Friday, 30 December 2011

A pat on the back for New Year 2012

A totally unexpected read just now on our MP's blog.

I quote

"Local champions: for their effort for local causes without reward - Tom Martin, chair of Wylam Parish Council, East Tynedale Olympics and so much more, and the fascinating Robert Forsythe, who works tirelessly in Prudhoe - both should be Local County Councillors, whoever they stand for, given the amount of public work they do."

Thanks indeed.

Guy Opperman has imaginatively constructed an appealing list of people and organisations and concepts to thank and praise. My real favourite in his list was the humble Northumbrian tea shop cheese scone. For which you can look at Tea Rooms of East Tynedale.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Courant explains why the Prudhoe Town Centre determination was cancelled

Just over two months after the Prudhoe Town Centre application was pulled the Courant front page and editorial today discuss what they believe brought things to a halt. Detailed and renewed objections from the Co-Op. Not the drains and sewers (Clochemerle) which have also taken our time this autumn. Courant phraseology embraces "failed process" and "beggars belief" and firmly finger wags at both the County Council and the Northumberland Estates. Like many others I am sure, I have no idea how this will end but I do know Prudhoe deserved the preparation of a really excellent scheme from its landlord.
Meantime I continue my crusade for an independent butchers in Prudhoe. I am perfectly willing to support the new development if it answers the needs and concerns of those who live here. So an update from last Wednesday. Letter from Northumberland Estates to RNF arrived today with regard to a butcher in Prudhoe's new town centre. "We would have no problem with an independent butcher in the Prudhoe scheme should one come forward". There remains the issue of the planning zone which says Non Food Retail but to me this is a major clarification. What is needed now is to find an interested butcher?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Information about the Prudhoe Town Centre

Two thoughts just now on Prudhoe's new centre. Matthew 7:12 "So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." . Had that been a guiding principle in the design of the proposed centre, much of the pain could have been avoided by the designers asking themselves would I wish to live in the neighbouring properties once this work was finished? To see the result of not doing so, explore this link
. And by playing with the 999x sequence up and down you can find all or a huge amount of correspondence in the public domain about the project. Very instructive. Thanks Clive Elsdon for some tuition here.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Is the Prudhoe Town Centre redevelopment abandoned and if so Why?

A month ago the Prudhoe Town Centre redevelopment scheme looked all set to receive its planning permission after years of twists and turns. About a day beforehand, the meeting was cancelled. Since then something of a catch all about legal advice and the applicant being required to submit more information has sufficed by way of explanation. I have asked councillors, the chairman of the Prudhoe Community Partnership who is also the vicar, for explanations. Nothing in any detail is forthcoming. The Hexham Courant has hardly been able to expand the knowledge base. This week its publishes two letters from opposing sides of the spectrum: Peter Gallagher and Tony Williamson. Sometimes people wonder why I don't get more involved in the actual political structures. Read those letters for an answer. It is mudslinging and misunderstanding on both sides and that is not something I wish to take part in. Nonetheless this inability to communicate between the various parties may go far in explaining why this process has become so frustrating over many years. The process goes back some years before the original application for the current scheme was submitted in 2007. Now in bullet point form, I intend to list out some of the reasons why I suspect if the current scheme is dead, that is so. Tony Williamson's letter (pro) seemed to suggest it is dead although on what evidence I do not know. Perhaps the results of the Sainsbury consultation this September were so negative as to disincentivise them?

  • At the outset the scheme should have had a vision and a name. One that encapsulated the excitement of what was on offer. I have several times in this blog referred to The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe. This was not a random choice and only incidentally was meant to allude to a fate for the protagonists. The Hanging Gardens concept is one of antiquity and refers to the hillside. The space for the development is the last open space left within Prudhoe's centre. It sits on one of Prudhoe's greatest assets: its hillside. The development owner is famed for the Alnwick Garden. It is basic common sense that the two be combined and that above everything else encompassing the shops and the houses, there would be a Garden experience of such notability that it made Prudhoe a destination. A multi storey car park or a Supermarket facade could have become an exercise in hydroponics. People with memories in Prudhoe realise that the Co-Op development and its car park destroyed a very pleasant park.
  • As such the scheme needed to be 21st century in nature. I often asked those for the scheme to outline for me its 21st century elements. They never have because it is'nt. It is a scheme from the 1980s. And it never really took cognisance of its hillside location. The hillside became a problem not an asset. And that is how we ended up with Berlin Walls, sound barriers and massive blocks of development overlooking houses.
  • An element of a 21st century scheme would have been efficient communication to sell the project. A regularly maintained website with an updated FAQ responsive to questions could have worked wonders. The site is surrounded by houses and the proposed development literally looks down on many. Pleasing the neighbours should always have been paramount to remove objections. IT could have helped this, instead the developers seemed to stir up a hornet's nest amongst their intended neighbours.
  • The information provision was always poor. Dumping huge arrays of files in the library and calling that consultation was anything but. Again a website could have had a 3d walkthrough, which, had the plan had inherent excitement, could have convinced the doubters. It simply did not seem that Northumberland Estates ever wanted to enthuse the community. It looked as if they took them for granted. It certainly did when as this blog shows the Estate has spent months claiming on its own website to have planning permission for the project when it had nothing of the sort. A public consulation inviting responses took place in August/September of this year and not a word about the results has yet been forthcoming.
  • Four elements of detail (at least) excited consistent adverse comment (other commentators may suggest more). The big three for me were the multi storey car park, the restrictive covenants on the shops and the new junction on station bank. Each of these three it seemed to me was unwelcome and unworkable. Probably the one highest on my agenda and those I spoke to, were the restrictive covenants. It looked like swopping one supermarket monopoly for another. The knowledge that at the end of all the upheaval, a whole genre of shops would be excluded like a butchers, wholefood (Holland and Barratt), a Thorntons, a fishmonger was amazing. Just what sort of town centre was this going to be for the largest town in Tynedale?
  • The fourth element really became evident this summer and perhaps it was this that pulled the meeting on the 19th October? The situation with the drains and the sewers. I have heard so many incompatible versions of this. One argument says that the development was actually going to solve the problem because it was to have a separate drainage system to the river. If so that was not made clear in Fairhurst's summary handed out in October 2010. Another argument says that the Estate maintained there was no springwater on the site when clearly there is. What appears to have driven the point home was the event of 6th August when it became manifestly clear that Prudhoe's current drainage system was not working. The simple point to me is that Prudhoe operates with a 600' hydraulic head and that unless development is exactingly married to that fact, some dramatic problems will arise.
  • It is evident that the matter of leadership and trust comes into this. Whether in respect of the springwater or their claim to already have planning permission, the Estate lost the community's confidence. The Duke never once came the 3o miles to engage with the population. The whole affair of the Judicial Review articulated this. The proposal was rejected once by a judge and although it could be argued this was on a technicality, commentators like the Hexham Courant certainly interpreted this as a rebuff to the Estate's plan which had already then attracted thousands of objectors. I certainly thought that when the plans were represented at a consultation in St Mary's Parish Hall in October 2010, one would see a radically changed scheme taking account of the many concerns which by then were well known. I remember being amazed by what I saw and I remember the inescapable mood of those in that room. They were angry. More than anything else, this was the moment I decided to start quietly taking soundings amongst people as I met them. Gradually over several months, I became astonished at what I learnt. Very successful business people were explaining to me exactly why the proposed scheme would not work. Other people were expressing amazement that successful businesses like the existing snooker hall were going to be sacrificed with no arrangements for their replacement. I was very surprised to discover that this did not seem to concern the Prudhoe Community Partnership.
  • A very sad consequence of all of this as the letters in the Courant have consistently shown is that the landowner's scheme has entirely divided the community. It is not difficult to find heated arguments developing over the affair. Neighbour can quite literally fall out with neighbour. Since the landowner in this instance is not some absent commercial entity but the feudal landlord, I judge that to be somewhat scandalous.
  • As Tony Williamson's letter says, the land will be developed. It cannot be left. If indeed the Northumberland Estates/Sainsbury scheme is dead, how might I suggest going forward? The asset of the land and its view is so valuable to the community that the Prudhoe Community Partnership should raise funds to buy the land and find a new development partner. One who would really work with this community to develop a scheme which would enthuse the community. Perhaps the result will not be a Sainsbury? It might be a Morrisons or an Aldi. I don't mind. I never objected to a new supermarket. The Co-Op as I repeatedly say to myself when forced into it, has not made any friends by its pricing or stocking policy (Consett offers a vastly wider array of supermarkets and other food outlets all competitively priced). So by all means lets have a new supermarket, some more housing, shops that allow for a butchers, but in all that let us make sure that the development treats the hillside in such an exciting manner that it will become the positive talk for 50 miles around.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Prudhoe's Drainage

