Picture the scene – Clint Eastwood walks slowly into a small Northern Ireland rural town. The main street is deserted – it looks lifeless. As his tightly squinting eyes scan the dark voids of doors and windows an empty packet of Tayto Cheese and Onion Crisps blows by, tumbling down the street; ragged pieces of cheap cloth flap fitfully from lamp posts; he feels unseen eyes on his back. Ahead on the right a bar door lies open – indeterminate sounds emit from the dark interior. On the left is a barbershop – a man inside looks out and watches.
The question he might well reasonably ask himself is “Do I feel Welcome”?
The sad fact is that many of our rural towns and villages don’t exactly welcome the stranger from out of town in. Indeed they don’t particularly welcome anyone in. By the speed limit you may find a busy ‘convenience store / petrol pumps’ where take-away coffee, filled sodas, daily papers and basic foods and sweet snacks can be grabbed efficiently by the time-poor passer by. They are not places to linger – they may serve to sustain body, but not soul. And this is sad – not just for the passing traveller trying to visit and gain a sense of place, but for the local people young and old, who have lost the village pump, the general merchant, the place to meet, exchange the news of the day and put the world to rights.
So look for the bright spots – the friendly cafe, the rural coffee house, the country pub with welcoming blackboard food menu outside, and give these places your custom whenever you can afford it. Why should country folk be happy to see visitors from the big smoke if they contribute nothing to their local economy, but litter and badly parked cars? The local commerce which is good for visitors is also good for locals, to build community focus and friendly meeting places. So make it a virtuous circle and always try to give something back as you walk by.