Our Best of Southern England tour is a perennial favorite, which is music to the ears of Roy Nicholls. A veteran of more than 25 years of leading tours for Rick (longer than any other of our guides), the ever-dapper Roy has a deep passion for sharing his country's history and culture. He also has a knack for pulling unforgettable moments from Britain's "quiet places" — where old friendships open doors, bring handshakes all 'round, and connect us with interesting people and stories. When he's not leading our tours, Roy offers planning services and small group tours for Britain and Ireland, and writes a blog about historical aspects of England.
Roy, tell us a bit about the Villages of South England tour, and why it has you so excited.
All tour guides take a special pleasure in showing visitors their own particular backyard — it is pride of place. I have lived in many of the places this tour visits and know the other ones pretty well. They are all places I love. Southern England doesn't have such a high profile as other parts of Britain. It's just not as well known to most visitors from abroad, which is something we can rectify with this wonderful itinerary. Along with the "must-sees" of Canterbury, Dover, Cornwall, and Bath, we'll be visiting such areas as the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and Devon (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the new exhibition center for Henry VIII's ship, the Mary Rose. We'll also explore Stonehenge, which now offers a fresh new approach to how this remarkable site is presented to visitors. And then there are the out-of-the-way villages, pubs, hiking trails, and craftspeople you've never heard of, but which truly add magic to this trip. For such a relatively small area, southern England has an incredible amount to see and do, and people to meet. It's a fascinating and beautiful part of Britain!
You mention the people we'll meet. Can you give us an example?
I was traveling through Dartmoor with a group a few years ago, and we stopped at a country hotel on the edge of the moor for lunch. It was a quaint little place that hardly seemed to have changed in decades, but was efficiently run by a rather prim old English lady. After a rather nice lunch in the hotel's pretty garden, and just before we left, I was wandering down the corridor past the "Public Bar" when I noticed a rather faded sign that said, "No RAF (Royal Air Force) officers allowed in this bar." Very curious, I sought out our hostess and asked her about the sign and why it was necessary, as I didn't think there were any RAF bases close by. "Oh no," she said, "there aren't any now, but I had a group of officers here in 1941 and they made such a noise and mess, and drank much too much alcohol. I know they were busy fighting the Germans — and young men do need to let off steam — but it really was not acceptable behavior. So I put that sign up in case they come back."
Other than in your very interesting backyard, where else do you lead tours for Rick?
I am a member of the Charted Institute of Archaeologists, and archaeology helps create a foundation for travel and teaching almost anywhere. At first I led tours of Britain, then added Ireland, Scotland, and the London city tour. Although I no longer lead tours in Ireland or Scotland, I simply love guiding several Best of Europe tours every year. On these tours I can teach about the wonders of the Roman and other civilizations, together with the wonderful culture of all the great places we visit.
People have access to infinitely more information today than 25 years ago. Has that changed what they want from a travel experience?
The internet allows travelers to micro-manage their own travel experiences, and so they will seek out the very best experiences and value-for-money. They are also more inclined to travel off the beaten path and seek out more unique or personal adventures — something we've always prided ourselves on providing through our tours. Whether it's within a city or a village or out in the countryside, we can help people find and experience those "hidden corners" of Europe.
Where do you live?
In a little market town called Blandford Forum. It's medieval, and such a lovely town of about 8,000 people. It's in the county of Dorset, which is one of the most beautiful counties in England.
Here's what Roy won't tell you...but his tour members will:
"Roy was a delightful guide. He led our group with enthusiasm, knowledge, humor and genuine kindness. He may be the most calm man I have ever met, and is clearly an expert at what he does. Can't say enough good things about Roy."
— Sarah in Denver, CO