Aysgarth Falls: Celebrating 50 years of one of the marvels of the Yorkshire Dales

A landmark is being celebrated at Aysgarth Falls, one of the marvels of the Yorkshire Dales where the visitor centre opened 50 years ago. Steve Teale reports. ​

For 200 years or more, Aysgarth Falls has attracted visitors to admire its splendour. Now staff at the Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre are marking 50 years of helping people to discover the special qualities of the Yorkshire Dales.

In 1973, disused railway buildings near the famous waterfalls became the old North Riding County Council’s first National Park information centre.

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Today the site is still a magnet for visitors, with two information advisers and meet and greet volunteers on hand seven days a week during the summer, seeing an average of around 600 people a day.

Former railway buildings were turned into a visitor centre at Aysgarth Falls 50 years ago this yearFormer railway buildings were turned into a visitor centre at Aysgarth Falls 50 years ago this year
Former railway buildings were turned into a visitor centre at Aysgarth Falls 50 years ago this year

To mark the anniversary, a display of photographs, memories and diary entries has been put together. A diary entry for September 10, 1984, for instance, reads: “Lady who got stuck in a stile in Wensleydale called in to thank us for the prompt action taken.”

The visitor centre grew out of the work of the second person to be employed by North Riding County Council as a National Park warden, Norman Crossley. Bombarded with questions from visitors, he devised walks and wrote out the routes, setting up a card table in the car park at Aysgarth Falls and handing them out.

Present-day information adviser Alan Greenfield says: “It all started with Norman by his table in a car park giving out routes. The role of the information adviser has changed as technology and communications have changed, yet we still have an important role to play to help visitors enjoy and understand the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park.

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“We don’t speak to everyone who comes through the door, but I might speak to around 100 people a day. We had a lady last week who had never been here before; she came for four days on the trot because she absolutely loved it.

People appreciate having someone to talk to, to get the information they need, such as walking routes that keep them safely away from the road.”

Nigel Metcalfe, an area ranger based at the visitor centre, remembers 1990, when scenes for Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, including Little John’s stick fight, were filmed at the falls.

He said: “One day Morgan Freeman – who was playing Azeem – came into the centre and asked to use the telephone. The member of staff on duty didn’t recognise him and, as was the policy at the time, politely asked him to use the public phone in the village. Once the film was shown in cinemas, children could be seen fighting on the rocks with wooden sticks during the summer months. I’d pick up many sticks from the car park at the end of the day, dropped by weary young fighters.”

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The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s member champion for promoting understanding, Derek Twine, added: “Like Norman Crossley, today’s staff just love to talk to people about this astonishingly beautiful area and explain the work that is going on to conserve the landscape and wildlife.”

In the wake of the opening of the Aysgarth Falls visitor centre in 1973, a purpose-built centre opened in Malham in the spring of 1975, with two further visitor centres following in Hawes and Grassington. The National Park Authority also supports “partnership centres” in Reeth, Sedbergh, Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Lonsdale.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​