My tour guide beginnings. 1996 Diary – School Trip to the Highlands of Scotland – Day 5…

Well, here it is, the final day of our adventures in the Highlands of Scotland, following my diary as an 11 year old on our school trip. Today it’s Day 5, Friday, and we are heading back to school and back home. I obviously had more time for the drawings for this day and we’ve got giraffes and a monkey at Blair Drummond Safari Park, a couple of dodgem cars bumping, the amazing slide and the bus going in the opposite direction to how it was on Day 1 and with different expressions on the kids’ faces. Y’see what I did there? ; )

I think the seal show was probably a set up. Pebbles knew exactly what she was doing and was supposed to be the funny part of the show. The slide was brilliant! Loved slides like that back in the day.

I am also very impressed with my precision noting of times -“we left at twenty to nine“, “we arrived at twelve minutes past three” – a very useful thing to keep in mind as a tour guide. In my job I am always punctual or usually early, for some reason that is often not the case in social situations!

I obviously held a bit of a grudge about “some of us” having to wait a while for our parents to come and pick us up. All is now forgiven!! Haha. Read the full diary entry below or click on the video to hear my reading.

Click above to watch video

Friday 17th of May 1996

We had another early start this morning because we came home today. We left the hotel at about twenty to nine and a while later we arrived at Blair Drummond Safari Park. First we drove through an enclosure and we saw monkeys and deer and sheep. Then we went through another enclosure and we saw tigers, lions and bison. Next we played at the play park for a while and after that we went to a seal show. There were three seals at the seal show, called Blossom, Mindy and Pebbles. At the start when the man called up the three seals only Blossom and Mindy came up. Throughout the whole show Pebbles didn;t do anything. After that we had our lunch. Then we went to a big slide that had four lanes ad when you went down there were wee bumps that you went flying off. Next we went to the dodgems, they were brilliant. Then we played in the amusements for a while and then we went back on the bus. We arrived at twelve minutes past three and some of us had to wait a while for our parents, but they all eventually came.

The End.

By Colin Mairs

Thanks for reading until the end! If you missed any of the days you can click back or start here from Day 1.

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<<< Back to Day 4 diary entry <<<

My tour guide beginnings. 1996 Diary – School Trip to the Highlands of Scotland – Day 4…

This is day 4 of my diary entries from my school trip to Highlands of Scotland in 1996, I was 11 years old.

In today’s diary entry we visit the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore, and Rothiemurchus Estate. Good to read that we saw some Highland cattle, which you may know better as “hairy coos”, and I included a wee cut-out clipping from the Rothiemurchus brochure as proof of this.

Scroll down for more pictures of the diary pages, a text transcript (just in case you can’t read my beautiful handwriting ☺️) and video of me reading today’s diary entry.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was clearly an influential trip for me and an early experience that helped shape me as a tour guide.

Diary of an 11 year old Colin Mairs on a school trip to the Highlands of Scotland.

Day 4:

“Thursday 16th of May 1996

The first thing we did this morning was go to the Highland Folk Museum. There we saw an old house with a fire burning inside it and when you went inside the house it was REALLY smoky. After the Highland Folk Museum we came back to the hotel for our lunch. Then we went to the Rothiemurcis Estate. We got a tractor ride and saw all the animals on the farm. There were Highland cattle, red deer and pigs. Then we saw the fish, all the fish were rainbow trouts and we saw one rare Albino rainbow trout. After that we came back to the hotel. Tonight we are going to have a disco. I hope it will be good.”

And here is my video reading of today’s diary entry… Click ‘play’ below to watch…

<<< Back to Day 3 diary entry <<<

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My tour guide beginnings. 1996 Diary – School Trip to the Highlands of Scotland – Day 3…

Diary of an 11 year old Colin Mairs on a school trip to the Highlands of Scotland.

Day 3:

Wednesday 15th of May 1996

This morning we had to get up a bit earlier because we had a long way to drive to Inverness. First of all we went on the Jacobite Cruise which took us down a canal and then into Loch Ness. After that we went to Urquhart Castle and we had our lunch there. Then we went to the official Loch Ness Monster Centre. In there we saw proof that there was a monster, and proof that there wasn’t a monster. Next we went to Culloden Moore and saw where the battle between the Jacobites and the Redcoats fought and we also saw a film about the battle of Culloden.

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My tour guide beginnings. 1996 Diary – School Trip to the Highlands of Scotland – Day 2…

Diary of an 11 year old Colin Mairs on a school trip to the Highlands of Scotland.

Tuesday 14th of May 1996

“Today we went to Landmark. Everything at Landmark was brilliant. I especially enjoyed seeing Bob the horse, playing at the Adventureland and going up the Forest Tower. After that we went skating it was great fun. I fell loads of times and my back is still sore from falling. Then we came back to the hotel. Tonight we are going to the Waltzing Waters. I am looking forward to it.”

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My tour guide beginnings. 1996 Diary – School Trip to the Highlands of Scotland – Day 1…

Diary of an 11 year old Colin Mairs on a school trip to the Highlands of Scotland.

