Lynn couldn’t wish for better ambassadors.
Meet the town guides, members of an organisation that has led walks around historic Lynn for the last 40 years pointing out the iconic landmarks and the stories behind them to visitors and locals.
This year’s team is lined up and eagerly looking forward to walking and talking their way through the borough’s fascinating heritage and history - starting this weekend.
The best way of exploring and learning about old Lynn, with its narrow streets, alleys and hidden corners, is on foot; and better still with one of these knowledgeable guides at the helm to bring it all to life.
This summer’s 30-strong pool includes a new generation of guides who completed their training and earned their badges last year, the established stalwarts with many year’s experience – and Vic Saunders who was one of the first group of guides to be appointed four decades ago.
The East Anglian Tourist Board had suggested that Lynn deserved its own trained guides.
Vic answered an advert in then Lynn News and Advertiser calling for trainees and has been out there, rain or shine, promoting the town ever since.
He came to Lynn from London and is a retired college lecturer who saw first saw the guides as a way of learning more about his new home town.
Vic has lost count of the number of walks he has led since 1997 but he remembers his first. “I had marched my group of visitors down to outside St Margaret’s Church, opened my mouth for the first time and before I could utter one syllable the bells started ringing for a wedding.”
He recalls that the early tours cost 30 pence and that while many of his fellow guides have been teachers and lecturers by profession he remembers one year in the 1970s when they included an undertaker, a guest house landlady and a professional clown.
“Guides have to be able to entertain their audience. It is not a history lecture,” he said. “They have to be able to think on their feet, adapt to the group they are leading and leave them wanting to come back for more another time. I like to think we are ambassadors for the town.”
Ivor Rowlands, a company commercial director, is one of the nine guides who qualified last year. “The training is quite intense,” he said, explaining that it followed the academic year with a term of weekly evening talks and lectures at Thoresby College, followed by various assignments and research tasks, a thesis and presentation (Ivor chose Captain George Vancouver as his specialist subject), a 90-question quiz, a formal written examination and a practical assessment.
“Then it is out on tour with experienced colleagues before finally going it alone.
He said: “The one thing we all have in common is a pride in Lynn and a desire to promote the town. Guides need to be able to engage with people and strike a balance between education and making the walks interesting and fun.”.
Ivor has been appointed the guides’ publicity officer and is keen to encourage more local people to join the walks.
He hopes that a free town walk this Sunday starting at 2pm in the Saturday Market Place may be an incentive.
Bob Price, chairman, said, “We are really keen to get as many local people as possible to join one of our walks and to learn about the rich history of their town. In our 40th anniversary year, it seems appropriate to offer this walk free of charge for everyone.”
Sue Burge is a creative writing and film studies tutor who has been a guide for about five years and was hooked after joining one of historian Dr Paul Richards’ tours of Lynn.
“I found it so inspiring that when my husband and I moved to Lynn from Norwich it became my number one goal to become one of the guides,” she explained.
“I love showing the town to people who have never been to Lynn before and to see their reaction to the stories behind the historic buildings and, equally, I love it when local people come on board.
“Each guide gives their tours a different spin and everyone is enthusiastic. I love the medieval town and want to bring it to life for people so that they can enjoy it as much as I do.
“In a way I feel we are unsung heroes. We don’t get paid (unlike guides in many cities in the region). We do it for love of the town.”
Mike Goward is another of the new generation guides, one of the nine who earned their badges last year. He is a retired diving supervisor whose interest in all things maritime led him to become one of the volunteers at Trues Yard Fisherfolk Museum.
“It mushroomed from there. I had met Paul Richards who introduced the idea of joining the town guides so I went to the Tourist Information Centre and applied.
Mike admits he is a ‘people person’ and is loving his new role. “I have always lived in the Lynn area and have a deep interest in its history and its characters.
“It is an incredible town and it is rewarding to be able to share it with other people.”
The first of the regular walks is on Tuesday and they run through until October on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, with the introduction of morning walks on the first Saturday of each month and walks with specialist themes on Monday evenings during June and July.
There will also be some special walks during Lynn Festival fortnight.
As well as the fixed programme, guides are available to take private tours for individuals, parties and organisations on request.
One of the spin-offs is the money that is raised goes back into the conservation and preservation of the buildings and the promotion of the town. The last donation ceremony saw £4,000 go to seven local organisations.
But this Sunday’s walk is free. “The idea is to offer our most popular Historic Lynn walk”, said Bob Price.
“This takes in many of the main historic sites, people and events from 1100, starting from Saturday Market Place and finishing in Tuesday Market Place. Once people begin to discover an interest in the town we hope they will want to explore further by joining one of our specialised walks or, better still, encourage their friends to join one of our walks.”
To book your place on the FREE historic walk, simply call in or phone the King’s Lynn Tourist Information Centre at The Custom House on 01553 763044.