Davy Johnston has two business – and both are about walking.
About Exeter was so called because Davy wanted the name to indicate that guided information is available about the city of Exeter and that the radius of operation is all around Exeter and not just the city, itself.
Davy’s other walking business is called Walk Spain and specialises in walking holidays in the Sierra De Las Nieves, in southern Spain.
Walking In Exeter And Spain
Davy started Walk Spain in 2003 on his retirement from the UK military and the UN. Both businesses were designed to keep him outdoors, busy and fit. About Exeter is a new venture, which started in 2012.
Davy lives in Exeter with his partner and small son, but WalkSpain is based near the ancient Arab town of Ronda in Andalucia. As well as walking in that area, Davy leads in nine Spanish National Parks on the mainland, the Balearic and Canary Islands. He also leads a long distance trail – The Camino De Santiago.
Passion can be stoked by many things but is nearly always “people” centred. The same trail, in the same weather would be boring were it not for the new people to share it with.
About Exeter started on Dartmoor and the North Devon Coast. Davy loves his work, mainly because of the wonderful people he meets. Davy says “Passion can be stoked by many things but is nearly always “people” centred. The same trail, in the same weather would be boring were it not for the new people to share it with. They energise me with their questions and fresh perspectives. Selfishly, their wonder at what I show them reminds me of how lucky I am to do what I do and not take it for granted”.
Davy’s business is small enough to be entirely bespoke. If guests like coasts, then he will only walk at the coast. If guests like moors, then on the moors they go. The same applies to mountains, rivers, waterfalls or whatever particular fascination they may have.
Party sizes are small, ideally 6-8 people, less if requested. There can be safety concerns attached to very small parties but so long as everyone fully understands the risks then there is no minimum size. Davy only takes groups who are known to each other. He feels it is unfair to group strangers with different walking speeds and interests together merely to satisfy the profit motive as some larger operators do. Davy believes he is the only person offering the service he does in both Exeter and Spain. WalkSpain has a 100% guest repetition rate.
South West Ideal For Walking
Davy adds though “I might surprise you when I say that I love the climate in the South-West of England. Perhaps I should say ‘useable’ climate, when it comes to walking. In the UK it is possible you might get wet, although all-day rain is rare, or cold, which is easily countered by proper kit but unless you are very unlucky, but you shouldn’t be concerned about the fact that some days it is just impossible to achieve anything because of the heat. The Spanish moderate weather season is short, overbooked and expensive.”
Nine million tourists go to Andalucia each year, only 2 million are foreigners looking for the Costa package. Many of the rest are competing for the same inland quality.
Davy moved to the South-West for family reasons and thinks it a great area for outdoor walking and leadership because it has so many environments in such close proximity. Moors, coasts, fossils and rivers all surround a pleasantly sized city steeped in tradition but modern enough to make all things possible.
Davy has spent the last 8 years living in Southern Spain and coming back to the South-West, the one thing he misses are the empty roads. Even in relatively quiet Devon there is more traffic than in rural Spain where you might only see 3 cars in a whole afternoon! He says that driving is still a pleasure there and everyone has time, for anything!
Growing The Devon Based Business
His ambition now is to grow About Exeter to a point where he is guiding for approximately half the week and doing reconnaissance for the other half. Tours are a day long and hopefully encourage guests to stay for 2 hotel nights rather than 1. Davy adds “I do not wish to complete with the well established, excellent, Red Coat Guides who already cover the city of Exeter to a high standard, but to provide a complementary service”.
Davy’s ideal client is someone who is interested in themselves and the world around them. In his view, socio-economics or demographics don’t matter if they are capable of deriving joy and satisfaction from an environment brought to life by active guiding. Many people hear about Davy’s walks through word-of-mouth. Websites provide initial information for people to see pictures and get some idea of what his walks entail, but the real work will be done by talking, normally on the phone, to establish what the guests want. Davy tailors the activity to his guests’ wishes.
Davy is delighted, now, to be sticking to the South-West, Devon and Southern Spain as his areas. He is qualified to lead in other places, and regularly receives offers to do so but he feels he can only really do justice to two sets of history, habitat, wildlife and terrain. In fact he says that if he goes anywhere else he likes to be the tourist and would always pay for a guide!
Experience has taught Davy that the more (within reason) people pay for a service, the happier they are and the better value they believe they have achieved. People who pay less are generally less happy and prone to find dissatisfaction. He thinks the truism The bitter taste of poor quality is remembered long after the sweet taste of low price has been forgotten says it all.
He says “I will never have a mass market approach, I don’t want it and wouldn’t want to lead it. As an aside, it is always worth looking at who is running your eco/green/adventure holiday, some of the apparently small and personal brands are just fronts for the big Bucket and Spade operations”.
Fun And Famous People
Davy has had many famous and successful clients but he cannot reveal who they are as he has signed a non-disclosure agreement! However with a wry smile he says ‘Let’s just say that I may have been the luckiest man in Devon to get all hot and bothered with the ladies from Vogue one week!’ Davy has led people from the media, entertainment and big business both UK and further on his walks.
He adds that there is never a dull moment. Something funny happens most times he goes out, and with the addition of wine in the evening and a little embellishment, simple stories can quickly become legend!
… it is always worth looking at who is running your eco/green/adventure holiday, some of the apparently small and personal brands are just fronts for the big Bucket and Spade operations.
Possibly one of the funniest, he recalls, although not perhaps for the victim, was when a lady walker needed to answer a call of nature and spent some time finding a very private spot. She was just finishing when the Algeciras to Granada train, whose line she had failed to spot, arrived close by, full of waving passengers and blowing it’s horn. It almost came to a halt so the passengers could see the view behind the lady. All she could do was take a bow!
You can find out about Davy’s Walks in spain on www.walkspain.com. If you want to know about his Exeter walks, email him on firstname.lastname@example.org