TOURISM businesses that benefit from walkers tackling the celebrated Coast to Coast trail in North Yorkshire have reported encouraging signs for the 2021 season.

With a large part of the 2020 season lost to Covid-19, the businesses that provide services to the thousands who tackle the famous route each year are looking forward to what could be a bumper 2021.

Many walkers whose expeditions had to be cancelled this year have re-booked for next year.

Rishi Sunak has welcomed the “encouraging signs” about the walk, which runs for 190 miles across the North of England, through the heart of the Richmond (Yorks) constituency and is widely recognised as one of the most scenic and beautiful walks in the world.

Mr Sunak met two of the companies that provide vital porterage and booking services for the walk – Coast to Coast Packhorse and Richmond-based Sherpa Van – to hear how they co-operated to operate in a Covid-19 safe way during the final months of the current season.

Normally, rivals for the business of booking accommodation and transferring walkers’ bags between overnight stops, the companies agreed to share the job of bag pick-up and drop-off so that only one driver visits accommodation providers.

Mr Sunak said: “It makes a lot of sense to reduce possible contacts between drivers and accommodation owners and I applaud the companies for their decision to work together during this Covid-19-affected season and early next year if necessary.

“It is good to hear walkers are booking in numbers for next year and bringing with them the business the rural areas the walk passes through really need.”

Mr Sunak said he was pleased to hear that more than 90 per cent of walkers unable to tackle the route in March, April, May and June this year have re-booked for next year.

Mark Sandamas, owner of the Coast to Coast Packhorse, said while there was still a degree of uncertainty about how long restrictions associated with combatting the virus would be in place the underlying sentiment was positive.

He said his company’s assurance that any bookings made could be deferred, or full refunds paid within 28 days had given walkers confidence.

He added that the collaboration with Sherpa Van meant an immediate reduction in contact points and transmission risk by 50 per cent, and demonstrated a positive response to the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic had brought on the whole adventure travel and holiday sector.

Victoria Howard, who runs Park House B&B at Ingleby Arncliffe on the Coast to Coast route, said it was looking good for next year.

“She said: “We had a good August and September and we are getting lots of bookings for next year, even from international visitors who have not been able to travel this year.”