A REJUVENATED tourism group is hoping a new series of walks will attract more visitors to rural County Durham.

The Teesdale Challenge Walks all start and finish in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

They have been devised by the Upper Teesdale Tourism Network (UTTN) in a bid to build on the area's existing popularity with walkers.

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The UTTN programme offers a variety of self-guided walks ranging in difficulty, from a Rainbow Challenge aimed at families with small children to Gold level routes of up to 20 miles.

The tourism network was first formed in 2010 but in recent years had stagnated, according to chairwoman Lynda Bares.

“About six months ago we thought about what we could do. The one thing a lot of us have in common is walking in the area,” she said.

UTTN member Ian Tallentire said many current walkers to Middleton-in-Teesdale left the village early and did not return until late, which meant the shops, cafes and restaurants did not benefit from their visit.

“Not everyone wants to do that sort of walk and we want to encourage people to spend in the village and hopefully increase prosperity a bit.”

Mrs Bares, who runs a B&B business in Middleton-in-Teesdale, said many of her guests regarded the village as a little bit of forgotten England.

“We want to let a few more people into the secret,” she said.

“We want to encourage people from outside the area to get to know it because it is so beautiful, but we don't want to turn into the Lakes, with walkers tramping behind a queue of people.”

The Teesdale Challenge Walks are being launched on Easter Monday when UTTN members and Barnard Castle Ramblers will tackle some of the routes. Any other keen walkers in the area are welcome to join them.

Walkers should meet at at the Bainbridge Memorial Fountain, in the village centre, at 10am.

There will be free tea and biscuits at the Methodist Church afterwards for all participants.

Details of all walks are available online at teesdalechallengewalks.net. For further details, contact Mrs Bares on 01833-640258.