Thursday, 17 July 2014

Should Matlock Bath in the UK Lose Their ‘Seaside’ Image?

Last semester at UCB a group of Masters Students visited Matlock Bath as part of their Destination Planning Module. The module looked at various planning techniques to improve the fortunes of this declining spa town resort.  
Matlock Bath is a ribbon development along the River Derwent in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside and currently has an ‘Inland Seaside Resort’ image with an abundance of Fish and Chip shops, Arcades and B&Bs along a promenade and the length of the river. It is a far cry from the town’s Victorian heyday, when Lord Bryon described it as Britain’s ‘Little Switzerland’.
At the turn of the last century, Matlock Bath became an extremely fashionable and prosperous spa town in the 19th century after been visited by the Princess (later Queen) Victoria and the Victorian gentry to partake in the natural spa water treatments developed by John Smedley. His enterprise established Hydrotherapy in Matlock Bath, and for a century made the town one of the first health and wellness destinations and the most celebrated centre for “spa water cures”.
The spa town was given a boost by the arrival of the railway to Matlock Bath, in 1849, enabling the masses to travel from London and Manchester in speed and comfort. This brought huge success and economic benefits to the region, until hydrotherapy became less in vogue and the image of the town changed, by the Sixties, Matlock Bath had developed into the inland seaside resort it is today. The Seventies and the Eighties brought large tourist attractions like the Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park and the Heights of Abraham cable car ride to the top of Masson Hill. Slowly the hydrotherapy heritage began to disappear with the site of the original spa baths being turned into an aquarium. Development of the the Peak District Mining Museum and Life in a Lens Museum of Photography & Old Times in recent times are a strong tourist draw for the residence of the East Midlands particularly at weekends and bank holidays. However the seaside resort images appear outdated with the town vulnerable to the constraints of seasonality.
So what can the tourism authorities do to reinvigorate the spa town of Matlock Bath? Should it lose its ‘Seaside’ image and come up with alternatives to attract tourists to the region. The Masters Students planned to turn the spa town into an adventure tourist outdoor pursuit centre using Matlock Baths natural assets such as the river for canoeing and kayaking, High Tor for climbing and abseiling and setting trails in the surrounding Derbyshire countryside for rambling and mountain biking.   This we feel would attract visitors all year round.  What of the future? It is difficult, and a dilemma for the authorities, keep with the seaside image, or look to alternatives like the out pursuit market or revive the former glories as a hydrotherapy spa resort. Whatever happens in the future, leisure activities of one kind or another are well suited to this beautiful part of the world.