the place. It's always been friendly, there's a buzz and there's a lot to see, both historical and contemporary.

Ray: Yes. If you look at Liverpool today compared even with Liverpool five years ago, being realistic, I often say that in many ways the best thing that's happened to Liverpool in that time has been the Liverpool 1 Shopping Centre. That's not because I am in the least interested in shopping David. Along with thing like the opening of The Liverpool Museum, the transformation of Albert Dock and all that, but what Liverpool 1 has given Liverpool and has led to such incredible redevelopment around the whole area. It's given for the first time in years a connection between the city centre and the docks. Because the Liverpool 1 development flows from the city centre literally down to the docks and, for me, that's the best thing that has happened there for years. That has been so well thought out. For ten years when I was taking groups of people to Liverpool, you either concentrated on the city and left the docks alone or the other way around. Because walking people through some of the declining, derelict areas outside the city shops was an awful stretch. Now you can walk them down through a very modern development, it's seamless and makes a massive difference.

Digger: That old shopping centre in the centre was like a time-warp from the seventies.

Ray: It was, very much so. What I would also say is a regular occurrence is that when we get people coming to Manchester, particularly we get visitors who knew Manchester because they lived here or who were born here or they came to university here thirty or forty years ago. When they come back they are blown away by how different it is today. Manchester today absolutely destroys any industrial preconceptions that they have because even if their view was founded thirty or forty years ago, Manchester was just a totally different place and is so transformed today. I was born and brought up in Manchester and I know.

Digger: It's worth a visit even if you've been here before.

Ray: That's right. We get lots of visitors from Australia, from Canada and New Zealand who had emigrated in the fifties, sixties and seventies. When I take people around the area of Salford Quays - the old docks area of the city and they see The Lowry, The Imperial War Museum, The New Media City and the BBC Headquarters, they not only don't recognise it and some of them worked on the docks by the way, they are literally blown away at how wonderful it is. What a metropolitan city it is and what a diverse population it's got and what a diverse offer it's got nowadays. So I think Liverpool and Manchester are just increasing in the number of visitors they're getting for very understandable reasons.

Digger: There have certainly been some huge changes and developments in both cities in the last few years.

Ray: That's what's bringing people here. When people come here who have not been to Liverpool or Manchester before the one thing that you hear time and time and time again is "Wow, we've got to come back. We've not had enough time to really do and see these two wonderful cities and it's something we want to do." The impression it makes on people today is magnificent and I think that in Manchester's case that really began to happen in a major way with the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Digger: Ray I'm picking up on your passion for your subject and your expertise of the history and culture of these cities. Next time I'm up your way I will let you know and you can take us around.

Ray: Excellent. I would love to do so.

Digger: Thanks for letting us know about your tours.

Ray: Thanks David.

 

 

        


 

Manchester Tour Guides, Sports Tours, Music Tours, Ale Trails , Ghost Walks

 

 

Based in Tameside, we are one of the northwest's premier tour guide companies. Our aim is to provide a high quality experience for visitors to Manchester and Englandís North West. We specialise in guiding and tour management, providing a personalised service for both groups and individuals.

Sports Tours
Manchester and Englandís Northwest are at the centre of sports excellence in Britain. Take an informative and humorous tour of the regionís sporting history.

Music Tours
A Rock and Rollercoaster tour around the cities and suburbs of Manchester and Liverpool.

Ale Trails
A ramble around some of the regionís most historic & traditional pubs.

Ghost Walks
Are you brave enough to visit the ancient & spooky buildings...?

Industrial Regeneration
Hear the story of the last 200 years in this great cityís history, and marvel at the way it has risen, like a phoenix, from the ashes.

TV & Film Location
Discover a lesser known side to Manchester and the region, by visiting some favourite locations captured on TV & Film.

Tel: + 44 (0) 1457 765417

www: manchestertourguides.com

 

 

 

 

 


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