I went to the Prudhoe Civic and Community Forum meeting last night about the flooding. The most forceful presence came from a newly appointed West Area Highways manager Richard Hayes. It seems he is very ready to understand that Prudhoe has deep seated drainage problems that unless they are addressed will continue to cause a lot of distress to affected properties.

What I now say is a little bit of reading in: but I conclude his advice would likely to be no development planning permission until a wider study into Prudhoe's geology and drainage is concluded. And that one should not be surprised if the solution is an interceptor drain of some size running along the spring line. That is roughly from the west end of the bypass, along the back of Prudhoe Castle School, the bottom of the Kepwell, between Broomhouse Lane and the new development to the area of the Cockshaw Dene where it would discharge into natural drainage. This scheme would intercept surface and land water discharges.

Once it was in place, the capacity would be there to proceed with the town development.

The objectors were going on about granite! I had to interject. There is no granite anywhere near Prudhoe. I had the geology map with me to prove it. Apparently as one told me later, Fairhurst's had suggested this. If so this shows just how out of touch and hopeless the Fairhurst's input is. The geology of Prudhoe whilst complex is perfectly clear. The rocks are coal measures: coal, limestone, sandstones, shales, fireclays. Most are porous but the clays are not and will play a role in springlines. On top of the rocks there is boulder clay and sands and gravels. Plenty of the latter along the hillside clearly shown on the map. Where they meet clay, you get springs and where the underlying rock outcrops the same also happens.

It seems to me that previous developers have been allowed to get away with murder - especially as it now appears along Castle Road. It is very important that Northumberland Estates are not allowed to repeat this. They have had ample opportunity to do their work properly. They seem to have failed to do this. The objectors say that NE deny there are any springs on the development site. They have photographic evidence to prove otherwise.

To my mind the NE planning application should not be taken further until the drainage study is concluded and implemented. There is every reason a planning committee could want to say this to the applicant. There is no way that the applicant could object as they have manifestly failed to undertake the studies they should have done.

The event of 6th August was evidently very distressing and it has been followed up with smaller scale repeats since then including October 18th on Station Bank. However if these unfortunate events have injected some realism into the development plans in Prudhoe, something will have moved forward.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Tales from our National Parks

Are any of you following the BBC series Tales from our National Parks? The theme combining heritage, landscape and planning would always interest me and with the other related planning thread of Prudhoe Town Centre I was bound to watch. Up there in my personal interest stakes with the Nick Crane series on towns earlier in 2011. What do I get from these programmes? That planners are in a strange world of their own. Last night the issue was the Tyndrum Gold Mine. It was absolutely clear an entire community on its ankers wanted the project and had waited quite long enough. Planning permission had previously been granted by an earlier authority. So what did a new National Park authority do with a chief executive from Greenpeace? Erect hoops every inch of the way. The whole issue really came down to the tailings dam, dealing with the waste. Common sense might have said say to the applicant, we support you but unless your application deals with the tailings in a way we can approve, don't bother. Oh no, the whole expense of a frustrated application was indulged in. A 12/10 vote down and another year spent on a re-application. All this effort could have been saved with some straight talking at the start. In reality life is not that simple. Perhaps the Park Authority never really wanted to say yes and had hoped that after one rejection, the applicant would go away. But they did not, instead reading between the lines, I suspect some influential supporters lent on the Park Authority (telling scene of the Park Convener giving the Chief Exec some guidance). Thankfully anyway Tyndrum will get its gold mine now. Sadly Honister does not look likely to get its zip wire. The Lakes say they want to be Britain's adventure capital. Yet they don't want a zip wire at Honister exactly where a cableway from the slate quarry worked for decades. The park authority has removed sports boats from one of the most obvious locations in Britain: Windermere, a huge space well able to accomodate speedboats in designated zones. I have my serious doubts that those running National Parks have any real ability to support business. They view their landscapes as precious artforms when in reality they are nothing of the sort. All the great National Parks had their wealth built on industry and this their current guardians are in denial over. And back at the ranch in Prudhoe, the story is rather different. Here there is a beautiful valley with no protection. There is a public who have made their views pretty clear: that any development should fit the landscape and not engender monopoly. And although the jury is still out (because a key meeting got pulled) I am not convinced the community's opinion really counts for much. That is the common thread: why don't planners listen to community opinion. And will the Prudhoe community have to take the type of measure the folk of Tyndrum did to get heard?

Also in today's news another Northumberland planning story whereby a 230 year old pub bites the dust for yet another Supermarket in Morpeth? What is it with those folk? Morpeth was a lovely town now being totally given over to car parks and supermarkets. There are at least three developments already in existence.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Last Battle

The Last Battle is a title of one of C. S. Lewis' Narnia books. It is really about the Christian Last Judgement. It evokes a landscape "further up and further in". An enfolding green landscape. One that I have since I was 11 identified with Weardale as seen from the A68 in the few miles between Fir Tree and Tow Law. I have driven that way 100s of times and on each occasion I call to mind Lewis' visualisation and think to myself about The Last Judgement. The Last Judgement has something of a bad reputation nowadays in this society. I can see why. Whilst as an artistic inspiration it has fed creativity of all sorts, it is also an instrument of fear. Centuries of church manipulation warped The Last Judgement to become a means of controlling earthly behaviour and manipulating power. The idea of finite sin meriting infinite punishment in the most awful of sensual forms excites the most frightening emotions (and we all know how attractive to a certain mind set a horror film is (I never got that genre, something missing in me)). I think that a history of The Last Judgement would reveal humans and a church at their worst.

Yet because of our bad behaviour and lack of faith in love should we ignore The Last Judgement? By no means, rather reflect on what Lewis perceived. That The Last Judgement is our own judgement on ourselves. For when we die and are confronted by the light of creating Love, what will we do? Will we bend down in fear seeking repentence? Will we run towards the light, knowing this was always our destiny? Or will we turn away from what is to what is not? Will our anger and pride destroy us? Whatever, it will be our choice. Truly The Last Judgement is the hour of destiny.

A quote from the book illustrates all this. From page 135 "'You see' said Aslan.'They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out'". Look around and you must be able to see this behaviour through human history whether in the great affairs of state or in the matter of marital relationship. Think of World War One. Was there ever such a deadly and un-necessary conflict? One that only the warped ideas of humans created. I reflect on Poincaré and how in World War One Claire Ferchaud was able to confront him personally in the simplicity of Christ. Or how it is that a mother of three children can walk away from them and their father because of "another man"? These are all things that happen, constantly around us. You can provide your own examples. What unites all, men of power or women of infidelity is that whilst Christ wishes to meet them in their sin as Jesus did in First Century Palestine, it is the human who refuses to meet Our Lord. As someone used to say to me in Ayrshire "You choose your bed and lie on it".

Friday, 7 October 2011

Northern's great strengthening.

