A LEADING tourist attraction in Northumberland has chalked up record visitor numbers despite the continuing economic recession – as more cost-conscious families stay in the UK for their holidays.
Almost 204,000 people have been to Wallington Hall and Gardens near Morpeth since March, making it not only the National Trust’s most popular North East property but one of the region’s top draws.
The record figures have been achieved 10 weeks ahead of the end of the Trust’s annual visitor season, which runs from March 1 until the end of February. It is the third year in a row that the Wallington estate – which includes a Palladian mansion, walled garden and extensive landscaped grounds and woods – has seen a rise in visitor numbers.
By last weekend, 203,852 people had come through the gates, 1,285 more than for the whole of the 2010-2011 visitor season. Last year’s total figure of 202,567 was in itself 8,647 up on 2009-2010.
National Trust staff say the surge in visitors is down to Wallington’s diverse programme of family-friendly events over the past 10 months, but also because the current tough times mean families are tightening their belts and taking fewer overseas holidays.
Yesterday Julie Tucker, Wallington’s events and promotions manager, said: “The fact we have smashed our visitor target before Christmas is here is fantastic news, not just for us but for tourism in Northumberland in general.
“I think we have benefited greatly from the strength of our events, and from the number of ‘staycationers’ as people have elected to forego foreign holidays due to the economic crisis.
“We have done a lot to enhance our visitor experience. Events like our annual food and craft festival in October, which attracted more than 19,000 visitors over two days, and our series of William Bell Scott weekends, when scenes from his famous paintings in the house’s central hall were played out, proved a great success.
“This boost in visitor figures is a testament to what we have to offer.”
The race is now on to see if Wallington can break through the 210,000 visitor barrier before March 1. The attraction is one of the few that remains open over the winter, and with the rest of the Christmas holidays and February half-term still to come, Julie says hopes are high.
“We have lots of fantastic events planned for half-term, when we will also be opening the house, something we have never done during the first school holiday of the year.
“The Romans will be back by popular demand in May, while we will also be launching our new forest school days in April. From June visitors will be able to learn bush craft skills with survival expert Rob Caton from local firm Wildharmony.”