Update: The weekend has passed and the Tour experience was fantastic. Well done to all the organizers and the people of the Yorkshire Dales for making our area look superb. We know it now many more do.
Over the weekend of the 5th and 6th of July the Yorkshire Dales will come to a stand still when the best cyclists in the world, and up to a million visitors, take on the undulating countryside of the area. It will undoubtedly be eye catching and newsworthy in the week before and during the race weekend (as long as England do not progress too far in the World Cup…unlikely). Most businesses are full for that period, some suppliers of services have hiked their prices (others have not) and aside from the expected chaos on the roads and talk of ‘closing’ Skipton whatever that means, I am sure it will be a success.
Personally I will be taking my bike, family and dog to try and catch some of the race – as much for the Olympic reason of ‘being there‘ as for seeing the cyclists pelt past.
A good chunk of money appear to have been thrown at the event itself, particularly from Welcome to Yorkshire and within the Dales this has initiated a lot of chat about the event itself. In particular there is an increasing concern from people working in the area about whether it will leave any long term benefit for the Yorkshire Dales themselves. Once the cyclists have moved on, the litter collected and the temporary fields returned to pasture what will people remember about the area that the event passed through and more pertinently, will they want to visit and explore it fuller. Certainly there will be an increase in cyclists following the route itself. However when their head is down and they are pounding the roads will they be stopping, looking around and appreciating what outstanding scenery there is?
My own view is that it will soon be forgotten and the Yorkshire Dales will return to what it was before, a beautiful countryside without a strong identity and not as many visitors as it deserves. The focus of all the media coverage appears to be on the cyclists and any promotion of the area largely forgotten. What I would love to see from Welcome to Yorkshire, or whoever has the money, is more emphasis on the outstanding countryside, a helicopter view of the route taking in the scenery, a run through of the places the race passes and villages enroute, a bit of history but also lots on what the area has to offer. I do not mean the pleasant but old fashioned image portrayed by Ade Edmondson but something a little bit more imaginative.
But what should the coverage portray about the Yorkshire Dales? Well as I run a walking company based in the Park I would argue the landscape and the countryside is what makes the area so unique. To me the Dales is about a good and interesting walk either down vale or up one of the fells, a walk which passes through the small and mid sized villages (there are no more attractive villages in the country, no 1 without fail), a walk that explores some of its historical past when industry was the employer or the monasteries ruled the lands or simply just a walk on a quiet path with only dry stone walls, sheep and the odd bull as company.
That does not mean that the area is not exciting, it just means it appeals to a slightly older age group. When I say older I only mean those who do not want the harder core walking of the Lakes or Wales, these visitors just tend to be beyond their 20s and 30s. Excitement and ‘action’ can actually be found in the massively popular 3 Peaks of Yorkshire Challenge. However the many 100s who trek round the 3 peaks every summer Saturday are an exception, they are younger than the average visitor and being honest the majority have not a great deal of interest in the area (bit like the Tour cyclists and those who will come to watch it, it is more the challenge that appeals).
The Dales Way also brings a lot of visitors to the area (on very few dates from March to October there are not walkers on it) but to me this once again this does not showcase the area at its best – it is an attractive walk along a river, a boggy high level crossing of the country’s watershed and then a walk down another river – even the Cumbrian sector later on the walk is not great. Much better is the Bracken Way which typifies what walking in the Dales is all about – variety of countryside, villages, water, history and a true challenge. A long distance footpath that should and could be the iconic heart of the Dales. Most businesses in the area would benefit and those who have completed this long distance walk would be more tempted to return and stay.
The Dales, though, is not all about walking and there has been some excellent initiatives including the imaginative Yellow Sheep campaign. In particular the local businesses brought together by Susan Briggs in the Dales Tourism Business Network and the Dales Tourism Partnership, which works in conjunction with the National Park, have provided a driving force within the limited funds that they possess. In reality I do not expect many visitors from the south east of England to come to the Dales for their main week’s holiday (although some do and have a great time) but I would expect many more people to spend long weekends from the northern and midland cities and towns, at all times of the year. Non peak bookings should be strong and a year round presence possible.
Which brings us back to the Tour de France, a heaven sent opportunity to showcase the area and not just to focus on the 2 days of the actual event. I am pleased to see ‘legacy‘ on the Tourism Partnership agenda in the next meeting and I am interested to see what in particular the National Park and Welcome to Yorkshire have planned. So far I have seen nothing to really give the region a boost once the race is run – many accommodation owners I have spoken to have seen no rise in booking, some say that their bookings have dropped in the months after the event.
Personally I am looking forward to the event, am praying for good weather and hoping that the area can attract many extra visitors as a result.
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Between Feizor and Stainforth just a little north of Settle
Hi Jonathan, great post! Where is the location of the first photo with the farm in the background? Thanks, Nikki
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