Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Morte D'Arthur

Christmas lunch over, the Queen listened too. A near full moon is directly lighting my study. Was it last night on BBC1 Merlin 13/13? The Morte D'Arthur and Life on Mars for music. I could enjoy time with David Bowie (the Norfolk Broads (home of Albion) are in the lyrics). Was'nt the end of BBC's Merlin so clever? Lorries in Avalon. An ambition for 2013, take daughter to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and to Glastonbury. Understand our national myths (Christ's little holiday here). Could a new royal baby be called Arthur? I rather hope not, not recommended as on message, but what if the Kingdom is broken? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsS9s1t3_i8

A Christmas Day Review

A Christmas day review: The Queen saying in five minutes all you need to know about Christmas. Her Christianity is no threat to another's religion save in the revelation that Christ's God is not about power but service. The Archbishop of Canterbury had suitable humility, expressed over the women's bishops vote. The Pope praying in detail on a global scale for Peace. Amen to that. The Archbishop of Westminster OUCH. Let's hit below the belt when our paunches are full of stuffing. When will those Catholics who Amen him (not all do) GET IT? We're beyond Gay bashing or we should be. And where are my particular Christmas prayers? For a family tragically killed on the M6 earlier today and for all emergency and service workers who have to work today but especially for the many railwaymen struggling over the holiday to get it all back to work. We remember you.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Chrildren killed in Newtown

The beginning and end of a Facebook discussion. My comments


If you wish to be known as a civilised nation YOU WILL maintain strict gun control laws. That is my British view.
 As has been noted mine is a British perspective. Somewhere above is the statement " to protect the citizenry from an oppressive government.". It would appear that to protect American citizens from the danger of Messrs Reagan, Bush, and Obama it is worth the death of a lot of littles ones. Are those names so much worse than Thatcher, Blair and Cameron. I might disagree with all three but I would rather have the British version of gun control (with the tragedies we have had as well) than the American version. That is my heart felt take and I will prophesy two things 1) most folk in Britain will agree and 2) at the present rate there will come a point where our American cousins "get it". You cannot lead the free world and allow this to continue. It does not wash.
and a new tack on the theme

For freedom to work, willing sacrifices have to be made. On this planet true freedom cannot be a free for all. However such sacrifices should never include innocent children!


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Better by far (than a Quality Bus Contract)

A new arrival in our library this week is Better by Far. Those who follow public transport in the North East will know a major topic by Nexus in 2012 is the investigation into whether a Quality Bus Contract should be developed in Tyne & Wear and beyond. Nexus have the powers to do this, if they do it, it will be pretty much a first. It has led to heated debate in the papers (work back through the blog). On Wednesday night I attended a presentation by Nexus about the idea made to the Prudhoe Community Partnership Transport Working Group. Everyone remained very polite and pleasant but the fault lines were evident. In addition to Nexus and local folk there was representation from Go North East, Northumberland County Council and in a private capacity as a resident, the Metrocentre's Sustainable Transport Manager.

Key points made from the Nexus side. The QBC will remove the free market within the Nexus boundaries, the Tyne & Wear ITA will receive fare revenue and reinvest it in the system, in January 2013 the Tyne & Wear councillors who make up the ITA are likely to decide whether to pursue a contract or a voluntary partnership with operators.

Currently some 90%+ of the Tyne and Wear bus network runs commercially. The rest is specified and tendered by the PTE. This means most of the network is not a burden on the tax payer (unlike the Metro and local rail). Operators can with six weeks notice vary the network and they do in response to changing markets and community requests.

This flexibility will be lost with a QBC and an additional layer of bureaucracy which somehow has to be paid for inserted. Will there be money to reinvest or will we outside Tyne & Wear be dragged into paying for the massively loss making Metro which is entirely inside Tyne & Wear? On these grounds alone I am far more persuaded of the value of Partnerships as this booklet develops. But there is more to it than that.

Tyne & Wear is unusual. Only a relatively limited amount of the network remains within its boundaries. Some 60% I think crosses outside into Northumberland, Durham, even to Tees-side and Cumbria. The current Nexus plan takes this all over and the legislation allows that. So in Prudhoe on the boundary with Gateshead, the 10 group, the 686 and 684, all our stage services would become Nexus ones. Maybe we would then get proper bus stops. Perhaps. That is a good thing but is it a price worth paying?

At present the QBC will be run by a new board and we heard tell that one member would represent Durham and Northumberland. Even if it is one each, it is no good. Northumberland and Durham cannot become bit actors to Tyne and Wear and billed for the result. I very much hope (and I think that I believe this) that wisdom will follow and that a major fracas between three authorities will be avoided.

Is there any good to this debate? Not much I feel; it has become a huge diversion from a much more important one: who runs the North-East's rail network after 2014? Perhaps the good that will come from all this is that Nexus and neighbouring authorities will accept that Nexus cannot avoid regional relationships but that the proper area to show leadership on this is with the rail services run out of Heaton depot in the centre of Nexus land.

Somewhere someone from Nexus has rather dismissively said of my comments that rail travel only represents 1% of public transport use in Tyne & Wear. Do I believe that? Even if it were true should it be true? Did that figure include or exclude the Metro? Do not Washington and Ashington deserve to be on the rail network? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Quartet & Nativity 2

Last night the three of us were in the Forum Cinema Hexham seeing two films one after the other! First off was Nativity 2 at 4pm followed by the live broadcast of the preview screening from the Odeon in London of a new BBC Film Quartet. Billy Connolly et al on stage to take questions. Nativity 2 is a Christmas film from Debbie Isitt. Quartet is the first film Dustin Hoffmann has directed and explores advanced old age from the viewpoint of four once famous concert musicians now in an benevolent home in the Thames Valley for musicians. It has to be said it was a pretty spectacular home and the doctor in charge was spectacularly attractive herself (Sherridan Smith).

There was considerable fantasy present in Quartet as Billy Connolly pointed out on stage. There was even more fantasy in Nativity 2.  Although each was at opposite ends of the life spectrum, both shared a lot. Essentially they celebrate human optimism and hope in the face of what some would call "the bleeding obvious" (accent on bleeding). They are both very enjoyable films although your children may find the 12A Quartet somewhat challenging. The presence of Hogwarts stars like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon should ease things. And how about Andrew Sachs from Fawlty Towers?

In advance someone had said Nativity 2 was even more unbelievable than Nativity the original (which original?). At one level it certainly is, although the transport me was thrilled to see a London Duck Tours DUKW at work in a Welsh reservoir. Regard it perhaps not as a film but as a play (think even of turning it into a play). And then not as a play but as a Mystery Play. That is a way to look at both films and certainly Nativity 2. I wonder if Isitt intended this? I think her achievement is masterful. To get all the songs delivered, to get the children to deliver all that was being asked, top notch. The same goes for Quartet and all its music and wistful autumnal filming around Taplow.

But both are considerably more than technical accomplishment and this is the Mystery Play connect. We know they are not believable, reality does not do this (quite). But in both, our creativity latches onto the myth because it connects with the deepest human desire. We want a happy outcome and we want to be loved. Something in our nature says this is our destiny and that to deny it is an ultimate misery. So we make stories about this.

