Neither snow nor torrential rain has almost ever prevented them from turning out each day for duty over 85 years but l am afraid the coronavirus has put a stop to Bath’s historic free twice-daily tours.
In an almost unprecedented move, the Chair of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides, Joy Roberts, has posted a notice on the information – and meeting point board – outside the Pump Room.
It says: We regret that our free walking tours of Bath have been suspended indefinitely with immediate effect. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.’
The notice asks people to check the Corps website – http://www.bathguides.org.uk – for future information.
The decision has been taken as many of the 85 volunteers who provide this year-round service are in the ‘at-risk’ age group and may soon be having to ‘self-isolate’ themselves.
With much of mainland Europe and North America in ‘lock-down’ – and with the East Asian market also under quarantine – there are also far fewer tourists from these parts looking to take the free two-hour walk.
The earliest mention of the Guides is in 1934 when Alderman Sturge-Cotterell showed visitors around Bath on Boxing Day and Easter morning. The service continued during the Second World War and in 1951 – during the Festival of Britain – daily walks were given from June to September.
By 1960 formal training sessions were held for new volunteer guides. Local experts were engaged to give lectures on a wide range of subjects relating to the city. By 1975 the frequency of the walks increased to twice daily and on every day except Christmas day.
Today there are about 85 volunteer guides who turn out in all weathers. As far as anyone can remember the walks have only been cancelled twice – and then only for short periods.
In 1981 a spell of alternate thaw and freezing left the ground too treacherous to walk on.
In 1996 a hurricane-force wind blew through the city uprooting trees and causing chaos and the walk was again cancelled as it was felt it was too dangerous.
The walks have become popular with visitors and sometimes up to 100 people can gather outside the Pump Room at the starting point with four or five guides each setting off leading smaller groups.
The guides are proud of the service they offer. It is free and no guide accepts a tip.
Guides have been told they will be updated weekly but it must be said it looks like being quite a while before the service can be up and running again.