Visitors to Carlisle have a new way to enjoy the historic city and Hadrian’s Wall – a chauffeur-driven tour in a replica vintage car.
Christine Holliday and her partner Stephen Dent set up Carlisle History Tours in May offering trips in ‘Clyde’, an elegant 1930s-style Beauford Tourer.
The new venture marks a complete change of direction for the couple. Christine is a physiotherapist while Stephen is a travel agent.
Christine said: “I’m employed by North East Drive Mobility, which is driving assessment service. For example we work with people who have recovered from a stroke or lost a limb, or who have been diagnosed with a condition such as dementia, to see if they are safe to drive.
“We heard last December that there was uncertainty about the future of the service so I began to look at other career options. I’d been a physiotherapist for more than 20 years and wanted to do something different.
“I’m writing a novel set in Carlisle in the 1840s and had done a lot of research for that. I love history, love Carlisle and I love driving.
“Then we went on holiday to Prague, saw they were offering trips for tourists in vintage cars, and the idea for Carlisle History Tours came together.”
The business offers a tour of Carlisle’s historic highlights, a ‘gruesome’ tour taking in scenes of executions, murders and other bloody events, a village tour of the city’s rural hinterland and a Roman tour along Hadrian’s Wall.
Prices start at £45 for an hour-long trip for up to three passengers.
There’s also an option of a bespoke tour, which has proved popular with customers celebrating a special occasion.
Christine said: “We anticipated that 70% of our customers would be visitors to Carlisle and 30% locals, but it has been the other way around.
“Local people have been booking tours for birthdays and anniversaries and very often they learn something about Carlisle they didn’t know, even if they’ve lived here all their lives.”
Although ‘Clyde’ looks old, the car was built in 2001 by Beauford, a company in Stoke-on-Trent that specialises in replica vintage vehicles. It had previously been used as a wedding car in Glasgow.
Christine said: “Our vehicle is classed as a private hire car and as such is licensed by Carlisle City Council and subject to regular checks.
“Using a genuine vintage car wouldn’t have been practical. With the Beauford you get the look and feel of a vintage vehicle yet it’s a modern car, to modern safety standards, with a 2.4-litre Nissan engine and an automatic gearbox.
“It’s also a convertible so we can take the roof down on sunny days.”
Usually, Stephen drives while Christine delivers commentary. Both dress in period costume. They are planning to don Victorian Gothic attire for spooky Halloween tours later this month.
Before launching Carlisle History Tours, the couple enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme delivered by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
The package of free support includes a three-day course covering the basics of starting a business, one-to-one meetings with a business adviser, training, help with a business plan and membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
Christine said: “The three-day start-up course was excellent. It gives you all the basics and an overview of things to take into consideration.
“Our adviser, Gail Gravett, has been brilliant. She listens and genuinely wants us to do well, and she’s always there for us.
“One of the great things about BSUS is that you can tailor the advice to meet your needs. For some that might be financial support around tax and book-keeping. For us it was more the marketing.
“Gail came up with a wealth of ideas as to how we might promote ourselves, including parking up Clyde in the city centre with an A-board to take bookings. She’s advised us on our leaflets, advertising and social media.
“We haven’t started advertising properly yet. A lot of our bookings come through social media – we’re on Facebook and Twitter – and the feedback has been very positive. All our reviews have been good reviews.
“We’ve just started working with the tourist information centre who are now selling our tours on commission. They’ve been very supportive.”
She added: “Up until now we’ve been dipping our toes in the water. Stephen has a full-time job and I still work for North East Drive Mobility four days a week. That may well change and we’re now confident, thanks to Gail’s help, that we can step up the business next year.”
The funding that supports the Growth Hub this comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.
© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce