Yorkshire has plenty of great tourist attractions that we should celebrate - Jayne Dowle

By the time you read this I will have taken my sister-in-law from Surrey to the place everyone wants to go when they come to Barnsley – Cannon Hall Farm, which has just taken prime position as VisitEngland’s number one most-visited paying attraction in Yorkshire and the Humber, with an estimated 750,000 visitors in 2022.

Forget Meadowhall. When she said she would like to come for the weekend, it was the first place she mentioned.

A big fan of Channel 5’s string of series set on the farm – presented by Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson - she has been champing at the bit to look around, meet the animals, check out the farm shop and have lunch in the restaurant, The White Bull.

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With friends and relatives often coming up from ‘Down South’, Cannon Hall Farm is always on the ‘must-visit’ list. Last summer, my son’s girlfriend brought her mum and dad, Lisa and Steve, from Bow, East London, to see us. We couldn’t get them out of the place.

Cannon Hall Farm has proven to be hugely popular with visitors from across the globe following its appearance on television. PIC: James Hardisty.Cannon Hall Farm has proven to be hugely popular with visitors from across the globe following its appearance on television. PIC: James Hardisty.
Cannon Hall Farm has proven to be hugely popular with visitors from across the globe following its appearance on television. PIC: James Hardisty.

Richard Nicholson, one of the three brothers who own and run the farm, says that with the farm shop and two restaurants on site, visitors can either come to the farm - which offers a range of paid-for admissions, including VIP animal experiences – or just call in to pick up a pie from the shop, or pop by for coffee and cake.

The television programmes and social media have put his family business on the global map, he believes: “In the past people wouldn't travel more than an hour, we get them from all over the country now; every year they come from America and a lot of that is down to social media - we have 400,000 people following us on Facebook.

Obviously, I’m local and I’ve loved Cawthorne, where the farm is situated, since I was a kid, when we would take two buses across Barnsley to picnic in the grounds of magical Cannon Hall itself, a museum owned and operated by Barnsley Council. This 18th century mansion is a treasure trove of art, ceramics and glassware.

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Such museums and galleries, according to VisitEngland, enjoyed a huge uplift in 2022 too, with visits up 114 per cent on the year before, a period obviously blighted by pandemic lockdowns.

Interestingly, “places of worship” were the biggest risers, up 117 per cent on 2021 last year. In our region, York Minister came in second place behind Cannon Hall Farm as the most-visited paid-for attraction, with visits up 133 per cent in 12 months.

All this reminds us that here in Yorkshire, after London, we are surely blessed - this is a non-scientific, but experienced guess - with the highest concentration of amazing places for a day out in the UK. And that’s before we even start to include peerless countryside and coast; two Yorkshire beaches, Filey and Sandsend, Whitby, have recently made a national newspaper’s list of the 50 best beaches in the UK. Most of us can think of many more which make the grade.

The demise of Welcome to Yorkshire amid much acrimony in March 2022 should not be allowed to put a dampener on all we have to offer to visitors; local, regional, national and international.

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Rather than put the future of Yorkshire’s amazing places of interest, attractions and outstanding natural beauty in the hands of a private operation funded by public money again, tourism will in future be promote by local councils under The Yorkshire and Humber Leaders Board, made up of 22 council leaders from across the region plus mayors Tracy Brabin and Oliver Coppard.

Currently underway are consultations across local council areas which are aiming to establish a series of Destination Management Plans, to make the most out of tourism and the visitor economy.

It’s great to recognise our regional achievements – and I’m sure the Nicholsons will be raising a glass or two of Oh ‘Eck gin in celebration – but there is heavy lifting still to be done. VisitEngland found that while tourist visits were up 42 per cent for England as a whole, they were still down more than a third (35 per cent) on 2019, before the pandemic.

These sobering figures are a "timely reminder of the ongoing challenges for the industry", said VisitEngland director Andrew Stokes. “We know it continues to be a mixed picture for many destinations across England with our latest research showing that concerns about the cost of living are having an impact.”

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What better time then, as long summer holidays approach, to celebrate, enjoy and visit what we have on our doorstep? Let Yorkshire and its many attractions show the rest of the country how to do it, and prove what levelling up really means.