In short both films (intentionally or not I cannot say) were profoundly Christian to me. Christ's God was alive and kicking in them. Very appropriate for Christmas. We cannot be sure of the detail of Christ's life, still less his resurrection. As a historian I think the broad outline is very believable and its message ever so simple. The simplicity of the message is in both films. Post modern Christianity should not be difficult to hack. Watch these films and ask yourself that question.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Durham Christmas Fair 2012

For a long weekend, each first December weekend, Durham hosts its Christmas Fair. It has grown into an institution and I often attend. Today my chance was there so I took it. Bright, crisp but very cold. This view of Palace Green breathes frost. Back left is my old haunt, the Theology department. I got quite a lot out of my visit. Some nice bus photos. Three different breads from the Atkins bakery on the market. The market never fails to delight. I bought something from Get Dressed for Battle. I love original market stalls and this was certainly one. Going back through the last few blog posts and Rookhope will feature. It has been in my life since 1978 and very much so since I explored the Auden connection from about 1998.

I had heard about a photo exhibition by the Dean of Durham Michael Sadgrove and this had helped me make the journey. I was glad I did. There must have been about seven varied Rookhope images in his selection. I must engage him about Auden, Rookhope and Christianity. The Cloister was chock a block with food fair stalls and a few others. One of them being tended by my old MA supervisor, Anne Loades.

There were some nuances in wandering about the cathedral. It was a bitterly cold day and outside almost everyone had head gear on. As I entered the cathedral I had the foresight to remove my woolly hat. Just as well, as a sidesman was very officiously persuading people to remove the offending articles in the house of God. Was he a jobsworth? A number of his colleagues were making no attempt to remove other hats.

It is interesting to see the amount of security an event like this engenders. At one door from the cloister there were two clear notices facing those on the cloister side of the door. They said Entrance. It was taking the combined efforts of three members of security to persuade the throng that really Entrance meant No Entrance!

So in some ways I felt a little like Jesus at the Temple. Which Benedictine monk could have foreseen an ecclesiastical authority welcoming a food fair into the monastic cloister? Times change and like the Vicar of Bray, we do to. I have always felt sympathetic to the Vicar of Bray. Both (Berkshire + Ireland) are lovely places. The Bray of the story is I think the Irish one where remaining on good terms with whoever was on the winning side was important. Modern Cathedrals have to survive and I am sure if I was the Dean I would be both interested in Rookhope and welcoming food fairs to my orb. I would though wish my sidesmen and security teams to offer a fullsome welcome and to be alert to putting up misinformation. The Dean is an ardent blogger himself as well as a photographer.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

How did Auden first see the North Pennines?

A basic question with some unclarity. How did Auden first see the North Pennines? A Certain World made it clear it was a childhood dream to come here. The knowledge of the locality was acquired long before the visit. Two evidence streams (a 1972 conversation and Amor Loci (which Edward Mendelson says Auden wrote in a diary was the Rookhope Poem)) leave little doubt that Auden first came to the North Pennines by coming to Rookhope in 1919 aged 12. Now see https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.405389936201434.95437.100001912940850 and http://robertatforsythe.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/rookhope-in-auden.html .

That all says a lot more about Rookhope but the question how did Auden first come here is still open. Two recent days spent around Rookhope and Blanchland may help answer the question. I have been out on a sunny 23rd and 29th November. Hitherto we have tried to examine how Auden could get to Rookhope and who the family might have known to stay with. Perhaps the answer was staring me in the face and it required me to drive from Blanchland to Rookhope (15 minutes) on the 23rd to see it. We know Auden became very familiar with the Lord Crewe Arms, there is no need to be detained about that. But what if (as the only decent hotel for miles and relatively close to the Dere Street (A68)), that this was where the family first booked in in 1919? The Derwent lead mines around Blanchland would have already had it on his map.

But is there more evidence in this writing for this? Perhaps there is. At the outset of Selected Poems I have long argued there are three poems each for one of his favourite Pennine Valleys. 1) The Watershed is all of Wear/Tyne/Allen by being around Killhope Nenthead. 3) The Secret Agent by name suggests Teesdale. 2) The Letter I have previously placed in Rookhope by a discussion about "A solitary truck, the last of shunting in the autumn", a specific reference to a grouse shooter's track known to have existed (more about this is in the URLs above).

As I dropped down into Rookhope, a precipitious descent with hairpins, I was driving directly into the winter sun. Suddenly the line flashed into my brain "From the very first coming down into a new valley with  a frown because of the sun and a lost way". Should this be literally understood? If so clearly Auden did not come up the valley from Stanhope. He does have four choices if not the main entry road. They are a north west facing entrance on a hill road from Stanhope which descends steeply into the village. A north facing entrance past Lintzgarth (Paid on Both Sides) from Middlehope. The east facing descent from Allenheads (and the Allenheads Inn which he also used but which for a first visit is much more off the beaten track, relatively speaking Blanchland is a cultural and historical centre which would appeal to the antiquarian father). This leaves the south facing descent from the North from  Blanchland.

No proof then but a suggestive argument and the invitation to the reader to go and try it all out for themselves armed with a battery of Auden texts and maps (I can suggest and do in various places).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Essence of the Liberal Position

The essence of the liberal position is that sin followed death. This thought has followed me around since I was about 18. I became a Christian in a classic Evangelical manner and I do not begrudge that. I was at the Leys School in Cambridge. It was a good Methodist school and in the mid 1970s some remarkable Christians were there. I pay tribute to the Reverend Chris Morley, Sister Alison Bagnall (sadly deceased), friends who I made like Adrian Wykes now a teacher in Luxembourg and Philip Parker now an Anglican minister. I had at previous schools gone out of my way to avoid becoming a Christian, rejecting the peer group pressures to be confirmed. I saw in these people something different, they loved and gave time to others when there was no demand that they should do. I realised that if I accepted Christianity, it was because it said something about the supreme importance and nature of love that I would not find elsewhere. I stick with that today. I was sufficiently enthusiastic to decide to do an RE A level (in which I got a C) and then went onto Durham University where I gained a BA 2:1 in theology and an MA in the subject.

By that time I had realised that whilst I might be into Christianity for the love, I was not into it for the Science. I was a keen geographer and as the years passed realised one of my Christian heroes who was the poet W. H. Auden was also an able geologist. At Durham I knocked about the same Pennine lead mines as he had. When introduced to the notion of Enlightenment, I had no hiccup in seeing myself as an Enlightenment man. I had done a medieval history A level and had learnt much about the power politics of the papacy.

So here we are in 2012. The papacy in its defence of the male and its readiness to deconstruct Vatican II does not seem so far from itself 500 years past. A remarkable outflanking operation by two lunatic fringes of the Church of England has demonstrated to the whole nation that it too can be ramped backwards in time. At Shepherds Dene (an Anglican retreat house in rural Northumberland) I picked up Don Cupitt's 2008 book The Meaning of the West a week or so past. I realised it would sit well with The Myth of God Incarnate (also SCM). My copy of that reveals I bought it at Cambridge as an A level student in 1977.

There you have it, there is a timeframe of liberal progress or not. A liberal theologian like Cupitt has used that time to leave his Anglican orders and see in Western Secular Democracy the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God as anticipated by Christ. I cannot quite get there. I do not think Christ was a total "rationalist", he believed in something "super". I am not sure what that is, I don't know what happened in the Resurrection. I believe something strange must have happened to inspire this defeated group of people. I suspect it is connected to the nature of love.

