Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 23rd October 2018

CUMBRIA must be the most telly-visual part of the entire country.

Look at us, we’re on TV again. Last week, for example, we saw Griff Rhys-Jones water skiing badly on Windermere and zooming high over the central Lake District in one of photographer Roger Savage’s flying contraptions.

Then along came Rob Bell with an episode in his excellent Walking Britain’s Lost Railways documentaries on Channel 5. Engineer and presenter Bell has a passion for railway history and re-living the glory days of our lost heritage. This time it was Penrith to Cockermouth, with a final trip to Buttermere in a vintage motor car to top off what once would have been the ultimate tourist experience.

We’re never off the screen. Last night it was Paul Rose’s turn on BBC2 where he is going on some of his favourite Lake District hikes with a bit of long-distance swimming, steamer steering and hound trailing thrown in for good measure.

All this exposure must delight the tourist industry. The only problem comes when the traffic becomes gridlocked in high season when every visitor seems intent on flocking to the same place at once — because they’ve seen it on the telly.

I have not seen any visitor figures for 2018, but last year record numbers came to Britain, enticed by spectacular attractions and the weak pound. Overseas tourists love our museums and galleries, while Windermere, with 1.56 million visitors, was one of Britain’s most popular drawing cards. World heritage does have better examples than Bowness on a bank holiday, but hey, let that be our little secret.

Lots of tourists. Good news for business. But it can have consequences. The National Trust recently admitted it was struggling to cope with a surge in visitor numbers after reporting a fall in customer satisfaction. The trust will invest £20 million over the next five years on crumbling cafe buildings, car parking spaces and other facilities which have failed to keep pace with the growth in tourism.

Down in Cornwall tourist bosses got a mixed reception with their plea to visitors to not all flock to the Poldark beaches used to film the BBC series. The chief executive of Visit Cornwall suggested “there are other beaches” but one businessman said: “This is a year you pray for. It’s a holiday destination, that’s its revenue.”

You could draw comparisons with the Lakes where people want to see where The A Word was filmed, where Miss Potter did her drawings, where Swallows and Amazons sailed, Ken Russell directed and a host of other film locations. We’re almost there for a film and TV trail. A new book anyone?

Actually I’m quite pleased when the film people direct tourists to the honeypots. There are lots of out of the way places they haven’t been to which are an equal delight, but minus the crowds. Let’s keep it that way for those of us in the know, eh.

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE

FOR several years the Lake District has suffered the blight of charity walks at weekends. Now it seems the same pressures on rural communities and the fells are being felt in the Yorkshire Dales and on their Three Peaks walk.

The pleasure of group walking, often rushing from place to place by car without any regard for the damage their charitable efforts cause to the fragile landscape, baffles me. When they come round the office asking for sponsorship, just give ‘em a tenner and be done with it. Explain gently that, in putting mountain rescue teams on alert every weekend night, they are doing more damage than good for humanity.

These are the folk who really don’t care where it is. It could be any walk, anywhere. They do Scafell Pike in the dark anyway. They don’t enjoy the fells. They don’t even enjoy the views.

They usually turn up late in the evening, park inconsiderately and do unspeakable things behind walls which farmers later tread in and farmers’ dogs try to eat. They belt up the main tourist track, unless they get lost, belt down again and roar off to the next assignment.

That’s the ones the rescue teams are not by now searching for. And all without a care for the disturbance they cause to local residents.

The problems experienced in Lake District villages and hamlets are now being reflected in the Yorkshire Dales where people have been complaining about “over tourism”. The individual walker and the rambling club are no problem. But there are simply not enough toilet facilities and parking spaces for the big weekend fundraisers.

Agreed, the walks raise a lot of money for charity. An estimated six million quid a year in the Yorkshire Dales. The irony is that another charity is highly likely to be footing the bill for the damage they cause on their environmentally unfriendly weekend jaunts.

Over the years there has been talk of the need for some sort of legislation to scale back on these walks. There was, maybe still is, a voluntary code. But it’s impossible to bring in rules when the fells are open to all, plus trying to impose rules would be a nightmare.

I did think that people would eventually grow tired of these challenge walks and move on to some other fundraising idea. One organiser last week admitted that he’s ready to call a halt to mass Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon expeditions which is a mildly encouraging sign that the charity penny is beginning to drop.

Why not just go for a 10 or 20-mile hike on your own and ask for a donation? I guess it does not fulfil the urge to be part of a group treading the well-worn paths? All you can do realistically is plead with them to show a bit of respect for the fells and the locals and even approach some of the charities to make them aware there are other ways of providing funds without trampling thoughtlessly over inhabitants and the environment.

BLOOD PRESSURE RISING

THE British Heart Foundation (BHF) is introducing pop-up testing offering blood pressure checks in places like hair salons and railway stations. Seven million people are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure, meaning they are at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Railway stations? I ask you. After this summer’s timetable chaos they are the one place where travellers are unlikely to get an accurate blood pressure reading. It will go off the scale.

The headline conclusion of the report by the Office of Road and Rail into the rail fiasco was that “nobody took charge” thus disrupting the lives of millions of frustrated commuters. Tim Farron’s Lakeland constituency was among the worst affected and it’s been estimated that the North’s economy took a £38 million hit, with local communities suffering and tourism’s reputation damaged.

The former Lib Dem leader has brought a Bill before the House of Commons which would make the Transport Secretary more accountable and make it easier to strip failing operators of their franchises.

Will he get a cross-party consensus or will his Bill simply get kicked into the long grass as MPs become ever more wrapped up in Brexit arguments? If it doesn’t get the backing it merits then the BHF had better begin installing those 15 trial blood pressure testing centres pronto because there’s going to be a whole lot more rail passengers in need of treatment to calm their anger at what they see as inefficient management and a dereliction of ministerial duty.

NOT ONES TO BANK ON

WE’VE lost another bank in town this week. Just one left now. Oh yes, they give punters the usual claptrap about everyone preferring the internet and the mobile bank that will come round once a week, but millions of Britain’s elderly are most at risk from the closure of branches and cash machines, a study by Which? shows. The watchdog found that 80 per cent of them are reliant on cash for shopping and to pay bills while people in lowest income households also use cash.

Whatever excuses the banks trot out, it spells further isolation for rural communities and makes life that bit harder still for older folk who simply don’t trust computer banking, that’s if they even have the internet.

Taxpayers came to the rescue of the banks a few years ago. Those same banks that have cut and run from our town centres. This is our reward. Next time there’s a crash will the public be so amenable to a government bail out?