The information I share has come down a chain of command. It shows how from December 4th Northern will be strengthening its services. There is something called the Government HLOS High Level Output Statement for the rail industry. Depending on how you calculate, this promises Northern 100-150 further carriages to cope with the growth and overcrowding. The franchise was originally let as a stand still one. By December 2011, 42 extra carriages will have arrived and their planned deployment is now worked out. Overall many people will be very relieved.

Sadly I have a pretty clear gripe. Study the detail and only one train north of York comes into it. The 0741 Hexham Middlesbrough will be two Class 142 sets instead of one. Just one additional train has come to Heaton and it is another of the dreaded four wheel Pacer trains. It will spend most of its time as a back up thunderbird. That is not a bad thing but as regular readers of the blog know, my contention for just over a year now, is that the work of Heaton depot (Northumbria local trains) is a complete sideshow for Northern planners and nothing shows this better. My mind says that the only way this will change is if the politicians of the North East work together and insist on some dramatically different arrangements for the new franchise from about 2012. There is evidence that the DfT is listening to this and is inviting local councils to consider what role they could have.

The trains are listed by their current departure time at their point of origin followed by the current booked traction then by the booked traction from December.

AM Peak
06:13 Leeds-Man Vic 144(3), 144(3)+144(2)
06:21 Liverpool LS-Man Vic 156, 142+142
06:29 Huddersfield-Man Vic 142, 150
06:30 Harrogate-Leeds 144(2), 150
06:31 Huddersfield-Leeds 144(3), 144(3)+142
06:32 Rose Hill Marple-Man Picc 142, 150
06:36 New Mills Ctl-Man Picc 142, 142+142
06:36 Wigan Wall-Man Vic 142, 150
06:37 Leeds-Man Vic 158(2), 158(2)+158(2)
06:38 Leeds-Sheffield 142, 144(3)
06:43 Man Vic-Leeds 150+142, 150+150
06:50 Buxton-Blackpool N 150, 156
06:57 Huddersfield-Southport 156, 156+142
07:04 Lincoln Ctl-Sheffield 142, 142+144(2)
07:06 Man Picc-Sheffield 142, 150
07:13 Leeds-Man Vic 144(3), 144(3)+142
07:15 Wigan Wall-Stalybridge 150, 150+142
07:16 Liverpool LS-Huddersfield 150, 156
07:16 Rose Hill Marple-Man Picc 142, 142+142
07:22 Warrington Ctl-Man OR 142, 150
07:24 Buxton-Man Picc 156, 150+150
07:29 Adwick-Sheffield 142, 142+142
07:38 Wigan NW-Liverpool LS 150+142, 150+150
07:39 Man OR-Liverpool LS 156, 142+142
07:39 New Mills Ctl-Man Picc 142, 142+142
07:40 Clitheroe-Man Vic 150, 153+150
07:41 Hexham-Middlesbrough 142, 142+142
07:41 Rose Hill Marple-Man Picc 142, 142+142
07:42 Knaresborough-Leeds 144(3), 144(3)+144(2)
07:44 Todmorden-Wigan Wall 150, 150+142
07:48 York-Leeds 153+144(2), 150+153
07:59 Marple-Man Picc 142, 142+142
08:00 Man Vic-Leeds 144(3), 144(3)+144(2)
08:00 Wigan Wall-Man Vic 150, 142+142
08:06 Sheffield-Leeds 142, 144(3)
08:13 Wigan Wall-Man Vic 142, 150
08:15 Man OR-Liverpool LS 142, 150
08:22 Stalybridge-Liverpool LS 150, 150+142
08:24 New Mills Ctl-Man Picc 142, 142+142
08:24 Southport-Man Air 142, 142+142
08:30 Huddersfield-Man Vic 142, 150
08:32 Blackburn-Man Vic 153, 150
08:44 Liverpool LS-Stalybridge 142, 150
08:45 York-Leeds 144(2), 150
08:48 Marple-Man Picc 142, 142+142
08:59 Rose Hill Marple-Man Picc 142, 142+142

PM Peak
16:00 Southport-Huddersfield 142, 142+142
16:03 Man Air-Southport 150, 142+142
16:06 Man Picc-Rose Hill Marple 142, 142+142
16:10 Man Vic-Kirby 142, 150
16:13 Adwick-Retford 142, 142+142
16:13 Leeds-Man Vic 144(3), 144(3)+144(2)
16:18 Scunthorpe-Lincoln Ctl 142, 142+142
16:23 Man Picc-Marple 142, 142+142
16:27 Man Vic-Huddersfield 150, 156
16:29 Leeds-York 142+142, 142+150
16:30 Buxton-Blackpool N 156, 150+150
16:31 Liverpool LS-Wigan NW 156, 142+142
16:39 Leeds-Lancaster 144(2), 150
16:43 Man OR-Liverpool LS 142, 150
16:45 Man Picc-New Mills Ctl 142, 150
16:48 Wigan Wall-Rochdale 142, 142+142
17:00 Man Vic-Leeds 144(2), 144(2)+142
17:03 Man Picc-Marple 142, 142+142
17:06 Sheffield-Leeds 142, 144(3)
17:09 Clitheroe-Rochdale 153, 150
17:10 Man Vic-Kirkby 142, 142+142
17:13 Leeds-Man Vic 144(3), 144(3)+142
17:13 Man OR-Liverpool LS 142, 150
17:14 Sheffield-Leeds 144(3), 144(2)+144(2)
17:18 Man Picc-Sheffield 142, 142+142
17:27 Man Vic-Huddersfield 142, 150+142
17:48 Man Picc-Chinley 142, 142+142
18:00 Man Vic-Clitheroe 150, 153+150
18:00 Man Vic-Leeds 144(3), 144(3)+144(2)
18:00 Rochdale-Blackburn 142, 142+142
18:22 Man Picc-New Mills Ctl 142, 142+142
18:25 Liverpool LS-Man OR 142, 150
18:27 Man Vic-Huddersfield 150, 156
18:29 Leeds-York 144(2)+150, 150+150
18:31 Liverpool LS-Wigan NW 156, 142+142
18:32 Leeds-Sheffield 142, 144(3)
18:43 Leeds-Huddersfield 144(2), 144(2)+142
18:45 Man Vic-Wigan Wall 142, 150
18:55 Liverpool LS-Warrington 142, 150
18:59 Leeds-Knaresborough 144(3), 144(2)+144(2)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Shepherds Dene Ramble Retreat

From time to time I find myself participating or helping at Shepherds Dene Riding Mill. Shepherds Dene is a Church of England Retreat House welcoming all. It is jointly administered by the Dioceses of Newcastle and Durham. It is an excellent example of an Arts and Crafts House (think of a smaller Cragside) whose owner gifted it to the church in 1946. It sits on the side of the March Burn Valley 3/4s of a mile up the Slaley Road from Riding Mill. It has prominent resources on the net with its Facebook and website.

On Wednesday 28th September 2011, I joined a one day ramble retreat. A number of photos can be seen here. My summary account there said "Shepherds Dene hosted a ramble retreat led by Reverend Jeremy Chadd on 28th September 2011. 8 miles, 9 persons, three dogs, a welcome from the local landowner Jamie Warde-Aldham at Healey St John, four fords, one bog and six hours passed door to door. Add in breakfast, hearty lunch, afternoon tea and a eucharist for a tenner and Northumbrian Christians know how to offer hospitality and value for money. A series of mini reflections involving Abram, Ruth and Jonah along the line anchored the walkers into the ups and downs of life and faith along a route which cross crossed the March Burn. Two opportunities to repeat are in Shepherd Dene's 2012 programme."

In this blog the opportunity is being taken to describe the route in more detail. The walk is being offered again as part of the Shepherds Dene 2012 programme. It could be undertaken by groups or individuals independently of those opportunities. Shepherds Dene offers an excellent secure start/end for the walk which itself affords a very worthwhile introduction to the valley of the March Barn which is not exactly well known. For those staying at Shepherds Dene, the walk offers a nice day out.

How might it be categorised? If it was part of a county organised programme or a walking festival it would be rated medium. As the crow flies it is about 2 1/2 miles from Shepherds Dene to Healey Church. The walk's strength is its encounters with the valley of the March Burn with four crossings. The walk is not a straight line and this makes it around 8 miles.

The context is that of one of the north running burns/rivers that feed the Tyne between Hexham and Blaydon (Tyneside). The principal five are a group comprising the Devils Water which the A695 crosses at Dilston, that is the largest. The March Burn crossed at Riding Mill. The Guess Burn crossed at Stocksfield with a catchment running up through Apperley Dene to Whittonstall. The Stanley Burn joining the river at Wylam and running behind Prudhoe. The Blaydon Burn. All offer attractive walks and beyond the local area are not well known.

The March Burn catchment extends from Riding Mill (where it is called the Riding Mill Burn) past the policies of Shepherds Dene (where it is the March Burn). It then joined by the Dipton Burn (a glacial meltwater channel) and so drains an area up to the Derwent watershed mostly comprised of Broomhaugh and Riding, Slaley and Healey civil parishes.

The walk is entirely on the OS Landranger 87 Hexham sheet. For the larger scale Explorer sheets, it straddles the boundary of three. You will need 307 Consett, 316 Newcastle and OL43 Hadrian's Wall. If walking in association with Shepherds Dene, the retreat house has a 1:25,000 Explorer sheet printed on demand with the house at the centre. All the walk is on this sheet.

Go well shod. Most of the walking is on sound paths but there are some elements crossing the valley which can be muddy. No fording is necessary, footbridges exist at all four crossings, the fords are optional. But the approach paths can be wet, muddy and quite steep for up to a couple of hundred yards at a time. This write up describes the walk from Shepherds Dene. It is all on public rights of way save for the accesses to Shepherds Dene. The walk could commence in Riding Mill where bus and train services exist. This will add a further 3/4 mile in each direction. The advantage of using Shepherds Dene for any group is that catering, parking and a warm welcome can be assured. At the end of the day a chance to unwind on the patio with a drink from the bar looking across to where one has been is singularly pleasant.

The walk starts from Shepherds Dene's front door and heads north east up the entrance drive (not the exit one) to the Slaley Road. The road is then walked for 1 3/4 miles to NY993595. This is the most sustained public road walking on the route and care should be exercised. Turn left onto the bridleway and descend through Todburn Wood to the first burn crossing. Continue to ascend through woods until a field is reached. A path is indicated at a junction right. Use this along the edge of the field and wood. This will then re-enter the wood, descend and cross the burn again. At this crossing, the road has become a minor access road to a house. Follow it back uphill and along a minor climbing ridge through pasture (livestock). You reach a gated T junction. Turn left and start descending again. As you re-enter the woods note that the public path veers right. This can be missed and the next couple of hundred yards are probably the trickiest bit of the walk. You descend to Healey Mill which is very well preserved and probably seen by only a few hundred passers by a year. From the footbridge here the rock cut gorge heading upstream is dramatic. Across the bridge join the access drive to the mill and turn right, ascend again. Some bends follow but keep to the marked right of way. The alert will realise that Healey Hall is conspiciously in view and that the route will pass this. Do not walk straight to it leaving the right of way. The landowner has welcomed Shepherds Dene personally to this walk and unless permission has been sought users are respectfully requested to stay on the path.

The path is now heading SSW to join a public road from Slaley to Scales Cross at NY992570. Turn left along it. You climb slowly to the summit of the walk at 211 metres. Extensive views north are on offer. Walk the road for just a kilometre to Lane House. A tarmac road turns left and you will use it descending gently. As notices advice, this is a public path and not a public road. Therefore it is a quiet and a pleasant walk. It is the road through the Healey Hall estate. On the approach to Healey Hall, it and the walker should turn right. After just over another kilometre you will reach the few houses and the church that form the nucleus of this most unnucleated village. The church was built in 1860 and despite its apparent lack of potential congregation remains very much in use and in good condition. Please respect it.

If the walk has been arranged through Shepherds Dene, this point about two thirds of the way around, is identified as the major break point. A picnic lunch can (and has been) served, a church service can be arranged, and for those wishing to break their walk, this is a good rendezvous point. So after the refreshment spiritual as well as physical the walk continues by turning right along the minor (now public) road outside the church. In one hundred metres turn left along another public road. Walk 300 metres until a public path is signed heading north through at the moment young woodland. This is called Broomleyfell Plantation. Good views can be had north. After about a kilometre a public road is met at NZ012697. Turn left and within a hundred metres execute a sharp right down a public path using the tarred access road to High Plains. Follow this path which will turn left and make its way straight through the car parking area of High Plains in front of the farmhouse.

Be careful here to follow the path signs. The whole route is well signed but a word of caution, there have been plenty of stiles along the way. The path is signed around the north side of an exercise paddock and so towards Hemmels Fell. The route is basically west now for a kilometre. Two diverging paths are met, keep right downhill. Shepherds Dene will soon come into view about a kilometre north across the valley (see heading photo). As you leave the wood the path is clear running between two field boundaries. The Riding Mill area is notorious for its spring lines. Descending the hill possibly crosses some of these and can be wet underfoot. A gate into a pasture lies obviously ahead and through this gate can be found the worst conditions especially if cattle are in the field.

You are nearly back. The path descends through pasture to the last ford and footbridge. A small notice here advises about permissive paths direct to Riding Mill. To get to Shepherds Dene, there are two choices. Either continue north on the clearly signed path and you will reach the public road where you turn left and so into Shepherds Dene in another 400 metres. Alternatively having passed the gate north of the ford, it is possible without crossing any fences to use a physically present path beside the March Barn and through woodland into the Shepherd Dene property at the bottom of what is called the Woodland Walk. There are no rights of way through Shepherds Dene and this link is not a right of way.

That should help you around the walk armed with appropriate maps. You will see some wonderfully quiet countryside, a surprising amount of rocky cliffs and in season plenty of juicy blackberies. And if you have teamed up with Shepherds Dene a spiritual guide can make all the links to life's ups and downs whilst the catering arm will ensure you enjoy very wholesome "Northumbrian Farmhouse" fare. Your contact at Shepherds Dene is George Hepburn.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Prudhoe Town Centre meeting aftermath

Some folk are wondering whether a compomise is that the shopping element goes ahead and the houses don't. My guess is that without the housing the viability of the rest of the development comes into question. I do not mind the land in question being developed. I don't mind a Sainsbury, I don't mind new shops including a butchers, I don't mind a car park done discretely. I don't mind new houses. I don't want Station Bank to become a nightmare. I do want the location of the hillside and the skills of the estate in gardening to be integrated into the development. In my mind I don't see why Berlin walls are needed if the design was good. I do want a partner who is trustworthy and does what they undertake to do (and that seems an issue at Alnwick). What is so difficult about my aspirations? Or any they just the ramblings of a naive idiot?

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Prudhoe Town Centre Meeting 5th September 2009

‎"But Mr Barnes told the meeting at Prudhoe High School: “It isn’t possible to have a new town centre, if that’s what Prudhoe wants, without some people being affected.”

