Country pleasures in a hidden corner of Cumbria

BAILEY is a bit of a secret but if an enterprising group of locals have their way this remote corner of north Cumbria is about to put its treasures firmly on the tourist map.

Don’t be dismayed if, like me, you get lost trying find the area of Bailey – that’s one of its charms. This hidden valley within the wild countryside of the parish of Bewcastle, north east of Carlisle, has long been one of Cumbria’s best kept secrets.

A group of 15 local people – all involved in their own rural businesses serving visitors to the area – have joined forces to create Bailey Hideaways. It’s a co-ordinated approach to local tourism which is being encouraged and funded by the Hidden Britain project – a scheme created to help local rural communities develop an innovative and sustainable community-led tourism venture.

Cumbria has been selected as a pilot county for the project and the area fits perfectly into its remit to raise the profile of some of the lesser known corners of the county which clearly have untapped tourism potential.

The area known as Bailey straddles the River Bailey. It’s set deep in the heart of mile upon mile of the magnificent scenery of this Border country between England and Scotland where traditional hill and upland livestock farming and vast areas of forestry still provide the main source of income.

Areas such as this with their “unspoilt and undiscovered” label are a big pull for those intrepid travellers who work hard to find such gems far off the beaten track. But for the local economy that can often mean no more than just “passing trade”.

Pam and Ian Copeland run Bailey Mill, a farm holiday complex and trekking centre. Pam has run the complex for many years and was convinced the area had tremendous tourist potential.

“Many of those who walk, drive or cycle through Bailey don’t stay long enough to bring any financial benefit to the local economy. We needed to encourage more people to come to and to stay longer. To do that there had to be a more co-ordinated approach to tourism. We had to start working together.”

Bailey Hideaways has been granted funding from the Hidden Britain project. The cash will be used to promote and develop the working partnership of the 15 businesses involved. As well as holiday accommodation the group includes food producers and members offering a range of activity holidays, heritage attractions, arts and crafts. And some holiday packages encourage visitors to bring their horse along too.

They are already attending travel exhibitions to promote their new found “branded” holidays. Saughs Farm Cottages – “where skylarks soar” – are beautifully depicted in watercolour on the brochure designed by owner Jayne Gray. She candidly describes her cottages as “even further away from it all” and as well as providing a relaxing getaway can offer guests dressage tuition and some hands-on experience with her beautiful stud of Andalucian horses.

Among the gems of Bailey are the panoramic views from Christianbury Crags and the sweeping grandeur of the Bewcastle Fells which provide thousands of acres of wilderness walks through stunning scenery .

The area of Bailey was once known as the Debateable Land because it was dominated for 350 lawless years by the Border Reivers who clashed with rival English clans over land ownership.

The Reivers Cycle Route – which runs from Carlisle to Newcastle – passes through Bailey; the many Roman sites – including the famous visitor centre at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall – are a stone’s throw away and Keilder Water and Forest Park are easily accessible.

“The area abounds with wildlife; the rivers provide excellent fishing and we have otters too,” says Pam Copeland. She believes that by working together, this local community can provide families with a holiday that combines peace and relaxation with a range of activities and destinations.

But it’s heartening to see that this scheme is determined to support individuals at every level of the tourism business. Helen Griggs is a young mum with a six-month-old baby – but she has also recently ventured into bee keeping.

Last year the increased number of tourists to Bailey snapped up her first crop of honey; she”s now increased her number of hives and plans to introduce heather honey and may even start making beeswax products.

“It’s only a small-time venture at the moment but because Bailey Hideaways has brought us all together who knows where it will lead,” says Helen.

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