At which point we must turn back to nature and my opening thought. Despite my liberal nature we semi-regularly attend Stocksfield Baptist Church and spent last weekend with 40 other folk at Bassenfell Christian Centre. I don't go because of the theology, I go because of the people. There are folk there who really do think that until man sinned there was no death in the world. It seems to me that Genesis is quite unambiguous about that (and for Good Measure Woman misled the poor man and so should have the pain of childbirth increased by God Almighty). Now I don't hack any of that. I don't hack Abraham and Isaac as other than a rather bizarre story tending to child abuse. I don't think that the tablets of the law were supernaturally carved from stone although I think it very likely they did exist. I do think St Paul would be horrified at the notion of women's ministers and Bishops. And he would be horrified at what I think to his saying about "Can the pot say to the potter why have you made me thus?". The 17 year old me studying Romans back then in 1977 realised I was not with Paul then.

It is at the essence of enlightenment man to say that the pot will address the potter with a why and the pot may even deny the existence of a potter. Why? Because the pot is self conscious and in the Enlightenment discovered the whole procedure of evidence based learning. It is that which at the everyday level every element of modern society relies on. Enlightenment leads to emancipation and that took us to abolition of slavery, votes for women, the sexual revolution. and today's debates about Gays, Bishops etc. All of this: where you think death came into the world thing (your view of Genesis) unpacks the rest. It is an important matter that science based evolutionary thinking respecting the geological record is taught. The evidence is overwhelming even if the Science may well not be complete. And once you start here with a revision of Genesis, the rest follows. People have control of their bodies, birth control is both a moral and a practical Great Good. A church which condemns it should be roundly criticised. This though does not require light views on abortion, just sensible ones. Who wants to defend the Catholic Church in Ireland in Galway this November? Who wants to defend the Anglican church's refusal to ordain women as bishops? Who wants to deny a gay couple who seek God's blessing on an intent to live together for live a Christian marriage?

You will ask me where does liberalism end and I will answer, I cannot know, only Christ's spirit might. I will also turn back to my own MA in 1983-83. One of its key texts remains as pertinent now as then. David Lodge's novel How Far Can You Go? I found then, and subsequently with W. H. Auden, that literature can sometimes teach better theology than the theologians. There is a mechanism at work here which reaches back to Christ. It reaches back to Peter denying Christ three times. It reaches back into the nature of cross and resurrection. Perhaps to find the resurrection life anew the institutions of Church will be left to wither by their God and their society if they refuse to adjust to the enlightenment. The issues of the 1500s are still with us alive and kicking in the 21st century. My faith must remain one of enlightenment man and I must hope that grace is with that. For if there is not a God of Grace, a God who can work miracles in individual's behaviour then the outlook for a world whose population imperils human existence is not great. Our science may be fantastic. In what way are our basic morals any different in 2012 than in AD30?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Synod Vote against Women Bishops.

My facebook in posts like this and its neighbours has some immediate reaction to this vote. Here is a distillation of where I am. Where was Christ last night? I prefer to think that whilst the Synod took leave of good sense Christ metaphorically was with Heston Blumenthal and Channel Four's Fantastical Foods. He was organising the world's biggest tea party ( a feeding of the 5,000) in Darwen. People were in giant biscuit dunking competitions. People who had not seen each other for 50 years were meeting over a cup of tea. An AEC Mammoth Major vintage lorry stared. It was about the joy of fellowship and the grace that flows out of inviting people to the unexpected. It was a simple (though rather difficult to achieve) celebration of goodness around some British icons.

Evidently Church House was not on this plane. I had to watch my old friend Meg Gilley sobbing on television. At one point it can be said this was a technical vote and it will get sorted out. I sure hope so. There may be an apologia for it but it is not one most people in the land will understand. John Humphreys on Today offered a revealing insight into WHY the CoE women bishop vote hurts so much. It is because the church remains established. Were it just a sect or society we could feel outraged but not connected. It is because it actually is (and in the main wishes to be ) our church that the clear majority both in the land, in the parliament and even in the church wanted an obvious outcome and it did not happen. And it was an unholy alliance between the two extreme ends of the church in the house of laity that brought this about. Conservative evangelicals and Anglo Catholics who have spent chunks of their history dishing each other. 

Does the Church of England appreciate that it is setting itself against and repeatedly so, the settled law of the land? There should be no gender discrimination in exployment. Were the Church to be going outside the law for the sake of others, for the prisoners of conscience and the poor, it's Lord might applaud. But to poke the law of the land in the face for its own "party time" is a grievous mistake at this point in time. The same should apply to the Roman Catholic church. No church should be above the law when the issue is so blatantly self serving.

I think a majority in the CoE does appreciate where this issue sits in the land and earnestly want change (quite a lot of it). The numerous female ministers/priests I know certainly do and their twitter/facebook/blog feeds show the hurt such people feel. At a time of desperate need with not enough men willing to be ordained, women have stepped up only to discover they are not allowed the top jobs. It cannot go on, it won't go on. And when the CoE makes its change, hopefully another male dominated Christian institution will also be dragged in (doubtless with some kicking and screaming). Christ I am sure would prefer no kicking and screaming but churches open to all (including gay peoples of any gender) who want to get on with the job of preaching good news. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Principles for developing a new town centre in Prudhoe

About two years ago I first launched off into the subject of Prudhoe Town Centre floating the concept of The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe. Perhaps that was open to mis-interpretation? A great deal has happened since then and a great deal had already happened by October 2010. Yet in November 2012 and despite the award of planning permission on June 20th 2012 to the Duke of Northumberland for a new town centre there is little imminent sense of anything about to happen, Two factors in the present hiatus are perhaps at work. One might be Spencer Court at Newburn. The other is not a might be but a certainty. All along through the present scheme, the people of Prudhoe believed Sainsbury was on board as the operator of the planned supermarket. But during late October 2012 (earlier in some people's minds) Sainsbury made it very clear from CEO level that they were having nothing to do with the Prudhoe scheme and had no present ambition to open a supermarket here.

What happens next? Potentially nothing which for those properties neighbouring and thereby blighted is a dismal thought. The Duke has his planning permission (or does he because "Section 106" is not yet signed off?). He can sell it on, he can find another supermarket (would any other chain going into the detail of this complex and controversial project make a different call to Sainsbury?). He could seek to vary the consent and perhaps just build houses. Or he could say the way this has gone on these last few years has not produced any winners, how else could things be made to work?

What follows is blue sky thinking on the assumption that either the landowner wishes to work with the community to deliver aspirations welcomed by both groups or the landowner has been persuaded to sell the land to a body like the Prudhoe Community Partnership and there is then the promise of a community led redevelopment.

What sort of principles in designing a new town centre in 2012 could be adopted?

Suggested watchwords: 21st century, respect for one's neighbours, work with not against the hillside, a new supermarket is desirable, provision for artizan/small town scale operations which draw the folk to the community, the new Legion building, something cutting edge for creatives/self employed/internet cafe/studio style business, build on the solid gardening traditions of the site, the Alnwick Garden and the Prudhoe Gardeners Association,  ensuring that the non-car owning public have ready access to the core of any new development (that is not so with what is on offer see here), ensuring a brand name or strap line exists from early in the project to give it life and suggest it is a destination, using the tools of 21st century social media to develop the concept and to maintain a FAQ during its implementation (e.g. Second Life visuals).

