Yesterday my first group tour took place, with 15 lovely, appreciative U.S. visitors. I met them in Burford and I took them off in our luxury minibus to explore the best of the Cotswolds, away from big coach trips and out into the rural, off the beaten track locations.
I really try to personalise every tour I give. Normally with smaller groups every tour is unique and will centre around whatever interests my visitors, with an emphasis on the Cotswolds, of course. And with a bigger group, it's the same thing. I made each guest a personalised gift bag with hand written name tags and lovely English themed things inside, but I'm not going to share my secrets of what goes inside - you have to come on a tour to find out!
Before I left home in the morning, I picked simple English flowers from the meadow to have in jam jars at our table and at lunch time.
First things, first, I always tell my guests about the history of the Cotswolds and the importance of the original breed of sheep (Cotswold Lions), its wool and the wool trade. I've managed to get my hands on some genuine Cotswold sheep locks, to show people just how long their wool is and how soft and fluffy they are.
The Cotswolds looked was absolutely glorious yesterday. The lambs in the fields put on their best display of cuteness, and everywhere we went, we met charming villagers who stopped to chat (once we were invited in to see the prized village bowling green).
I took my group on a private shopping experience at Cotswold Woollen Weavers - (selling THE best locally made, highest quality soft furnishings and clothes) - my guests were in the mood for shopping, and came away happy and laden with goodies.
I tend to give 'bitesize' history info on my tours, but I do really enjoy showing my guests a bit of rural history from the area. So we visited a local museum, housed in a tiny cottage, where we learned a little about the village's history, before setting of to the northern Cotswolds for a pub lunch.
I arranged for us to have an entire ancient thatched barn for our lunch space at an amazing pub in the Cotswolds.
We sat at old oak tables (with my flowers), in our barn lit with fairy lights and ate a Ploughman’s Lunch. This traditional English meal comprises of two or three local cheeses, pork pie, scotch egg, tomato, bit of salad, pickle (Branston's is best), pickled onions, and a good couple of hunks of freshly baked bread, slathered with salted butter. Last but not least, a few slices of Granny Smith apple, to cleanse the palate. Have I whet your appetite? It was delicious.
As I wasn't driving this time, I couldn't resist half a pint of the local cider too (U.S. readers - I am told that our understanding of cider differs from yours, as ours is alcoholic, and yours is more like apple juice? Just be wary in case you order one and expect to be able to drive afterwards!).
We left the pub, slightly merrier, somewhat sleepier, to explore a glorious example of an everywhere-you-look-is-photogenic village, full of thatched cottages and a wonderful pub (which was sadly shut, being a Monday). The vicar came to meet us at the church, where the local ladies had kept their Jubilee flower display on for an extra day for our visit, (I bumped into one of the organisers when I was on a 'recce' in the pub last week and had asked her to keep it in situ for us).
We took a circuitous country return back to Burford, and I told folk tales and handed out the gift bags, to many 'oohs' and 'aahs' and 'thank yous' in response, which was lovely. I was rather sorry when the day was over. I was shattered and my cheeks ached from smiling too much, but I had spent time connecting with these people, and we had shared favourite pudding recipes, and talked about our families so it was a bit sad to say goodbye so soon.
So what have I learned from the experience? The personalised gift bags and my flowers definitely went down well with the whole group. They took me a long time to put together, but I satisfied my creative spirit, they didn't cost a lot, and now I have decided what goes in them, it will be easier next time.
The group organisers were so encouraging and seemed delighted with it all. They have said they would love to help my business grow, and will be happy to send their valued clients to me. Wow! That is wonderful news for me. I can’t ask for more than that!