Ireland Walk Hike Bike will be 21 years old in 2015, and having come of age, we thought we’d write a blog about how it all began. Linda Woods is our founder, our wonderful boss 🙂 and an amazing guide, the story begins with her…
Linda reckons she was very lucky growing up in Dublin because when she was young her Dad knew the country really well. He had cycled around Ireland as a teenager, putting his bike into a bus every holiday and continuing on from where he had previously left off. So as a child Linda and her three siblings would rejoice if they stumbled upon somewhere that their father had not already been to perhaps fuelling the explorer within. She only remembers two occasions where this actually happened and has the distinct memory of herself thinking “Yes! We found somewhere Dad hasn’t been”. As a result of her father’s interest in his own country he always found wonderful and hidden places before everyone else, for instance, Assolas Country House in Co. Cork, which he had them down to within the first month of it opening. Never thinking twice about bundling his family into the car and driving for a few hours to have a picnic has given rise to in Linda’s love of the outdoors. Her father really wanted to impart a knowledge of their own country into his children because a lot of people know all about the world but not enough about what is on their own doorstep.
20 years later while working as a sales rep, Linda would often be travelling around Ireland, seeing bus tours of people driving past her and thinking “they don’t have a clue what Ireland is really like”, and so the idea of a walking tour company to show people the real Ireland began to take hold. She pushed that to the back of her head and moved on because it seemed like a distant dream, thus moving to England for her career. After 6 years in London and 7 moves, gaining better jobs and more responsibilities and ultimately more headaches, a chance conversation with a friend convinced her to do what she had kept on talking about – set up a walking company and show people the real Ireland. And that’s how the whole thing started. At the time her beloved father had just passed away, so with a lot of soul searching she decided that she was doing this for herself and not because of the wonderful memories her father had given her.
At the time only two people were operating walking tours in Ireland so there was a real gap in the market and Linda stepped in to fill it. Still living in London she took a holiday back to Ireland and her cousin organised for her to meet a tour operator who told her she needed to get a tourism qualification. There was only one tourism course in Ireland at the time and it was in Tralee, Co. Kerry. Aware that she would have to give notice on her job if she was to do this course, she persistently pursued the college for an interview to get on the course, which she got. Once she had the guaranteed place on the course she handed in her notice, working her remaining two months on her contract in London, but cutting it very fine to get to Tralee in time for the course. She arrived in Dublin on the ferry, spent 6 hours at her Mum’s house then was on the train to Tralee and her new life.
Linda immediately loved college, it was like an oasis in the dessert. She was very tempted to extend her stay in college but she knew she had her dreams and a very definite purpose for leaving London, so was focused on achieving her dream. While attending college she took various opportunities, such as coach guiding, to develop her skills and knowledge, and was offered a job as a bus tour guide with one company. She doesn’t look backwards at turning down that job as now she gets to be outside on the hills and really gets to know the people on her tours very well over the days she spends walking with them. They become like friends. Getting out on the hills is the real reward of her job. Linda feels lucky in that there are so many people that come back over the years & she recognises and remembers them from guiding them herself. It’s a real privilege. The downside being that she wishes she could keep in contact with all these people a bit better. She would love to have the time to touch base with people more and ask about their lives or conversations they had together while on tour.
Initially when the company started Linda thought she would stick with the Dingle Peninsula, The Ring of Kerry and Beara and so the name SouthWest Walks was born. To begin with, the company began to grow from predominantly German tourists doing guided walks, they accounted for about 95% of the tourists Linda was taking out. Gradually the Self-Guiding side began to grow, this really began when after 2 years in business Linda was recommended to partner with a company in Holland in order to set up Self-Guiding holidays in Ireland, 18 years later Linda is still in business with them. Through their experience Linda set up our own Self-Guiding tours in Ireland, having learnt a huge amount from the Dutch.
In those days we had no website so Linda would regularly go to holiday shows around Europe. In 1998, at a holiday show in Holland, she was to present a slide show with another man, Brian, who ran cycling tours in Northern Ireland. They kept in touch and when, 2 years later, he decided to move to Australia, SouthWest Walks acquired his company. This is how cycling started and over time the cycling tours moved from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland as well. Eventually it was time for a name change to reflect both the biking and the expansion of tours into the rest of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and so SouthWest Walks became Ireland Walk Bike Hike.
Linda maintains the company has evolved through luck and circumstances more than anything else. She hates being in the office, it’s a discipline but really the carrot that drives her is knowing that she’s going to get out and guide tours. She considers the position she is currently in where she can choose which tours she is going to guide a luxurious one. It’s daunting and hugely fulfilling when people ask for her and it’s one of the nicest things, so if you do want her to be your guide just email us and ask! Her approach to guiding is to bring the history and mythology of Ireland alive weaving it into the stories of the locality. Irish history can be complicated and immense so it’s the easiest way to show verbally what Ireland was like before and in some ways what it still is today.
She has yet to cycle a complete biking tour, that’s where Maurice comes in, preferring the walking tours because it’s what she has always done. The Beara peninsula is her favourite location, it’s the most beautiful undiscovered place with less coach tours driving around, and it’s idyllic. Linda has a huge list of walks she wants to do in the future, she feels she’s only tipped the ice berg even though she’s done a huge amount of walking. Even walks she’s done she wants to do them in different ways! So watch this space for new tours coming up and if you want a special bespoke tour Linda’s advice is invaluable.
So what’s coming up in the future for Ireland Walk Hike Bike? The company will continue to evolve organically as we’ve always done. We’re constantly striving to be more eco-friendly so improvements will always be happening there. Biking tours will expand and hopefully we will be able to offer even more choice for our clients. We will continue to work on co-operating with more activity providers so we can give our clients greater choice for their holidays.
So, here’s to another 21 years! Thank you for taking us on the journey Linda.
If you have any stories of Linda we welcome you to share them with us in the comments below or on our social media pages.