Who would lead? If the Prudhoe Community Partnerhip took a lead, they would need to retain "honest broker/mentor skills" from development experts. A range of such agencies local and national exist. In no particular order I suggest some:

http://www.theglasshouse.org.uk/ Glasshouse

http://www.livingneighborhoods.org/ht-0/bln-exp.htm Building Living Neighbourhoods

http://www.northernarchitecture.com/home.html Northern Archictecture

http://www.xsitearchitecture.co.uk/ Xsite architecture and Tim Bailey

http://bardonmill-villagehall.co.uk/ Bardon Mill's 21st century partially underground village hall

http://www.designbykiosk.co.uk/about.aspx Christoph Oschatz and Design by Kiosk in Bensham

https://www.facebook.com/ArchDaily ArchDaily

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

General Pitraeus

"Dubbed the warrior monk, he proved no monk at all". BBC R4 Today 0635. The subject General Pitraeus (or Betrayus - a word play not new but now made more apposite). The subject is sex and the divide is between ideals and pragmatics. I accept that the human is essentially a sexual and imaginative animal. I applaud diversity. But there has to be boundaries. If you lie to your partner or risk state secrets there will not be a happy outcome. It would be better if Pitraeus' wife (or Hilary C for that matter) had learnt to apply a chastity belt. The technology is readily available nowadays. Or if absent partners had managed their dalliances in a more straightforward way. Not for nothing does the phrase "camp follower" exist in history and our British military authorities in World War faciliated brothels. Now if you find this all distasteful, perhaps soldiers and others should not leave home for another's country in the first place? This little link well describes the ups and downs of such situations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagh_El-Birket .

Background to this.

Friday, 9 November 2012

On Track? The future of rail in the North

Just received one example of this new 20 page brochure On Track the future of rail in the North? It calls for one amalgamated Northern and TPE franchise. I would challenge anyone to read this (and anyone who wrote it) and tell me why the North East of England should be excited by its comments? The Leamside creeps in just as it is being lifted. The Blyth and Tyne is not mentioned.  Yet SENRUG have just reported Network Rail planning to have it back in passenger use by 2015.

Here however is a possible route out http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/business/news/10029886.North_East_transport/. This brings in Lord Adonis and Heidi Mottram. Maybe they might get the idea that North East England needs not to be a client of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

Rookhope in Auden

I was in Rookhope on Monday, went up Bolt's Law and then met a Rookhope resident on Wednesday. It made me think that I should share this. There follows my Rookhope entry (matched illustrations here) from my part completed An A-Y of Auden's Pennine Landscapes: “The valley of the Rookhope Burn, a northwestern tributary joining the River Wear at Eastgate, is the site of the earliest reference to metal mining in the Pennines in medieval records. In 1153 an iron mine and  a lead mine in ‘Rykhup’ were granted by King Stephen to his nephew the Palatine Bishop Hugh de Pusiet of Durham...............I first became acquainted with Rookhope mining in 1929.................In addition to the big water-wheel another feature of the industrial archaeology was still intact at the time. This was the smelt mill, beyond the west end of the village. The hearth was still intact and an arch carried the great stone-built flue over the road and up the valley side for over a mile. This mill had been in use until 1919, the last of the traditional mills to operate”[1]. Those are not the words of W. H. Auden though one feels that they easily could be. He, however, would only have needed to substitute 1919 for 1929 and so indicate that at his arrival the great smelt mill and its matching railway system with its incline ascending Bolt’s Law from the village was just about operational.

The quotation is by Sir Kingsley Dunham F.R.S.[2]. It is profoundly ironic and fascinating that two of the great intellects of the 20th century both found the experience of inter-war Rookhope seminal for their lives. Rookhope is not on the tourist trail, it is not the subject of a large popular literature. The vast majority of Auden’s readers have probably either not known of its location or still worse but quite plausibly, assumed that it is an imaginery location. In the 1930s, a view gained currency, which is still repeated today, that Auden’s play Paid On Both Sides was set in the mill communities of Northern England. Nothing could be further from the truth (by about 100 miles). It is explicitly said to be set in Rookhope. The mill of Paid On Both Sides is not a Yorkshire textile mill but the wholly different structure of Rookhope smelt mill located beside the still surviving Lintzgarth house, itself named in Paid on Both Sides.

Sadly, neither Sir Kingsley nor Wystan ever met. Wystan possibly never even knew of Sir Kingsley whose recognition really followed after Wystan had left England. Sir Kingsley was a Durham undergraduate studying geology when he first came to Rookhope in 1929. Essentially Sir Kingsley and Wystan were of the same generation. Rookhope’s mineralogical fame brought Sir Kingsley and both Wystan and John Auden (the Boltsburn Flats had a reputation for great riches amongst miners and were being worked between the wars). Sir Kingsley went onto post graduate study into the origin of the lead, zinc and fluorspar deposits of the North Pennines. As such he became a mining apprentice with the Weardale Lead Company in Rookhope in 1930 and the proud owner of a secondhand Morris Cowley. His studies eventually took him to almost every hole in the ground in the Pennines north of the Craven fault (Auden’s Craven Ladies in Age of Anxiety).

Sir Kingsley’s first published work on Rookhope appeared a few years after Wystan’s. His literary debut was in 1934. From 1939, Sir Kingsley was back in the area, this time on urgent war work assessing the contribution the mines could make. This led in 1949 to the first edition of his magnum opus the Geology of the Norhern Pennine Orefield, a work which was thoroughly revised and re-issued in two volumes in 1990. In the meantime Sir Kingsley had become Professor of Geology at Durham in 1950 and then Director of the British Geological Survey between 1966 and 1975. In 1961 Sir Kingsley’s most famous research project came to fruition when the Rookhope Borehole reached granite. Throughout these years Sir Kingsley retained close connections with the companies working Rookhope, a connection he retained into the 1990s.

He saw in the millennium in retirement in Durham, Sir Kingsley’s recollections of the North Pennines were then as vivid as ever. A few days before I first wrote this Sir Kingsley came with friends from Durham to what was probably the first ever reading of Auden’s Pennine poetry in the North Pennines, at Allendale Library. When the Auden’s Pennine Landscapes exhibition opened at Nenthead Mines in 1999, Sir Kingsley was one of the guest speakers and represented Wystan’s generation.

It might seem odd to be devoting so much of this account to a summary of someone else’s career but a key point follows. Sir Kingsley’s career might have been Wystan’s or with just a tiny change in fortune John Auden’s -Wystan’s brother whose life was spent with the Indian Geological Survey. Rookhope was a place of great intellectual potential. Sir Kingsley’s career shows that. Here you have two men for whom the physical accidents of location (its bleak, apparently unpromising and unfashionable nature) became trivial compared with its real potential. Both men explored Rookhope in depth, both had started with the same agenda, an interest in geology. One fulfilled that agenda, another took the same bedrock and turned it into a poetic landscape, one capable of articulating the deepest concerns and dilemmas of the human condition. Each offering is a quite stunning achievement.

Yet there is a hint of sadness in this relationship, one that speaks of the separateness and division in human affairs that so drove Wystan. Poetry and geology are not often conjoined. Sir Kingsley could lead almost all his life unaware of Wystan’s interest. When late in life, he learnt of Rookhope’s poetic importance, he was taken aback. That is the point, it is a measure of the failure by English learned society to interpret the correct location and significance of Rookhope that Sir Kingsley knew nothing of the matter.

I too have to add my own ignorance. For in 1978-83, I was exploring the industrial archaeology of Rookhope with passion. I was also studying theology at Durham University with a supervisor ensuring that I bought my first Auden. I never made the connection then; no one at Durham (despite the award of Auden’s D.Litt. and the accompanying oration in 1962), whether in the University or in the County, was making anything of the Pennine Auden. Had I bought Carpenter’s biography published in 1981, the penny would have dropped. That treat had to wait until 1987 and it is to Carpenter’s credit that the Pennine Auden spoke loud in his biography. Carpenter speaks clearly of the importance of Nenthead, Alston Moor, and the Pennines to Auden. Specifically Carpenter gave some prominence to the quotation of the In Rookhope I was first aware of Self and Not-Self, Death and Dread:..... segment of New Year Letter. At that point, I began to realise that Auden’s relationship to the Pennines was out of the ordinary. How on earth had he got there? That was an issue not well addressed by Carpenter and it remains an issue full of mystery.

