Alastair Walker
Alastair Walker

An Interview with Alastair Walker

If you're a previous Brightwater Holidays guest, you may have been lucky enough to enjoy a trip alongside Alastair Walker – one of our most popular Tour Managers.

Alastair was recognised by Wanderlust magazine in 2021 at the World Guide Awards, where he was named a finalist for the coveted Best Tour Leader prize, and he regularly receives wonderful feedback from guests who very much treasure their time in his company.   

A native of Inverness with a rural background, Alastair’s knowledge of Scotland is nothing short of wide-ranging. His specialist subjects include Scottish military history and the railways of Scotland past and present, though he is equally happy showing guests parts of the country many miles from a railway track!

To celebrate our 30th anniversary, we recently caught up with Alastair to discuss his involvement with Brightwater and the experiences he has had with us over the years.

When did you first start working for Brightwater Holidays?

I first started working for Brightwater in May 2014, before I had even received the results of my Scottish Tourist Guide Association Blue Badge final exams, which I had undertaken that spring after two years of study. My first tour was taking 32 clients on a “Highlights of Orkney & Shetland” tour that started properly at Aberdeen with an overnight crossing to Lerwick in Shetland.  It was the first live tour that I had ever undertaken.

Do you have any memorable moments?

Up Helly Aa. When a rocket maroon is fired up into the late January sky above Lerwick town centre as the signal to light a thousand wooden torches, the excitement is palpable. Prior to that, all the street lights are switched off, so the atmosphere is heightened. The torch-lit parade through the streets dragging the galley to its fate of immolation is a wonder for all the senses.  Not only is there the sight of the Jarl Squad dressed as Viking warriors, carrying fearsome weapons and brandishing three foot long flaming torches, but the sound of all the squads singing traditional Shetland songs as they march, too. The overwhelming smell of all these paraffin-soaked torches pervades the environment and culminates in the grand procession circling the galley as it is set alight by that year’s Guiser Jarl and burns to a pile of ash.

Landing on Staffa to visit Fingal’s Cave is an experience that many people savour as the highlight of a holiday on Mull. The excursion boats try to come in under the shelter of the cave roof before landing their passengers to explore this fascinating lump of basalt, which is a geologist’s dream destination. One can see why it fascinated intrepid travellers such as Boswell and Johnson, Mendelssohn and Queen Victoria in earlier centuries.

Bathing in the dark at naturally-occurring thermal springs in Iceland before spending much of the evening searching the dark skies for any sign of the Northern Lights. We did see them, but only after abandoning our efforts there and driving to our hotel in the centre of Reykjavik!

Eshaness cliffs on a breezy (40-50 mile winds rocking the coach and making it difficult to open the door!) day. There are huge, rolling seas in the Atlantic, which have come all the way over from Labrador. Waves are crashing against the cliffs some 200 feet below, and if one looks south to the next set of cliffs, one can see the spume coming right over the top and billowing inland.

Taking the 1 and a ½ hr ferry crossing from Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland through the outlying islands to reach the island of Westray. There, one can contrast seeing “the Westray Wife”, a small (c1 ½” high) Neolithic figurine discovered during an archaeological dig in 2009 and thought to be around 5,000 years old with the modern rural lifestyle of Westray, which produces its own cheeses and has an award-winning bakery. This is against a background of majestic sea cliffs that support a thriving population of puffins.

What's your favourite thing about leading Brightwater tours?

The satisfaction of having shown people places and wildlife they might never have discovered otherwise - regardless of whether it's in Scotland or elsewhere in the Nordic regions.

Tell us about your favourite place to visit with Brightwater?

Islay is such a contrast to any of the other Hebrides, Inner or Outer. There are wild, high places, inaccessible cliffs and wonderful sandy beaches, but there’s also good arable farming of oats, barley and grassland supporting productive beef cattle and sheep. The local barley is put to excellent use in the 12 distilleries on Islay and its neighbouring island of Jura. Local fishing also means that absolutely fresh seafood platters are served groaning with lobster, crab, langoustines, scallops and mussels. On a clear day, one has excellent views westwards to Ulster, northwards to Colonsay and Mull, and eastwards to Jura and beyond that the mainland of Argyll stretching all the way south to the tip of Kintyre. For the ornithologist, there are the rare choughs on the OA peninsula and, in the winter, many tens of thousands of migrating geese from Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and mainland Scandinavia.

The Uists in the Outer Hebrides. There is a romanticism associated with these islands not only in their prehistoric roots, but in the subsequent Viking and Jacobite eras, and their place in history when travel by sea meant they were positioned on a maritime highway. The six islands in the Uist group that remain populated provide an insight into a crofting way of life that may not survive for very much longer. Mostly low-lying, there is a huge contrast between the high, rugged hills on the eastern coast of North and South Uist and the low machair lands to the west. The hills support red deer and raptors, the machair is a fertile plain of amazing and colourful wildflowers and migrating birds such as buntings, dotterels and corncrake. On a warm, still summer’s day, the deserted beaches on all the islands are a delight. 

Walking the coastal path to Reinigeadal on the island of Harris and watching otters frolicking in Loch Trolamaraig, several hundred feet beneath us. Then later, on that same trek, returning inland on the old packman’s track through Glen Lacasdail and listening to the deep-throated roaring of the red deer stags rutting in the corries, high on the slopes surrounding us and echoing all around.

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An Interview with Alastair Walker was published on 4 April 2022