Read More"
PLANS to redevelop the centre of a Northumberland town were last night slammed as “a disgrace” by angry residents.
· · · 6 minutes ago

    • Robert Forsythe If Mr Barnes listened to other architects and read my blog or Facebook he might understand that you could have a town centre redevelopment much more in harmony with both the 21st century and the hillside at Prudhoe than the one Northumberland Estates propose. His take it or leave it attitude, his cannot make an ommelete without breaking a few eggs approach is at the root of why so many people in Prudhoe find Northumberland Estate's treatment of this community deeply offensive. There are a few people within Prudhoe who suggest we should accept second or third best. They should reflect deeply on the concerns in the minds of hundreds of people last night.
      about a minute ago · Link
    • ======================================================
    I was not at the meeting last night. I did not need to be. There were hundreds of people wanting to put their point of view and be heard. My wife was one of them. The little clip I reproduce from this morning's Journal well sets the tone. Co-incidentally yesterday afternoon a new consultation brochure came through the post. It is uploaded along with some comment here. Not to point out that this is a multi storey car park or that the only food retail is Sainbury is to be economical with the actualite.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Guy Opperman's Charity Walk

I was very pleased today to support our MP Guy Opperman's charity walk by which he is returning to work after his recent illness. He will be blogging extensively about it. Look North did a piece this evening on what was Day Two from Millennium Bridge to Heddon which I joined. A nice walk, saw Newcastle and the river from unexpected angles and explored some historic trackbeds. More photos and details went into my Facebook today. One photo will head up this blog entry showing Look North interviewing Guy at the very pleasant river Tyne scape in Newburn Riverside country park.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Sequencing Prudhoe's new town centre

One of the oft repeated comments I get put to me reflects the concern people have about how Prudhoe will function whilst its planned new town centre is made. Two existing blocks of shops are to be demolished and I know that business people in them and nearby are very concerned about the direct impact on their livelihood. I shall suggest what is only my personal take on how the changes could be achieved.

The over riding reflection I offer is to reduce the impact on Front Street and its businesses as greatly as possible. Personally for me an end outcome is also no lasting change to the traffic management on Station Bank. A temporary change is a different matter however if it enables the first sentence of this paragraph to be achieved. To start the development I would create a temporary access off Station Bank. The entire area of former allotments through to the car park and the Legion building area would then become "site". Leaving aside the issue of the housing adjacent to Station Bank for now (this is phase 2 in the plan), I would then build whatever had been approved of the main retail etc development running back from Front Street but leaving the two existing blocks on Front Street intact and functioning.

Once the development behind Front Street had been built a temporary access into it from Front Street could be created using existing roads. At this point traders in one of the blocks to be demolished on Front Street could be invited to move into the new development. And the development could start functioning in a part completed manner. With one block cleared of occupants, it could then be demolished and whatever had been approved of the new development in that area completed. The process would then be repeated for the second block. And once that was demolished and the new development in its footprint finished, what the developers call Phase 1 would then be complete. At which point for my money, because the proper accesses off Front Street would then exist and because I have no faith in the long term wisdom of an access onto Station Bank, that access would be closed. Although I accept that the experience of having a temporary access during construction may itself become a useful indicator of which way the long term judgement on that matter would go. I would want to see a very robust planning condition that governed this matter.

What is written here is purely to answer the question about minimising disruption. It is not to prejudge the actual content of the plan which as everyone knows is the subject of heated debate. If a reader has not seen them, the thoughts in this blog about what I call The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe could be read. And a final aside, if in Phase 1 engineering assessments found coal on the site, why not take it out? And if any such hole was capable of accomodating a multi storey car park would that not solve a problem. A car park that had a garden or such like on top. Search in my Facebook and a photo of just one such is offered.

Peter Hetherington

What I would characterise as a well argued middle of the road letter is published in Friday August 5th Hexham Courant (on sale tonight in Prudhoe Waterworld) about the great Prudhoe debate. Its author is Peter Hetherington of Wylam who is a very credible journalist​profile/peterhetherington .One other letter and one piece on same subject in the paper. Key additional fact I get is a breakdown of the objections. 2668 plus 1231 plus 118 plus 7 is 4024 which accounts for the 4000 objections often mentioned. Out of 12,500 population this is quite a tally.

Is this a priceless advert or what?

Is this a priceless advert or what? Source CILIP Update August 2011 p49.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Imported from my Facebook 2nd August 2011

Friday, 29 July 2011

Ludlow and Prudhoe

Last night a new BBC2 programme from Nick Crane looked at the 10,000 strong community of Ludlow. Apparently very different to Prudhoe but listen to it, the parallels are clear. One of the mini-stories, Tesco. The community fought for eight years to get the supermarket they were prepared to have. Tesco finally agreed to a unique design fitting the parameters of the site. It can be done.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Another public meeting about the town centre?

Once again the divisions within Prudhoe about the proposed new town centre are writ large in last Friday's Hexham Courant. It is front page news and there is an editorial which I would sign up to totally. The development is that the Mayor of Prudhoe has found a mechanism whereby a public meeting can be called at which the County Planning Committe will have to listen to further comments. Trying to be a spectator rather than a partizan is a bit challenging but here goes with some thoughts.

Clearly the Planning Committee do not welcome this development. That is unfortunate. One would think they would welcome every opportunity to re-assure those concerned. It would be unfortunate as well if the meeting takes place "next month" which is August when many people will be on holiday. To be fair to everyone the meeting should take place as soon as possible once the schools return. For it to appear rushed through when many people are away would again suggest this is not genuine consultation. The comments made about the Police also appear unfortunate. To so directly anticipate trouble is not to encourage law abiding citizens like myself to wish to attend.

It will be obvious for those most disadvantaged directly by the new scheme to make comment. I feel for anyone in Cranleigh Gardens, Neale Street and the other areas where this development will "look down" on their properties. They have real objections. Even so I think the best way to make inroads on the Planning Committee members will be to show how within its own terms the application is unsatisfactory. I have heard of numerous detailed aspects of this and no doubt these will come out.

However I would advocate keep it simple and direct. The multi storey car park, the new road onto Station Bank, the restrictive covenants on the new shops, these to my mind are all strong cards about why the present proposal does not lead to a good outcome.

There is also a message to those who may support the scheme. There are probably four people who really can influence the outcome of all this. The Duke himself. The Chairman of the Prudhoe Community Partnership who also happens to be the vicar. There are two members of Northumberland County Council from Prudhoe. Coun. Bill Garrett is a member of the planning committee and may not express a view before the determination. Coun. Neil Bradbury may, and he has expressed a view. He is broadly in favour of a regeneration project.

What is my message to them? At a personal level I do believe in a town centre development, this blog has outlined ways in which it could be done before. The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe strapline. Yet where have we got today? The Town Council voted 4/3 against. The Mayor clearly feels that she will risk her reputation by insisting on another public meeting which unless it powerfully demonstrates the opposition that there really is will backfire. In other words and as the Courant has shown for weeks, the town is completely divided. Probably somewhere in the 60/40 area either way. If this last sentence is correct a fascinating question then becomes, how do the two County Councillors represent this?

If I was any of these four people - and certainly if I was the vicar - I could not vote for anything which had become so divisive. Personally I hope that this now anticipated meeting never takes place and that Prudhoe ceases washing its dirty linen in the Courant. I hope that the principals who really can make a difference would work together. The probable outcome to keep the peace in this town would be to recognise that the application as it is should not go forward. It should be back to the drawing board with a determination to produce a proposal really born from within the community and partnered by the skills shown at Alnwick Garden to produce a development that truly excited those who live on our wonderful and beautiful hillside. Outlines of the project are here.

Monday, 18 July 2011


Just watched Vivian White and Panorama on Murdoch. Unmissable, go to I player. Two of the heroes who exposed Murdoch: Chris Bryant a gay MP and Max Mosley whose BDSM enthusiasm News International exposed. Mosley has funded very ordinary people in their civil challenges. Breathtaking viewing and Lord Sugar is a hero too.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Prudhoe's town centre, the community partnership and the Courant

For week after week, Tynedale's local paper the Hexham Courant has carried on an ongoing debate about these matters. I have kept out of it. The problem is that it reads more like a slanging match than a debate and it is a truly sad position for a town of 12,000+ to have reached. The Courant is out again today and the argument is continued. Last week's shock news was that the Prudhoe Community Partnership's website had been taken down after person(s) unknown had hacked it adversely.

