Plans for a £800,000 Cumbrian protected cycleway are up in the air

“If every person who has visited the Lake District, in a true nature-loving spirit would be ready … to sign an indignant protest against the scheme, surely there might be some hope.” This is not a quote from a modern-day objector to the plans for a zipwire attraction across a Cumbrian lake, it was a complaint lodged in 1877 by a member of the Thirlmere Defence Association.

Within two years this protest organisation had failed, and their loss was northern England’s gain: what had been a tiny lake was extended into a large reservoir supplying drinking water to Manchester, and the enlarged body of water is now considered to be one of the Lake District’s natural lakes when it’s anything but.

Now there’s another battle raging, with conservationists saying plans for two zipwires over Thirlmere would harm the “unspoilt nature” of the lake, a lake which is bordered by the busy A591 road.

Treetop Trek of Windermere (and thirsty Manchester) wants to create the Thirlmere Activity Hub, centred on a zipwire attraction, but also providing a short stretch of 3-metre-wide family-friendly protected cycleway beside the A591. This is part of a £800,000 plan by the developer to improve an 18-mile cycle route around Thirlmere.

Men Behaving Badly star Caroline Quentin is one of many people to have objected to the zipwire scheme. In her role as president of the Campaign for National Parks she said: “My fear is that [the zipwire scheme] will spoil the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful, important place. I am all for development that enhances our National Parks but my instinct is that we should say no to zip wires in Thirlmere.”

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said: “These plans would make Thirlmere into Zipper-mere. The development would dominate this splendid landscape and destroy its peace.”

The British Mountaineering Council has also objected to the zipwire plans as has the National Trust, which claims that “this would risk setting a precedent for further damaging developments, which cumulatively, could result in significant harm to the special qualities of the National Park.”

According to a statement from Treetop Trek the zipwire attraction would not be out of place in its setting:

“The reservoir is a commercial development, surrounded by a commercial woodland, with eight car parks, three toilet blocks, a main road with an average of 6000 vehicles a day on it; it has commercial farming, hotels, B&Bs, pubs, café, camp sites, a cycle track, and a myriad of walking paths up each side of the valley including routes to Helvellyn."

The statement concluded that the scheme "does not increase the infrastructure, just improve what is already there.”

Also in favour of the scheme are Cumbria Tourism and the Lake District Park Partnership Business Task Force, both of which welcome the 50 or so jobs promised by the scheme, and also the year-round usefulness of the improved cycling infrastructure.

“The cycle way that is there is currently in need of significant investment,” said Treetop Trek, adding that the “scheme that has planning permission has not been completed due to lack of funds, including the southern underpass of the A591 for cyclists and the resurfacing of rough tracks.”

Much of the £800,000 investment would be spent on a cantilevered cycle underpass under the A591, providing easier gradient climbs and descents for family cyclists.

“The cycleway is not financially feasible without the zipline or grant funding,” said Treetop Trek.

The company’s plans are now with the Lake District National Park, with public submissions ending on 2nd January.

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