AN iconic Northumberland tourist attraction has defied the recession, after seeing its visitor numbers hit an all-time high – 10 weeks ahead of schedule.
Wallington, at Cambo, has welcomed nearly 204,000 people since March 1 this year, making it not only the National Trust’s most popular North East property but one of the region’s top draws.
It is the third year in a row that the estate on the banks of the River Wansbeck, with its magnificent Palladian mansion, walled garden and extensive landscaped grounds and woods, has seen a rise in visitor numbers.
But it is the first time that the figures have been smashed before the Christmas holidays started.
By close of play on December 18, 203,852 visitors had passed through Wallington’s gates – 1,285 more than for the whole of the 2010-2011 visitor season which in the National Trust runs from March 1 until the end of February each year.
Last year’s total figure of 202,567 was in itself 8,647 up on 2009-2010.
The recession and Wallington’s diverse programme of family-friendly events over the past 10 months is believed to be behind the surge in visitors.
Julie Tucker, the attraction’s Events and Promotions Manager, said: “The fact we have smashed our visitor target is fantastic news, not just for us but for tourism in Northumberland in general.
“I think we have greatly benefited from the strength of our events and from the number of staycationers as people have elected to forgo foreign holidays due to the economic crisis.
“We have done a lot to enhance our visitor experience and events like our annual food and craft festival held in October which attracted more than 19,000 visitors over two days, and our series of William Bell Scott weekends when scenes from his famous paintings in the house’s central hall were played out, proved a great success.
“Our Roman weekend when the re-enactment group Comitatus camped out on the grassed courtyard and demonstrated combat sparring and Latin drill alongside cavalry skills on horseback, was especially popular. And the run-up to Christmas, which saw both Santa and Mrs Claus pop into Wallington to meet their young admirers ahead of the big day, as well as a visit from Baywings, who brought their birds of prey, and organised crafts activities, also captured the public’s imagination.
“This boost in visitor figures is a testament to what we have to offer.”
Now the race is on to see if Wallington can break through the 210,000 barrier before March 1 next year.
The estate remains open over the winter, and with the rest of the Christmas holidays, as well as the February half-term to come, hopes are high – as long as the weather remains kind.
Julie said: “We have lots of fantastic events planned for February half-term when we will also be opening the house, something we have never done during the first school holiday of the year.
“The Romans will be back by popular demand and invading Wallington again in May, while we will also be launching our new forest school days in April and from June visitors will be able to learn bushcraft skills with survival expert Rob Caton from local firm Wildharmony.
“In the meantime, there is always plenty to do in the wider grounds and over the winter the Clocktower Café and gift and farm shops stay open.”
Research has shown that Wallington attracts many repeat visitors.
Julie added: “We are very good value for money, especially if you are a National Trust member. Family membership is £88.50 for 12 months, which gives you unlimited access to all the Trust’s properties.
“In the current tough economic climate people are looking for things they can do together, and Wallington and the National Trust in general fulfils that need.
“We offer children the chance to climb trees, build dens and get mucky in the woods, while our Clocktower Café and Farm Shop, excel in local seasonal food. The wider grounds offer peace and tranquillity whatever the time of year and the house is an atmospheric space in which visitors of all ages can immerse themselves.”
The walled garden and grounds are open every day as usual, from 10am to 4pm.
The gift shop and cafe will be open daily from 10.30am to 4.30pm but closed New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The farm shop will be open daily from 10.30am to 4pm, except for New Year’s Eve when it is open until lunchtime and will be closed on New Year’s Day and Monday, January 2.
The gift shop, cafe and farm shop will all be open as normal from Tuesday, January 3, 2012.
For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington or call 01670 773600.