Alan Castle: Time to blow our own trumpet

IF the number of cars in town and how difficult it is to find a parking space are indicators, then Alnwick has enjoyed a successful year by any measure of the tourist industry.

But if you add two prestigious awards from national organisations, it can be described as a bonanza.

First Bondgate Within was named the Best Shopping Street in Britain, thanks to more than 20,000 votes on Google.

Now we have the seal of approval from Lonely Planet Guide readers who drew up a shortlist of 15 finalists for the Best Market Town in Britain category in the BBC Countryfile magazine’s awards, which subsequently gave Alnwick the gold medal.

These come on top of the Country Life award for the Best Place to Live in Britain in 2002.

Add one of the finest inhabited castles in the British Isles, plus the magnificent garden, then Alnwick and the surrounding area has a superb winning combination by any criteria.

Tourist officers and councils the length and breadth of Britain will be wailing loudly in jealousy and the unjustness of it all and maybe some council chiefs will be asking why their towns did not earn such awards.

Those of us who live in the area have always known that Alnwick is a grand place to live but we never thought it was this grand.

I often wonder how people come to vote for somewhere where they have only visited once (if ever). The voting numbers are not always revealed. Sometimes surveys produce a percentage which can be meaningless if you don’t know the totals.

One man told me that many years ago when he told his parents that his work was to take him to live in Alnwick, he was met with the response: “You are not going to that dirty place are you?” How things have changed. In those days, Alnwick was indeed a ‘black town,’ purely through the coal that was burnt in every house and its position on the side of a valley.

As you enter many towns and villages in Britain and Europe you will see proudly displayed the name of the town and, more often than not, the names of the town or towns that are twinned with it. Often you will see added best of this or that.

Alnwick has often hidden its light under a bushel and failed, in my opinion, to cash in on its strengths.

To win just one of these awards would be a major plus for any community. But, as much as I dislike saying so, I think we need to blow our own trumpet and tell many others how good we are and attract even more people to enjoy the delights of the town.

After all, more people will bring more prosperity and we may even see all the empty shops filled up.

The first thing we can do is to persuade Northumberland Tourism and Northumberland County Council to tell the world of our achievements in their publicity material.

Secondly we need signs, subject of course to planning laws, at either end of the A1 approaches into town hailing its success.

I know the planning dictators will say, as likely as not, that it is not possible but what is wrong with Alnwick Town Council, the Alnwick Community Development Trust, Alnwick Tourism Association, Alnwick Chamber of Trade or those behind Alnwick Markets paying or sharing the cost of tourist signs which would advertise the town’s achievement?

After all, the majority of the above will be the ones who would gain most benefit if the number of tourists increase and keep on increasing. Sometimes you have to spend to accumulate. Now might just be the time.

Knowing how planning departments work, it could well be that if an application is made now it might just be approved in time for the next tourist season. Still, that will be better late than never.

They should also remember the old advertising agency slogan: Advertise or die.