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HomeCultureBoom summer for Nene Valley tourism includes camping in a church

Boom summer for Nene Valley tourism includes camping in a church

In a year that’s been dubbed, ‘the year of the staycation’, Nene Valley tourism businesses have reported a record summer season, despite a slow start.

Cementing the Nene Valley’s reputation as an ‘outdoor adventure playground’, both tourists and day trippers have flocked to the area’s waterways, cycle-paths, and visitor attractions to make the most of fresh air and ‘The Great Outdoors’.

Dan Wallace, Director of Adventure Rutland which offers a whole host of water and land-based activities at Sibson Marina and Rutland Lake has had to expand his business to cope with soaring customer demand from day-trippers, overnight tourists, and corporate clients.

“Since re-opening in April, as an outdoor business one of the first to do so after the winter lockdown, things have gone from strength to strength. We’ve introduced open water swimming at Sibson Marina Lake on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, “he says.

“We’ve also had to double the number of kayaks and paddleboards available to hire on the lake due to the high demand, as people wanted to get outside and enjoy being on the water with their families and friends,” he says.

Further along the Nene Valley, Rushden Lakes-based canoe, and kayak hire business, Canoe2 is reporting that 2021 has been, ‘phenomenal’.

Sarah-Jane Naylor says: “We’ve had a really, really good year with both the river and the lake being as busy as I can remember. What’s been particularly noticeable is the number of people taking to the water for the first time, people who say they’ve never hired a kayak or canoe before, both tourists and residents,” she says.

The proximity to the number of restaurants and other food and drink outlets has also been a draw, allowing day-trippers a ‘whole day’ experience.

“We’ve also seen a significant rise in the number of young families coming to Rushden Lakes for pedalo hire who say that because they haven’t been able to take a foreign holiday. they were looking at things to do locally, instead. Knowing that they’ll be able to book a café or restaurant here has been another factor in our locations’ popularity this year.”

Like many businesses in the Nene Valley, ‘getting creative’ and ‘pivoting’ due to Covid restrictions has enabled even greater business success and increased footfall, despite initial concerns.

One of the areas’ most popular attractions, Nene Valley Railway (NVR) launched new, themed ‘Family Summer Fun Day’s’ throughout the summer, to broaden its appeal. Events saw special cowboys, superheroes, teddy bears, pirates and ‘family fish and chip train’ days and culminated in Thomas the Tank Engine’s very own little festival, ‘Thomas Fest’.

Although the NVR had run family markets previously, they had only made up a small percentage of the attractions’ customer base.

According to Tracy Spring, NVR’s Assistant Manager, the events have been, ‘a great success.’

“Although we had run family markets previously, they had only made up a small percentage of our customer base,” she acknowledges. “This summer, though, they’ve proved hugely popular, proving a hit with a wider customer base than ever before.

“It certainly shows that you don’t have to be a heritage steam or diesel train enthusiast to enjoy a day out at the Nene Valley Railway,” she says.

Whilst overseas travel restriction has lessened the number of overseas tourists to the area, it’s evident that significantly more of us have been ‘holidaying at home’.

All Saints at Aldwincle was the very first church in the UK to offer ‘champing’ (a portmanteau of ‘church and camping’) in 2016.

Despite the delayed start to the season due to a combination of Covid restrictions and conservation work on the Church, All Saints has seen a huge boost in overnight bookings between April and the end of October 2021.

Fiona Silk from the Churches Conservation Trust says, “All Saints has seen an increase of 65% guests staying compared to 2020, and a 95% increase from two years ago.

“Previously, guests have come from far and wide, attracting visitors from Europe and America,” she says. “However, because of current circumstances, all of our guests have come from the UK over the last two seasons, with nearly 20% coming from Northamptonshire itself, as residents seek out something to experience and explore closer to home.”

Cllr Helen Howell, North Northamptonshire Council Deputy Leader & Executive Member for Sport, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, says:

“After such a tough year for businesses it is wonderful to see tourists visit the Nene Valley and for locals to embrace the great businesses and attractions we have on our doorsteps.

“Speaking on behalf of Destination Nene Valley, as hosts of the project who work to conserve, improve and promote the Nene Valley between Northampton and Peterborough, I congratulate the businesses across the Valley for bouncing back and helping showcase what an asset the Nene Valley is.

“The area is truly on the tourist map now.”

For more information about what to see and do in the Nene Valley, please visit nenevalley.net  

The beauty of the Nene Valley and resilience shown by some of its well-known destinations during Covid is also celebrated in this recently released short film.

The film features The Environment Agency at Northampton Marina, River Nene Regional Partnership in Wellingorough, Chester House Estate, Barnwell Country Park, Nene Valley Railway Wansford and Nene Park Peterborough.

I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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