One thing I can be sure about. That event was completely uncalled for and does no-one in a small town any good whatsoever. Over recent weeks as I wander about I have quietly and at an anecdotal level sought out views. One way to put it is to look up above where I live and ask the question, how would I feel if a multi storey car park was appearing above my house? This is the prospect for residents of the Castlefield estate. I cannot avoid saying I would not be very happy.

Search my blog and several entries about the development have been made. I have tried to be positive about it. I can see ways in which the area concerned can be redeveloped to the great credit of Prudhoe and in a manner which will really draw people here. I also will go on record as applauding the work which the Prudhoe Community Partnership has done. It has played a vital role in the Prudhoe Transport Interchange and in the Cockshott Dene renewal. It is now going forward with an exciting multi purpose build on the library site.

Many good things have happened in Prudhoe and many more could in the future. But I caution all involved in the future of the town, stay cool, listen to what your opponent is saying, seek to find the common ground and work on it. Everyone has to live together here and with the consequences of whatever may be built and do not get involved in cyber war!

For more information click. A view completely independent of my own but very pertinent to the matter is expressed here.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Some aphrorisms

Years ago, the questing spiritual side of me started "writing". For a while it was a page on my own website. I took it down when we had Clare. I was too busy to want to deal with "hassle" that my troublesome views might engender. But I carry on writing in a genre that is simply me and as soon as you label it morphs. Over on Facebook some of our photo captions hint at it. I wonder if the blog can stand any of it. Here are some short aphorisms which started the old page.
The transforming power of love

Appears to me the only basis

By which the Church and Christ

May re-establish themselves.
Academic research

should not be a methodology

but a drama.
If the world cannot order itself

To treat its citizens aright

Is it my fault if I cannot cope with it?
What makes humanity?

That we can do things better.

What might be grace?

When things are done better.
If Society does not owe you a job

What do you owe Society?
I would rather be my wife's sex slave

than anyone else's wage slave.
If Fiona was all gold and mine

I would weep with bitterness.

I should rather die prematurely

than get divorced.



Discuss in what circumstances these statements might be true.
Man has always sought a virtual world.

It is the religious driver.

Women priests are a Biblical impossibility

So also is homosexual marriage.

Grant one and the other might follow.

Two perversities for the conservative.

Why should Christ's grace not liberate us

From the strictures of gender?
The price of freedom in creation is the price of pain

However for many that may seem a price

Too heavy for the reward.

A disturbing discovery is that Nature bullies.

Vulcanism and glaciation were hardly man's fault.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


When we both realise
we might be living a lie
then we might make
some progress

the catholic to the protestant
the believer to the unbeliever
the christian to the muslim
the woman to the man
the communist to the capitalist
the straight to the gay

Monday, 16 May 2011

When good is not good enough.

The Prudhoe redevelopment debate rumbles on. It has been previously explored at . Two things brought it back into view for me. I took this photo and the Hexham Courant appeared last Friday 13th May 2011. I think it was the previous one that contained a long anti letter. This time the first two letters at some prominent length reflected the views of one anti and one pro campaigner. Both are well known citizens of the town. As I read them a sense of profound disappointment passed over me. Here were the good citizens of Prudhoe washing their dirty linen in public and in best Glasgow Edinburgh fashion it was a Hexham organ that was able to delight in our discomfort. The quality of argument in the letters was not especially good and rather it felt as if in the exhaustion of the saga mud slinging had become the last resort.

This then is what our landlord has achieved. The total division and polarisation of the community. It is not me who judges it thus. Read these letters in the Courant and make your own minds up. But I will clearly say why I think this had happened and should the Duke of Northumberland read this, I hope he will be hot under the collar. One man wields for the 21st. century an unusual amount of power in this town of 12,000. He is answerable to not one of us but he is the person who can set the tone of the new town centre. Here then is where our heading phrase comes from. When good is not good enough. My wife tells a tale of the institution where once she ran library services. A new supreme manager arrived. A department head had to speak to a proposal. He started out by saying "this is a good proposal". Before he went any further the boss interjected "that is not my style, good is not good enough for me, take it away and come back when it is excellent". A lot of pain followed this person's arrival at this institution but years later both the institution and that individual continue to thrive and gain recognition.

This should have been the story at Prudhoe. The plot was simple. A growing hillside town in Northumberland surrounded by woodland and beautiful landscape. One last green space left in the centre of the town. It would clearly face developmental pressure. The person who owned it has come to national prominence with the Alnwick Garden. Expecting that a marriage of the two would equal excellence is natural. But what Prudhoe is having foisted on it is just good. Would you even award good to the people who will be remembered for having built the first multi storey car park in Tynedale? Yes, not dug underground into a hillside but sprouting out from it in as prominent a place as you might imagine. Is it any wonder that aside from the business mechanics of this, aside from the supermarket rivalries (we already have a Co-Op superstore), aside from my gripe that we still will not have an independent butcher, aside from this, that what looks like something from the 1970s or 1980s, (perhaps from the Duke's Cramlington development?) translated to this magnificent hillside has succeeded in dividing the community? At the last count the town council voted against 4/3. There are many 1000s of objections lodged from a community of 12,500. It is a very sad situation and it could and should have been avoided. What would have done that is inspired leadership from the top. A thorough going committment to the Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe which would have left the community itching to see it happening instead of preparing for a Friday public brawl.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Passengers Go Away

Seen at Prudhoe Station May 2011. Just about the worst case of an own goal one could imagine. Huge business opportunity enters the mill of railway bureaucracy to become passengers go away. So symptomatic of Britain in the 21st century bereft of enterprise at least in this industry. A much fuller and interactive discussion took place at . Or try .

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Nene Valley Railway Edmondson tickets

Does anyone know how to get issued NVR Edmondson tickets? Week before last I made a return journey from Ferry Meadows. The office was staffed and a large assortment of Edmondsons on view. I worked out that with myself and child I could get four different tickets. I explained to the clerk how much I wanted the tickets and was prepared for this more expensive option than a day rover. He took the money and still issued me a ticket from a pad with an Edmondson souvenir! I was furious.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Holiday on the Buses

An evening of the on the buses films. If you want to be reminded of c1970 Essex just the stuff. The buses were Bristol KSWs from the Eastern National company. An OPC book called The Bristol KSW dated 1985 gives the exact details of the four vehicles used (plate 74). Holiday on the Buses came last and somehow or other I felt I had missed this previously. It is evidently filmed at Pontins Prestatyn and used a Crosville open top Bristol Lodekka. However for my tastes there is some extra-ordinary footage of storm tossed Sealink ferry. Clearly bought in and very dramatic. Was the vessel Holyhead Ferry 1 see ? An answer to that does interest me.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Opencast Mines I have known

Opencast mines I have known. Now there's a thought. This is the Glenmuckloch opencast near Kirkconnel which thanks to the Dumfries and Galloway Wildlife Festival, the good offices of ATH Resources and the GeoD group led by Diana Turner, I was fortunate enough to spend some hours in on Saturday past. With the mine's geologist and four keen Land Rover drivers from the workforce, our party explored the site from top to bottom. Once this was where the National Coal Board's Roger mines had worked which closed in 1980. This site started I believe in 2006. It excites a whole range of emotions. Wonder at the sheer technical ingenuity of it all. The geology is extremely complicated as the picture shows. The seams have come hard up against a volcanic dyke at the back of the site so the layers twist and turn and break and fault. A coal seam is prominent in the picture and it is anything but horizontal. Definite admiration then for those acheiving the job and who have also laid in Britain's longest conveyor to get the coal to a rail loading point so that lorries are not used outside the mine. There is also wonder and excitement at seeing the geology laid bare. Privilege at seeing something so rarely exposed. Sheer awe and fear too, partly at the creative forces exposed, partly at the sheer sight. It is a rare opportunity to wonder at the conjunction of nature and man's industry which creates a sublime vision. It is the sort of thing which inspired the Auden's, Blake's and Martin's of this world and which nowadays everyday Britain does not see so much of. Some might feel repugnance. The word exploitation crosses the mind. There is a huge price in man's addiction to fossil fuels and seeming unwillingness to exploit to the full all the endless sustainable energy around us. However on the opposite side of the Nith a new windfarm was hard at work. And in reviewing: were'nt we lucky with the weather? The conditions up here this last winter must have been abominable.

