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Interview with David Ross, CEO of Britain Express


This is a transcript of an interview between Quenton Fyfe from AboutBritain.com and David Ross from Britain Express.

Quenton Fyfe:
Alright, so this is an interview with David Ross on the 27th of November 2012. My name is Quenton Fyfe, and David is the CEO of Britain Express, the well known British Tourism Website. David, your accent tells me you are not originally from the UK, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you come to be living in a beautiful village in the Cotswolds?

David Ross:
Alright, I was born in the US, to be near my mother as my father always said. I moved to Canada when I was 12, and in 1998, I started a website on British Travel and History, writing it in a little log cabin in the woods of British Columbia and 6 or 7 years after that we moved to the UK, my wife and our 2 wonderful children.

I have a degree in English History which has proved to be of little value or whatsoever in terms of a career. It's the reflection of the passion I've always had for the history of Britain, I don't know where that passion came from but it's always been there. I enjoy writing about history and about interesting places to visit. The Britain Express website grew out of that passion.

Quenton Fyfe:
What actually prompted you to start Britain Express as a website - what was the thing that brought you to do that?

David Ross:
DavidA compulsion to write I'd say, I took History in university and I'd just always been fascinated by the UK and I'd been as a child on a family holiday, I thought it was the most wonderful place I'd ever seen. I was... the romance of it - for a North American, it may be hard for Brits to understand this but for a North American, Britain just seem so full of romance and adventure it was a strange wonderful new world.

I was totally fascinated by it and Britain Express was my way of expressing that fascination. It was essentially a place, a listing of places I would love to go visit or in a few cases had actually been to as a child and thankfully enough people enjoyed reading about it that I actually began to be able to visit more and more and more of those places and write from personal experience.

Quenton Fyfe:
Who is site particularly aimed at?

David Ross:
Well, initially it was aimed at North Americans but to my great surprise, I discovered that more and more Brits were reading the material and to the point now where I don't really have a target audience other than anyone who really enjoys British Heritage, British History and travel to interesting places around the UK.

Quenton Fyfe:
Very good. Now, Britain Express has been hugely successful, millions of people have used the site and still continue to do so. When you look at it now, what are you most proud of?

David Ross:
Gosh, darn good question… do you know, I'm proud that I stuck with it for 12 years, I put in an enormous amount of work but it was a labour of love, it was something I really enjoyed doing and being able to visit all those places and be successful enough at writing about them, photographing them and sharing that enthusiasm with other people to the extent that I was able to move from Canada to the UK as a family.

That's something I’m tremendously proud of, to go from literally a little log cabin in the woods to a wonderful home in the Cotswolds just based on a lot of hard work really.

Quenton Fyfe:
Well, it's a fantastic site - it's an absolute credit to you and I’d like to encourage everyone reading this to take a look at Britain Express. There's really a huge amount of great information for everyone to enjoy on that site.

Now, yesterday, we were lucky to attend a launch party that you gave for your new website and your new venture. Could you tell us a little bit more about your new venture?

David Ross:
Yes, I mentioned briefly in passing talking about Britain Express that I had photographed a lot of places around the UK and it has been a real passion of mine I've developed over the years - landscape photography and travelling around the UK has given me such a wonderful opportunity to photograph some marvellous place, everything from Outer Hebrides to the Isle of Skye to the Pembrokeshire Coast to Cornwall, you name it.

I have been to practically any place you can name and I've developed such an enthusiasm for photography and over the years have taken so many thousands of photographs that I finally decided that it was a wonderful new direction I wanted to take and I've launched a new website with prints and cards and eventually books based on my photographs and cleverly called it
david-ross-photography.co.uk - I think that's kind of a catchy name.

I really hope that my photographs can move people, can touch people in the way that I've been touched by a lot of the beautiful places that I've managed to visit around Britain.

Quenton Fyfe:
Excellent, now, you have wonderful photographs on the website, from all over the British Isles and you mentioned some of the locations just there, do you have any particular favourite locations?

David Ross:
I would say the Scottish Islands as a whole, I know that they are not necessarily the most visited places in the UK, that's simply because they are a little bit harder to get to, its easy to pop in the car and drive to Cornwall or to Devon or the Northumberland Coast, which are all wonderful places to visit, but the scenery of the Scottish Islands is quite breathtaking.

At times it can be incredibly bleak and the wind whips in and the mist rolls down and you think, "wouldn’t want to be here" and then the magical moment of sunlight breaks through the clouds and you think, Oh My Lord, this is SO incredible, this is so beautiful and it's that magic that touches me every time I visit, I occasionally look at the estate agent websites thinking, I wonder living in the Isle of Colonsay or Islay or Skye, that would be really fascinating.

Quenton Fyfe:
Excellent! Are there any locations that you haven't yet visited that you particularly want to capture?

