We were chatting with our daughter yesterday, exclaiming over a new development in the Northumbrian village we’ve called home for the past thirty years. It seems that since the pandemic, property prices have skyrocketed in Allendale, as urban dwellers seek a bolthole in a rural idyll. What we hadn’t appreciated, and what our daughter thought of as a kind of cyclical generational change, was that almost all of the houses around the square are now holiday-letting type cottages.
In other words, the village is at risk of being hollowed out from the middle, as locals are priced out of the property market and transient populations of holiday-makers descend upon, and then disappear from, the area. We’re familiar with this situation from stories of deserted ghost villages in Cornwall, or the situation in Whitby, East Yorkshire, for example. But we never thought that Allendale would be at risk from this kind of speculation.
So what happens when there’s nobody local to service the holiday/tourism sector, when the local amenities die for lack of trade in the off-season? Then, our daughter opined, the second-home owners will sell up and gradually people who will actually live here will return, and the generational cycle will start up again. The little village will again revive.
Maybe. We can certainly hope so. It’s instructive, perhaps, to think back to the state of things when we arrived here in the winter of ’92. The big A69 had recently been launched, providing a commuting conduit to Newcastle from the hinterlands throughout the north. Village life was waning, it seemed, except for some forward-looking individuals and groups. The Allendale Fair, for example, along with the New Year’s Eve Tar Bar’l parade and bonfire in the square, were two salient community-binding activities around which the village coalesced, after the demise of the holiday industry that had brought urbanites to the countryside during the ’50s and ’60s.
It took a lot of work, by so many committed people, but also by some strong-minded individuals, and a lot, a very great lot of external funding, to re-create a vibrant village life, a life which eventually reached somewhere near its apotheosis with the Village of the Year accolade in 2006/7. With the onset of pandemic restrictions, suddenly that vibrant village life was both under attack, and hugely desirable as a refuge from urban plague.
Now, it seems, the encroachment of vacant, owner-unoccupied properties may just threaten that rural idyll. But time will tell — as new generations grow up, move away, come back to raise their families — time will tell. On the whole, on reflection, I’m hopeful for the future of this enchanted community, this rural paradise.
But a self-sustaining village needs constant care and attention, the kind of attention that only those who live here can provide. Surely there’s a happy medium between the paralysed ghost towns of holiday-cottage context, and a rural region with no jobs. Make no mistake: the tourism trade creates jobs for the locals who remain.
Just as folks have sometimes visited our smallholding, remarking how their parents once lived here as children, perhaps some day our grandchildren will make a little tour through a still-vibrant community, and exclaim in the same vein. The hope for that kind of continuity gives me a modicum of sustaining joy.
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