Before working through the Rookhope material in the Auden canon, it is worthwhile providing a simple list. In chronological order it is ((N) indicates that Rookhope is named):
The Old Lead Mine 1924
The Old Mine 1924
Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922) 1924 (N)
The Letter 1927
Paid on Both Sides 1928 (N)
New Year Letter 1940 (N)
England Six Unexpected Days 1954 (N)
Amor Loci 1965.

The chronology of this material does not directly unlock the datelines. Indeed it is necessary to turn to the final poem to answer the leading question: when did Auden first visit Rookhope? Amor Loci or Love of Place describes Rookhope but not by name and it speaks to the seminal importance of the place to Auden’s vision. Three reasons allow us to conclude that its subject is Rookhope. Edward Mendelson in New York confirms that Auden’s pocket diary of the time refers to Amor Loci as the Rookhope poem. Granted this fact, the key line becomes not (as perhaps at twelve I thought it) of Eden. Next in the jigsaw are the memories of Auden’s hosts at his Newcastle Reading in 1972 as narrated by Alan Myers[3]. The key conversation took place between Auden and the author Sid Chaplin. Chaplin who knew Rookhope asked Auden when he had first been there. Chaplin noted the answer as 12. This ties in exactly to Amor Loci and leads to the conclusion that Auden’s first North Pennine visit took place in 1919. And then only in 2014 did I find myself listening to Wystan recorded reading Amor Loci and he says directly to the audience "the place is Rookhope"!

The complications of chronology certainly do not end there. From Auden’s own material, the only other dateline that we might add comes from the title of the poem Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922). Additionally the two well known visits to nearby Allenheads (September 1926) and Blanchland (Easter 1930) almost certainly account for other visits. This suggests that Auden was in Rookhope on at least four occasions, but probably more often, before World War Two. None of this really accounts for how Auden got there. Carpenter simply said “At some time during his schooldays, probably when staying with friends, he began to visit a stretch of country in the north-western part of the Pennine range.....”[4]

Since the first visit to the Keswick area appears to be in 1921 (see Wescoe), we are left with having to explain how a twelve year old child from Birmingham reached Rookhope in 1919, an apparently unlikely event. Several people have tried to unearth more by speaking to Rookhope residents without any real success. I have been told that Auden stayed “at the doctor’s house in Rookhope” but presently have nothing more than a local oral tradition[5]. Other sources suggest Rookhope had no resident doctor. Any link that there may be to a possible friend of Auden’s father deserves examination. Doctors were amongst the earliest groups of people in Britain to obtain cars and such a linkage may help explain how Auden became so familiar with such an inaccessible area far from home.
Granted that he got there in 1919, what did he find? “The Little Nut” (illustrate) might have made an impression. This was a 2’ gauge saddle tank locomotive which worked around the Boltsburn Mine in the centre of the village. Boltsburn was the hub of activity and remained at work until 1940. Its closure was far from the end of the story. Grove Rake, Frazer’s Hush,  Stotfield Burn and Redburn Mines were all functioning in Rookhope at various time since 1945. Physically dominating the village was the Bolt’s Law incline. This was Rookhope’s (freight only) rail link to the outside world. It had opened in about 1846 and would work until 1923 and thence lie derelict for many years. Most traffic had to be hauled up the incline’s 2,000 yards of 1 in 12 track. At the top and 1650’ a.s.l. was a huge steam worked winding engine, a chimney on the skyline, engine sheds and a small railway community.
I turned and travelled quickly down the track
Which grass will cover by and  by
Down the lonely valley; once I looked back
And saw a waste of stones against an angry sky.
That is Auden description’s in The Old Lead-mine (with a variant in The Old Mine). It comes after the stanza that describes the initial stone down the shaft incident which develops through Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922) to its climax in New Year Letter’s In Rookhope I first knew self..... Within New Year Letter I shall argue that the incident took place at Sikehead Shafts. The present point is that is congruent with a return to the village along the old trackbeds which linked the two locations. This makes perfect sense of track which grass will cover by and by. The railway was newly derelict. Thence he is walking down the incline, which is certainly Down the lonely valley. It is precise description that turning around on this descent a waste of stones against an angry sky would be seen. That is still the case where the ruins of the railway buildings at Bolt’s Law incline head and a rock cutting come together on the skyline.
Back in the village and railway tracks led south in which direction lay further mine and limekiln remains at Brandon Walls. West of the village the tracks led past the old smelter at Lintzgarth (both names are in Paid on Both Sides) and on up to the most remote of the mines towards Allenheads at Wolfcleugh, Grove Rake and Frazer’s Hush.
These details and timelines are important in order to substantiate the argument that The Letter represents Rookhope and thus the Wear element of the 1979 Selected Poems’ opening triology that seem to describe the North Pennine landscape. For his American audience in 1954 Auden described Rookhope , the most wonderfully desolate of all the dales in England Six Unexpected Days. That desolation had become for Auden the sacrament within this landscape that was able to reveal agape, the vital conclusion to Amor Loci.

Few Americans are likely to have followed Auden’s 1954 itinerary. Until very recently few Auden enthusiasts have made the journey to Rookhope (some have, in 1988 his literary executor Edward Mendelson and Katherine Bucknell the editor of Juvenilia made the trip). However unless the reader of Auden hurries, it will be too late to see a working mine. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the Grove Rake mine was still functioning in 1999 (but closed in 2001). As Sir Kingsley has suggested, there is still likely to be plenty of minerals beneath the dale, the point is that the foreign competition  Auden noted in The Chase has, in all likelihood, finally extinguished the industry.

Grove Rake in 1999 looked straight out of Auden’s poetry. True, there was no waterwheel or steam engines, but there was rusting machinery by the ton, gaunt headgear and hoppers, cages poised in rust above their shafts, numbers of battery locos in varying stages of decay. The one engine that was working was posed on track in front of a windowless stone building from the old days, beside it in fading red on yellow paintwork a truck was marked “Explosives”, behind which there was a backdrop of sheep and cattle grazing the fell. It seemed poignant that the final workings accessed the mine by an inclined adit (not present in Auden’s time) which rejoiced in the thoroughly apt name of the Firestone Incline. Named as a consequence of geological fact but capable of revelatory allegory and symbolism, it is an effective summary of what Auden had found in Rookhope".

