Concerns over visitors travelling more than 40 miles - and across the border - to 'exercise' in rural Northumberland

Concerns have been raised about visitors coming from miles around to go sledging and walking in rural Northumberland.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 11:16 am

Visitors from as far afield as Gosforth – 42 miles away – as well as Ashington and Bedlington have been reported by Wooler Parish Council during lockdown.

There were also reportedly visitors from Duns and Chirnside in the Scottish Borders, despite the travel ban between Scotland and England.

Cllr Mark Mather, parish council chairman, said: “There were a number of concerns raised by councillors and members of the public after recent snow.

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A snowy view towards Wooler and the Cheviots.

"I thought all the concerns were very justified as we had people in the town from Duns, Chirnside, Ashington, Gosforth, Bedlington coming to see the scenery, walk Cheviot and go sledging.

"The worst phone call I got was probably from a mother who had to bring her kids in from the field because she didn’t feel it was safe for them to sledge because of people from over the border.

"I really felt for them that the one day they could get out for a bit of exercise and a little fun that they were stopped.”

The issue was reported to Northumbria Police and they sent officers to the town.

"It was sad to hear that they couldn’t actually do anything about it,” said Cllr Mather. “There was no law they could use to stop people travelling an acceptable distance. They could only advise people to go home.”

Cllr Joyce Robertson said: “I’m so angry about it. What do they call an acceptable distance? Fifty miles isn’t staying close to home.”

Cllr Mather said: “It’s the blurred lines that are the problem. I feel for the local officers who responded quickly but they just don’t seem to have the powers.”

Cllr Kevan Curry added: “It was mayhem at the top of Cheviot Street. I can understand people wanting to go out and about but Robert’s Field (popular for sledging) was packed. There must have been 25-35 there.”

The parish council wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner who passed it on to senior officers at Northumbria Police, while Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan was also contacted.

Ms Trevelyan, in response, wrote: ‘There is no specific distance stipulated, as everyone’s circumstances are different. People in very built up areas might have to drive several more miles to reach a more secluded area where it is safer to exercise and much easier to maintain a social distance.

‘The difficulty comes if large numbers of people arrive at the same location at the same time, meaning it is much harder to maintain a distance.

‘Here in Northumberland we are very fortunate to have lots of areas of open spaces. For us to experience such an event would be very unlikely, but I do understand why those living close to car parks for beaches and the National Park would have valid worries.

‘As a result, I asked to discuss the situation with Chief Superintendent Janice Hutton. She was able to reassure me that Northumbria Police are working closely with community leaders to monitor numbers of visitors arriving.

‘They stand ready to act should problems arise which mean social distancing could be compromised, and some fines have already been issued to those who have travelled from further afield.’

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