Westonbirt Arboretum Hello Great West Way Ambassador! Please introduce yourself:
My name is Malcolm Potter, and I am a volunteer guide at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum and a trustee of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum (the charity and membership organisation works in partnership with the Forestry Commission to support Westonbirt Arboretum). By trade I am an architect and spent most of my ‘working life’ in London.  

How did you get started? Has it been a long journey getting to where you are today?
When we decided to move to the country we were lucky enough to find an old Farmhouse on the Westonbirt estate. Not surprisingly we joined the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, so we could gain free access to the arboretum throughout the year, and enjoy some incredible walks. My involvement with the arboretum really began in 2007 when one-day the Friends’ magazine dropped through our letterbox and out fell an advert to join the board of trustees. Initial enquiries revealed that the arboretum was planning a major construction project to enhance its visitor and other facilities. I knew nothing about trees but I did know about buildings and their procurement, so the role seemed perfect for me. On applying I was delighted to be invited to join the trustees, and it has been a wonderful experience. I also trained as a guide, and became part of the team that leads guided walks for our visitors. There was a lot to get my head around as the arboretum is made up of 600 acres, 15,000 trees and 2,500 different species, but I rose to the challenge and in 2017 I took on the role of Guide Team Leader.  

Tell us more about what you do on the Great West Way:
Exploring, drawing and painting. There are so many beautiful landscapes across the Cotswolds stretching right down into Castle Combe and Bath perfect for drawing and painting as well as some fantastic wildlife. It’s great to go out in the car on an adventure or go for a walk and explore the local area even if it’s just for a quick 1 hour.

What do you love most about your job?
Communicating and sharing my enthusiasm for the arboretum with others.

What achievements are you most proud of?
Contributing my expertise to the multi-million Westonbirt Project that was successfully completed in 2016. Family at WestonbirtWhat is a typical day like for you?
My volunteering roles at Westonbirt as a Trustee, Guide and freelance enthusiast mean that there is no such thing as a typical day. The nearest I get to routine is when I am guiding.  This involves a pre-walk checking the seasonal features and the practicality of the route; then gathering and welcoming visitors before leading or accompanying the walkfor 1 ½ hours or so.

Do you work with the wider team? If so tell us a bit about them:
I work with a very wide team which includes:
•    Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum staff and Trustees 
•    Guide team 
•    250 other volunteers who give their time to the arboretum 
It is incredibly satisfying working with such a friendly and engaged community who all share a common love of the arboretum.

What do you find inspiring day to day?  What keeps the enthusiasm going?
There is always so much more to learn about the amazing world of trees – whether it is some wonder of nature, finding another story about the intrepid plant hunters or discovering the magic of what goes on inside a seed pod.

Any interesting or funny anecdotes relating to your role or your experience with visitors that you can share?
I recently led a group where the leader was completely blind.  I knew this in advance of the walk and spent some time thinking about how I would make this a memorable experience for her and the group.  It made me think quite differently.  I wanted to make it a very sensual walk – smelling, feeling and understanding size and distance.  I realised that I had to describe what we were looking at much more graphically than usual.  The result was both fascinating and rewarding; I became aware of a heightened sense of engagement by the whole group.

What does slow travel mean to you?
It is something that we want all our visitors to do. We encourage them to relax and spend sufficient time fully to experience where they are and what they are seeing and doing.  

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?
The Great West Way offers something for everyone from urban entertainment to remote walks in the Cotswolds - and everything in between.

STIHL Treetop Walking at Westonbirt Arboretum Do you have any insider tips or advice for travellers who want to experience touring like a  local?
Plan your route before you travel. Then relish what you see -  a flock of sheep silhouetted in the low autumn sun or mellow stone buildings nestling in a secret valley. Make time for a pub lunch on the way; but do check the opening times first.

What is your favourite thing to eat or drink along the touring route – local special places along the route?
Pub lunches – they are all different.

Are you a city or country person?
Born and educated in the country I spent many weeks working on a farm in Kent as I grew up. It therefore has to be the country, despite over 40 years living in London.

If you could choose one must see attraction along the great West Way what would it be?
Westonbirt Arboretum – of course.

Any English stereotypes or traditions that you would like to set straight?
The nursery rhyme “Here we come gathering nuts in May” is actually a corruption of “Here we come gathering knots of May”.  (Just say it with an Irish accent!)  It recalls a time when people gathered boughs of Hawthorne blossom to celebrate the coming of spring.

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret spot you would like to recommend?
Beverston is a small hamlet dating back to the 13th century complete with its own castle ruin – an absolute surprise, delight and easily missed.  It is intimate and private but really only suitable for very small groups.

What is your preferred mode of transport - train, bus, car or boat?  Why? 
…….bicycle and on foot – any of them if it takes me where I want to go.

Exciting plans for the future you would like to share?
More of the same!Photographer at Westonbirt Arboretum
To discover more about Westonbirt Arboretum and The Cotswolds, visit our Plan Your Way page. for more information about attractions along the Great West Way, visit our See & Do pages. 

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