[1] “Rookhope in Retrospect” by Sir Kingsley Dunham F.R.S. in Out of the Pennines, editor Bryan Chambers, Friends of Killhope, Killhope, 1997. Sir Kingsley (1910-2001) died 5th April 2001, an obituary appeared in the Hatfield Record 2001 from which many parallels with Auden can be discerned. Les Turnbull’s volume states “the smelter remained in operation until 1919 when it achieved fame as the last of the 28 smelt-mills in the northern orefield to be closed”.
[2] Born 2nd January 1910.
[4] Carpenter p22
[5] Peter Wilkinson to Robert Forsythe. Peter is quoting a Rookhope resident. An oral tradition to this effect appeared in a paper published during the preparation of my own work. ‘My Great Good Place’; W. H. Auden and the North Pennines by Leo Gooch published in The Bonny Moor Hen: Journal of the Weardale Field Study Society No. 10, 1998 editor Dr. Leo Gooch, Wolsingham, Co. Durham. Leo is quoting two ladies Mrs L. Aberdeen and Mrs J. Crosby. His independent research faces the same challenge: no resident doctor is known of for Rookhope. He resolves this by concluding that the doctor who served Rookhope in the relevant years was a Dr. R. C. MacLennan from St Johns Chapel in the main valley of Weardale, He is known to have had one of only two motor cars in the upper dale at the time.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Sainbury's have walked from Prudhoe

On the 1st of August 2012 I blogged about the degree of silence that followed the 20th June 2012 granting of planning permission by Northumberland County Council to Northumberland Estates for a new town centre in Prudhoe. News has come through this week that Sainsbury has walked from the Prudhoe project. Doubtless more will need to be said once it becomes clear how terminal this blow is.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

License the sex trade

I have no idea what criminalising this woman achieves beyond selling more newspapers. Is it an alliance between prosecuting agencies and publishing groups that I should be worried about? http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news//2012/10/24/wallsend-mum-led-double-life-as-a-brothel-madam-72703-32094083/?campaign=Newcastle_email_chronicleliveemail%3A20121024
"Mr Recorder Winn told her: “That is an offence which causes enormous distress and upset to those unfortunate enough to have to live beside them................But Recorder Winn said he accepted Loftus, from Rochdale Street, Wallsend, had never corrupted or threatened any of the women working in her brothels". So evidence the "enormous distress" and license the sex trade so that it takes place where neighbours consent and are not offended. I would be fine with that.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Chief Whip Resigns

I was sorry to hear that Chief Whip has resigned. This is something that was blown out of all proportion presumably because vested interests mercilessly refused to let go. The man said something he should not have done, what really does not interest me. He offered an apology. The police service feel they deserve respect. They do, so do Government ministers and if is the police service who have pressed this beyond what I call reasonable, then the ones who are not showing respect in my book are the police. What must have been one of the most easily recognisable of ministers was cycling, that most down to earth of activities yet he loses his job for the "plebian" word. It is crackers. Has no-one heard of letting things go. It is also exactly why people like me, very conscious of not wanting to be on a pedestal do not seek public office. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9621694/Government-chief-whip-Andrew-Mitchell-resigns.html

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Local Authorities Run the East Coast?

At times it seems as if any idea is worth trying. Look through here since September 2010 and you will see I am much exercised by a debate about who runs local trains in the North East (Heaton depot's work) after 2014 and how is a strong rail management team in Newcastle created. This is built on the thought that developing our network (re-opening Peterlee, Blyth and Tyne, Leamside, electrifying the Newcastle & Carlisle) all these crawl along. And that is without saying Belford or Loftus.

Things have moved on a bit this summer but in strange directions. Much of the media references I build up at Northumbria Rail Franchise Lobby Group. An illustration of what I pick up is http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/10/05/newcastle-edinburgh-and-york-in-talks-over-radical-rail-scheme-61634-31971504/. That's the local authorities wondering if they could take over the East Coast Main Line and keep it in public hands. The only trouble there is that the City Of Edinburgh's record on its tram project is no recommendation to anything. In the north east there are now about three threads at once.Nexus in Tyne & Wear denies that trains exist and only wants an argument about running buses. The Goverment had a consultation over the summer about decentralising local trains. From York to Manchester the authorities plan to make a bid to so do. The north east if its joins that will be bottom of the heap. Another consultation started on the future refranchise of the East Coast Main Line. This opens the idea that they should take over our local services. That is not the end of the world although the Newcastle and North East area would still have to fight its corner. Then the whole franchise system is in turmoil over the Virgin fiasco. This I think leads to this story about the local authorities planning to act.

What I think is needed is an informed debate in the North East. A day's public seminar for politicians, users and the industry. It would have Nick Brown whose constituency contains the key depot to all this: Heaton. It could have Heidi Mottram now CEO of Northumbrian Water but who ran Northern Rail. She should have some ideas about what we should do and is active in the North East LEP. That and ANEC Association of North East Councils could be the hosts. Edward Twiddy where are you? I have put all this to ANEC and got a polite put down. Who thinks it will be a good idea for a new local trains franchise to come upon the North East without even a day's debate?

Friday, 12 October 2012

NEXUS forgets the train

Another instalment in the Quality Bus Contract debate. I am very disillusioned with Nexus. 1) there is the threat of higher fares. 2) Nexus' own knowledge of public transport is lamentable "Tobyn Hughes, Nexus director of customer services, said: “A Quality Contracts Scheme would give local people a straightforward and simple system of fares across bus, Metro and ferry, benefiting everyone who uses public transport". EVERYONE, does no-one use Network Rail trains in Tyne & Wear? The ones Nexus cannot be bothered to organise a debate on their imminent future with a new franchise due. This is not leadership.  The photo shows one of the services Nexus does not want to acknowledge. On the Newcastle Carlisle line between Newcastle and Wylam there are five stations including Wylam. The Nexus boundary runs under the platform this train has called at yet Nexus refuse to bring it into their fare structure. What is this organisation about?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Virgin takes the flag over the West Coast Main Line

As a wise use of taxpayer's money, the UK rail franchise process is now beyond sense: the midnight announcement that the Virgin franchise for WCML kafuffle would not go to judicial review and they would start all over again. Direct implications here in the Tyne Valley. We had little clear idea of what is to happen to our local line in 2014. We now have even less idea beyond the likelihood that where we are will drift on. Those who believe the franchise system should be abandoned and the railways "quietly" brought back inside the public house will be greatly heartened if as they have been saying for a long time "you cannot achieve value for money this way".

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ecuador and Press Freedom

Julian Assange is speaking on Sky now. Very polished and very convincing. He would make an excellent demagogue. Why am I not convinced? What am I to make of a man who resorts to Ecuador to defend his justice? Ecuador whose president has nationalised its press. Ecuador which is ready to return a Belarussian dissident to a very dubious future. Assange is accused by proper process of very serious personal crimes against women. His unwillingness to let the judicial process proceed ultimately suggests he is nothing more than a convincing charlatan, albeit one apparently interested in causing grave international disharmony.

see for Belarussia
also for press freedom in Ecuador.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Devolution Debate on rail in the North

Northern's stakeholder magazine Connections Summer 2012 has dropped through the door.  Inside is a highly relevant article on local rail devolution which you can reach via https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.189784267718622.46458.189782941052088&type=3 and if you cannot use Facebook I shall add two pictures here. Down in page 7 "the solution proposed to the DfT involves Greater Manchester.. South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.... and York Council forming a new organisation". Where is the North East in this? With East Coast! The last two sentences I add but it looks very like the North East's disinterest will see a solution landed rather than one created. Whereas the folk in Lancashire and Yorkshire have joined forces to get what they need.

Monday, 6 August 2012

East Coast for Hexham hits the Journal

It has now reached the Journal that someone in DfT wants us to consider North East Local Services being operated by East Coast. That might not be the end of the world but how is the North East going to properly debate how it wishes "Local Rail in the North East: the next 15 years to shape out?" Does anyone have the clout to organise a regional seminar with strong MP support down?  http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news//2012/08/06/shake-up-in-service-for-east-coast-rail-passengers-61634-31556559/?campaign=Newcastle_email_journalliveemail:20120806

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Western Rail Corridor Ireland in the abyss?

