A 21st-century homage to Catalonia

Nick Lloyd at Plaça del Milicia Desconegut, one of the points of interest on his walking tour of Barcelona.
Nick Lloyd at Plaça del Milicia Desconegut, one of the points of interest on his walking tour of Barcelona. / SUR
  • Spanish history

  • Nick Lloyd had been giving Civil War walking tours in Barcelona for 12 years and transformed them into virtual experiences when Covid-19 brought tourism to a standstill

When the coronavirus pandemic all but closed down the country, long-term Barcelona resident and Spanish Civil War tour guide, Nick Lloyd, had to rethink his day job.

Nick, who is originally from Stockport, started his Spanish Civil War walking tours in 2008 and they quickly became popular among locals and tourists alike.

Nick, 55, explains that the idea grew "organically", partly from a tour which he went on to see wolves in Zamora, around the same time that a plaque was put up near to his home in Barcelona to remember the young photographer, Francesc Boix, who fought with the Republican army during the Civil War. Boix's photographs, taken from inside the Mauthausen concentration camp, were used as evidence during the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War.

Nick explains that his local library is also named after Boix and he "started to become fascinated by his story." The wolf tour gave him the inspiration to become a tour guide and he says, "It all came together because of that."

Nick, who lives in Barcelona with his partner and two children, spent his first 18 years in Spain as an English teacher. He admits that he had "no plans for the tours to become a day job" but they "grew and grew". Six years ago, due to demand for the tours, Nick brought in another guide, Catherine Howley.

Before the pandemic they were running two tours; one in Catalan - and sometimes Spanish - depending on the group - and the other in English. The latter Nick says attracted anyone from tourists, academics, those interested in the Civil War and descendants of people who had belonged to the International Brigade. "I often get someone on the tour whose parent or grandparent was involved in the war and that is always very dramatic."

The famous photo of Marina Ginestà appears on the front cover of Nick’s book, Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Civil War.

The famous photo of Marina Ginestà appears on the front cover of Nick’s book, Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Civil War.

During the tours, which Nick describes as "walking museums", Nick gives a chronological account of events leading up to and during the war and puts it into wider international context, tying in events leading up to the Second World War. He has built up a collection of more than 100 artefacts from the era, which he uses to illustrate the tours.

Virtual tours

When the pandemic hit last spring, the tours almost came to a standstill overnight. He has been able to continue with the local ones when the situation has allowed, but with next to no foreign visitors to the city, he had to reinvent himself to reach an international audience.

Nick soon worked out a way of delivering his tours online and in June 2020, he gave his first virtual Civil War tour in English.

He explains that he's broadened his content, he's come up with other tours beyond just the original ones and that the content is growing all the time.

Visitors can even take a five-week road trip across Spain and each week Nick 'leaves' his tourists in different areas of the country. "People really get into the spirit of it, they even manage to get wine from the region they are 'visiting' each week and if we do an evening tour they'll have prepared a glass of wine and some tapas."

"Doing the virtual tours has been good because it's allowed me to go back to a lot of other things that I'm interested in but had sidelined, like I've been able to take people to see the wolves in Zamora," the tour guide explains. We agree that in a sense it's allowing people to travel from the comfort or confinement of their own home.

We touch on the question of a Brit giving tours, often in Catalan or Spanish, in Barcelona about a still very raw period of the country's history. While Nick admits that at the beginning he questioned whether he should go ahead or not, he says he was encouraged to do so by Spanish friends and has never really had a problem with anyone on his tours. He also points out at the beginning of his Catalan or Spanish tours that he's lived in the city for over 30 years and poses the question, "when do you stop being a foreigner?"

"Of course the tours are very political, but I am clear about the boundaries at the beginning and people mainly respect that. Things don't get divisive," he reveals.

Nick has also published a book, Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Civil War, which features on the front cover the famous photograph of Republican journalist, Marina Ginestà, which was taken by German photographer Hans Gutman on the terrace of the Hotel Colón in 1936. Ginestà was just 17 years old when the photo was taken.

The book covers the sites Nick's tours take in and a background to the working class history of Barcelona before the war. There is a section dedicated to George Orwell, whose famous book Homage to Catalonia is a personal account of the writer's time spent fighting with the Republican army during the Civil War. It also pays tribute to the aforementioned Republican heroes, Ginestà and Boix.