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Walkers are flocking to shepherd's web routes

Foot and mouth outbreak hasn’t hurt new internet business by Vince Gledhill

Shepherd Jon Monks feared his walking business would close after the foot and mouth crisis hit the region.

But his fledgling business survived the epidemic and now his venture has been rewarded with international customers.

Internet surfers around the world now log on to the website based at the shepherd’s cottage near Rothbury.

Mr Monks, 32, used his first website, set up in 1999, to share five of his favourite walks in Northumberland, one of England’s most rugged counties.

He said, “As a keen walker I have always noticed the lack of walks in this area. As a hobby I started to write down my walks as I walked them and then researched them on the internet and at libraries.”

“I am also interested in computers and created a web-site in November 1999.”

Then the site was recommended in the Radio Times and calls to it rocketed.

He realised he had the makings of a new business and set up a more sophisticated web-site in February 2001.

Demand

But in the same month foot and mouth broke out and restrictions made walking impossible in large parts of Northumberland for months.

Now the county has opened again to walkers and interest in the site has taken off again. With help from DEFRA, Mr Monks says demand for his walk guides is higher than ever.

He is also working with a friend in Cumbria to devise walks in the North-West.

Last June Mr Monks joined the Rural Enterprise Scheme, run by DEFRA’s Rural Development Service North East, and with its help expanded the service to sell his 16 Northumberland routes by post.

Mr Monks still looks after a flock of 1,500 black-faced sheep but demand for his internet business is so high he employs his wife Jane as a part-time secretary.

“This year we have printed 10,000 promotional leaflets throughout the area and this part of the business has increased our sales by more than 100 per cent,” he said.

The website now gets around 200 hits a day from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Russia, America, Israel, South Africa and Europe.

“A few are from people with relations in this country who plan to visit and want to come to Northumberland,” said Mr Monks.

Ken Haynes, rural development adviser at DEFRAs Rural Development Service North East office, said :”Shepherd’s Walks is a fine example of how an old tradition can be combined with new technology.”

“Mr Monks has combined his extensive local knowledge as a shephered with his passion for walking and an interest in computers to put together a product that can help people to enjoy the countryside.”