Even if the weather for much of May 2021 has been a washout, the days are now incredibly long as we race towards the brightest day of the year. So will the National Trust’s Lyme Park finally extend its frustrating 4.30pm closing time to 8pm, like usual in summer? It’s not looking good so far.
Since the historic deer park re-opened from the first lockdown in 2020, it has been operating on a reduced capacity with all visits and car parking entry required to pre-book a time slot.
This also saw the entire park reduce its opening hours to 9am to 4.30pm for the entire summer, when usually gates would be open from 8am to 8pm. As we’ve rolled through another lockdown and well into 2021, the pre-booking system is still in place, and Lyme’s closing time for both vehicle and all pedestrian gates is still stuck at 4.30pm.
Will that be changing soon? The latest line from the estate doesn’t look good. They state:
“Unfortunately we cannot extend the opening hours any more currently due to a significant reduction in staff caused by the loss of income the National Trust experienced last year.
“We would love to be able to extend our opening hours in the summer like normal and there are discussions about how we can make this happen but it is just not currently possible.”
Looking at a few other properties, Quarry Bank is open until 8pm, Tatton Park is open until 7pm, Hardwick near Chesterfield is open until 7.30pm, Petworth House and Park in West Sussex is open until 8pm and Knowle in Kent is open until dusk. Lyme definitely seems to be having an unreasonably early bedtime.
One continuing issue with access to Lyme is that there are actually no true public rights of way running across the inner walled parkland itself — they’re all only “permissive” paths, with lockable gates.
Having no morning or evening access, when the days are so long, must be a disappointment to many who usually enjoy pre- or post-work access to Lyme for walking, running, and time out. There are now several (unanswered) comments to this effect on their Facebook page. For families or those working normal hours, it means the only available time to visit is on hectic weekends.
For everyday cycling, it presents a particularly annoying block in the landscape between Disley and the rest of Cheshire, where the first alternative route north is the awful A6 and to the south the equally unpleasant B5470. (You’ll need to be careful you don’t get caught out after 4.30pm if you want to try the Lyme Loop or Lyme Lanes cycle routes suggested here.)
Please don’t necessarily take any of this as a criticism of Lyme itself, though, which seems to operate on quite a small team and has to work within the umbrella of the National Trust behemoth.
The estate was only recently badly hit by flooding, and a moorland fire within the same year. Coronavirus has obviously hit it again, although in truth Lyme has been lucky to remain open in a limited way throughout, even opening the house for Christmas (since Cheshire East was in Tier 2), where other attractions like Chatsworth had to close completely.
Despite that, these unprecedented times have obviously taken a toll and tough decisions have been made. There’s obviously little profit to be made from leaving the gates open later, when house, shop and cafés are closed, though it is a major benefit for paying National Trust members and locals, who put up with often chaotic traffic around the park on weekends.
So in another unusual summer, when no-one should be travelling abroad for holidays, it would surely be the wrong decision for an organisation as big as the National Trust not to put the modest necessary investment in and extend the current hours. Their motto is, after all, “for everyone, for ever”…