Category Archives: Environment

Cyclist’s Paradise:  Keeping fit and enjoying the region’s landscapes

DAVID SIMPSON shares his passion for cycling as he explores old railway routes and scenery across the North East from the saddle of his trusty mountain bike

Lydgetts junction cycle hub near Consett. Photo: David Simpson
Lydgetts junction cycle hub near Consett. Photo: David Simpson

Cycling and especially mountain biking is one of the best ways to see our region. Taking in the wonderful varied scenery of our beloved North East from the cyclist’s saddle is one of life’s great pleasures.  Travel from village to village, town to town and watch the delightful changes in the region’s rolling scenery mile by mile. Head along rural riverside routes into industrial heartlands, take in lovely country roads or try out the course of a former railway route at your own leisurely pace. Simply marvellous!

Sure, you can do some of these things from the comfort of your car but can you take a break without the headache of finding a parking space and can you go ‘off road’, away from all the traffic? Cycling is great because you always feel that you’re part of the outdoors, rather than just passing through within the confines of a wheeled metal box. That feeling of being part of the scenery is something that you never quite get from inside the car, even when the window is wound right down.

Scenery near Sunderland
Scenery from a recent Durham to Sunderland cycle ride. Photo: David Simpson.

Best of all though, cycling keeps you fit, in both mind and body. Mentally, I’m at my sharpest and happiest when I’ve been doing lots of cycling and it’s really invigorating. Walking, running or team sports might work for you but it’s cycling for me. It works well with my lifestyle and interests: my love for history, for taking photographs and a passion for the region’s varied landscapes makes cycling the perfect fit.

Now let’s be clear, I’m not one of the Lycra brigade. No, no, no, when I’m out cycling, I prefer skinny, stretchy jeans, old trainers, a long-sleeved shirt plus a jumper or fleece in the backpack just in case it gets too chilly. That’s more my scene. Purists might frown on this but that doesn’t bother me, though I should say a helmet is always a must. Taking something high-viz too if you’re going to be out in the twilight could also be wise and don’t forget a spare bottle of water or squash and a snack to keep you going if you feel peckish en route.

C2C Cycle route. Photo: David Simpson
The C2C Cycle route. Photo: David Simpson

No, it’s not about the streamlined look or the speed for me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thrill of the racing bike fraternity whizzing through the blurry countryside constantly improving on their best times, clocking up mile after mile on twisty roads and climbing hills with endless motor cars for company. There’s plenty of great scope for that activity across the region and I am sure the exertion is exhilarating but it’s not really for me.

I’ll often ride more than thirty or forty miles a time on the mountain bike but sometimes I’ll just go for twenty or a modest ten or perhaps even six or seven miles just to get out of the house. The more miles you do though the easier the distances become. I don’t mind cycling on the road some of the time but more often than not I head off along one of those superb off-the-road cycle paths that crisscross our region.

Many of these routes are the legacy of Dr Beeching, the man who closed so many railways back in the sixties, but that was due to the burgeoning growth of the motorists. I don’t suppose Beeching ever envisaged the growth in popularity of cycling though many of the cycle ways he has unwittingly created, from old railway routes, provide ideal and relatively easy going paths that often stretch for many miles. It all makes sense: those routes were designed for steam locomotives that wanted to avoid steep hills and take the easiest routes. All good news for leisurely cyclists like me.

Former railway station at Lanchester in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson
Former railway station at Lanchester in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson

Old railway routes converted into long-distance paths are one of the great gems of our region’s countryside and are great ways to get out and about in the North East. In recent rides I’ve headed out in various directions using a village near Durham City as a base. The other week I cycled from Durham into Sunderland through lovely countryside with views of the sea along the way.

Surprisingly, much of the track through Sunderland itself encompasses fields, trees, parks and even a lake. Except for the occasional glimpse of a block of flats nearby, you barely notice you’re in an urban environment until you eventually emerge in the city centre and then after crossing a couple of main roads at pedestrian crossings you head over the Wearmouth Bridge and back into the countryside along the banks of the River Wear – though I took a brief diversion to the river mouth first just to see the sea.

