A new start after 60: after 30 years teaching computing, I became a tour guide. Now I show people the most beautiful places in the world

<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Freddie Johnson grew up in Fife before moving to Edinburgh and has always loved living in Scotland. Now 65, he spent more than 30 years teaching computing at what, since 2012, has been known as Edinburgh College, using his spare time to drive into the Highlands to show visiting friends the stunning scenery. “It would give them such a buzz to see the landscape and I was always in awe of it, too,” he says. “I wondered if there was a way to get paid to show others this beauty.”

In 2021, the college began downsizing teaching roles and Johnson decided to take redundancy and try something new. “I had a small pension, but I needed a job to tide me over,” he says. “I remembered my idea to take people around the country.”

Armed with enthusiasm and years of experience visiting the country’s most famous tourist spots, Johnson applied to become a tour guide for a local company, The Hairy Coo. He shadowed a few seasoned guides before being sent on a 12-hour round trip by coach to Loch Ness with more than 50 passengers. “I didn’t do a lot of research and I was nervous,” he says. “Someone on that first trip asked me about Scottish independence and later left a review saying they didn’t enjoy talking about politics, but I was only answering a question.”

It was a rocky start but 18 months on, Johnson has done dozens of tours and earned five-star reviews. He now works part-time for the company, driving a 16-seater minibus on three- and five-day trips around Scotland, as well as leading smaller private groups. “I absolutely love it and because the places we visit are so beautiful, half my job is already done for me,” he says. “Every time I go to Glencoe or Skye, I hear people saying that it’s the most beautiful place in the world and it’s amazing to be able to give them that experience.”

Steering away from politics, Johnson has found his own approach to guiding groups that hail from all over, including England, the US, Indonesia and India. The job combines his teaching background and love of learning with another, more mischievous side. “I see my role as mainly informing, but not boring people with dates,” he says. “I used to toy with the idea of being a standup comedian when I was younger and I never had the courage to go through with it, so part of what I’m doing now is releasing my inner standup. I want to make sure we’re all having fun.”

As well as cracking jokes, Johnson curates playlists to add atmosphere to his journeys. They contain everything from dramatic classical music to a healthy dose of the Proclaimers. He regularly plays the duo’s 1987 track Letter from America for historical context, as it references the economic migration of Scottish people after the 19th-century Highland clearances (the forced eviction of tenants by landowners) and he also closes every trip with a singalong to I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). “Every bus is completely different – some are really chatty and others just want to look at the scenery,” he says. “But the singalong is a feelgood moment. It always helps to bring everyone together.”

The tourists may be varied, but the road is equally unpredictable. Often driving for four or five hours at a time while providing a narrative about the scenery, Johnson has encountered his fair share of danger. “On my first five-day tour, we saw a motorbike crash. I stopped to help and it turned into a five-hour delay,” he says. “Luckily, we had some US paramedics with us and the guy made it. It created a bit of a dark atmosphere on the bus, but by the end it bonded us.”

Johnson’s new passion keeps him outside at least three days a week and he is now researching for an Outlander tour starting next summer, which will trace the windswept settings of writer Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historical fantasy series of that name.

“I’m constantly learning and I want to keep going because I love it,” he says. “I get to bring some unforgettable moments into people’s lives and that is a privilege. It’s just as important as the work I used to do with youngsters because I have found a true sense of purpose.”

Tell us: has your life taken a new direction after the age of 60?