Northumberland - The author’s take


Going Slow in Northumberland

Hadrians Wall, Northumberland by duchy, ShutterstockNorthumberland offers an unbound contact with nature © duchy, Shutterstock

From the Cheviot Hills to the Pennine moors; through England’s largest forest and across the empty beaches of Ross Back Sands and Druridge Bay – miles and miles of raw upland and coastal scenery beneath the most star-filled skies you will see anywhere.

A glance at a night sky map of England shows that the northeastern shank of the country is sparsely inhabited and supremely bleak in places. From the Cheviot Hills to the Pennine moors; through England’s largest forest and across the empty beaches of Ross Back Sands and Druridge Bay; over the rugged hills of Redesdale and the wild Whin Sill escarpment where the Roman emperor Hadrian built his wall – miles and miles of raw upland and coastal scenery beneath the most star-filled skies you will see anywhere.

Here you can hunker down in the dunes or walk all day through the heather and see only a handful of people; pitch a tent undisturbed on the fells; experience a private viewing of a hen harrier skydancing; take the plunge butt-naked in a Cheviot waterfall; and get up early and see Hadrian’s Wall ribboned across the hills without another rambler in sight.

The poet W H Auden, who dearly loved the North East’s fells, isolation and climate, wrote in an article for House and Garden in 1947: the North of England was the Never-Never Land of my dreams . . . the wildly exciting frontier where the alien south ends and the north, my world, begins.’ That sense of escape and wildness is undoubtedly the region’s greatest appeal.

The author’s story

Lindisfarne Castle by Michael Conrad, ShutterstockNorthumberland's landscape is inextricably linked with its history © Michael Conrad, Shutterstock

The Northumberland coast figures heavily in my early memories . . . I am always barefoot, free to explore as far as I dared to venture, and poorly dressed for a summer in Northumberland.

I grew up in Newcastle and spent many weekends as a child around Rothbury getting lost on the heather slopes of the Simonside Hills and paddling in burns. The Northumberland coast also figures heavily in my early memories, and when I recall summer days at Newton-by-the-Sea, sailing with dad and messing about with my siblings on the beach, I am always barefoot, free to explore as far as I dared to venture, and poorly dressed for a summer in Northumberland. This unbound contact with nature must have sparked an appreciation of the outdoors, Northumberland’s landscapes – and the importance of good outdoor clothing. I now have a base on the same coastline where my own children spend their holidays knee-high in rock pools walking to Dunstanburgh Castle and catching toads in the dunes.

In recent times, I’ve hiked a number of the long-distance routes in the region including the Hadrian’s Wall Path, St Cuthbert’s Way and the Northumberland Coast Path. These experiences have connected me to the region’s landscapes and natural history – and put me in touch with many fascinating Northumbrians with knowledge of music, heritage, wildlife and folklore who have influenced the pages of this book. Indeed, a good chunk of the first edition of this book was researched while hiking, camping out or taking off with binoculars for the day. That was before three children came along, you see. Since then, I’ve become rather more familiar with steam trains, waterfalls, country shows and ‘family-friendly’ trails, though I still manage to sneak away to the hills now and then.

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