Local residents and community leaders are celebrating the success of their emergency “Keswick is closed” campaign – but the danger is not over as another bank holiday weekend approaches.
National media picked up on the clear message being sent from a united town to stay away on the first weekend after lockdown travel was eased, with TV cameras featuring signs put up on the main approach roads declaring “Keswick Is Still Closed – Please Come Back When We Are Open”.
Hordes of visitors had been expected to arrive on Saturday and Sunday but they failed to show up after heeding the warnings that Keswick could not cope with a major influx, with Cumbria already having one of the UK’s highest coronavirus infection rates and a death toll in excess of 400. Car parks in Keswick were largely empty all weekend and there were few campervans, while the town centre remained deserted and even the lake and fells generally quiet.
“We got away with it at the weekend but the weather is expected to warm up this week and we have a bank holiday next weekend, so that may be the real test,” said Keswick mayor Cllr David Burn, who had put up five of the distinctive black signs off the A66 and A591.
“These signs have obviously hit the spot and have been widely reported on both local and national TV and radio. While it was apparent that there were visitors in the town and most of our car parks were open, visitors had not arrived in the large numbers we had expected.
“A combination of factors helped us. The weather was not great and the national park, Cumbria Police, Cumbria’s director of public health, the leader of Keswick’s mountain rescue team and Trudy Harrison MP all put out the message that now is not the time to visit the Lake District.
“I thought it was great when the prime minister had announced that people could leave their homes to exercise more than once a day but I could not believe my ears when I heard that they would be able to travel as far as they wanted, which could lead to all sorts of problems in our town. Cumbria is already a Covid-19 hotspot. We do not want visitors to our town at this stage as they may bring more infection with them and they may also pick up the virus as they travel through Cumbria,” added the mayor, whose year in office comes to an end this week.
He also took a swipe at Allerdale Borough Council for “undermining” the town council by re-opening its car parks at Bell Close and Lakeside for the weekend despite opposition from Keswick councillors. The town council’s own car park at Crosthwaite Road is to remain closed even for bank holiday Monday, 25th May. “My sincere thanks go to all of our residents who have been absolutely brilliant in following social distancing guidance and keeping our town as safe as possible.” said Cllr Burn.
The hastily-prepared roadside signs were paid for by Keswick Community Asset Company, the not-for-profit organisation that runs the town’s pay-to-use public toilets which remain closed. Chairman Cllr Tony Lywood, who is also Keswick’s county council representative, took photographs of the town’s busiest car park at Bell Close on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“There were very few cars. The Lakeside car park was slightly busier but not much and although the weather was dull it was not too rainy, so it looks like people have taken heed of our entreaties to stay away,” said Cllr Lywood.
The signs remain in position for the A66 westbound at the Storms turnoff, Low Briery sliproad and the top of Crosthwaite Road, along with the A591 at the top of Manor Brow and the A66 eastbound after the B5289 turn. They are to replaced with an updated message when shops and businesses in Keswick start re-opening in the coming weeks.