Looking after visitors will pay dividends

Fun in Keswick.
Fun in Keswick.

We were away on holiday in Keswick and walking down towards the underpass leading to the lake.

We’d walked through the town, past the spectacular life-size stainless steel giraffe – a new addition to the street scene. Then we went on towards the lake. There’s a pedestrian underpass which is well-lit and the white walls have recently had a face-lift and been decorated with large tiles forming an attractive mural. We’d heard the music of a busker even before we turned the corner and reached the entrance to the underpass. He was really putting heart and soul into his singing and guitar playing with feet tapping away in time, even before there was anyone in sight. It sounded great.

I congratulated him on his enthusiasm. “You’ve got to be enthusiastic to do this,” he said. “I’m a musician, this is what I do and I enjoy it.” He lives in the town and works as a chef but every free moment he’s playing down there. He won’t make a fortune from his busking but his music does put a spring in the step of passers-by. On another day there was a different busker – a bit older and with a different repertoire of music, but it still gave atmosphere to the area.

Along the foreshore of the lake, children were feeding the ducks. A sign said ‘duck food’ and I had to keep Susie Whippet on the lead until we had passed there because she would have loved a duck as food. Further along National Trust workers were replacing old and rotten conventional fencing with riven oak fencing prepared from locally felled oak trees and split to the required size. The fence posts and railing weren’t straight or square but they weren’t meant to be. It takes real craftsmen to rive the wood and shape it to the required size – but it did look good.

We’d been joined by the family and on the way to Friars Crag were playing hide and seek amongst the trees. Hiding places were always given away by Susie – until my son-in-law climbed on a tree branch and perched my three year old granddaughter Evie, on an even higher branch seven or eight feet above the ground. Tree climbing was an adventure.

On a later outing to a café near Lodore Falls, there was a row of 20 or 30 discarded ride-on toys at the side of the path and they all had to be tried by the children amongst us. These simple amusements provided as much fun as any adventure playground.

There’s always a temptation to compare a market town like Keswick with Wetherby and wonder why we can’t adopt some of the better ideas. Keswick is a tourist town and one which has an all-year round season. The towns aren’t so different in size but there are real differences in structure. Wetherby, although it has a town council is mainly governed by Leeds City Council, a much larger urban conurbation. Keswick also has its own town council but is governed by Allerdale Borough Council which includes other small towns such as Cockermouth and Workington and is a country area quite unlike that of Leeds. It’s not surprising that Wetherby has much more difficulty retaining its own individuality and staying the market town which it was before the Local Government Act of 1972 took the Wetherby market rights and many of the other functions of local government from the old Wetherby Rural District Council and gave them to Leeds.

It would be nice to think that the underpass leading under the A1 towards Thorp Arch and part of the national cycle network; could be brightened up in a similar way to the underpass at Keswick, but it’s not going to happen. It’s more out of the way; doesn’t have the same number of people using it and the expense couldn’t be justified – but we can dream of that can’t we?

There should be scope for works of art in Wetherby. We have the Spawning Salmon by local sculptor Mick Liesener and LCC has ideas for something appropriate for the main roundabout at the entrance to Wetherby. There were also hopes that funds raised for the Jubilee might be sufficient to provide some more lasting celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – perhaps in the form of a sculpture. You’ll remember that there were originally suggestions that a coach and horses cut-out sculpture to should mark the Wetherby link with the A1 where Wetherby is halfway between the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh and I’d hope that these ideas are still being considered. It may not be possible to put it in the place originally suggested – but there are other locations where it could be equally stunning. I know that when the idea was originally suggested to Leeds City planners; they thought that such a sculpture would not be appropriate for a historic market town, but I’m sure that any such objections could be overcome because the fame and history of Wetherby is as a town which, unlike many other market towns, grew and expanded with coaching inns due to its unique position.

The end of our holiday came all too soon. Susie Whippet was feeling hungry after the journey and couldn’t wait for dinner. A very mature bone covered in soil was dug up and smuggled into the house when I wasn’t looking. Then she helped unpack the suitcase by removing some of the items. But I was saved the trouble of washing some dirty handkerchiefs when she shredded them whilst I was putting other garments away.

We enjoyed our holiday but it is now only a memory backed up by photographs.