Six long-distance walking trails inspired by the North East’s historic reputation as a place of pilgrimage play an important role in boosting Durham’s tourist economy.
Launched last year, the Northern Saints Trails cover over 200 miles and position the North East as the Christian crossroads of the British Isles.
Based on ancient pilgrimage routes, the trails criss-cross the North East, passing through spectacular scenery, historic sites and over 500 attractions, restaurants and places to stay.
The trails are expected to attract 85,000 people to the area between 2022 and 2025, generating an annual outlay of £4.7million and supporting 64 new jobs.
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This is just one of the ways that Visit County Durham, the tourism service of Durham County Council, and other partners are supporting tourism businesses and developing the county and wider region as a tourist destination.
This summer, 26 interpretive panels will be installed at key points along Durham sections of the trails to better understand the heritage, landscape and stories that have shaped the area. The signs also highlight nearby attractions such as the historic Ushaw House, chapels and gardens.
The installation of the signs comes as the county’s latest figures show clear signs of recovery in the tourism sector, amid the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the ‘cost of living’ crisis.
Despite starting 2021 with a four-month lockdown, Durham welcomed 15.7 million visitors last year, an increase of 38.5% on 2020. Visitor spending also increased by 63% for reach £826.68 million, while the number of people employed in the sector rose by 48% to just over 10,000.
The figures, taken from independent industry research, reflect not only the stays’ growing popularity, but also the high standards and innovative approach of tourism businesses in the county.
The shortlisting of Durham’s county-wide bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 has also had a positive impact. Despite the absence of the title, the candidacy has considerably raised the visibility of the cultural offer of the department at the national level.
And with multi-million pound developments underway at attractions such as Raby Castle, The Auckland Project, Locomotion and Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, the county’s visitor economy is on course to reach the levels of before the pandemic by 2023.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Partnerships and Director of the Board of Visit County Durham Limited, said: ‘The past 2.5 years have been incredibly challenging for the tourism industry.
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“And while it is encouraging to see visitor numbers and spending increasing, it is important that we continue to support businesses and encourage more people to visit and stay longer.
“This is a key objective behind the Northern Saints Trails as the routes inspire people to further explore the area and attract visitors to attractions and hospitality businesses.
Continue… “Like Durham’s shortlisted bid to be UK City of Culture 2025, the Northern Saints Trails showcase the landscapes and cultural offerings of the whole county and the wider region. It’s wonderful to see the project moving forward.
Sanjay Gidda, Digital Marketing Assistant at Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens, said: “The Northern Saints Trails are a huge asset to the region.
We are very happy to be on the road as it encourages people to stop here in Ushaw and experience all that we have to offer, from our interesting history to the wide variety of exciting events and exhibits that we have to come. »
In addition to the installation of interpretation panels, other work to enhance the routes is also planned. This includes installing ten new gates, replacing and repairing jambs and improving signage. Five people counters were also installed last year to provide useful data on the number of people using each route in County Durham.
The Northern Saints Project is a Visit County Durham initiative supported by Durham Cathedral and the Diocese of Durham.
The interpretive panels were partly funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and researched and written by Jan Williams, an award-winning North East England Blue Badge guide.
To find out more about the trails, visit www.northernsaints.com For more information about Visit County Durham and its work, visit www.visitcountydurham.org
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