"Iarnr√≥d √Čireann will need to give serious consideration to closing uneconomic routes, such as the link between Ennis, Co Clare, and Athenry, Co Galway, which carries an average of just eight passengers per train. This grim statistic suggests restoration of the Western Rail Corridor from Limerick all the way to Sligo was a political fantasy."

Oh dear, truth or fiction? Is it the failure to complete the project (eg to Sligo, re-open Crusheen, integrate with the closed Waterford Rosslare) or was it always a way to spend EU money recklessly, which is to blame? I am glad I was at re-opening day when it all seemed so good.  http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0730/1224321093743.html . Picture is at Gort 30th March 2010.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Nexus' Misguided Debate on Quality Bus Contracts

This is one of the most misguided debates around at present and politicians who fuel it should examine themselves, the vast majority of the Tyne Wear bus network operates profitably at no cost to the taxpaper, if Nexus' Quality Bus Contract materialises, I am sure it really will cost the taxpayer. there is a lot of mischief going on in Tyne and Wear, it effects us next door and meanwhile no one seems VERY INTERESTED in the real issue of who runs local rail from 2014. PAH is what I say. http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news//2012/08/02/mp-bridget-phillipson-weighs-in-over-bus-routes-row-61634-31529746/?campaign=Newcastle_email_journalliveemail:20120802

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Will Sainsbury commit or not? Prudhoe Town Centre

From Take Pride in Prudhoe.

About six weeks have passed since the Town Centre application passed. Prudhoe can hardly be said to have been overwhelmed meantime with information. Is everything well with the project? In the Courant there has been some briefing http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/news-at-a-glance/30m-plan-will-transform-prudhoe-1.970806?referrerPath=home%2F2.3307
. A key sentence has been pointed out to me. "the supermarket building, which has always been intended to be occupied by Sainsbury’s, although the supermarket giant has yet to formally commit itself to the project.". My informant claims to have this view separately expressed to him directly from a Sainsbury executive. Yet my memory of last summer's consultation was that Sainsbury was right in there. This was the consultation whose results were never published. Was there something in there which has discouraged Sainsbury? Are other factors in play like the new Morrisons at Blaydon? Is uncertainty once again the watchword on the streets of Prudhoe?

(added 24th August 2012: the new Hexham Courant reports that the consent is on the desk of the Secretary of State because in some respects it breaches planning guidelines. He is expected to either approve by 31st August or to call in for a public enquiry. There are many who will hope for the latter but I would not bank on it.)

(added 13th October 2012: there's not been a word since although the Duke of Northumberland is much exercised with water at Spencer Court in Newburn. Informally I reckon I have been told Sainsbury no longer interested,  the long awaited flood study of Prudhoe is being carried out, the Secy of State did sign off, but Northumberland West Area Planners at Hexham (whose chair was sacked for bullying in October 2012) are hanging onto the decision. The objectors say they are complaining to Europe and two town councillors tell me the Duke will do nothing before 2014. About half of this has been properly reported.)

(added 8th November 2012: Sainbury's walked away from Prudhoe.)

Monday, 30 July 2012

The future

This is my gaze into the future. It has occured to DfT mandarins that the North East is like the South West. A discrete local trains network. Handing us over to East Coast makes sense of Newcastle station and Heaton depot. Thereafter whether the North East gets a good deal or not is down to whether local forces come together to create the parallel body to Devon Cornwall Rail Partnership. ANEC is considering the issue but seems slow to organise a public debate so does anyone else. Meanwhile Nexus is in a full on bus war which is even on the front page of the Hexham Courant! However the East Coast option is even at bottom likely to be better than being part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

More debate at https://www.facebook.com/groups/233873179962922/


Friday, 20 July 2012

This one I missed.......................

There is nothing which excites the creative thinker more than to set an idea up and watch other folk grab it. I missed this meeting. This today is the first time I have found any report. Was anyone there who reads this? Can anyone provide a report? http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/06/06/north-east-facing-big-decision-on-railway-system-61634-31119960/#ixzz1wzuoFXkC . I wonder how many of the folk at that meeting knew I had been blogging about the subject since September 2010. I am willing to lay out a pint one did.

I then went through the ANEC councils site today and any mention of this meeting and the topic has eluded me http://www.northeastcouncils.gov.uk/default.asp nor can I yet manage to find any mention of the subject in here http://www.nexus.org.uk/ . I had emailed an enquiry about this to ANEC on the 20th April and received no reply then. I am trying again today suggesting they lead a public seminar on the subject.

(see for this thread the comment I have made to the After the Curry entry below)

Come back the Blyth & Tyne


Fascinating one this and it may work for immediate neighbours.

But as of now I don't think any Northumberland scheme is in the package.

"Although no funds have been allocated to Northumberland as yet, it is hoped that the investment package, including £240m of improvements to the East Coast main line, could see smaller lines such as the Blyth and Tyne track being reopened too. "

Lavery has spoken to Greening, Opperman has spoken to Greening. Can some North East focus bring together all our aspirations? Logically it should be Bernard Garner at Nexus but where is the evidence that it is?

(My photo shows a non-passenger carrying passenger train at Newsham in 2000)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

HIGHD APTIS no politics just a stack of tickets

We do handle assorted tickets. Here is one where HIGHD leaves us vacant? For leads on tickets search APTIS http://www.specialistauctions.com/auctionsearch.php?posted=1&keywords=APTIS&category=0
or Edmondson and check https://www.facebook.com/ThomasEdmondsonTickets . We have very considerable stocks needing new homes.

East Coast Consultation Newcastle Today

I had to miss the East Coast Consultation today. Fortunately Dennis Peel from Tyne Valley Line Rail Users group could be there. I put in his summary highlights, his words:
" The change which may affect us is the suggestion that "feeder" services including N/C to Carlisle might be brought into the East Coast franchise. I asked and it was confirmed that if this were to occur it would be all lines in the North East, not picking and choosing.  If this were to happen it would have a big effect on the present Northern Franchise and the date might be later than Dec 2013. Much interest from the users groups present on this topic.

The East Coast Franchise would run for 15 years and with slippage etc would be renewed around 2032 to coincide with HS2 coming to N/C. (As I see it (which I probably wont') HS2 does not cut N/C to London time, but brings in N/C to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Heath Row) There would still need to be an East Cost route. "

This is a fascinating report. It confirms what in recent weeks we have been able to deduce. There is probably a rail industry turf war going on really driven by Heaton depot! The one depot which services all North East local trains is also a jewel in the crown for East Coast and for Northern's servicing schedules with it specialising in Pacers. If I managed East Coast I would want it and I would take the local services too. But we who live in the North East need our priorities to be heard. It is clear we have not done this very well for the last 5-10 years. If we had, the drive on the Lancashire Yorkshire Corridor or in South Wales would have comparable results here. Are politicians in the North East and Nexus going to belatedly wake up to what is going on? Our own MP Guy Opperman excepted or will we become bit actors in another's franchise for 15 years?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

After the curry and with the MP, a write up (see preceding entry)

The Valley 16th July 2012
A dissemination of the discussion about Tyne Valley and North East Rail Services.
Notes by Robert Forsythe www.fionnconsultancy.co.uk
Immediate Concerns
On the whole there are significant levels of satisfaction at present over reliability and pleasure at investment, like the Ticket Machine at Prudhoe, and the three interchanges that have opened.

