Walks to boost rural pub fortunes

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Media captionChris Molloy, landlord at The Stables pub in Hopesgate, said the new scheme was a "fantastic" idea

A scheme to boost trade at struggling rural pubs by encouraging people to try walks in the area is under way.

The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership has created 12 walks as well as promotional material and events.

Routes can be downloaded to mobile phones from Quick Response links on beer mats and posters in pubs.

The partnership said it hoped to use the area's natural beauty to support the local economy.

Work on Shropshire's section of the Walking With Offa project, which is due to launch before Easter, has cost £110,000 over 18 months.

It has largely been funded thanks to a £93,500 grant from Advantage West Midlands.

The circular routes have been put together, mainly along Offa's Dyke, with maps available on smart phone applications as well as offered online.

Local economy

Clare Fildes, at the partnership, said the walks, ranging from four to nine and a half miles, were aimed at the casual walker, rather than seasoned rambler.

They have been marked out, tested and also equipped with stile counters to monitor use.

Image caption Links to the walking routes can be downloaded to smart phones via beer mats

Geoff Grimes, chairman of Walking in the Shropshire Hills, said: "Tourism has a huge effect on the local economy here.

"Without it some of the local communities wouldn't exist any more. It's so important that the pubs stay alive, they are the focal point of the community."

In the latest figures, from 2005, tourism was estimated to generate £126.9m for the economy of the Shropshire Hills, supporting more than 2,700 jobs.

Since the economic downturn pubs, like many other industries, have suffered.

Lena Rowson, landlady at the Callow Inn in Bromlow, said trade had halved in the last two years, blaming in part the high cost of fuel.

Latest figures from the British Beer and Pubs Association suggest the rate of pub closures has slowed in recent years.

In 2009 52 pubs a week were closing, which dropped to 16 a week for the second half of 2011.

Of those 16 pubs a week, six are thought to be in rural areas.

Chris Molloy, from The Stables at Hopesgate, described the project a "fanstastic" way of attracting customers and showing off the local countryside.

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