Ribble Valley tourist trail

The Ribble Valley food trail was a terrific success but should this beautiful area now be looking for a change of direction? Roger Borrell reports

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery - and we have plenty of experience of that at Lancashire Life - then the people overseeing tourism in the Ribble Valley should be feeling pretty pleased with themselves.

The simple but brilliant idea of setting up the Ribble Valley Food Trail didn’t just have hungry visitors and curious food journalists beating a path to their door. It also attracted a swathe of interest from other tourist organisations around Britain.

Rebecca Kay runs through the list: Sussex, Cheshire, Oxford, some from Scotland... ‘People are still phoning about it and we were happy to help,’ she says, adding conspiratorially: ‘Mind you, we don’t tell them everything. We keep a few secrets.’

Like all good marketeers, the council’s tourism and arts officer knows you are only as good as your last campaign and 2010 is the year when the Ribble Valley needs to build on the foundations laid when they first hit the food trail in 2008.

It’s too good an idea to be neglected and, with the word ‘staycation’ still chiming with British families, there are many reasons for optimism in an area which boasts some lovely old towns, miles of stunning countryside and a selection of quality visitor attractions.

Tourism in the Ribble Valley is a delicate balancing act. Many of the locals like the fact it’s one of Britain’s hidden secrets. They want it to stay that way, thank you very much. ‘Just how loud do you shout about it?’ asks Rebecca. ‘It’s hugely important but we also have to be sensitive to the environment and the people who live here all year.’

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Set against that is the fact that the most recent statistics from 2008 show tourism brought just over �105 million of business into the Ribble Valley and helped to maintain the jobs of around 1,800 people.

That makes it a major part of the local economy and doing nothing isn’t an option. Rebecca and her team have just produced 25,000 tourist guides to the Ribble Valley and these will form one of the platforms of the 2010 campaign. Its cover and many of the pages reveal a slight change of emphasis towards families and outdoor activities. The food’s great but it’s only one element of the package.

‘The wonderful countryside is one of our strengths but we needed to think about what else there is here,’ says Rebecca. ‘We need to attract people and you can’t do that by telling potential visitors that it’s very quiet and nothing much happens.

‘The reality is that it’s an extremely vibrant area, the people are incredibly friendly and it’s a terrific place to bring groups and the sort of families that like outdoor activities.

‘There has been a surge of energy through the area and everyone realises we can’t just sit back and wait for people to arrive. We need to provide a fresh impetus for the area. Businesses have had a rough year and they need to see that we have the energy to help keep them motivated.’

This is more evident in Clitheroe, which sits at the heart of the Valley.  The castle has undergone a major renovation which has turned it from and interesting but rather stark and uninviting pile into a fascinating, interactive place for locals and visitors and the numbers have rocketed. Meanwhile, a grandly named master-plan has been drawn up for the town with the intention of boosting the market, the shopping area and parking.

But Clitheroe is just one component in the Ribble Valley and visitors � could easily while away a week exploring its corner.

‘One of the key things for 2010 is our intention to revive the food trail. It was a great idea which captured the imagination of people inside and outside the area and we need to build on that success.

‘We are looking to alter the criteria of the food trail, but we want to get it right. It must still be a meaningful guide for visitors. We might change the content too. I’d love it to include information on which farm to visit to buy your breakfast eggs and where to get your potatoes for the evening meal. We recognise people can’t eat five meals out every day and that it needs to be useful for people in self-catering accommodation, too.

‘We also need to get the message across that while we have a wonderful selection of places to eat and to stay there are a lot of other things do here, especially for families interested in outdoor activities.’

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