There are important immediate concerns and they largely focus on capacity at peak hours and on special events. The gap of over an hour inbound from Hexham during the morning peak was discussed and I believe Northern understand this could be solved.  The user side understands Northern is and has progressed the last train issue (the new Prudhoe stopper). As ever the inability to collect revenue when the train is full concerns. This impacts on the Newcastle barrier situation.

The new football season starting late summer, and the Northumberland Show next year, are opportunities for Northern to show they can rectify problems which have been mentioned over many years. The timetable is not the challenge at these events if it is operated correctly, it is the capacity. I concluded Northern were determined to review this. In particular Gaynor Shotton from the County Show was invited to form a strong working relationship with the Northern management team and the Community Rail Partnership/Rail users group.

The need is : sufficient carriages for the NorthumberlandShow and the marketing of travelling by train. If the Show and the Railway could offer an advance purchase discount ticket, the railway can manage demand and those who turn up on the day with no ticket have to accept what can be offered. Robert Forsythe can show Gaynor sales literature for parallel events.

I think Northern were happy that on the performance of peak hours train like the strengthened 0742, and the 2013 Show and the football day services, attitudes towards the company in the Tyne Valley could be influenced.

The cost of tickets from stations west of Hexham are perceived as being disproportionately high. Northern offered to look closely at the pricing models from stations such as Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle. There are also issues around commuters who may only use the line 3 or 4 days a week have no incentive to purchase a season ticket (too expensive for their needs), and no multi- journey discount exists. A carnet ticket like the Harrogate line is needed.

There are several large employers in Newcastle (eg Northumbria University) whose staff travel on Northern. Whereas Nexus offers a direct sale of season tickets (at a discount) to large organisations who then sell them to their staff (managed directly through payroll), it was not felt that Northern offered a similar package.

Medium Term Concerns
Northern Rail will certainly operate the services for at least another two years. They have a new management team and the Valley side made the point that a much stronger management presence for the North East based around Newcastle is most desirable. My reading suggests the Northern team appreciated this? There could be changes within the franchise period?

There is an inherent challenge in a stand still franchise (the present one) experiencing clear and considerable growth. In the medium term the Northern team indicated there are further initiatives they could contemplate progress with (does not equal full implementation within the period). Specifically: much improved services for Dunston and Blaydon could be examined (this was from the Northern side). Gilsland is a candidate for re-opening with its World Heritage Site and Long Distance Path hub capability. Guy Opperman is ready to liaise with several parish councils and Rory Stewart MP over this, also Hadrian’s Wall Heritage. Commissioned studies have already indicated its viability.

The role of the Class 142 four wheel Leyland bus based Pacers will always be discussed at a meeting like this. They are not popular with passengers especially when crowded or on the curves at Newcastle. The Northern side did throw open the possibility that for cost effectiveness, they might be rebodied. Robert Forsythe suspects the Rail User side will wish to see this discouraged mightily in the future, from now forwards.

Longer Term
From 2014, there will be a new local train franchise for our area. This was actively discussed by all the parties.  Before this discussion however, everyone noted the 16th July 2012 Government  news about further  rail funding. Universal agreement that this is good for the country and for the rail industry. It for instance removes all Pacers from the South Wales Valleys making the Tyne Valley and other North East lines good candidates to use them last of all. There was also round table agreement that the investment news offers very little to the North East in terms of schemes. The Northern Hub concept  has spin off benefits, it might bring electric wires to Middlesbrough. But the North East has been marginal through the Northern Hub process and the further investment does not change this. All round the table agreed that the North East had not been good through the franchise period in progressing the several rail investment schemes possible in its area.

As a result, three probabilities post 2014 exist. Northern continue as our operator or another company on exactly the same patch. The Valley side articulated the view that could only work if there was a strong Newcastle management and a programme in the franchise for the North East. The present Northern franchise had started with a North East management team and it had been diluted.

The second option which current East Coast consultation allows for is that the new East Coast franchise takes Heaton depot including its local train work in North East England. Heaton is a jewel in the crown depot (Nick Brown MP), it is important to both local and mainline train operators out of Newcastle and it has a specialist maintenance record. The user side can see that within the industry there will be well hidden moves about the future of Heaton!

The third option is that the North East community organise themselves in advance of the DfT consultation and argue for a Northumbria  franchise for all the Heaton local train work. This is around 20 trains and even with expansion the probability is that no more than 35 trains are needed. It is not a large business but it is a natural geographic and business entity. It seemed that the Northern team could understand this thinking and that within their own business the powerhouse that is Lancashire and Yorkshire sets agendas?

There was considerable discussion about how successful first Manchester and then its neighbours had been in securing investment and in now adopting the Decentralisation philosophy. There was discussion about what the North East would need to follow this example. There are agencies who might lead: Nexus, North East Chamber of Commerce, Association of North East Local Authorities. So far no-one with authority had taken the lead role in a regional discussion. Guy Opperman is probably the most senior North Eastern politician leading a debate on it. It has to go further if it is to work with a local entity and soon.

The industry side suggested the community side needs to generate a “compact”, possibly through the vehicle of an LEP. A specific follow up to this Valley meeting could be a high level regional day conference on the future of local rail in the North East. Would the North East Chamber of Commerce lead? How would transport providers and politicians current react to that? This has to be scheduled before the DfT issue the consultation over the franchise and that is scheduled for later in 2012. MPs like David Milliband or Nick Brown who have so far not become involved may need to be.


This discussion the lead into the blue sky of what the North East asks for in its next franchise. There is quite a long shopping list. Peterlee Station and Tees Valley Metro (James Cook station) are at implementation or very near so). Leamside (Washington) and Ashington re-openings have all been talked about and studied in detail for years. SENRUG has a massive and explored vision over what could come from the Ashington project. The Northern side threw open the blue sky idea that Trans Pennine Express could terminate at Ashington.

On the Tyne Valley, Gilsland and Blaydon have already been spoken off by the rail users as priority. A Northern team member said think bigger. Ask to be electrified as part of the fleet renewal. Remember the importance to East Coast of the line as a diversion. Then you think the future has to be an electric Tyne Valley and Coast and Saltburn Bishop lines to get a thoroughly 21st century local rail network. All local trains would then be electric apart from Whitby. This opens the idea that part of what holds the Tyne Valley back is infrastructure. The present diesel trains have a speed in excess of most of the line speed. Improve the line speed limit and even with the present trains schedules could improve.

The evening ended then with three challenges: to Northern to deliver much closer and stronger local management connected to North East communities, to the User side to go out and get the North East community itself better connected to lobby for its own connectivity, the third challenge being to combine these two forces to create the next local train franchise on an expansive and not stand still basis.

Guy Opperman MP (the inviter)
From Northern Rail
Alan Chaplin Chief Operating Officer
Richard Allan Area Director for Yorkshire and Humberside, Tyne Tees and Wear.
Both above from 30th May 2012  http://www.northernrail.org/news/7044
Drew Halley Client and Stakeholder Manager Northern Rail
From Tyne Valley Rail Users Group/Community Partnership
Robert Forsythe  Prudhoe
Fiona Forsythe Prudhoe
John Gillott Heddon TVCRP partnership officer
Julie Gibbon Bardon Mill
Minnie Fraser Mickley
Alastair Fraser Mickley
Tony Geary Wylam
Tina Geary Wylam
From Northumberland Show (moving Corbridge>Bywell (Stocksfield Station)
Gaynor Shotton
From North East Chamber of Commerce
Mark Scandle
Facebook References Please ensure that you like these pages
Northumbria Rail Franchise Lobby Group
Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group
Tyne Valley Line Community Rail Partnership