The National Mountaineering Exhibition at Rheged, Cumbria, will close for good tomorrow, Christmas Eve.

The museum’s owners failed to find funding for a cash injection for the exhibition, which has seen visitor numbers dwindle. Items in the displays will now be returned to their owners.

Most of the material came from the Mountain Heritage Trust (MHT), which says it is proud of its involvement with the exhibition and intends to continue developing its database of British mountaineering archives.

Rheged organisers said: “The National Mountaineering Exhibition, which was opened at Rheged in 2001 and has been enjoyed by tens of thousands of people, has come to the end of its natural life and funding has not been forthcoming to refresh it.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the exhibition.

Rheged’s owners Westmorland Services Ltd say the centre, near Penrith, hopes to set up a new museum section detailing Cumbria and its inhabitants. The company said: “In 2008 it is proposed to create a new free exhibition which will celebrate Cumbria and its culture, landscape and the outdoors alongside a 21st-century visitor-information facility.

“This new exhibition, although unlikely to be up and running before late 2008, will incorporate the Rheged's existing tourist information centre and the Discovering Cumbria exhibition and is set to be the finest of its kind in Cumbria-the Lake District.”

The British Mountaineering Council, which is represented on the MHT, said “At the start, visitor numbers were high. However, there has been a steady downward trend in visitor numbers in recent years. It is thought that one reason for this is that people have to pay to go into the exhibition.”

Sir Chris Bonington is also a member of the MHT trust, which is chaired by Professor Terry Gifford.

Rheged is named after a British kingdom which was believed to stretch from present-day Dumfries and Galloway as far south possibly as Rochdale, Greater Manchester.