02 MAY 2019: After decades in this industry, I like many others, have been subjected to more than my fair share of tours and tour guides usually droning on and on in monotonous monotones about some seriously uninteresting - let's call it - stuff. Regrettably over the years I have on occasion inflicted this same dull disservice on other unfortunate travellers. Only twice in all that time have I ever found a tour that offered me an experience that was truly both interesting, fun and made me not dread getting back on the coach. And both occasions had three common denominators.

Those three factors were:

⋅ VisitBritain 
⋅ Rabbie's Trail Burners Ltd. in Scotland 
⋅ Mack Dalrymple

...and perhaps the last should be first.

We’ve run this article before, but it’s worth repeating (with minor updates). I have subsequently been on various other tours conducted by various other guides, but as good as they were and some were excellent - Mack Dalrymple is the gold standard.

A visit to Scotland a few years ago under the auspices of VisitBritain, was my second that involved a tour with Rabbie's, and in a marvellous coincidence Mackenzie Dalrymple who had captained my earlier trip, was once again our driver, lecturer, music coordinator, raconteur and guide to all things Scottish. 

A guide needs to be intelligent, curious, well versed in history, folklore and local colour, and be able to translate all this to his/her listeners in a manner that somehow captures their imagination and holds their interest. 

Mack's obvious love of his country and his curiosity about travel and life in general are demonstrated by the stories of his own travel. Recounted with knowledge, humour and asides ... for guys, he advised, a kilt will always help you when hitchhiking - and bagpipes and a kilt in foreign climes will virtually guarantee a pick-up (both on the highways and in bars) - he kept us listening, laughing and engaged.

Among many other places, he has hitchhiked from Halifax to Quebec City - arriving just in time for the Winter Carnival, "I stayed close to those big heaters," said Mack, "Quebec in winter is a very cold place for a man in a kilt."

What Mack did on these trips I took, was to make Scottish history come alive. In doing that he made those of us somewhat jaded media and tourism types on his coach aware of, and interested in, the historical relevance of places we were passing, he brought the countryside alive as he regaled us with the history of kings, queens, lairds and soldiers who lived, loved and fought in the hills and valleys we could see from the windows of our coach. As he spoke we gazed thoughtfully at the fields where the Scots had lived their lives, and vanquished their enemies or fled them. 

We learned that the Battle of Bannockburn was a great victory and that Culloden wasn't. We learned about Robert Bruce, William Wallace (a tall giant of a man - unlike the relatively diminutive Mel Gibson who played him in Braveheart) and about Rob Roy and the MacGregors. We heard the marvellous stories of Mary Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England) and the Jacobite Rebellions.

This information was all imparted with enthusiasm and gusto, animated gestures (invisible knives slashing the air) and varying voices for the different characters. And all told with knowledge, humour and passion. From time to time Mack would fall silent and play some lively or lilting Scottish music, my favourite quickly became the beautiful violin of Duncan Chisholm (now on my iphone playlist). 

Perhaps the highlight of the trip - certainly my most memorable moment - came when we visited Loch Lomond. 

It's a big lake and we drove along it for some time, stopping at one point for Mack and a couple of guys on the coach to help lift a fallen tree off the road (it was very windy). Further on, Mack pulled over and directed us up some rough stone steps to get the best view and feel of the famous Loch. Taking his advice we climbed to a 'lookout' area with a low stone wall around it and there sat Mack with his bagpipes on this cold misty afternoon sending haunting magical melodies out across the shimmering lake.

He's taken a shortcut up to give us this remarkable atmospheric moment. We listened silently and, it was a moment of rare tranquil beauty that quite literally left many of us with goosebumps.

But isn't the epitome of a real tour guide? To provide experiences, to teach, to instill their own love in their listeners. But then of course ... they have to love what they do - it can't just be a job. 

Rabbie's was established by Robin Worsnop in 1993 and named after none other than Robert Burns - Scotland's best loved poet. They offer a range of departures from Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Dublin which vary from one to 17 days.

It's the only tourism business to win five VisitScotland Thistle Awards in four consecutive years, and it is environmentally responsible - winning awards for sustainability and responsibility. 

So, the next time you're in Scotland, or send a small group, or take one - remember Rabbie's. It is truly a company you want to work with. 

And, if you're really, really lucky - Mack will be there to show you the way.

Check it out at: www.rabbies.com

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Jen Savedra

Jen Savedra is the founder and editor of Travel Industry Today with  a long career and considerable experience in various sectors of travel and tourism. She is dedicated to producing a publication that differentiates itself from the pack. One that pulls no punches, and - along with being a forum for news and ideas - is easy to navigate and always fun to read.

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