Two former history teachers have gone straight to the top of the class, after establishing the only VisitScotland five-star tour in Dumfries & Galloway.
Historians Mark Turner and Lesley Watson set up Solway Tours exactly a year ago (February 2015) and were thrilled to achieve the top award from the national tourism organisation following their very first grading visit.
The pair, who are both born and bred in the region, met while running school trips to European First World War battlefields. Their shared passion for Dumfries & Galloway and history led to the creation of Solway Tours, which offers bespoke itineraries for visitors from all over the world.
Mark said: “It’s very rewarding to feel that what we do is seen as a high-quality service. It is a great honour to achieve five stars on our very first grading visit, but we’re absolutely thrilled and feel that it is recognition for the excellent customer experience we strive for.”
Although Solway Tours takes in popular visitor attractions such as Caerlaverock Castle, Sweetheart Abbey and Threave Castle, Mark and Lesley pride themselves on offering bespoke and personalised tours which very often takes customers, many of whom come from the United States, Canada and Australia, “off the beaten track”.
Lesley said: “Many people come to us looking to trace their family roots, to discover where their ancestors were born, lived and got married.
“As historians, we find that very exciting and we do a lot of extensive research with many partners, such as the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
“In December, we took three ladies from Virginia to Old Luce Church in Glenluce where their great, great, great grandfather had got married in 1843. We spoke to the church caretaker and arranged for the wedding march to be played, which was very emotional.
“I think it’s adding personal touches like that, and the fact that we will pick up and drop off anywhere in Scotland, which helps us to stand out as being special.”
Mark added: “We feel that Dumfries & Galloway is a hidden gem, not just in terms of its scenery, but it also has an incredible history. Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns and JM Barrie all have strong links to the region, as does Helen Walker – the basis for Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian.
“We’re proud to help sell Dumfries & Galloway to the world. There are so many high-quality places to stay, top-class visitor attractions and great restaurants and bars in this region as well as fantastic history.”
VisitScotland star awards are indicators of quality and provide reassurance to visitors.