Record season for Northamptonshire's Nene Valley tourism firms thanks to staycation bookings
They've reported a booming summer in the year of the 'staycation'
It's been dubbed the year of the 'staycation' - and tourism businesses in Northamptonshire' s Nene Valley have reported a record number of visitors.
Despite a slow start to 2021 tourists and day-trippers flocked to the area's waterways, cycle paths and visitor attractions with firms saying they've had a booming summer season.
Rushden Lakes-based canoe and kayak hire business, Canoe2, has reported that 2021 has been ‘phenomenal’.
Sarah-Jane Naylor from the firm said: “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 said 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.
She said: “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 cafe or restaurant here has been another factor in our location's popularity this year.”
While overseas travel restriction has lessened the number of overseas tourists to the area, 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 blend 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 said: “All Saints has seen an increase of 65 per cent in guests staying compared to 2020, and a 95 per cent increase from two years ago.
“Previously, guests have come from far and wide, attracting visitors from Europe and America.
“However, because of current circumstances, all of our guests have come from the UK over the last two seasons, with nearly 20 per cent coming from Northamptonshire itself, as residents seek out something to experience and explore closer to home.”
Cllr Helen Howell, North Northamptonshire Council's deputy leader and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, said: “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.”
Other firms from areas of the Nene Valley outside Northamptonshire have also seen soaring demand.
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 the numbers of day-trippers, overnight tourists, and corporate clients.
He said: “Since re-opening in April, as an outdoor business and 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.
“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."
One of the Nene Valley's most popular attractions, Nene Valley Railway (NVR) near Sibson launched new, themed family fun summer days 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.
Tracy Spring, NVR’s assistant manager, said the events have been ‘a great success.’
She said: “Although we had run family markets previously, they had only made up a small percentage of our customer base.
“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."