Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Group Travel Organisers` Weekend at Bedford

I had a good weekend at Bedford when attending the Group Travel Organisers` Association (GTOA) regional familiarisation and annual general meeting.

The weekend was a joint venture between the Central and Eastern branches of the asociation. This excellent body is relevant to me on two counts, both as a consumer and a supplier.

I travelled down on the Friday morning and met my eldest son Neil, who lives in Bedford now with his fiancee Becca. It was nice to sit down for a while for a coffee and a chat.

After taking my case into the hotel, the Park Inn beside the River Great Ouse, I went for a little stroll around the town, and paid a visit to St. Paul`s Church.

The weekend proper started in the afternoon, when we were taken for a Guided Walk beside the lovely river by Trevor, the Chairman of the Bedford Tour Guides Association. Afterwards, I sat with Trevor for a while with a cup of coffee in the splendid Swan Hotel, chatting about guiding matters generally.

In the evening, there was a chance for the suppliers taking part to display their publicity material at a pre-dinner reception. I had a table, and was able to show, in addition to my own leaflets, material about Leicester and Leicestershire.

After that, it was another chance to chat with delegates at the buffet-style dinner.

On the Saturday morning, I was the first person in the entire hotel to come down to breakfast! This was in a buffet style, and was in a great setting, overlooking the river with great views of the town.

After breakfast, we all departed from the hotel and embarked on one of two coaches for a tour of the area. The guide on our coach was David, one of Trevor`s colleagues.

The first stop we made was at Stevington, where we admired the village cross, believed to be one of the inspirations for John Bunyan`s "The Pilgrim`s Progress". We strolled down to the Manor House, a 19th century rebuild on the site of a mediaeval hospitum, where Kathy Brown and her husband have created a fascinating collection of gardens. The talented Kathy also showed us her skills at making cakes using lavender and flowers. As well as having coffee, we were all delighted to sample these scrumptious cakes.

Then it was back on the coach for the drive to Moggerhanger Park, an outstanding house created by Sir John Soane. We were given a tour of the house and then took tea, with sandwiches and cakes, in their splendid tea rooms.

Back we went onto the coach and drove to Elstow. This was a place I had long wanted to visit, being the birthplace of John Bunyan. We visited Elstow Abbey, now used as the parish church, and the delightful Moot Hall on the Village Green, and in both places we were treated to a talk about the significance of these historic buildings.

Then in the evening of course, we had dinner. I had contributed a prize to the raffle, a Guided Walk for a group around historic Leicester. This was won by Ruth Dineley of Sutton Coldfield, and of course I will be looking forward to showing her group around this ancient city.

The hotel company also arranged an extra at dinner. On each table there was a draw, and the winner will spend a weekend for two at one of the hotels in the group. What a smashing idea! I had to do the draw on my table, and drew out Jean Cameron`s name. She will be spending a weekend at Thurrock in Essex.

On the Sunday morning, after breakfast, it was down to business with AGMs of both branches. Both meetings were chaired by the national chairman Phil Moon.

Before catching the train back to Leicester I had a stroll around Bedford, taking in the John Bunyan statue and the bust of Glenn Miller.

It was a very good weekend, in a good hotel, and I hope to be able to attend something similar next Autumn.