NEW signs and information points are being prepared to help tourists find their way to and around the Breamish Valley following the closure of the visitor centre at Ingram.
Northumberland National Park is keen to ensure that its decision to close the visitor centre due to financial cutbacks does not backfire with a huge downturn in visitor numbers.
In particular, there is concern that the closure of the visitor centre and loss of its experienced staff takes away the important face-to-face contact wanted by tourists.
It has therefore outlined a £15,000 action plan to ensure motorists are directed to beauty spots from the A697 and that they will receive plenty of information when they get there.
One of its ideas is to create a national park welcome team and have the first phase of volunteers in place by Easter, the traditional start of the tourist season. Eventually it is hoped to recruit park ambassadors through the private sector.
Derek Proudlock, national park head of operations, said: “It has always been recognised that if it came to the closure of the visitor centres at Ingram and Rothbury future investment would be needed to retain the essential quality of the visitor welcome.
“The measures being proposed will not replace the service being lost, but will partially mitigate the impact of the closures in the short term.”
It plans to reinstall road signs from Wooler to Harthope Valley, install new road signage at the A697 junction and rehome some of the Ingram visitor centre’s content in Wooler’s tourist information centre in the Cheviot Centre.
It also hopes to install a head of the valley map at Ingram Bridge car park, put new road signage within the Breamish Valley, install new signage at Bulby’s Wood and get replacement displays for venues including Cafe Maelmin in Milfield and the Border Hotel at Kirk Yetholm.
It is also keen to take advantage of smart phone technology to welcome and inform visitors.
The national park decided to close Ingram and Rothbury visitor centres to save around £80,000 a year. The decision followed a two year effort to find alternative means of delivering the services. However, it remains keen to explore future partnership arrangements with village hall committees to provide out-of-hours visitor information and host temporary exhibitions.