Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre turns 50

Information Adviser Alan Greenfield with visitors Joe and Sharon Hall, from Birmingham, enjoying the 50th anniversary display.

Staff at Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre are remembering 50 years of helping people to discover the Yorkshire Dales.

In 1973, disused railway buildings near the waterfalls became North Riding County Council’s first National Park information centre.

Today the site is still a magnet for visitors, with two Information Advisers and meet and greet volunteers on hand seven days a week during the summer, seeing an average of around 600 people a day.

To mark the anniversary, a display of photographs, memories and diary entries has been put together.  A diary entry for 10 September 1984, for instance, reads: “Lady who got stuck in a stile in Wensleydale called in to thank us for the prompt action taken.”

Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre grew out of the work of the second person to be employed by North Riding County Council as a ‘national park warden’, Norman Crossley.

Bombarded with questions from visitors, he devised walks and wrote out the routes, setting up a card table in the car park at Aysgarth Falls and handing them out.

Present-day Information advisor Alan Greenfield (pictured) said: “It all started with Norman by his table in a car park giving out routes – and after that the centre was born. The role of the information adviser has changed as technology and communications have changed, yet we still have an important role to play to help visitors enjoy and understand the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Aysgarth Falls Visitor Centre as it looked in the 1970s.

“We don’t speak to everyone who comes through the door, but I might speak to around a hundred people a day.

“We had a lady last week who had never been here before; she came in the site for four days on the trot because she absolutely loved it.  People appreciate having someone to talk to, to get the information they need, such as walking routes that keep them safely away from the road.”

Nigel Metcalfe, an area ranger based at Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre, has remembered 1990, when scenes for Kevin Costner’s ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, including Little John’s stick fight, were filmed at the falls.

He said: “One day Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman – who was playing Azeem – came into the centre and asked to use the telephone.

“The member of staff on duty didn’t recognise him and, as was the policy at the time, politely asked him to use the public phone in the village.

“Once the film was shown in cinemas children could be seen fighting on the rocks with wooden sticks during the summer months. I’d pick up many sticks from the car park at the end of the day, dropped by weary young fighters.”

Member champion for promoting understanding at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Derek Twine, added: “Gathering materials for this 50th anniversary display at Aysgarth Falls has been an emotional and enthralling trip back in time for staff.  It’s reminded us of how it all started, with a National Park warden equipped only with a Land Rover and some home made leaflets.

“Like Norman Crossley, today’s staff just love to talk to people about this astonishingly beautiful area and explain the work that is going on to conserve the landscape and wildlife.”

Following the opening of Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre in 1973, a purpose-built centre opened in Malham in the spring of 1975.  Two further visitor centres opened in Hawes and Grassington.

The national park authority also supports ‘partnership centres’ in Reeth, Sedbergh, Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Lonsdale.