It has now been almost two years since we moved up to the Lake District. It has only been a little over three years since I first visited the National Park.
Just over a month before my first visit, local entrepreneur Mark Weir had died when his helicopter crashed in bad weather. Mark was the owner of Honister Slate Mine and had a passion for revitalising the Lake District. Having already reopened Britain’s last working slate mine, he created the Via Ferrata, a relatively hair-raising climbing experience that runs along the sheer north face of Fleetwith Pike. The last project he was working on before his death was a zip-wire that would run from near the summit of the mountain back to the slate mine – a distance of about a mile.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about this. I first read about Mark not long after we moved to Kendal in 2012. After a few minutes of reading about what sounded like a brilliant man and a great asset to the Lakes, I stumbled upon the post regarding his death. Despite having only known of him for a matter of minutes, it was a pretty deflating moment.
When I first visited the Lake District in April 2011, I knew pretty much nothing about it. I had guessed that there were lakes, that was about all. What I found when we got here blew my mind. I couldn’t quite comprehend that I had lived in the UK for 23 years with absolutely no idea that England had such a stunning landscape. Oddly, I had fallen in love with a similar landscape two years prior, 11,500 miles away in Queenstown, New Zealand.
However, there is a striking difference between the Lake District and the similar landscapes of New Zealand. I speak of adventure tourism. By and large, the Lakes are a place for rambling walks, afternoon tea and retirement. In Queenstown you can scarcely walk 10 metres without seeing an advert for yet another adrenaline-fuelled activity. Canyon swinging, bungee jumping, jet boating and skiing are the order of the day.
Gradually though, adventure is seeping into the Lake District. There are fantastic mountain bike trails at Whinlatter and Grizedale Forests; the via ferrata I’ve already mentioned at Honister; and off-road driving experiences with Kankku.
These experiences are all fairly new, cropping up within the last 10 years and good though they are, they generally don’t compete with the thrills on offer in the landscape surrounding, for example, Queenstown.
Mark Weir wanted to give adventure tourism in the Lake District a shot in the arm. Within the realm of adventure tourism, his zip-wire would have put the Lakes on the map. The original proposal would have amounted to the longest and highest zip-wire in Europe. Unfortunately however, there’s a very vocal resistance to adventure tourism in the Lakes. What’s most frustrating is that this resistance is from those who scarcely use the Lake District at all, they just enjoy looking at it. And sadly, I believe they’re suffocating it.
One of the sad facts of the Lake District is that many people of my generation (and presumably those younger than me) scarcely know that it exists. And many that do know of it, know it for steamboat tours on Windermere, and quaint tearooms. I know this because firstly, I was in the group that didn’t know, and secondly I now have plenty of friends who are in the former or latter groups I’ve described.
I actually agree with much of the sentiment of those interested in preserving the unique tranquility of the Lakes. I don’t want to see a cable car running up Scafell Pike. No-one wants that. Adventure tourism can flourish in the Lake District with barely a dent in the landscape and I believe it’s vital for the survival of the local economy.
During the time that Mark was originally trying to get planning permission for the zip-wire, the BBC were filming a documentary about him. I wasn’t aware of the documentary until I saw it on BBC4 last night. If any, or all, of the above interests you, I’d highly recommend watching it on the iPlayer. In particular, it changed my view of the LDNPA (Lake District National Park Authority) quite substantially. I didn’t realise that Richard Leafe (the CEO) was such an adventurous type and that he actually supports the zip-wire. It’s a shame that an incredibly small number of people are able to prevent a wonderful attraction that would be enjoyed by so many.