Whilst with opencasts and coal, I can quickly review past encounters. Opencasts have been officially visited at Chalmerston Ayrshire and Plenmeller Northumberland in the 1990s. They have been legally viewed from public highways most impressively near Widdrington shortly before said road through the middle of the site was closed and bullzozed away (Maiden's Farm OCS). As a public event this was right up there with a 1983 underground visit as part of Cumbria County Council's Guided Walk programme to Claerghyll Licensed Coal Mine near Alston. The scale of that could not have been more different.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Virtually seeing some of the Collection

This is going to be a dual purpose post. It will appear in my twin blogs Robertatforsythe and Robert Forsythe blogs the National Railway Museum. Since the snow just before Christmas, I have been working Facebook and establishing various presences. You are invited to follow Robert Forsythe, Fiona Forsythe, Robertatforsythe and Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group (also Shepherds Dene for the Christian component).

Part of the task had been to allow a Facebook presence to serve as an introduction to the material at York. This has been accomplished by showcasing both duplicates and some solo pieces from the collection. Here is an album. A lot of what appears has either also been sold or is for sale (where we had multiple copies). There are still plenty of pieces looking for new homes so do check it out. I shall also remind folk of a very good appreciation of the collection. To close, as I was preparing this, I was reminded of some scans of a definite highlight of the collection. This was a brochure I bought from ebay quite soon before it all went to York. It is a corker and a couple of scans are here and here.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Big Catholic Buildings: Cork Lee Road

What is it about Catholicism that it managed to build spectacularly large buildings? Structures which like Ushaw College are very difficult to handle in the 21st century. But here is one which can claim to top the lot: Our Lady's Hospital, up the Lee Road, Cork.

I found it because I am listening to a Gaelic Storm CD which has a spirited rendition of "Johnny Jump Up" and if you work at "up the Lee Road" and do some googling all is explained by this building. The railway enthusiast in me is taken by The Railwaymen's Bar at Youghal elsewhere on the track. Although HQ is in Northumberland I have reached Cork in the cause of train chasing but this building eluded me. Glimpsed from a train in 2008 was a similar structure outside Enniscorthy.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Save Chopwell Wood Sunday 13th February

A really good turn out for the second Save Chopwell Wood Day of Action. They estimated 1,200 people. On the whole good speeches. But I felt that the Blaydon MP Dave Anderson was too old Labour. Talking about pit props 40 years since the collieries went, does it connect to young folk, of whom a lot turned out? What I did not hear was a simple answer to the obvious question? If you sell the woods, who will find the cash to buy them? The feckin banks. The bastards whose greed (a lot said about greed) got the nation into the mire will be the ones who end up owning our woods and putting up the keep out signs. I felt that was a message that needed to come over very loudly.

And this coming from someone who is not a great activist! I think I have done about four/five rallies in my past. An MP lobby c1985 on behalf of the World Development Movement to Westminster. Around the same time going to the Dales Rally led by Mike Harding to protest the planned closure of the Settle & Carlisle Railway and a couple of the Durham Miners Galas when I lived in the city. Today three of us went from Prudhoe in the car, myself, Fiona and friend Sarah. So to motivate me to get out in the rain does take a broad based issue which is beyond the pale. The sale of the Foresty Commission or of the National Nature Reserves is exactly that. Why are the national museums not being told to charge before the forests are sold? Why does not English Heritage review its property portfolio and hand out some of its absolute loss makers to local trusts? At least a ruin is unlikely to be appealing to a bank. And would be better off with a local trust or the National Trust. Again and again today the same message as was heard at Hexham on Friday came over. A community trust can help the Forestry Commission as it does now at Chopwell. But force it to take over and the task is far too big and specialist. After just a few years, like the employee sell out bus companies at privatisation, the wood or the bus company will be in the hands of a few big multi nationals.

An album of photos in a Facebook album at .

Friends of Chopwell Woods own site. Their own Facebook page.

Another blog about the day is here.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011

My previous blog entry highlighted that I would be attending the Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011. Inevitably perhaps I have to say something. It is not easy. I gave it 0930-1400 although a later timetable change saw it starting at 1000. I had to omit the afternoon sessions in the interests of child care. Maybe a rabbit was pulled from the bag, but I rather doubt it. I have no doubts about the enormous good will that was represented in the meeting. Nor in the interest; mid week I was told 100 people were coming. In the event there were 145 delegates and some stretching of the organisation thereby. Guy Opperman as MP did an excellent job in making clear that he was present as a constituency MP determined to listen and represent all views. A series of snapshot showcases of good practise were given. As many people remarked the Big Society is already well recognised in Tynedale. Huge numbers of people already give generously of their time. Community groups from Wylam, Prudhoe, Allendale, Tarset, Humshaugh, Bellingham and Hexham all came forward with heart warming tales of progress. But over it all hung the cuts and no clarity about how that might be solved. Time and again people gave chapter and verse about how the key partners volunteers needed in order to be effective are shutting up shop. The concrete tales of this were the Forestry Commission redundancies in Kielder, the Tyne Rivers Trust worried about The Environment Agency. Housing trusts and health campaigners all had actual tales of how volunteering was being adversely effected. I don't know what to say. Hours later and David Cameron was billed as doing a U turn over the Forests and then immediately Ken Clark was telling the middle classes they had seen nothing yet by way of cuts and that the economic situation of the country is calamitious. What can one say? I think the Big Society will struggle to be more than a fig leave over the pain. We will be left holding onto the Victorian author Samuel Smiles' Self Help or about the Roman Empire's retreat from Britain when it told the soldiers left here to look to themselves. A common thread for some anger was the unimpressive start that the new unitary authority has made. Northumberland Council in West Northumberland is no match for the Tynedale Council which worked geographically and actually. In a wonderful piece of sublimeal advertising which a county hack swiftly denied when he overheard me, the wallpaper for the Powerpoint projector consistently showed a "Putting People First Tynedale Council" image nearly two years after the district's abolition. Now, not far down the road, Guy Opperman is going to have to do some convincing that the existing constituency is retained despite the rough arithmetic suggesting Northumberland's present four MPs will become three? Democracy in Northumberland has not been well served of late and it is probably not surprising that a Northumbria Party has appeared.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Of prisoners, pirates and society.

Three news items come together here. Today our MP will be voting over the prisoner vote issue. I sincerely hope his vote is cast with those who want no change. I passionately believe that those whose wrongdoing commits them to prison forfeit the democratic right. Of course as we all realise, the issue has become larger than itself. It is now about Europe and national sovereignty. I cannot think for one moment I want to be part of a union where such decisions are not left to national competence. It has become an eye opening example of the dangers of the European delusion. Hopefully the MPs will do the right thing and the government will persuade the court that this is not its affair. And if it cannot, then the jurisdiction of the court over our nation should be removed. I am not a fan of Europe, I studied Roman and Medieval History (when the Holy Roman Empire sought the same end). The nation state is the right scale for humans to work with. In our case the nation state that geography dictates is that of Britain, the British Isles. The four groups that make up Britain may of course rightfully have areas of devolution and even their own languages. But those who wish to destroy Britain are not those who have the interests of these islands as their priority. The proper appreciation of nationality comes when each of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish value their greater whole over their individuality. Yes, this means realising that English is the lingua franca of these islands and is also our greatest gift to the world. It means appreciating all our culture whether of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Burns or Yeats.

