Every summer the county’s 30 or so Blue Badge Guides enthral overseas visitors with their knowledge about the Cumbria’s geography, history and culture. 

In 2021 the organisation gave people a rare chance to train as a guide, undertaking up to 18 months of training on 20 key topics from pre-history to architecture, science and social history. They also spent weekends practising their newly learnt skills on visits to the county’s museums and towns; learnt how to deliver a running commentary on a coach and developed voice projection as well as writing essays, a dissertation and undertaking four practical exams.  They all seem to agree on one thing – the training is intensive. Of the 2022 cohort only about 30 per cent passed all the exams first time, the rest after taking resits. One of the graduates, Jeff Appleyard, had a former career working in biomedical sciences for 40 years. For the last 16 he worked internationally for Siemens Healthcare. “Lockdown gave me the opportunity to reassess my lifestyle,” he says. Living near Cartmel with easy access to the Lake District national park, he loves the lakes and the fells and wanted to share quiet, easy places to walk with other people. When he saw the advert for training he was one of the 20 selected and now specialises in tours of Furness Abbey and Cartmel Priory and has just developed a full day tour to take in Alston, Hadrian’s Wall and Lanercost Priory, although like all Blue Badge Guides he can talk about a myriad of random subjects including the nuclear submarines at Barrow and the meat rendering plant at Penrith – commonly known as the Penrith Pong – if asked!

He says despite the range of self-guides, apps and books available people get so much more when they use a Blue Badge Tourist Guide. “With a Blue Badge Guide they can enjoy the experience, relax and fit it all together. In preparation for a tour, I once spent over five hours in Furness Abbey looking things up and I found some really interesting grotesques not even featured in the guide book which probably only about one per cent of visitors see. Just using a guide book you spend time looking at the book. Alternatively, not using a guide book you miss so much. Whenever I go away now, I always try to use a local guide, I get to see so much more.”

Blue Badge Guides set their own rates according to the British Guild of Tourist Guide recommendations and charge from £200 for a half day tour. Those tours requiring a coach or driver attract a higher fee.

“To have a guide for a day is not inexpensive," says Jeff, although he and some of his colleagues have developed some walking tours of Ambleside, Penrith, Hawkshead and Keswick for just £10 a head this summer.

Jeff is interested in introducing more people to places like Barrow-in-Furness, Ulverston, Whitehaven, Cockermouth and Millom which fits in with Cumbria Tourism’s ‘attract and disperse’ policy to encourage visitors to explore lesser-known parts of the county as well as dive deeply into specialised topics. He says some of the guides come from a professional background, such as archaeology, so they are able to give highly specialised tours.

In Cumbria:


Anna Gray has been a Blue Badge Tourist Guide for more than a decade, specialising in the North American market.

Her guiding career began after Cumbria Tourism asked her to be involved in a Sense of Place project. Over three years she explored Cumbria, researching the history, heritage, culture and geography of all parts of the county to create interpretation material for the tourism industry. “I was then approached by the trainer for the upcoming Blue Badge course in 2010.  Armed with all this knowledge, it made sense to put it to good use in the guiding world.”

Over the past 12 years, guiding has become a major part of her working life although she is still produces interpretation material on a freelance basis. “Everything stopped in 2020 during the pandemic but now demand is back to what it was pre-Covid.”

Most of her clients are from the US after she was included in Rick Steve’s guidebook to the UK. Her clients tend to want to explore the World Heritage Sites of the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth tours remain popular, but Anna is keen to develop new tours, such as revealing the sacred landscapes of the Neolithic period, exploring the Norse heritage of Cumbria or delving into the family histories of the infamous Border Reivers.  “I love the challenge of how to make a tour work. Guiding is much more than simply taking people to a few places and explaining what’s there. It’s about creating a storyline that everyone can follow. It’s also about listening to what clients want to achieve from their tour, about being responsive to their needs and treating them with courtesy, whilst delivering the tour in an informative and friendly way.” 

Anna uses various tour guiding platforms to generate enquiries and has her own website (www.discoverlakeland.co.uk). Just over half of all enquiries (53 per cent) are converted into actual bookings, with most tours typically lasting one to three days, though some can be longer than this.

She believes that, over time, Cumbria’s new intake of Blue Badge Guides will find their own niches within the guiding world. “I decided to offer personalised tours, but other guides will have an entirely different approach to how they offer their services, and all can be successful in their own way.”


Three months before the first Covid lockdown Alison Pickering and her husband sold their business in Buckinghamshire and moved to Cumbria. She had holidayed in the Lakes all her life, first with her parents when she was a teenager. Her career up to then involved working as a school bursar and then a finance manager in the firm she and her husband started. “At school you are told you do this with your life, they said to me you are ‘maths based’.’’ However her favourite work activity was volunteering as guide at Whipsnade Conservation Zoo. “I missed that interaction in helping people make their day out much better. Then I saw the advert for the Blue Badge training… it was the first time I’d done formal training and sat exams since my early 20s,” she says.

She started guiding last summer using the name Ambleside Alison and is interested in showing people the range of farm diversification in the county. She has also developed bespoke tours featuring the locations of Beatrix Potter’s beautiful drawings for her children’s books. “People want to see the locations and compare them to the book,” she says.

“I find it bizarre, I am doing all these literature tours… things which were not ignited when I was at school. I have a new set of interests. I like to do bespoke tours as I am a very detail-oriented person. I put in a lot of time beforehand to do the research.”

“I do it out of interest. I have worked long hours all my life and I have come here for a change of pace. Doing it part time keeps the joy in it for me.” She also volunteers for charitable organisations in Ambleside and as a Volunteer Visitor Guide at Brockhole-on-Windermere for their Heritage Garden Tours and in the Wordsworth Grasmere museum.

“I have been doing things I never dreamt of,” she says, but adds that the tours are hard work. “You’ve got to be ‘on’. I had one family and I thought they wanted to go into a particular church but they changed their mind and wanted paddleboarding instead!”

In Cumbria:


One of the 2022 cohort, Teresa says when she moved to Cumbria six years ago she felt at home in England for the first time in her life.

All her life she has travelled, working in advertising firms in Los Angeles, London, New York and  Singapore… until her husband (they were then based in Denmark) was offered a job at BAE in Barrow-in-Furness. “We came here and fell in love and wanted to put the brakes on,” she says. “I didn’t want to get into a big commute to Manchester; I was torn about what to do. Then my parents got sick and Covid hit… it was a dark period. Coming out of that I was out walking every day, it was keeping me busy but not enough for my mind. I was looking to do a Mountain Leader course and then the Blue Badge training came up. I thought that was a good starting place to hang other qualifications off.” She describes the course as very challenging and intensive.

She plans to incorporate into her tours her interest in the arts and crafts movement (she volunteers at Blackwell) stained glass and walking and nature. She only ever envisioned it being a part-time job. “I had about ten tours last year which for me feels enough. I do not want a high-pressure situation, I want it to be fun for me so it can be fun for my clients as well.”

She said the training was such a great way to learn about Cumbria. “It was such a wonderful course to do, it really opened up my eyes. For me it’s about people making connections, the place and people and it’s about people caring about the future of the environment. I have never felt at home in England, until now. I feel so settled here,” she says.  “My plan is to help enable more women to get out and enjoy the fells (hills) and guiding is part of that picture.”

*All the guides are self-employed

*The American market is still quite strong. UK customers are often special interest groups like U3A or horticultural societies.

*Many of the guides specialise in literature and culture with Beatrix Potter and the Lakes poets still hugely popular.

*Some of the guides are bilingual, including Japanese and German speakers.