Lyme has confirmed all its National Trust parkland will soon be open to access into the evening, for the first time in over two years.
From this Sunday 27th March 2022 until the end of October, all of Lyme Park’s gates will stay open until 8pm again.
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, Lyme began offering access via pre-booked tickets only, with the main gates closed to all beyond 4.30pm. This system continued into 2021, with the park stating reduced National Trust funding and staffing prevented it being able to keep the gates open later.
I wrote last year how disappointing this was, given one “positive” of the pandemic has been more people discovering the outdoors. Closing Lyme’s parkland at 4.30pm across the summer was particularly troublesome for cycle access between the Disley and Poynton areas, with few if any good alternative routes.
So, hurrah! And thank you Lyme. Evening walks up to the Cage and easy rides home between Cheshire and the High Peak via West Park Drive are back on. And now there’s so much more opportunity to try the Lyme Loop and Lyme Lanes cycle routes when the park is quieter.
New outdoors-only ticket, but no incentive not to drive
Lyme has also announced a new “Outdoors-only” ticket available from 28th March, priced at £6 (half price for kids), giving access to the garden and everywhere else except the house — and including car parking. (Access to the parkland on foot and bike will remain free of course.)
One brave change the property made since 2020 was to charge visitors arriving by car not an £8 parking charge but a standard full entry fee including access to the house, for everyone in the car. That meant you could no longer just drive in and park up to go for a walk for £8, but must instead pay £8 for every adult in the car.
Keeping this system in place, apparently to put Lyme “in line with other similar properties nationally”, makes sense from a business perspective.
Lyme has fairly restricted car parking capacity, quite often full on good weather weekends in recent years, so they obviously want to make sure that capacity is being used by people buying into the full experience, rather than just taking up a parking space and paying no more. (It also probably helps push people towards a National Trust membership.)
There’s plenty that could be said about the loopholes here and the impact it’ll have on people parking on nearby roads to go for a walk instead. But this is also relevant to walking and cycling, because if you’re visiting the house and garden, there’s now no incentive whatsoever not to drive into the park.
You can take your car over a mile into this National Trust property, store it there and pay no more for the whole day out than someone walking or cycling in to visit the house. If you’re a lone adult, you’ll now be paying a bargain £6 for parking and garden access, rather than £8 just for parking as pre-2020.
Isn’t that a bit of a backwards step for a conservation charity? Shouldn’t car drivers have to pay a little bit more to take their vehicle into a special place like this — or to look at it another way, couldn’t those walking and cycling in be given a small discount on house and garden entry?
To counter the minor backlash online from car visitors (despite Lyme’s prices still actually being very reasonable), they’re making clear that park access and parking will be totally free for everyone from 4.30pm to 8pm. It has always (or usually) been the case that they’d stop charging around 4.30pm, but now this free evening car entry is confirmed in print.
As to where the money’s going, Lyme is also pointing towards a forthcoming £12m investment in “flood mitigation and visitor infrastructure”. This might mean their stalled “masterplan” from a few years ago is on the go again, involving redesigning the car park with more permanent capacity and opening up the stream which runs under it.
Will there be anything in that £12m towards improving access for cycling and reducing the property’s car dependency? It’s not looking good, so this needs to be followed closely — it could finally be an opportunity to be heard and for our beloved Lyme to go beyond the private car and unlock its untapped potential as a cycling destination.