Each year, there are nearly 90 million visitors to the English National Parks, contributing £4 billion to the parks and surrounding areas.
Two years ago Cheryl Ashton and her husband decided to bite the bullet and quit their day jobs in order to focus on their first love; cycling. The opportunity fell into their laps, when a sign was put up outside their cottage in the Peak district near Bakewell, advising of plans to convert a nearby railway line into a trail route for ramblers and cyclists. Cheryl says:
We immediately rang the number on the sign and found out we had two weeks to put a business plan together for a Defra-funded local grant.
The gamble has paid off because two years later, their Blackwell Mills Cycle Centre has doubled in visitors.
They operate from the heart of the Monsal Trail in the Derbyshire Peak District and with the help of the grant they were able to buy stock and convert a garage into the cycle centre. The route itself is really accessible and gives tourists, cycle enthusiasts and ramblers access to eight miles of the disused railway line which takes in old tunnels and breath-taking gorges. The Ashton’s are business savvy, Cheryl worked for several years in insurance sales and her husband worked for the RAC and is a bike enthusiast which means expert maintenance is on hand.
I have set up a website and I have printed maps of the route on all our publicity material. I make sure I’m endorsing local business such as pubs on the route, and they in turn support me. The local campsite has my details on their website and that really helps with signposting customers our way” says Cheryl.
The downside of the business is that it is weather dependent and they were originally given planning permission for to operate for 8 months of the year. Cheryl says that is something they need to change because an uncertain weather pattern means that they need to be flexible.
Last November, for instance was really mild and we could have stayed open. By contrast we had a very cold, rainy March which meant that we had a slow start.
That said they are making up for it with a good summer and are signposting families to crucial ice-cream vendors.
Photo credits: Blackwell Mills Cycle Centre