Alan Fidler lives and breathes the North East. He can tell you the exact date and place where the first electric light was switched on and will show you some of the most impressive views of Northumberland while pointing out 1,000-year-old churches snoozing in the distance – all from the comfort of his taxi.
And that’s why, last night, the 62-year-old North Shields native was named England’s Tourism Superstar at the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence in Leicester.
We’ve pick Alan’s brain for his North East knowledge and top tips around toon.
Give us a few gems of local knowledge about the North East…
All the electric lighting in the world essentially originated through the developments by Joseph Swan – a famous inventor in Tyneside in the 19th century – in Newcastle and he actually demonstrated his first electric light at the Literary and Philosophical Society in January 1879. And few people know that the first street in the world to be lit by electric lighting was Newcastle’s Mosley Street.
What do you love most about your job?
Meeting people from all walks of life and all nationalities. I’ve had people from Brazil, Mexico, Spain, China, Japan, France and Germany, to name a few.
What’s your favourite coastal spot?
My favourite beach is probably Long Sands in Tynemouth because as a child I used to play there with my brother. It’s a fantastic beach where people surf 365 days a year.
What can we expect on one of your tours?
You’ll get a broad understanding of where the North East fits into the history of England, Scotland and the border wars, whether it’s in the centre of Newcastle or going up the coast to Warkworth Castle, Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle or out on to Hadrian’s Wall.
So it might include Ashington, which used to be known as the largest pit village in the world. Then we might move on to Warkworth Castle – the other castle that the Percy family used as well as Alnwick Castle. It always amazes people that you could have two castles, never mind one!
Of all the tours you offer, which is your favourite?
Probably the one that starts at the port of Tyne, goes up to Warkworth Castle, onto Alnwick Castle, then returns to Newcastle via Alnwick Moor. Crossing Alnwick Moor, we take a very steep road on the edge of the moor near Edlingham and you get a fantastic panoramic vista to the Cheviot Hill, the largest hill of the Cheviots. A group of young Dutch men came to visit last summer and we stopped to have a look off the edge of the hillside and one of them remarked, “Ah yes, it’s just like Tuscany. But green!”
If you could travel back in time to any period of English history, which period would you choose?
I’d like to go back to the mid-to-late 19th century on Tyneside when there were life-changing inventions being developed there. We had the railways thanks to Stephenson and Armstrong, who invented the hydraulic crane, and massive factories on Tyneside employing tens of thousands of people. And then there’s Sir Charles Algernon Parsons who refined the steam turbine which provided the world’s first steam-powered turbine ship. You can still see it at the Discovery Museum.
What’s the funniest question anyone has ever asked you?
When the Millennium Bridge opens we call it the blinking eye – the bridge opens by tilting backwards. Well, I had a bunch of young ladies from Liverpool up for the weekend and I was taking them into the quayside area of Newcastle and I mentioned the bridge and told them how it opened, and one of them said, “Oh, what happens if you’re on the bridge when it opens?” To which I replied, ”You’ll have to hang on tight!”
Inspired by Alan? Find a great holiday offers at great2012offers.com and explore the North East.