As Work Progresses on Multi-Site Hadrian’s Wall Observatory
New and improved visitor facilities have officially been opened by the Northumberland National Park Authority today at Walltown Country Park, a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site, following significant investment from the European Agricultural Funds for Rural Development (EAFRD) which contributes funds to the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme.
Intended to enhance Northumberland National Park’s Dark Sky Programme and visitor experience, the new facilities are part of a planned multi-site “Hadrian’s Wall Observatory” featuring The Sill, Cawfields and Walltown Country Park.
The newly refurbished visitor facility offers a warm and inviting seating area, as well as new washroom and toilet facilities with 24-hour access. Visitor Welcome Assistants will be available to provide information at key times through the week and staff a small kiosk selling refreshments including hot and cold drinks, cold snacks and a small range of merchandise.
The refurbishment and development of the visitor centre at Walltown Country Park has been made possible thanks to funding from the RDPE Growth Programme, which provided 80% of the £108,000 investment.
Glen Sanderson, chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “The development of Walltown Country Park into a year-round visitor facility will create new jobs for the local area and allow us to expand on the existing activity and events programme at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre. We hope that the new facilities at Walltown Country Park, with their superb location, will encourage more families, tourists and local residents to stay longer and comfortably enjoy the tranquil, unique, wide-open spaces and dramatic landscape that Northumberland National Park has to offer.”
Duncan Wise, Visitor Development Manager at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “The transformation of our visitor facilities at Walltown Country Park is an important step towards our vision of creating a multi-site dark skies observatory based around Hadrian’s Wall and at The Sill; the UK’s first dedicated National Landscape Discovery Centre.
“Northumberland National Park currently attracts more than 1.6million people a year to the area and our Dark Skies have brought new visitors to the county and a welcome boost to tourism and the local economy, particularly in the quieter months. We’re excited for work to begin on the second phase of development in the coming months, including the creation of a year-round activity venue at Walltown.”
Following completion of the visitor centre refurbishment, work will begin in autumn 2019 on the construction of a new indoor activity building at Walltown Country Park. The second phase of the development can go ahead thanks to further investment of £337,000 from the Rural Development Programme for England. Capable of accommodating groups of up to 50 people, the building will provide a flexible space for dark skies or nature-based activities and talks and help Walltown become a year-round outdoor activity venue. The second phase of development will also see the transformation of visitor facilities at Cawfields, which will include provision of an accessible,
all-weather eating area, upgraded washrooms and toilets and an information room for visitors.
Over the next three years, Northumberland National Park Authority anticipates welcoming over 33,000 visitors to Walltown Country Park and delivering over 75 small activities or events at the site attracting tourists, local residents and families to the area.
Recent findings released by the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park steering group to mark the fifth anniversary of the designation of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park show that last year, dark skies tourism was worth over £25m to Northumberland and generated around 450 jobs.