The return of walking tours to Derry after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions was a welcome sight to all in the city.
The familiar yellow jackets of Martin McCrossan City Tours leading groups along the city walls gave us back a sense of normality.
Earlier this week, MyDerry spoke to Charlene McCrossan, manager of Martin McCrossan City Tours, to hear about this family business and what she believes makes Derry unique for visitors.
“My father started the company 27 years ago until he passed away in 2015,” she said.
“When he passed away he was given the title Mr Derry because he was the first tour guide and the first company to establish himself in the city.
“So this is my family business, we are a small family run business, the longest operating tour company in the city and the only 5 star walking tour company in the city.”
As well as managing her father’s business, Charlene is the youngest blue badge tour guide in the UK, a proud fact that she carries with her on her walking tours.
Charlene said: “I am the youngest blue badge tour guide in the whole of the UK at 33 years old, I make sure to tell everybody about that because I am almost in my mid-thirties and won’t get away with saying it for much longer so everybody hears about it.”
During our discussion with Charlene, we spoke about many of the landmarks and sites that become tour guide favourites. For Charlene, this was the city’s Guildhall.
Charlene said: “Our city hall, the Guildhall, was originally built in 1890, it was destroyed by a fire in the early 1900s and rebuilt by 1912. It was also renovated in 2013.
“When they were renovating the building they found a stone, with a time capsule of newspaper cuttings and coins from the late 1800s and it is now on display on the first floor of the Guildhall.
“It is as beautiful a building on the inside as it is on the outside, I do often hear visitors asking what church is that? It is the style of neo-gothic architecture commonly used in churches.
“It is the centre point for a lot of events that take place in the city; meetings, demonstrations, Halloween events. Everything happens here in the Guildhall or in front of the Guildhall.”
Of course, we had to discuss the hit Channel 4 comedy Derry Girls when talking to Charlene and how the show has changed tourism in the city.
In conjunction with Hastings Hotels and McComb’s Coach Travel, Martin McCrossan City Tours are taking groups on ‘The Derry Girls Experience’ day trip.
Charlene said: “Derry Girls has significantly changed tourism. A lot of visitors over the years would come here to see the murals in the Bogside, which tell a difficult story about the difficult times the city has been through.
“But when you get to the Derry Girls mural now especially over the last couple of years it is funny, it is people standing in front of it shouting I’m a Derry Girl and it is a positive aspect of the city and the people that have come from here.
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“It has put the city on the map as a visitor destination, a lot of people are watching it all over the world and say this looks like a fantastic city, a fantastic culture, friendly people, I’m a big fan of the show I want to go.
“One of the most important aspects of the show is that it reminds you very subtly that normal life did continue for the majority of people through difficult times and there is still a lot of humour here no matter what is going on we always have our humour we always have our fun.”
For Charlene, she is surrounded in promoting her home city in her every day life, telling walking tours about the history and culture of Derry. We wanted to know what makes Derry unique, and what makes the city stand out.
Charlene said: “I think the most unique thing about Derry is our positioning and where we are on the island.
“We are right in between the Causeway Coastal Route and the Wild Atlantic Way, and you have a lot of people using here as a stop gap, if they are in Belfast or the Giants Causeway heading to Donegal.
“When they actually get here they are like oh my goodness I should have spent way more time here. I did not realise this is a fantastic, thriving city and I think the location is one of the big things for us.
“Obviously our beautiful city walls as well, we are the only fully intact walled city in the UK and Ireland and that is actually something that a lot of people don’t find out until they get here.”
Martin McCrossan City Tours run daily at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm, leaving from the top of Foyleside Shopping Centre, on the Carlisle Road.
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