In a Venn diagram that shows the intersection between farming, country walking and tourism I find myself firmly at the centre, a foot in every circle. Walking gives me access to the fells of my Yorkshire Dales upbringing, my farming family provides an understanding of rural communities and the need for walkers to respect farm life, and producing guide books allows me to encourage walkers into the Dales, bringing in much needed income.
For many years this has been a joyful place to be. Until Coronavirus when tensions erupted.
Farmers were desperate for people to stay away, terrified of being struck down with Covid-19, especially at lambing time when they were working 20 hour days, often alone with no-one to take over in a crisis. Frightened village communities with their elderly populations and lack of medical facilities tried to ban visitors. Walkers resented footpaths being blocked and gates tied up when they were legitimately walking from home. People who’d never visited the Dales before descended on beauty spots in huge numbers, parking in gateways, lighting fires, leaving litter and worse. And in the middle of all this the government were encouraging businesses to continue to trade if possible.
How could I with a small business promote guidebooks that encourage people to walk in the Dales knowing the dangers to a way of life I love so much? How could I, a passionate champion of Rights of Way, condone a chained gate or ‘Keep Out’ sign however much I understood the fear? It was a difficult and uncomfortable place to be.
As lockdown lifts I hope very much that bridges can be built and good relations restored between town and country. As more leisure facilities open up the pressure on rural beauty spots will ease. An afternoon in a beer garden will become more attractive to some than a drive to Ribblesdale. Holidays abroad will be possible by late summer. Holiday cottages, camp sites and caravan parks are opening as I write and will bring in much needed tourism £££s. Walkers will return, many of us avoiding farmyards and fields of stock if possible and heading for the fells.
And I will start promoting routes again – especially A Dales High Way.