For me an essential component of being British is its religious heritage. Which is Christian and has been since the late Roman period. Arthur is a Christian hero and myth. Our Christianity may in part have come from Rome but even at the beginning it was mediated through the great Celtic tradition. A large element of Britishness is Celticness. We were always suspicious of Rome. Even the Irish once were. We made clear our national aspirations at the reformation. I often think of the Roman Catholic church and I weep. I know Christ commissioned Peter and gave him the keys. I know also Peter denied Christ thrice. Faith is nothing if not paradox. The paradox of the incarnate deity who is crucified and rises again. The paradox of the communion whereby at His instigation bread and wine become His body and blood. This is not cannibalism, it is paradox. The Tri-Une God, the marriage vow whereby 1+1 = either 1 or 3> but never 2; these are paradoxes. And faith cannot make sense unless you understand paradox. There is much paradox in being British, not least that we are tolerant and broadminded. I wish to respect those of other faiths in our nation but they have to understand that the British spirit of fair play is formed in our faith and our temperate landscape.

These things turned us into a mercantile nation which is natural for a group of islanders. Oh,we might have been better served if Liverpool had become our shared capital not short hop from the Continent London. Recently someone put it to me in great detail that the Devil entered into Roman Catholicism at the moment of the Constantinian settlement. Not such an outlandish idea. A lot of the old pagan order must have been subsumed into the new, privately vowing to put as much corrupt sand in the mechanism as they could. So ensuring that power took precedence over grace. Creating a church which would dominate private lives, denies its ministers the succour of women, denying its members the freedom to choose what they wished for their bodies. I may sound very conservative but can also be hugely liberal. Catholic one moment, Evangelical the next. I see contraception (but not almost all abortion)as an opportunity for grace. Gay relationships, gay priests, women priests, a woman pope; none of these would alarm me. Hedonism with some rules makes sense. The renaissance took place 500 years ago and still many Catholics deny reason and yearn for "their Latin past". I believe in reason (rational Biblical (and Koranic) Criticism), science, evolution and commerce. But not in unbridled capitalism or competition. Evolution may have required competition but in humans it has created beings who can reach beyond this. Who can see Grace is of God and thereby a society can grow which is not a slave of business, mere numbers or competitive urges.

Back to the news and this theme reflects two immediate matters. I heard today that Somali pirates hold 700 hostages and 36 ships. This is an affront to civilised life. One which at any time between 1800 and 1970, it is hard to see Britain standing idly by. Our commerce is threatened and thereby our interests. With other nations a far stronger response is needed for otherwise a whole nation has been handed over to criminality. Britishness would have demanded a response that rightly crushed the Somali pirates and in our loss of national identity it would appear we have lost the will to defend shipping.

Tomorrow in Hexham I shall attend our MP's meeting about The Big Society which relates to several of these themes. A friend said to me today for Big Society read Big Chaos. Those who are being expected to shoulder the burden of provision are the same organisations lined up to face local authority cuts. I wonder when we will all realise of whatever political ilk that a civilised society costs. It is not created by saying that selfish wealth creation and the market are the supreme end of man.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The John Martin Festival 2011: at The Garden Station Langley

The title is The John Martin Festival 2011: at The Garden Station Langley. This is a page which will be a work in progress so keep checking back. Just got back home from a fascinating morning and the sun even came out. By 0830 I was casing the joint at Haltwhistle preparing for a Hadrian's Wall Heritage event.

At 1000 I was arriving at The Garden Station, Langley. This was to plan an event for the 2011 John Martin Festival. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our heading picture shows the old lead smelt mill flue in the woods. Clear as a path but actually all collapsed, imagine an arched roof covered in earth and with the arch now fallen into the flue. Some bits are intact however.

The date for your diary is Saturday 14th May from 1000 to 1600. John Martin was a painter heavily influenced by the industrial landscape and when a child growing up in Haydon Bridge, the nearby lead smelt mills at Langley would have been fully operational. Today Langley is a quiet hamlet and the evidence of its intense industrial past is cloaked in woodland. Seemingly innocent fishing lakes were once at the core of its power system. Our day will start in The Garden Station which last saw a train in 1950.

The draft timetable is:
1000-1020 Arrival and welcome.
1020-1120 A presentation by myself about Tynedale and Langley's industrial past and John Martin's industrial associations.
1120-1230 A walk to the old brickworks and Langley Dam lake.
1230-1330 Lunch available for you to purchase from The Garden Station's café.
1330-1530 A walk in the old smelt mill area seeing the remains of the flue and on up to the chimney.
1530-1600 Tea and wrap up.

Mention of wrap up: come well shod! And if the weather looks as if it might rain, make sure the waterproofs are in. The walks are not heavy grade but do require care about where to place your feet! The walk to the chimney on the moor is an ascentand is roughly a two mile round trip. The old chimney has been restored and those of you who follow my Auden interest will know that he was another artist who took inspiration from the industrial landscapes of the North Pennine dales. He certainly came to Allendale and wrote about the lead smelt mill, its flue and chimney at Allendale Town. He could have got there by train through Langley before the passenger service ceased in 1930. We can document that he visited Allendale before then (see 1924 poem Allendale).

Find out more about John Martin here.

Details about bookings will follow.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The L&YR and the ner

This is something of a teaser requiring some railway history knowledge as well as the present day franchises: explain why thinking of the L&YR and the ner is pertinent. The capitalisation is the clue.

I placed that on my Facebook profile. This blog entry will be used to explain. L&Y stands historically for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. NER stood in history for either North Eastern Railway or British Railways North Eastern Region. Prior to 1923 the private companies were deadly rivals. This helped to ensure that the strong conurbations of Lancashire and Yorkshire were tied together which was a good thing but it also ensured the independence of North East England in railway matters. Today everything looks a bit different. I might suggest that it is quite appropriate to label the modern Northern Rail franchise the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Stand in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds and you will see what I mean. Read up (as this blog has previously done) the investment plans for Northern. The conurbations of Lancashire and Yorkshire have triumphed through their Passenger Transport Authorities. And what of the North East. Divide and rule. One geographically small Passenger Transport Authority with only a handful of Network Rail stations but its own Metro to play with. Three weak shire counties plus the Tees Valley boroughs. No structure for a common voice in developing railway policy. And this is how the franchise to be let in 2013 for the North is being faced. A novelty for 2011 is a Tyne Wear Public Transport Users Group. Is this interested in examining the Northern franchise? Not as far as I can tell. It is more driven by the futile prospect of fighting the reletting of the East Coast franchise back into the private sector. If that francise is not relet then the whole private railway dream crumbles. Yet in effect North East England is just an island in the Northern empire. All the work of Heaton depot is isolated from other Northern operations. Setting up a North East Local Trains franchise would be relatively easy. No vast unpicking exercise. Last week the Labour Party Shadow Cabinet was on Tyneside. Did anyone mention the prospect of the new franchise. Was the question put and is anyone listening?

STOP PRESS: If the issue interests you, the Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group is holding an open meeting 7.30pm Hexham Community Centre 17th February 2011 to discuss the new franchise.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


David Cameron's speech on "muscular liberalism" in respect of the problems thrown up by Multi-Culturalism gets my accolade. It is high time that all of us in these islands appreciated the great benefits of being British and put the pleasures of being English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim into proper perspective.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Prudhoe Priest reads the last rites?

The links I give below take one to a doom's day piece penned by Prudhoe's Roman Catholic priest. I don't think it has to be like this for either his congregation or anyone elses. My experience of the secular 21st century is that its members are desperate for grace. Families are being split apart in their inability to hear God's Word. We live in hard times but the gospel does bring joy. And I know I have seen that in congregations in the Tyne Valley both Anglican and Baptist to my personal knowledge. This is the link to the article. And here is another take on it including if you go far enough a comment from me.