The long and winding road… our story
The Camino of life isn’t always easy to navigate. There are times when the momentum carries you and you arrive into base each evening invigorated by all that has gone before. Times too when the elements conspire to make you doubt yourself and the path you’ve chosen. It pays to seek refuge from time to time when the way ahead seems blurred and give yourself the space to re-set your bearings. Stillness is priceless in a world that tends to move at pace. It connects you to something deeper in yourself, to what matters most to you when all else is stripped away. In this space, enlightenment echoes from within. When you emerge, a new way, previously unimagined, opens up before you.
6 years down the line and Waterford Camino Tours is still alive to tell the tale. Our journey started with those first tentative steps out into the unknown. Sometimes you’ve just got to trust your deepest instincts and go for it. You never quite know what awaits around each new bend. Life teaches us to stay grounded, to weigh up what we could do better without being too hard on ourselves and to vary our route accordingly. This capacity to adjust our course has been absolutely vital to our survival in an ever-evolving and changing tourism landscape.
I guess we’ve taken the circuitous route to arrive at where we are now. The unexpected detours have led us to new and exciting places. Some we chose, some were forced on us. We could never have foreseen the pandemic and the havoc it wrought. Like so many others, all we could do was batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass. We availed of the time to learn; to acquire a whole new skill set when it came to packaging our tours. There were days when it was a real struggle. We found a courage when we needed to most, revised our coordinates and kicked on!
It’s only when you look back and survey the distance you have covered that you come to appreciate the strides you’ve made. It is not the monumental feats that matter in life. Small ‘triumphs’ beyond the glare of the passing world matter most in this business – and nothing beats the satisfaction of knowing that a tour has gone well. Happy visitors spread the word and we build from there. In the early days, our groups arrived into Waterford from around Ireland, some Active Retirement groups, some walking groups, some friends who wanted to lend their support as we started out. They believed in us before we had proven ourselves to the world. Referrals have been key to our growth. This October, we’ll be walking St David’s Way in Wales with a group from Celbridge who have joined us every year since our launch in April 2017. Loyalty of this kind you cannot beat!
What propels us onwards is our belief in our vision for Waterford Camino Tours. No matter what the world has thrown at us, we’ve tried to remain true to who we are. This we will never compromise! It takes patience and solid graft in equal measure to translate a good idea into a viable business reality. The support we have received from the Waterford Local Enterprise Office has been invaluable, co-financing the digital design for our website and providing specialist consultants to help us ‘pitch’ our tourism offering to meet the demands of the discerning traveller. Failte Ireland too have been a massive help, introducing us to tourism partners, guiding us in terms of packaging our product and broadening our reach into the wider International tourism arena. We’ve learned to set goals and take the steps necessary to reach them. Our passion for what we do drives us on. Regardless of the destination, we just want to enjoy the journey.
You soon learn to distinguish between what is real and what is illusory. The tourism world can promise more than it delivers on occasion. I remember in the early days, we were very keen to have an ‘anchor’ tour operator who would send their tours in South East Ireland our way. It takes time to reel the fish in. You can’t force it or you lose it. So, after a series of emails back and forth over a few months, we met them in Dublin, presented our tour offerings and invited them to come experience Waterford and its surrounds for themselves. We wined and dined them, put them up for a weekend in a local hotel, let them enjoy everything from cycling on the Waterford Greenway to taking a boat trip out into the bay at Dunmore East. My father always said; “you have to throw the sprat to catch the salmon”. Let’s just say, this particular sprat was not cheap and the salmon never landed. They got their photos to go with their reconnaissance of the South East and we never saw them again. The only ‘follow-on’ afterwards was a call from the hotel asking us to sort their drinks tab for the weekend. We can laugh now but we felt the pain then. Sometimes the hard lessons teach us most.
The pendulum swings both ways. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. St Declan’s Way has been immense to us. We’re indebted to Knockmealdown Active, especially Kevin, Mark, Conor, Veronica and Grainne, for their guidance from the outset. We’d have been lost without them… quite literally! The timing too of St Declan’s Way being ratified by Sport’s Ireland just as we were ready to welcome our first tour in early 2021 could not have been better. We’ve shared this age-old pilgrim path with over 10 groups since then, with visitors from North America, Canada, France, Spain, Wales, England and Ireland, North and South, each bringing their own unique brand of wisdom and humour to make the way seem that bit shorter. They know that when they turn up, everything is in place – from coach transfers to guest guides, accommodation, lunches, evening meals, their pilgrim passport… it leaves them free to put their energies into walking the 115km from Cashel to Ardmore. We are simply custodians of something timeless in our midst, leading people on this ancient trail, before, we, in turn, pass it over to future generations. This is our time to leave our footprint in the land!
Each new year has eased out beyond our normal boundaries. What started out in Waterford has now extended to include iconic walking trails around Southern Ireland from Gougane Barra to Dingle to Glendalough, St Mullins and across to St David’s in Wales. In business you cannot afford to stand still. You need to refine your tour offerings so that they match what the consumer is looking for. Our visitors have loved their Camino experience in Waterford and they’ve asked for more. We love the challenge this presents; doing ‘reci’ missions on new trails, assessing what could work best in terms of accommodation, coach transfers, local cuisine and cultural experiences before shaping the itinerary into our final tour offering. It’s all about balance, getting the blend of adventure, fun, music and a little mindful reflection, that makes each crafted ‘time-out’ with us all the more memorable. You know you’re right on track when the pieces fall into place. If it’s forced, better to move on!
We co-write the script of our destiny. Your life is so fluid. Everything’s always changing. The way you think it’s going to unfold is not the way it’s going to unfold. That’s the fun of the whole exercise, and the gift. How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us to move closer to where we are meant to be. Keep believing in you, especially when you’re tested most, and you will reach what you are destined for. You get one chance at this Camino we call life. It pays to be brave and dare to take that road few have chosen.
Dr. Phil Brennan and Elaine are looking forward to leading our next ‘Celtic Camino in the steps of St Declan’ in early October 2022 and our first group along St David’s Way in Wales in the coming weeks. We have exciting plans for 2023 that widen our range of offerings to include iconic locations around Ireland and along the Western coastline of Wales. We are updating our website www.waterfordcamino.com over the coming weeks to reflect these new tours. You can contact us directly on email@example.com