Hello! Please introduce yourself…

I’m Frances, and I am the Visitor Experience Director of Bristol Cathedral. Outside of work you can find me working on my house or walking my dog, Patrick.

Bristol Cathedral Credit Dave Pratt
Credit Dave Pratt

Tell us a little more about what you do on the Great West Way:

I work at Bristol Cathedral and oversee everything that tourist visitors experience when they come to the Cathedral. This includes a wide range of activities including the signage people follow, the guided tour they take part in or the food they enjoy in the café.

What do you love most about your job?

The breadth of Cathedral life makes it incredibly special.

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s hard to define a typical day as no two days are ever the same! On any given day I find myself running a spectacular light show, curating an exhibition, developing exciting new plans, or helping out with a school visit.

Do you work with a wider team? If so, tell us a bit about them:

I am very lucky to be surrounded by a brilliant team. The Visitor Experience department is made up of me, a Visitor Experience Manager, an Education Officer, a Volunteer Coordinator, and a team of Visitor Experience Assistants. We work closely with other cathedral departments including Development, Music, Operations, Clergy and Verging teams.

Inside Bristol Cathedral

What do you find inspiring day-to-day? What keeps the enthusiasm going?

The impact a good visitor experience has can’t be underestimated, and I love to see the positive difference we can make. If ever I need some inspiration, I look through old comment card and feedback forms – the lovely comments people leave make even the most difficult days worthwhile!

Any interesting or funny anecdotes related to your role or your experiences with visitors that you can share?

A couple of years ago we hosted Museum of the Moon. It was a hectic month of concerts, up late events, children’s workshops, talks and sometimes during periods like that I find myself caught up in the detail and not concentrating on the brilliant thing that’s happening around me.

On a particularly busy day I was walking through the Cathedral when I was stopped by a child who said the moon was the coolest things they’d ever seen. They wanted to know how we’d managed to get the moon into the Cathedral, and how we put it back in the sky each night. It reminded me of the wonder and joy that Cathedral events can bring!

What does slow travel mean to you?

To me, slow travel means to savour the moment and take my time rather than rushing around ticking things off a list. I have been fortunate enough to visit lots of different countries, and all my favourite trips are the ones where we had less ambitious plans. I like spending longer in one place, slipping downside streets and stumbling across things you didn’t see in the guidebooks.

Blenheim Palace

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?

I have lived and worked in and along the Great West Way my whole life, and I am constantly surprised by the vast range of cultural experiences on offer. From major tourist attractions like Stonehenge, the Roman Baths and Blenheim Palace to tiny villages and country walks, there’s just so much to see or do.

Do you have any insider tips or advice for travelers who want to experience the touring route ‘like a local’?

Always spend longer in a place than the guidebooks say. The guidebooks give you enough time to see the big attractions, but spending slightly longer somewhere provides the space and time to relax and wander freely.

What’s your favourite thing to eat or drink along the touring route (can be a meal, a local delicacy, or a favourite tipple)? Any cafes, restaurants, or pubs you can recommend?

I love a cream tea on a day out (jam first, obviously), but my favourite restaurant of all time must be Root in Whapping Wharf, Bristol. The food is incredible, the staff are lovely, and you’re guaranteed to try something you’ve never heard of before that turns out to be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten.

Are you a city, town, or country person?

I’m somewhere between a city and a country person. I recently moved out of Bristol city centre and into a nearby country village, and I’m loving being a minute’s walk from the countryside but also a short bus journey from the busy city.

Berkeley Castle

If you could choose one must-visit attraction along the Great West Way, what would it be and why?

I know I’m biased, but I would pick a Cathedral. They are big, beautiful landmarks and when you look a little deeper you find they tell the story of the area around them – for example, some of the stained-glass windows in Bristol Cathedral feature real people who helped the home front during World War Two. Elsewhere in the building you can find hundreds of coats of arms from the Berkeley family who still live in Berkeley Castle (another GWW attraction) today, as back in 1140 one of the Berkeley family founded an Abbey on the site now known as Bristol Cathedral.

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret, lesser-visited spots you’d like to recommend?

I highly recommend Westonbirt Arboretum to anyone visiting the GWW. If I was visiting the area for the first time I’d be tempted to go from city to city, but I really recommend everyone takes the time to enjoy some time outdoors. Westonbirt is a brilliant place to get away from the busyness and enjoy some fresh air.

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