Grant awarded for interactive, cross-county tourist trail

An online personalised tourist trail linking parts of South West Shropshire, Powys and North Herefordshire has been given the go-ahead after receiving a £50,000 grant from Shropshire Council.

The Blue Forgotten Hills project crosses county and country borders, enabling visitors old and new to savour the rich history, outstanding scenery, produce and culture in the rarely visited hill country

The project is run by Enterprise South West Shropshire, working with the newly formed Marches Forward CIC in Bishop’s Castle and will bring together smaller towns and communities with businesses, tourist attractions and countryside management organisations to promote the area as a whole. 

The project will use an array of social media, supported by an information and image rich website and tourist trail tool for people planning their days out.

Dave Crane, director at ESWS, is in charge of the Blue Forgotten Hills, named with a nod to A.E.Housman’s famous poem A Shropshire Lad, where he refers to the Blue Remembered Hills. The title reflects the fact that a remarkable area of rich countryside can be so close to major regions, but so far from peoples’ minds.

Mr Crane said: “Traditional tourism works at its best linking visitors with the big attractions, such as Cardingmill Valley or Stokesay Castle, which are fantastic sites to explore, but during the peak of lock down, there were so many people there and there is so much more out there to explore, just minutes away.”

The project covers an area measuring approximately 20 miles in all directions, taking in much of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Powys’ Outstanding Registered Historic Landscape.  

With some 12 castles and four breweries, standing stones, dark skies viewpoints and some fantastic pubs and walks, it has a lot to offer everyone.

Mr Crane said: “We want to gather as much information as possible about the area to encourage people to visit , supporting that with the online tourist trail tool, allowing people to follow in the footsteps of our field researchers.  

“We are also keen to engage visitors from a younger age group and will be taking full advantage of social media, such as Instagram and TikTok.”

The tourist trail tool will allow high levels of personalisation, both in terms of a visitor’s interests and needs, creating a bespoke plan for their visit  with a route via an online map.

It will show the route between recommended sites, typical times spent at each and places to eat along the way. 

Each stop on the trail has been tested and approved by field researchers.

Mr Crane said: “It’s picking up all the tourism points and finding a new integrated approach in which more people, both visitors and locals can benefit.  It’s fairly experimental and by ignoring borders, allows us to build on the shared sense of history, family ties and culture that we share in the Marches - borders are academic.

“As well as building an integrated view of all the area has to offer, we are keen to draw out some of the more quirky aspects of the Blue Forgotten Hills area.  We are already beginning to stumble upon some intriguing stories that point to an area that was most often at peace but was also witness to some quite brutal history.”

This ranges from pub quiz trivia such as the shower of fish in Knighton in 2004 or Hitler’s foreign minister landing his Junkers plane on the Long Mynd shortly before the war to go shooting with the local gentry, to the darker side of history;  A local lord, who suspected his wife of infidelity, sent four of his children to the Americas on the Mayflower as indentured servants. Most of them had died within months.

“These aren’t tourist attractions in themselves, but it all adds to the story of the area and the sense of place that we share here,” said Mr Crane.

Enterprise South West Shropshire Manager Rob McKay said: “It’s a really exciting project.

“We want to encourage people to come to this beautiful and sometimes forgotten area and to help to support our rural economy along the way.

“The visitor economy  is vital to our highstreets and local businesses as they work to recover after the pandemic.”

Mark Barrow, Executive Director of Place and Economy, said: “It is incredible to see the very real impact the grant funding has had on projects like the Blue Forgotten Hills and indeed the length and breadth of Shropshire as we aim to bounce back from the pandemic.

“As a council we are determined to do all we can to keep Shropshire the place to be for businesses, and this will show everybody how serious we are.

“To hear first-hand accounts from businesses means so much – these are real stories from real business owners and show the true impact of our support.”

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