The coveted Blue Badge is acknowledged as the ultimate accolade for professional tourist guides and, on Tuesday 27th June, the class of 2017 earned the right to wear the insignia as they graduated with a formal ceremony in Belfast’s historic Harbour Office.
The Blue Badge is awarded on the successful completion of intensive training a followed by a series of comprehensive written and practical exams. Blue Badge guides are expected to have at their fingertips an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the region’s history, politics, geology, geography, heritage, arts and culture, and much more besides. They must be capable of guiding visitors confidently, eloquently and in entertaining fashion around all our tourist attractions and landmarks; from Derry’s Walls to Titanic Quarter; from Fermanagh’s Lakes to the Causeway Coast.
The new Blue Badge Guides are already in high demand this season and, reflecting on their new career, they’ve shared what a great privilege it is to see their own country through the eyes of visitors from all around the world. They have also shared how they have been amused and surprised by some of their visitors’ reactions and questions.
‘’Where can I see a leprechaun? … ‘Can you ice stake on Strangford Lough in the Winter?’ … ‘Where does Eamon Holmes live?’ and ‘Is a Pelican Crossing used during the Pelican mating season?’’
One visitor was amazed to see an arc of colour sweep over the sky during a visit to the Giant’s Causeway and delighted at his guide’s explanation that he had just seen his first rainbow. That day, to his and his guide’s delight, he saw a total of thirteen rainbows.
Would you like to be a blue badge guide?
Check out their website www.nitga.co.uk.
Top Ten favourite locations to Visit in Northern Ireland by Blue Badge Graduates 2017
• Portballintrae. This is a relaxing village to either spend a few days or to take a summers’ evening walk. I love being close to the sea and this village sits on the headland looking out over a natural harbour, no longer used except for canoes and paddle boards. Portballintrae is very convenient to Bushmills, within walking distance, here you will find some wonderful restaurants, and there is also a little steam train which runs through the sand dunes towards the Giants Causeway. (Gwen Chambers, Kilkeel)
• Upper Lough Erne. Beautiful Islands, endless possibilities to travel by boat and stop along the way for a gourmet meal for example at Belle Isle or The Ardhowen Theatre. Because of its inaccessibility, there is spectacular flora and fauna which have survives only in these parts. The old tradition of a “cot” or flat bottomed boat on the lake enables visitors to visit the islands from Crom Castle. (Mairead Sweeney, Downpatrick)
• Downpatrick. One of my favourite places in Northern Ireland is St. Patrick’s Count of Saul and Downpatrick. I grew up there and so it always has great appeal for me. There is such great history and culture as well as natural beauty in the area. It is a piece of rural Ireland. (Paula McVeigh, Belfast)
• Waterworks of North Belfast. It is a resource and sanctuary for the local community, particularly on Saturday mornings during the Parkrun. (John Gribbin, North Belfast)
• Napoleons Nose. It has the most amazing views across both Co. Down and Co. Antrim even as far as Scotland. You can see Slemish, Scotland, Mountains of Mourne, Strangford Lough and Belfast City Centre all from the one place. The skies and sights are breathe taking. (Lesley Doherty, North Belfast)
• The sunken garden at Minnowburn. Italian garden built by Ned Robinson, linen merchant of Robinson Cleavers, at his home, Terrace Hill House, first built in 1856. Restored and cared for by the National Trust. Magnificent trees, peaceful and commanding views of the surrounding countryside, the river Lagan and south Belfast. Stunningly beautiful at any time of the year, especially the autumn. Part of a network of meadow and woodland trails leading from the river Lagan to the giants ring and to Edenderry village. Kingfishers, otters and seals to be looked for. Steeped in history. I share this place with anyone who is prepared to walk with me.(Sue McKay, Gilnahirk)
• Victoria Park. Although there are many places some would say have greater outstanding natural beauty, for me, my favourite location is on my doorstep and it was man-made. Victoria Park in East Belfast. This was a little lung in the middle of what was the industrial area of East Belfast in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s where I learned to swim in the outdoor swimming pool/ It’s where I played football until it got dark on a summers evening and it’s where I had my first paying jobs as a boatman/boy on the boating lake. (Sam Mc Callen, Belfast)
• Ards Peninsula. I love the Ards Peninsula, it is rich in history and an area of outstanding natural beauty but the Antrim Coast Road is also a favourite and on a clear day the views are outstanding. (Catherine Burns, Belfast)
• Sperrin Mountains. My favourite location in Northern Ireland is the Sperrin Mountains, lots of history, evidence of ancient habitation, stone circles and standing stones. It gives me a sense of connection with the past and its mysteries. (Maire Ni Threasaigh, Letterkenny)
• Lough Navar. Lough Navar forest drive to cliffs of Magho viewpoint. Great drive, fabulous wildlife and stunning surprise as the road ends at a clifftop view of Lough Erne and out to the Atlantic Ocean. (Ian McCutcheon, Enniskillen)