I've worked in tourism for a very long time (30 years) and helped develop a lot of visitor attractions so it's easy to feel a bit jaded and cynical when I hear of a new attraction. Many sound good in principle but the reality can be disappointing. How do you create something special when it feels like everything's been done before?
There are plenty of £multi-million new visitor attractions around the world that are quite good. But one of the simplest, best and most intriguing I've seen in a long time is here in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - in Kirkby Lonsdale. Unbelievably it's even free to visit - although donations and a few positive words in their visitors' book are both very much appreciated.
It's called the The Vault: A Kirkby Lonsdale Story Bank. I thought the idea sounded intriguing but wondered whether it would be as good as it sounded: it certainly is, and it's suitable for anyone from very young to very old.
Part of its appeal is that it feels a little secret even though it's hidden in plain sight. You have to go to the back of the Visitor Information Centre in The Old Bank on Main Street and ask the friendly folk behind the counter if you can see it. They'll show you the thick old vault doors, behind which is a small room that used to be where the bank's safety deposit boxes were stored. It's now the repository for some wonderful stories of Kirkby's past.
Inside the darkened room is an old desk, with an angle poise lamp and a set of half-open doors where the deposit boxes were once kept. It all feels very mysterious. You're left in the rom to choose a deposit box and take out the object inside. These range from a hip-flask, to a soft glove, and a slate. The next bit feels worthy of Harry Potter. You simply place the tag attached to the object in the centre of the desk, stand back and hey presto - the back wall comes alive with a character from the past connected to the object, telling their story.
Each of the stories lasts about five minutes and is very engaging. The combination of an actor, local stories, old photos and documents brings each story to life. Examples include a blacksmith turned broadcaster, Ruskin and Turner, and a teacher from a local school. They all offer some interesting insights about the history of Kirkby Lonsdale and surrounding area, and each suggests places to look out for or something else to see nearby. There are seven characters in all, each telling a true story. It's a good place to start a visit to Kirkby Lonsdale. Afterwards you'll find yourself looking at the small town more carefully, looking for Ruskin's View (or was it Turners?) and the obelisk memorial...
The whole idea was apparently the brainchild of project manager Jayne Davies who worked with a team of community researchers, writers and actors. You can unlock the secrets of the vault every day of the week between 10.00 am and 4.30 pm.