Walking through some of Scotland’s most breathtaking scenery, enjoying the views at iconic beauty spots and visiting guest houses, B&Bs and eating places, all in the name of research, may seem like an idyllic task but for one of the Falkirk area’s more unusual firms, it’s all in a day’s work.
Brightons-based Gemini Walks organises walking holidays for clients who come from as far afield as Canada and Europe, as well as the rest of the UK.
Business partners Julie Deans and Steven Higson have more than 20 years combined experience in this line of work.
They tap into a growing market of people looking for individually designed holidays and, with four million extra people due to the UK this summer because of the Olympic Games, tourist bosses are hopeful that some will travel around the country making use of facilities and helping to boost local economies.
Gemini Walks aim is to ensure that people have a smooth-running holiday from start to finish, which is why they work closely with specially selected accommodation owners and baggage transfer companies to make sure everyone has a trip to remember – for all the right reasons.
Their clients tend to be slightly more mature – one couple who have booked regularly are in their 80s – and although they all have varying degrees of walking experience, their one thing in common is a desire to see and enjoy Scotland’s most spectacular landscape.
Both Julie (47) and Steve (57) have a passion for the great Scottish outdoors and their enthusiasm for what they do comes out as they speak about their company.
Julie said: “People think that we spend all the time walking and being outside but that’s certainly not the case.
“From January we are usually sitting in front of a computer in the office dealing with enquiries from clients.
“It’s very hectic as people get in touch wondering what walking tours we can recommend.
“We can then suggest suitable accommodation along the route and book that for them, as well as arranging for baggage to be picked up and transferred for them.
“The days of people carrying all their holiday gear in a rucksack are long gone.
“They much prefer arriving at their stop-over point with their luggage waiting.
“Once people are on their holiday we take care of them when they are en route – if we don’t get a phone call then we’re doing things right! It’s really 24/7 straight through to October when it quietens down. That’s when we get a chance to try out some different walks with the idea of adding them to those we offer.”
Despite always looking for something new, the perennial favourite has to be the West Highland Way which covers the 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William. Walked by thousands of people every year, it goes through some of the most stunning landscape the country has to offer.
Steve said: “I first walked it in 2001 and did it again in January. You get a bit blasé selling it to people, but when you are actually doing it you realise how amazing it really is.
“Despite the fact that there are so many people walking, it’s never a problem because there is great camaraderie.”
Julie added: “It can be almost like stepping back to Jacobite times. I remember standing looking down at a herd of about 100 deer with the twinkling lights of the hotel in the distance, it was magical.”
However, she did concede that those choosing this type of holiday have to “go with the flow” as far as accommodation is concerned.
“The B&B owners are all great and love what they do,” she said. “We’ve become good friends with them now but people have to realise that some of the accommodation is 450 years old and can be a bit eccentric.”
They had to call in a lot of favours when arranging a fundraising walking tour for one group, who were all accompanied by rather large dogs. “‘Never again’ was what most of the owners said,” laughed Julie.
However, the pair are used to being accompanied on walks by their third member of ‘staff’, office dog Holly, who has recently been joined by the newest member of the team, Snoopy, another four-legged friend.
Although they have walked all over the country, both admit to enjoy walking locally. Welsh-born Steve, who moved to Scotland in 1973, said his favourite short walk is the nine-mile River Avon Heritage Trail which he describes as “absolutely lovely”.
Julie, a former public sector worker, believes that the Falkirk area is very under-rated and has lots to offer both in heritage and scenery. She said: “It’s great and so much is virtually on our doorstep.”
Having previously run her own company doing a similar role, the former Falkirk High pupil, had a well-earned rest before joining Gemini Walks in 2009.
Steve added: “Forth Valley has got some great tourist attractions already, such as The Falkirk Wheel and the Helix. The John Muir Way will be going through this area which is fantastic for us.”
Most of their clients are looking for six or seven-day walking holidays and the pair are always looking for new routes to promote.
Julie said: “People look forward to their holidays and knowing that we’ve helped them achieve a great time is what keeps me doing this. Also, the opportunity to show our beautiful country to its best advantage.”