A Busy Summer ahead?

February 4, 2021

Holidaying in the UK is likely to be extremely popular this summer. The best known places may well be over run with visitors, ruining the experience for them and making it miserable for the poor residents.

All the photos reflect walks in beautiful areas of the Dales and Lakes where you are unlikely to see a soul. This is despite being in high summer.

The Lonely Howgills

So what can be done? What should visitors do, businesses do, local authorities do to ensure that people have the best experience on their holiday. So much so they want to come back and explore further, which s after all the ultimate aim. This summer is likely to be a great opportunity for the tourist industry in England. The media will be focused on UK holidaying, looking for stories, highlighting both good and bad. The impact on future jobs and the development of a thriving rural economy may be significant.

In particular it is an enormous opportunity to showcase the lesser known areas and not only the small number of very popular hotspots .

My advice to anyone visiting the area is to look beyond the obvious places. It will be worth it.

A dale to explore at Halton Gill

Over Populated Hot Spots

The best known places will sell themselves. Everyone knows Malham and Aysgarth in the Dales, Windermere and Keswick in the Lakes etc. Therefore it is only natural that visitors looking for their own patch of countryside to visit will head for the places they have heard of. On arrival they will understandably follow the same paths and visit the same sites as everyone else. Meanwhile only a few miles away there are places which have many many fewer people. In particular there are many walks in which you will barely see another person. This is not because the walking is worse but simply less well known. In fact many are better, more interesting and you can find your own favourite and quiet corner. It is the classic 90/10 rule ie: 90% of people going to 10% of the places.

If you Google the best places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales the same old names crop up each time. Malham, Ingleton Falls, Hawes, Aysgarth and Bolton Abbey are always there, nowhere else. It’s also noticeable that it is those big organizations that crop up high on google, the inference being that they promote them. Whether this is because the ‘big outfits’ know no different, whether they want people to avoid the less popular areas or whether it is simply self fulfilling who knows. What is certainly true is there is no effort to promote the less popular areas and spread the load.

Low Birker Tarn, empty mountains near the Duddon Valley

Aside from your own enjoyment in discovering the less busy areas of the countryside consider the implications for the environment. Many paths are seriously eroded, the nearby landscape damaged by 1,000’s of people tramping the same routes. This is only going to get worse this summer. Discovering somewhere different to walk and visit will help.

An Example from the TV

I was involved in a classic example of this recently whilst being featured on the Channel 5 Programme ‘Most scenic Rail Journeys in the World‘. The producers wanted to feature a local person to explain the scenic beauty and in particular the geology of the limestone region near Settle. We discussed where was best to film and I suggested two places. The first was the exceptional limestone pavements under Ingleborough and the second was the beautiful walking above Langcliffe. The TV company rang the Yorkshire Dales National Park to simply check filming rights. However there is apparently quite a large fee to film the Ingleborough pavements so that was ruled out. Apparently they suggested Malham as an alternative, sigh!

The quiet part of Whernside

Using Local Knowledge

I met the film makers on the day of the shoot and they were keen to go to Malham. I told them every man and his dog films in Malham, stick to the lovely scenery above Langcliffe. Fortunately they went with the Langcliffe option, partly because I explained that Malham was quite a distance from the Settle Carlisle rail line and not relevant to their own programme! Anyone who has since seen the programme must surely agree that the Dales looked spectacular, the scenery outstanding. Credit for this not just to the excellent film makers but the endless miles of wonderful Dales scenery above Langcliffe. When we were filming there was not another soul to be seen…

As an interesting aside, when the Most Scenic Railways was first on TV programme it was preceded my another programme on the Dales. Guess what: the presenter was stood on Malham Cove. For visitors, tourist businesses and authorities use your imagination, do a little research and look beyond the obvious.

Typical Dales scenery, empty in Coverdale

This is just one small example where individuals and more important tourist authorities can help to spread the load this summer. It is not specific to the Dales. Each popular countryside/coastal tourist areas have their extremely popular hotspots. The big advantage for the Dales over other tourist hotpots is the sheer size of the area. Yes there are quieter areas in the Lakes and the South West of England but they are less easy to hunt out.

There are a number of ways tourism bodies and individuals could limit the herd mentality of visitors to places like Malham and spread the load.

National Advertising Campaign – Messages

A widespread Visit England campaign (government funded?) that spreads three main messages (all to be given equal weight and importance).

