First time visitors to Yorkshire Dales National Park remains high

Aysgarth Falls. Photo: Wehha.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park — which saw a wave of younger visitors from nearby cities explore the area for the first time following lockdowns — has seen the proportion of people making their first visit remain higher than historically this year, a study has suggested.

Leading figures at the park authority particularly welcomed the surge of first-time and more diverse visitors from places such as West Yorkshire last year, saying the mix of visitors better represented the population as a whole.

Authority members backed efforts to harness the new interest and assist first-time visitors to help meet the body’s second purpose, to promote opportunities for the public to understand and enjoy the park.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales Access Forum heard while the authority’s officers found results of its study in 2020 identifying the volume and diversity of new visitors “really interesting”, they had been buoyed by the findings of a similar study this year.

To understand whether more diverse visitors had continued to visit the park this year, visitors to tourist hotspot sites such as Grassington, Malham and Aysgarth were encouraged to complete digital questionnaires, alongside staff and volunteers undertaking face to face surveys.

The main findings from those surveyed were that 26 per cent were first-time visitors compared to 27 per cent last year. Most visitors came from West Yorkshire, but most first-time visitors, some 37 per cent, had travelled from the South East and London. In 2020 most visitors, including first-time visitors, travelled from West Yorkshire.

Fourteen per cent of all visitors interviewed were in the 25-34 age group. This was higher than in 2017 visitor survey, but significantly lower than the 22 per cent recorded last year.

In the authority’s 2017 visitor survey 56 per cent of visitors were aged over 55. In 2020 this reduced to 36 per cent, but rose again in 2021 to 46 per cent. The highest proportion of first time visitors this year were in the 45-54 age group.

A park authority officer told the meeting: “It all looks really good. We are still getting some first-time visitors coming through. People are coming from long distances to come to the national park and enjoying all the things that we love about it.”

When asked why they were visiting the park, some 69 per cent said walking was their main motivation, while scenery and landscape was cited by 93 per cent of all visitors as something they had enjoyed about their visit.

Almost half of all visitors said being by water was one of the things they enjoyed.

After the meeting, Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock, who runs a tea rooms in Bainbridge, said the hurdles associated with foreign travel this year had made a big difference to the number and diversity of visitors.

She said: “It has been fantastic how many new people we’ve had this year who didn’t know the Yorkshire Dales existed. The main thing is for them to continue visiting, even if it’s not for their main holiday, now that they’ve found it.

“At one point all the extra visitors were bikers, but overall we’ve had a lot of families who have enjoyed coming up to the Dales. Sometimes we’ve had just groups of young people staying in some of the bigger holiday cottages.”