Countryside and Community Research Unit


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Houseteads Roman Fort

Name of visitor centre

Housesteads Roman Fort

Description of location, e.g. Exmoor National Park; AONB

Northumberland National Park

Age of centre


Ownership of centre

National Trust

The centre is located close to a SSSI and AONB upland fells and lies just on the southern approach to Hadrian’s Wall. Traditionally this has been a farming area that is now supplemented by tourist activity. It is a world-wide attraction with over 50% of visitors travelling more than two hours to reach it. In terms of transport there is an infrequent tourist bus and over 90% of visitors come by car. The centre receives 40,000 visitors per year, 10,000 of which are educational visits.

Housesteads is a simple 2 room museum. One room is dedicated towards admissions and a shop and the other room is for artefacts. In addition there is a wet weather shelter for an education base.
The site is owned by the National Trust but is managed by English Heritage and serves as an access point to a Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, offering historical information and remains with a narrative display and a small collection of artefacts. The five staff are employed by English Heritage.

The fort is promoted by a national marketing team which largely promotes the attraction and not the landscape. There are five other attractions with a similar theme, however they all offer different experiences and focus on different aspects of Roman occupation (refer to Hadrian’s Wall Management Plan on English Heritage Website. One interviewee stated that ‘the trend for heritage visits is downward and since the 1970s visitor numbers have declined by 75% of the peak amount.

F Exmoor National Park
In Exmoor National Park there are five National Park visitor centres, of which three are in settlements and two are in remote locations (one at a very remote location, and one at a cross roads). These are seen as a core service with the National Park Authority being a publicly funded body and at present there are sufficient funds to keep them open, although an interviewee reported a ‘squeeze’ on funding. This case study has been selected since it includes an example of a centre that has been relocated as a ‘trial’ to test its viability. The NP visitor centres are spread around the Park and all give similar information about the National Park and its purposes but they also address more localised needs.
1) Characteristics of the area

Exmoor National Park covers parts of West Somerset and North Devon, although it is a well-defined landscape unit. It comprises very varied landscapes ranging from areas of open moorland to deep valleys and ancient oak woodlands, to coastal areas with some high, spectacular cliffs. As well as the National Park, these landscapes and features are protected by the National Trust, Nature Reserves or Heritage Coast. The National Park is home to a number of rare bird, butterfly and plant species.

In relation to accessibility, the coastal area has one main road along it which is very steep and winding. Exmoor has no standard gauge railway lines within its boundaries, but has the Great Western main line to the south, the Exeter-Barnstaple "Tarka" line to the west and the preserved West Somerset Railway (Bishops Lydeard - Minehead) to the east. The Tarka Trail is a popular and well promoted and managed cycle route that follows an old railway track and is 180 miles in length, looping through mid and north Devon, the northern end going through Lorna Doone Country and Lynmouth and ending up on Exmoor. There is a good summer bus service along the main coast road that is well used.

  1. Visitor Characteristics and Use of the Area

Exmoor was designated a National Park in 1954 because of its size and scenic value and also because it was one of the few wild areas in the south of England that was accessible to people from London, The Midlands and South Wales. There currently is a web-based visitor survey for with a short questionnaire for visitors to complete at The All Parks Visitor Survey, simple localised questionnaires and visitor counts such as people on horses, mountain bikes, and vehicles provide useful quantitative data to enable ENPA to target resources, for example to discover whether visitors are reading information and interpretation provided; help identify over-use of particular areas; and to gain an idea of visitor activities. For example, in relation to coast path management, a survey of users was made in 1994. In addition an automatic laser beam counter was installed near Combe Martin though its value was seen as limited since it did not distinguish between people, dogs, horses and bikes.

This monitoring of use helps in managing the path. For example if mountain bikes were over-using the route and causing bad erosion the ENPA would have to consider putting in a more sustainable surface or asking cyclists to use another more sustainable route. Survey findings regarding information and facilities help the ENPA to decide what is needed.

According to the All Parks Survey the majority of day-trippers come from areas within easy reach of the Park. Around a third come from the five main towns in the area Taunton, Minehead, Tiverton, Barnstaple, Bridgwater. Almost a fifth came from other parts of Devon and 13% from other parts of Somerset. Of the remaining proportion, 13% came from the South West, 3% from the West Midlands, 2% from the South East and Greater London and 1% from both the North West and from Wales. People on holiday come from all over the UK (56% from the south and 15% from the West Midlands); 6% were found to be international visitors.

Most day visitors stated that walking or sightseeing were their primary reasons for visiting the Park; a third of holidaymakers described their visit as a ‘moderately active holiday’ (short walks/cycling) and 7% came for ‘active’ holidays with most of their time spent on outdoor pursuits or sport. A third were people who drove around sightseeing.

41% of visitors visited a National Park Centre; 36% visited a castle or historic site. These figures indicate the importance of Centres and specific locations to visit.

There is an ‘Accessible Exmoor Guide’ for those who are less mobile.

Exmoor attracts over 1 million visitors per year.

4) Key attractions within the catchment area

The area is very attractive for users of outdoor space. Attractive woodland walks are possible in Glen Lyn Gorge near Lynmouth and in Watersmeet. The area has also got its fair share of historic houses and gardens, including Arlington Court to the south of Combe Martin, Knightshayes Court south of Dulverton and Dunster Castle. The scenery is the main draw, particularly the coastal area with its high cliffs. There are also cultural heritage aspects that are popular such as the Lorna Doone Valley and the Lynmouth cliff railway (which is a popular novelty attraction). There is a falconry centre near Porlock which provides a number of activities for users of open space: falconry activities; riding holidays; ‘wildlife safaris’; fishing; clay pigeon shooting; and, organised activity breaks.

There is an independent information centre in Porlock that is run by a partnership between the district and county council and the local tourism association.
4) Further detail on Visitor Centres
Management Arrangements

The co-ordination of work to achieve National Park purposes has been led by the free-standing Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) since 1997. Eighty percent of its funding is from a direct grant from Government with the remainder being made up of grants from other statutory bodies, including European funding, and self-generated income. The ENPA consults widely with other organisations on a regular basis and provides a free newspaper to visitors. The Exmoor consultative and Parish Forum has proved to be a useful channel for exchange of information.

National Park Visitor Centres may be run in partnership with others, for example, Combe Martin Visitor Centre is a partnership operation between ENDP and Combe Martin Tourism Association and Combe Martin Parish Council. It is also a networked tourist information centre and therefore offers a variety of additional services.

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