  • The primary message is to stay in England this summer and enjoy our wonderful scenery.
  • The secondary message is to explore our countryside/seaside but avoid the most popular/obvious places. Avoiding the crowds will create a much more interesting visit, hidden gems, places to find and learn about and discovery of the countryside. Many visitors are keen to learn about our country, its history, its people, its way of life but they will not find it by visiting the overcrowded honeypots.
  • Finally the campaign message should contain information concerning respecting the countryside, how to behave whilst there but not scaring people away. The Countryside Code is a good start.
Empty paths in the North York Moors

Visitors – Do some research before coming

Whenever I hold Navigation Courses or Guiding groups I am repeatedly surprised about how little people know about what they can and are unable to do in the countryside. These are people who have a genuine interest and want to be out there and do right. However most are very cautious and afraid they will offend locals and other visitors. As an example their knowledge of rights of way and access land (do read the blog) is almost non existent. Therefore the human tendency is simply to avoid the unknown and play safe (at places like Malham etc).

The information is out there so for anyone visiting read up on the possibilities. Planning a trip, whether for the day or to stay, is fun. In addition exploring places away from the hotspots is satisfying.

Quiet walking near Windermere

A Local Solution On arrival

However the majority of people will still head towards the countryside with little or no research. They may consult the odd website, access social media and take a friend’s recommendation, a quick google of popular places and off they go. However on arrival it is possible to make the experience more enjoyable. Again it is informed information at the right places. At present there is very little information on what to do at popular arrival places such as Ingleton and Malham. Understandably people will then simply follow what others do.

All the main car parks should have large display/information boards with simple information on what is available to do. Easy to understand maps with popular and less popular walks, information on how to behave, places to see and things to do and in particular simple alternatives if the car park/place you are visiting is too full. As well as notice boards why not have some volunteers manning a stand who simply provide information to people.

Fountain’s Fell, a rarely visited summit near Malham

The ‘Dales Makers’ who were out in Malham last summer were a brilliant model. For walking how about a ‘popularity board’ map. In Malham for example a visit to Malham Cove is very popular (maybe marked as a red route), Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss less so (orange), Airton along the river or the paths to the west barely touched (green). In addition if the car park is full why not provide some nearby alternatives. For example a short drive up to the car park at Malham Tarn is quieter, cheaper and a beautiful place to visit. There are good alternatives nearby to all the Hotspots, whether in the Dales, Lakes or beyond.

A Public Transport Solution

Car parks are a problem. Too busy, too few and with no-one taking responsibility for opening up more in the less populated areas. There is an alternative however. Public Transport will lead people in to the less popular areas. The bus network in the Lake District is excellent. As an example I would encourage anyone to take the Honister Rambler to Buttermere for Keswick. However the buses are less well known and therefore less used in the Dales. The train is better, the Settle to Carlisle railway offers many excellent trips for visitors, accessing superb walks, as does the Wensleydale line. Nothing is as satisfying as a one way walk. Take the bus or train from its hub and walk back. I have detailed many of these opportunities on Where2walk as one way walks. Not only are the walks excellent but the car parking hassle is taken away.

Explore the Forest of Bowland

Accommodation Issues this summer

In addition to the sheer number of visitors arriving in the countryside there is going to be a lack of accommodation. Although many visitors, particularly first time, will be day trippers, many others will hopefully want to stay. With the problems over the past year in the hospitality section some pubs and guest houses have closed, the rest are likely to be busy, at least from June onwards. Self catering and camping will thrive from April (covid permitting). However even with the sheer number of self catering places in the Dales and Lakes there is a limit and it is sure to be met this summer. Book early is my first bit of advice. In addition look to visit somewhere less popular, the Forest of Bowland is but one example.

Concluding Remarks

For the visitor do your research and find places to go that are away from the most popular places. Plan to explore and discover places and things that are of interest. Why not take up the Dales 30 or Wainwright challenge, or simply look to visit every castle and abbey. The information is out there, maybe not at the top of page on Google but not far away. In particular do not be afraid to try something new. Whether arriving for the day or to stay consider what you would like to do and where you should go.

My recent blogs on Hidden Gems (walks) and Places to Avoid the Crowds offer a start.

A short walk from the crowds at Ambleside

For the various authorities who manage tourism (national or local) at least have a plan to cope with the vast influx of visitors that are going to arrive. There appears to be none at the moment and all we are going to hear are complaints and moans from visitors, locals and authorities alike.

Caveat: obviously this all depends on the continued successful role out of the vaccine but it appears that holidaying in the UK will be the safer and more popular option than going abroad.

Enjoy your Walking

Jonathan

PS: For my ‘Best of’ range of blogs follow this link.

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