This week we're chatting to Mike Bell from Loch Ness Cruises. Mike along with his dad Dave are the skippers and tour guides on board the 'Nessie Hunter' operating out of Drumnadrochit. This would have been their second season running the tours on the Loch after George and Lenora Edwards decided to retire at the end of 2018. In the short time that Mike and Dave have been running the business they've built up a reputation of being funny and engaging hosts. Comments on Trip Advisor range from 'Entertaining', 'Value for Money' and a particularly effusive 'Amaaaaazing' from a nervous sailor! Graded with Four Stars from VisitScotland it's clear that the business is in a safe pair of hands.
Since taking over the business are there any achievements that you are particularly proud of?
One of our proudest achievements must be our Rays of Sunshine charity cruise. Last year, we were contacted by the charity, asking if we could take a young boy out who really wanted to see the Loch Ness Monster. A movie prop company from the south coast of England built a 25ft tall Nessie and we had the fun task of making it look real! A challenging day as I was swimming in the loch at the end of October but so worth it to see the joy it brought a family!
What inspires you about working in The Highlands?
Before becoming a tour guide, I was a support worker who was fortunate enough to work in some of the Highlands most beautiful spots. This gave me a massive appreciation of the incredible area we live in, and I enjoy being able to talk to passengers about where they've already been in Scotland. I love being able to show off our fascinating Loch, and to show people that the Glenurquhart area has much more to it than just our monster. Although finding the monster last year was also quite good fun!
Have you had any unusual requests on your tours?
Not so much an unusual request, but one that always makes me laugh is when people ask if we can stop then boat and make it face another direction, so the lighting is better for their selfie! I usually do it, but it always makes me smile when the rest of the passengers realised why we've stopped.
What's your favourite time of year in The Highlands?
My favourite time of year must be Autumn when the mad rush from summer is over. It really gives us a chance to chat to our passengers more when we're not so busy. Whilst they get told stories about the local area from us, we get to find out so many interesting things about all corners of the world. Plus, the weather is autumn produces some of the most beautiful days on the loch, from seeing double rainbows to perfectly crisp mornings.
Is there anywhere in Scotland you like to escape to when you get time off?
I quite like heading up the hills, so on the odd occasion I'm not working during the summer, I like to get down to the Cairngorms or over to Glen Shiel. We're usually quite busy working in the summer though, so now I certainly see more of Scotland during the winter and I quite like that, the snow can make the mountains a really good day out. The hillwalking also gives me something else to chat to passengers about as many people visit the area on walking holidays!
The season looks like it may start again in July is there anything you've had to adapt or change ahead of the restrictions lifting?
In regards to opening, following the Scottish Government's advice to aim for a the 15th of July, we've decided to resuming taking online bookings from the beginning of August. We may have a bit of a 'soft launch' at the end of July as we've had to implement some social distancing rules, both on our bus and on the Nessie Hunter, so it'll take us a little time to get used to things. We'll be running at both a reduced capacity, and a reduced amount of individual groups on each tour, with designated seating areas for each group to maintain social distancing. Me and my dad will also be working together instead of by ourselves as usual, so we can better protect our passengers with extra cleaning etc.