Day 1:

“Monday 13th of May 1996

This morning we departed from school. After about forty-five minutes of driving we arrived at Bannockburn Heritage Centre. When we got there we watched a film about Robert the Bruce and the battles that he fought in. The film also told us about how there were some people trying to find Robert the Bruce and were going to kill him. So Robert the Bruce hid in a cave, while he was in the cave, he watched a spider trying to make it’s web and after many attempts, it finally got the web made. After the film we went into a different room and there was a man dressed in clothes that Bruce’s army would have worn. The man told us about the clothes that everybody would have worn and he told us lots of other thing. The man was very funny. Next we drove for about one and a half hours until we eventually reached the hotel.”

>>> Forward to Day 2 diary entry >>>

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Our first restaurant meal in 8 weeks!

Last night my lovely wife Claudia and I went for dinner at our local favourite restaurant – the Engine Room. It was our first meal in a restaurant in 8 weeks!!! New Zealand dropped down to Alert Level 2 yesterday. Our 4 level alert system was introduced at the end of March. We spent just over 4 weeks in the highest alert level (4), and then dropped down to Level 3 for 2 weeks, and now into Level 2. That means that we can now go to restaurants (with one metre spacing between tables), we can hug our friends again (a few hugs are already scheduled for this weekend), we can go to libraries, museums, gyms, cinemas, theatres, we can travel within New Zealand, children are returning to schools, and we can get haircuts(!). Social gatherings are restricted to maximum 10 people, 50 for funerals, and all these places will still have social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

About to enter the restaurant. Hungry eyes.

The Engine Room was actually where we were supposed to go for our wedding anniversary dinner on 24th March, but on 23rd March it was announced that New Zealand was moving to Alert Level 3, and then in 48 hours to Level 4. With restaurants closed at Level 3 and Level 4 that meant our anniversary dinner was moved to the popular venue of “Casa de la Oor Hoose” (that’s “House of Our House” in Spanish and Scots…) and spaghetti bolognese a la Colin. Picture the spaghetti scene from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp….

Prior to last night we had actually only eaten at the Engine Room once – on my birthday last year. I thought it was just Claudia and I going for dinner but when we got to the restaurant some good friends were already sat at the table hiding behind menus. It was a very special and fun birthday dinner. Due to the fact we were supposed to be going there for our anniversary and then we couldn’t, I suppose it created more of an emotional connection and during lockdown I enjoyed reading the heartfelt newsletters from the owners about how their family life had changed and sharing their hopes and fears for their business. Like many other restaurants in New Zealand and around the world they adapted to offer take away meals once this was permitted at Level 3.

In Level 2 (the current situation) restaurants and cafes have to provide a single server for the whole time you are in the restaurant in an attempt to reduce person to person contact. This means that they have to have more waiting staff on than would normally be required. We could see that the staff were busy and working hard last night. By chance we were attended to by the same waitress who had served us at my birthday meal (Claudia is great with faces and recognized it was her). The service was excellent.

Cheers my dears!

This might be sounding like a sponsored ad for the Engine Room but it’s really not! We just genuinely had a nice meal and we are also so grateful to be able to do that again. Another special occasion!

As for the covid situation and it’s containment in New Zealand – at time of writing (Friday, 15th May 2020) we have just under 1,500 total cases of infection and a total of 21 deaths. Level 2 means that the disease is contained but there is still a risk of community transmission.

At Level 2 entering New Zealand as a visitor / holidaymaker is still pretty much impossible. If and when we go to Level 1 we will have “border entry measures”. What exactly that will mean by the time we reach Level 1 is still not entirely clear. It could range from simply a temperature check, perhaps a test, or very likely to be a period of quarantine. As regards our 14 day New Zealand tour scheduled for October 2020, which I’m running in collaboration with my tour guide friend Sarah, it’s clear that a 14 day quarantine period upon arrival, followed by a 14 day tour would not be practical for most people. It’s still 5 months away and 5 months is a long time in this pandemic. Just think where things were 5 months ago at the start of January – relatively normal!

Over this lockdown period I have also been working on plans for a short tour in Australia which will dovetail with two New Zealand tours in February and March 2021. It is a great feeling to have that launched! As for what the travel situation will be by Feb/March and  whether or not the tour will reach minimum numbers and be able to run…. The universe will decide! We have the advantage of being a small and nimble company so we can make quick changes if needs be. I am grateful that we have been focussed on small group tours since the start. I think small groups will become the favoured way to go for people looking for group tour experiences. The idea of what is meant by a “small group” varies greatly as I found out last week on a webinar with some US-based travel agents and tour guides when they talked about 30 people being a small group! Our tours are usually limited to 24 people, but I’d like to work towards making that even smaller. Watch this space!

– Colin

If you want to see the timeline (so far) of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 here it is:

Australia in 6 Days tour:

New Zealand in 14 Days tour:

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How do you write a first blog post?

How do you write a first blog post? I’m not even going to google that, I’m just going to write it here. And just like that – my blog is born!

This blog will be mostly written by me, Colin Mairs, except when it is not, or when we have the occasional guest blogger. I am a tour guide and joint-owner/director of a small tours business (Mondumo Small Group Tours), so this blog will be mostly travel-focussed. I’m also into Scotch whisky, so perhaps some of my whisky musings will make an appearance. I’m originally from Glasgow Scotland but I currently live in Auckland New Zealand – more in About Me. I am married to the wonderful Claudia and we are both self-confessed foodies – so expect a food post or two in the mix.

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