Perspective: Local Community

Jon Derry: Chair of the NoGo Gondola Group

“What makes the Lake District a World Class Attraction?” 

By way of introduction, let me confess that I’m an offcomer (albeit after 30 years of holidays here). I used to run a marketing agency; and as Chair of the NoGo Gondola group I’m determined to stop the LDNPA allowing an alpine style cable car ride being built from Thornthwaite up to Whinlatter Forest Centre and beyond.  

OK – now that’s out of the way, let’s go!

Strange word ‘Attraction’?

Despite the importance to the Cumbrian economy of 19 million annual visitors, the Lake District is emphatically NOT an ‘attraction’ in the Disney sense. I can’t see Alton Towers giving punters free, unrestricted access to their Park can you? 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 ‘attraction’ I wonder? 

Perhaps because it prompts us to question what sort of attraction we want the Lake District to be?  Or maybe because they (like me) object to the LDNPA’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 ‘Instagram’ generation? Or are they are 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’.   

Climbing off my Hobby Horse…

OK - Let’s highlight the six things which in my view make us a ‘world class’ destination. 

  1. Unspoiled Beauty

Despite Man’s presence over millennia, our lakes, mountains, moors and valleys remain largely unspoiled and beautiful. Just looking at them will bring you joy and peace. I’m writing this blog at Skiddaw House Hostel looking east across the ‘back o’ Skiddaw’ towards Carrock Fell. If you haven’t been, go. Our unspoiled beauty is the jewel in the crown which we must protect. It’s that simple. 

  1. 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?’

  1. Leisure and Adventure

Quite simply, this is the ideal place to look at, draw, 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? 

  1. Accessibility

Nowhere half as beautiful as the Lakes is 15 minutes from a major motorway junction, 2 hours from Manchester, 3 from Birmingham and 3 (by train) from London. I first appreciated this at the age of 8, when my Father (who viewed ‘motoring’ as a leisure pursuit in itself) brought us here for a day’s ‘holiday’ 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! 

  1. Compactness

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!

  1. Footpaths!

When we visited the isle of Mull recently, I was astounded by how few footpaths there were, inspite of the Scots’ fabled ‘right to roam’ laws. We must cherish our footpaths, because this myriad network, created by shepherds, traders and soldiers over centuries is our ‘venous system’ – allowing people to ‘flow’ freely all over the Park – really special 

These all combine to make the Lake District a ‘world class’ destination – and without any artificial infrastructure or fixed equipment either you’ll note (beyond the roads which have been here for centuries of course). Visitors and locals alike love ‘The Lakes’ because 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 climbing back onto my hobby horse to offer some final thoughts to those responsible for running the Park: 

  1. 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; won’t create good jobs and will erode the unspoiled beauty which is the jewel in our Lake District crown  

  1. 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 

  1. What isn’t ‘world class’ is our transport infrastructure

We need a strategic focus on the 4 ‘B’s:

  • 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)
  1. 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. 

Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today and to the team at Friends of the Lake District for doing such a good job. Please keep supporting them – and if you share some of my concerns please check out www.nogogondola.org or our Facebook page too. Have a great week everyone!