David Ross:
There's a few more Scottish Islands that I haven't been to yet and there's also the Shetland Isles and St. Kilda, so you can see I have a thing for islands. I'd like to spend more time in the Gower area of Wales and Brecon Beacons which I have been to briefly and more time on the Northumberland Coast which is quite magnificently beautiful at times.

But I could go on... the Lake District I've visited 6 or 7 times and I'd love to go again. I'd like to spend more time up in the North East of Scotland, I've been predominantly in the West of Scotland before and I haven't spent much time in Caithness and that area and so that's an area I really like to explore.

Quenton Fyfe:
Great, now, we've talked about some of your favourite locations, looking at the site there are hundreds of stunning photographs on the site that I know people are going to enjoy looking at. Do you have any particular favourite images where you really think that that's some of your best work?

David Ross:
You know, its like trying to pick your favourite child, each one is special in its own way. Probably when I think of my favourite images, they are the ones that are most meaningful to me in taking them that would instantly make me think of the stone circle at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis.(c)David Ross Just for the amazing sunrise and sunset that I was able to experience standing there and watching the sky turn red over the standing stones that have been there for millennia is an experience that will live with me forever.

But there are so many other favourites of mine, I would think of the waterfalls of the Brecon Beacons. There's a particular walk that they call for a good reason the waterfalls walk which takes in about 4 fantastic falls which I always remember the beauty of being there in autumn when the leaves are turning red and gold and yellow, it's just a magnificent scenic area. Like I say, other than that, my favourite photo is generally the one I've just taken.

Quenton Fyfe:
Okay, you mentioned there experiencing that sunrise and sunset, it must take a tremendous amount of patience to capture images like these.

David Ross:
Yes, patience, a lot of planning but planning can only take you so far, planning can put you in the right spot at the right time but then it all depends upon the weather and the right time is usually quite early or quite late so a good deal of coffee helps get me out the door in the morning.

But sometimes getting a terrific photo it just depends on going back again and again and again to the same location or simply putting yourself out and about in a wonderful area and having the camera with you because you can't predict what the weather will do, particularly in the highlands and you have to be ready for anything at any time but yes, as I say getting up early does help me produce some pretty fantastic photographs.

Quenton Fyfe:
One feature on the website that I particularly enjoyed is that each photograph comes with a story, what's the thinking behind that?

David Ross:
Well, when you think of a website it's 2 dimensional, and it's rather impersonal, it's there on your computer monitor or your laptop or your smart phone and its hard to connect with the person who created that website. And yet artwork of any kind including my photographs are personal. I mean that's at its best that's what art is. It's someone, a person, expressing something that moves them.

And I thought, it's a bit much just to put up a photograph and say "here's my photo". Great, somebody might like it or perhaps it doesn't speak to them, that's fine, but if I really want to communicate, I want to tell the story behind the photograph, how I came to take it, what the weather was like, what my experience was like of being there, and that's what I want people to connect with.

I want people to be able to see that this is a real person. I'm sharing this from my own experience and I hope that that would be meaningful to someone else and make the photograph have a layer of meaning that it wouldn't wouldn’t otherwise have and they get to see my smiling face next to the story and hopefully that doesn’t put anybody off. [laughter]

Quenton Fyfe:
And of all the stories that you've published there, do you have one that stands out in your memory as a particularly special moment?

David Ross:
Oh golly, good one. Long pause… while I consider the answer to that one... Do you know what, probably the story that meant the most to me is the Callanish one just simply because the experience was one of the most amazing awe and wonder.

Another one that was quite meaningful to me was the photograph I published of sunset on the Isle of Colonsay. Magnificent sunset and there was a chap on the beach who was camping out and he saw me photographing and we were the only people in this deserted beach. The most incredible scenery, the sky is turning orange and gold and he said, "would you like a cup of cocoa? I’m just making a camp fire and have putting some cocoa on". I said "sure, thanks" and we chatted for a while and then I thought, I'm going to take a photograph I've never taken before. I tend to take photos that are just scenery and no people and I asked this chap if he would mind standing there and looking out to sea at the setting sun and he agreed, he was incredibly friendly. And somehow seeing the silhouette of this fellow looking out at the most amazing sunset, I would hope that anyone can see themselves as that person and imagine themselves being there and Kenny, if you ever read this, or you listen to this, thanks pal, I appreciate it.

Quenton Fyfe:
Excellent, finally, what message would you like people who view your photographs to come away with?

David Ross:
I'd like people to say to themselves, "Wow! What a wonderful world we live in".

Quenton Fyfe:
Can't say fairer than that. David Ross, CEO of Britain Express and now of David Ross Photography as well, thank you very much for your time.

David Ross:
Thanks Quenton.

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