Deep within the depths of rural Britain, communities are stirring. Shabby but iconic telephone boxes are being reclaimed, shuttered shops are being repurposed and visitors welcomed in with open arms. And it all has to do with community tourism, a proven way to rehabilitate local infrastructure and bolster local economies.
This is also a form of responsible and sustainable travel, although not the exotic kind usually conjured of tribal dress and self-discovery. No, this is another kind of sustainable and responsible tourism involving equally credible and nearby experiential adventures in places that you could visit – tomorrow (if you live in the United Kingdom).
Here at Hidden Britain, an organisation that specialises in responsible tourism in the UK, we believe in highlighting why the country’s hidden communities are the way they are and how they keep their traditions alive. Even while fairs, parades and local festivals are increasingly cancelled because of budget cuts and concerns about health and safety, we can take you on outings through the British wilds’ overgrown tracks and help you to participate in hundred-year-old traditions, all without leaving Blighty.
Catch a Glimpse of Coastal Yorkshire
One great example of how local heritage is being sustained through tourism is the Real Staithes project in North Yorkshire. Real Staithes is owned and operated by a family living on the North York Moors, squashed precariously against the wild coastline of the North Sea. The traditions of the area are an earthy mix of pastoral farming, ironstone mining and fishing.
This land has never been inhabited by the faint-hearted, and the locals have worked the community’s traditions into day courses for visitors who want to try their hands at living the hardy Yorkshire life. Classes investigate how the historic landscape has shaped the way of life in the village; visitors can choose between instruction in a variety of coastal crafts, guided nature walks in Special Scientific Interest areas, spotting shipwrecks from the shoreline and potting lobsters ocean-fresh suppers. Fishing and beachcombing (including for the Jet stones used in carved jewellery) are regulated activities so as to ensure there will be sufficient stock for the whole community.
At Slaithes, while getting out into the rugged landscape is such a burst of freshness that it is easy to see how a community built itself there, there is also a lot in town that demonstrates support for the ethos of responsible travel. The annual Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage, for example, brings the town to life in a flurry of art and music, as cottages are transformed into miniature art galleries and popup cafes. The entire community is involved in the event and other local responsible-tourism endeavours.
While Away Some Time in Wales
Throughout the UK, rural areas have festivals and fairs that show off zingy traditions, so it is very worthwhile to plan ahead and ensure that you don’t miss the best events. Accordingly, Hidden Britain has recently been working in Wales, where the mining heritage and stunning landscapes provide a lavish backdrop to some very intriguing local festivals.
Our favourite festival is the Llandovery Sheep Festival, which draws upon the oddities and traditions of the local area and makes for a light-hearted celebration centred around Llandovery’s old-fashioned livestock mart and distinctive cultural heritage.
Nearby, in the village of Myddfai, ancient herbalist traditions have once more been picked up to deliver fantastic locally created and sourced products for visitors to take home. All profits from the Myddfai Tŷ Talcen shop, a volunteer-run shop and visitor centre, go straight back into the local community. There are over 50 local crafters, artists and producers involved, resulting in an ever-changing stock. Even after several visits you won’t know quite what to expect.
Responsible and sustainable tourism in the UK is as robust as it is in other countries. There are many reports of large supermarkets taking over villages and budget cuts preventing festivities, but with just a little bit more support to local communities, local traditional events can be kept alive.