To mark their recent Great Landscapes Week, conservation charity Friends of the Lake District invited a range of guest bloggers to answer the question 'what makes the Lake District a world-class visitor attraction?'. A campaigner against the proposed Whinlatter gondola, Jon Derry, offers a local perspective here.
This article first appeared on the FLD's own Great Landscapes Week blog
As Chair of the NoGo Gondola group I'm determined to stop the National Park Authority allowing an alpine style cable car ride to be built from Thornthwaite up to Whinlatter Forest Centre and beyond.
Despite the importance to the Cumbrian economy of 19 million annual visitors, the Lake District is emphatically not an 'attraction' in the Disney sense. Besides, with 40,000 people living and working here, the Lakes have always been far more than just an attraction. So why would Friends of the Lake District use the word?
Perhaps because it prompts us to question what we want the Lake District to be. Or maybe because they (like me) object to the Lake District National Park Authority's support of artificial attractions like zip wires and gondola rides. Do the LDNPA believe it's the only way to appeal to international tourists or the young? Or are they are simply caving in to pressure from the tourism lobby? Either way, if these developments go ahead they will compromise the very things that make this place world class.
So what are those things?
Despite man's presence over millennia our lakes, mountains, moors and valleys remain largely unspoilt and beautiful. Just looking at them will bring you joy and peace. I'm writing this at Skiddaw House Hostel looking east across the 'Back o' Skiddaw' towards Carrock Fell. If you haven't been, go. Our unspoilt beauty is the jewel in the crown which we must protect. It's that simple.
Natural and Cultural History
On our way up to Skiddaw House yesterday, we watched a young cuckoo being fed by its surrogate warbler parents. A lifetime first for me and an unforgettable moment (my decision not to take a telephoto lens will also stay with me forever…). On the culture front, we all want a bit of what inspired Daffodils, Rogue Herries, Peter Rabbit and The National Trust don't we? And in my case, an answer to the eternal question 'does anyone actually eat Kendal mint cake?'
Leisure and Adventure
Quite simply, this is the ideal place to look at, sketch, paint or photograph a uniquely beautiful landscape; OR you can walk, run, climb, camp, cycle, sail, kayak, swim, paraglide on it, in it or over it! How much fun can you handle?
Nowhere half as beautiful as the Lakes is 15 minutes from a major motorway junction, two hours from Manchester, three from Birmingham and three (by train) from London. I first appreciated this at the age of eight, when my father - who viewed 'motoring' as a leisure pursuit in itself - brought us here for a day from our home in mid Staffordshire. We breakfasted at Windermere, visited every major lake (traversing Wrynose, Hardknott, Honister and Kirkstone passes along the way - I'm not joking), had tea in Keswick and were still back home in bed by 10pm that night. There was no one quite like my Dad for 'a little drive' and there's no top-draw destination quite so accessible as the Lakes!
Another unique quality of the Lakes is how small it is. Unlike Scotland, you don't need to drive half a day to reach the start of your walk or climb. And the mountains are small enough to get up and down in a day, offering amazing views, ridge and horseshoe walks and a true sense of achievement, even for those (like me) who are now built more for comfort than speed. The Alps are too big for me except on skis - but not the Lakes!
When we visited the Isle of Mull recently, I was astounded by how few footpaths there were, in spite of Scotland's fabled right to roam laws. We must cherish our footpaths, because this myriad network, created by shepherds, traders and soldiers over centuries, is our veinal system, allowing people to 'flow' freely all over the Park. It's really special.
These all combine to make the Lake District a 'world class' destination – and without any artificial infrastructure or fixed equipment you'll note (beyond the roads and trails, which have been here for centuries). Visitors and locals alike love The Lakes because here it's easy to experience one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world - without disturbing it in any way.
No one wants to see this change, so I'd like to finish by offering some final thoughts to those responsible for running the Park:
Please don't tinker with the Lake District
Our natural assets are already world class. Artificial attractions like zip wires and gondolas might make money for investors, but they aren't appropriate here; they won't create good jobs but they will erode the unspoilt beauty which is the jewel in our Lake District crown.
Don't treat the Instagram generation as a homogeneous group
Millions of young people are mindful, passionate about the environment and enjoy real outdoor activities. Let's target them, and let those who want fake adrenaline rides captured on selfies go to a theme park instead.
What isn't world class is our transport infrastructure
We need a strategic focus on the four Bs:
- Buses (a comprehensive e-bus service to reduce car usage is critical)
- Boots (maintaining our footpaths)
- Bikes (more specialist trails which don't impede walking paths)
- Boats (converting to electric is technically doable, and essential)
The LDNPA must lead, not dodge, the debate on over-tourism
Like Venice, Bath and Edinburgh, the Lake District must seriously consider a tourist tax to raise the millions needed to pay for e-buses and reduce car usage in the Park. The current voluntary donation scheme is tokenism and will achieve nothing.