World of opportunities

PUBLISHED: 06:54 27 October 2014 | UPDATED: 07:24 27 October 2014

Robert Ferguson with his wife Fiona and daughter Mimi, 12. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Robert Ferguson with his wife Fiona and daughter Mimi, 12. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

His life has been filled with travel and adventure, and for Robert Ferguson that is what he hopes to share with others through his Norfolk-based business, Real Africa.

Robert Ferguson climbing in the Himalayas in 1993Robert Ferguson climbing in the Himalayas in 1993

With the bespoke travel company about to expand into Asia and the Americas, Robert is aiming to develop tailor-made holidays for people hoping to experience countries beyond the usual tourist routes but not compromise on luxury in where they stay and how they travel.

“There is a wonderful life to be lived out there,” says Robert, who grew up on the family farm at Happisburgh. He returned to the village after many years’ travelling around the world to bring up his own family.

Robert developed his love of travel as a teenager. Having attended Norwich School, Robert gained a place at Durham University to study archaeology, but in a year off went travelling around India and Nepal. “We did some great trekking in Nepal, which is where I got my real love of mountains - quite a difference from Happisburgh!”

Further travels followed, around Bronze Age sites in Turkey. “I loved archaeology but I felt that I would have to do a Masters to do anything with it. That wasn’t me, but travel was a better course.” He wrote a monthly travel column for the Eastern Daily Press telling of his adventures in places like Borneo and China, and during periods back home in Norfolk worked for Pertwee and Back Ford dealership in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, and in other jobs, to get together money to pay for more trips.

Robert with Charles Jukes, a trustee of the Real Africa Trust at Olochura School, Kenya 2014Robert with Charles Jukes, a trustee of the Real Africa Trust at Olochura School, Kenya 2014

“My family have always been very good and understanding, and would say ‘The business here is doing okay, so go out into the world and get going with your life’.”

After further travels to China and Pakistan, Robert put his experiences to good use with the travel company, Trailfinders and later Exodus. He led trekking groups, looking after not just the welfare of the tourists, but also their Sherpas, porters and often people from the mountain villages. Setting up his own business alongside this, Robert would spend about nine months a year abroad, although he loved his visits back home to see friends and family.

Eventually, while working in London with Exodus he met his wife-to-be, Fiona, herself no stranger to travel. She had been living in Canada, but was in the capital to study for a teaching course. The couple started their married life, in 1995, in Tuscany where they ran another travel company.

“The arrival of our first daughter in 1999 was the catalyst for us coming back to England,” he says. “We decided we wanted to come back to Norfolk and that it would be a great place to live with our young family.”

Home to Robert, Fiona, who is a speech and language specialist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and their children, Isabelle, 15, and Jemima, 12, is a farmhouse at Happisburgh. “It may be a small village, but because we have the lighthouse and a lifeboat it seems to give a sense of community. Everyone knows everyone else and it is a great place to live.”

Robert – who volunteers with the lifeboat and helps out on his father’s farm when needed – also writes fiction in his spare time. His historical novel Sacred Mountain was published last year, and he is currently working on two more books which he hopes to be able to publish next year.

Real World Travel was born in 2000, when Robert was approached by investors to become managing director of an online business. Its Real Africa business now takes 400-500 clients on amazing excursions each year to places like Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Botswana and Ethiopia.

“All our tours have private vehicles and wonderful guides, and we create a bespoke package around what the client wants to do and see. Some people want to stay in lodges, some in tents, some want to go with their children, for some it is their honeymoon,” says Robert. “And on January 1 we will be launching Real Asia and Real Americas, with plans to go on to do Real Australasia too. In Asia we will be visiting countries like Vietnam and Cambodia and Burma, as well as Nepal, India, China and parts of Indonesia. In the Americas it will be, for instance, Costa Rica, Canada, Venezuela, Columbia, Equador, Chile, Brazil.

“I know there is a lot in the news about problems and dangers in different parts of the world, but I think it is important not to be put off travelling because you could miss out on the millions of acts of kindness that happen every day in these wonderful countries.”

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