Cycling by the River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
Cycling by the River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

In County Durham there are pathway ‘hubs’ that provide good centres for exploring various walking and cycle routes where railways once ran. Broompark, just west of Durham City is one such hub. There’s parking there and a picnic area too, so you can take your bike along on the car then make your way by bike along a choice of three routes. I’ve tried all three. One heads along the pretty wooded valley of the little River Deerness to Esh Winning and on towards a place called Stanley Crook and another heads north along the Browney valley to Lanchester and then on towards Consett. The third heads south to Bishop Auckland culminating in a good view of the Bishop of Durham’s home town that can be reached across the Newton Cap Viaduct.

Perhaps the major hub for cyclists in the North East is Lydgetts Junction at Consett, arguably the central hub for all North East cycle paths. Here routes head out to Newcastle and Tynemouth, south into Durham, east to Sunderland and west all the way to Cumbria via the splendid Hownsgill viaduct.

Sculpture on C2C Cycle route near Lydgetts Junction, Consett. Photo: David Simpson
Sculpture on C2C Cycle route near Lydgetts Junction, Consett. Photo: David Simpson

It’s always good to combine parts of routes and even improvise with a bit of research beforehand. Recently, I headed out from my village base east of Durham City to join the Deerness route at Broompark but then left its course at Esh Winning to make the steep climb by local roads through Quebec and Cornsay Colliery to lovely Lanchester. There, joining the Lanchester Valley route to Consett I joined  the C2C route at Lydgetts Junction –  with its impressive art installation sculptures along the way – as I continued through Leadgate, Stanley, Beamish and Pelton where I improvised in a descent into Chester-le-Street on my way back to my village base completing about 44 miles.

Souter Lighthouse
Souter Lighthouse is one of the many beautiful features on the coastal route between the Tyne and Wear. Photo: David Simpson

Many routes link in with the longer-distance coast-to-coast cycle paths like the C2C (sea to sea) route I have mentioned. This route links the coastal Cumbrian towns of Whitehaven, Workington and St Bees to Sunderland, South Shields and Tynemouth. An alternative cross-Pennine route is the W2W (Walney to Wear) route linking Walney in southern Cumbria to Sunderland, part of which we followed on our recent ride from Durham to Sunderland.

The great thing is, you don’t have to stray far from the cities to enjoy great cycle rides. There are good cycle rides around Stockton and Hartlepool into the fringes of the County Durham countryside for example and in Tyne and Wear there’s a particularly enjoyable coastal ride from the mouth of the Tyne to the mouth of the Wear – and back.

You can cycle along the bank of the River Tyne all the way to Wylam and then back along the other side of the river and once you’re back at the beginning there’s no extra charge for taking cycles across the Shields ferry to reach the other side.

Bicycles are welcome on the Shields Ferry. Photo: David Simpson
Bicycles are welcome on the Shields Ferry. Photo: David Simpson

Superb cycling can be found in Northumberland too, often with the Cheviots serving as a wonderful backdrop with some routes taking in coastal areas and castles. A cycling friend of mine recently tried out a circular route from Wooler across to Holy Island which looks appealing.

In North Yorkshire the Vale of York and Vale of Mowbray around Thirsk and Northallerton offer relatively gentle cycling with gradual climbs into the Yorkshire Dales to the west or challenging cycling in the North York Moors to the east.

Sustrans provide a useful zoomable map of all the major cycle routes in the region (see the links below) but it’s also worth checking out the region’s woods and forests that can appeal to thrill-seekers or those who just want to take a cycling stroll. Hamsterley and Kielder for example have superb mountain biking trails to explore.

Out and about. Scenery near Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
Out and about on the bike. Scenery near Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

Whatever kind of cycling you do, it’s always enjoyable to keep a record of your routes, speeds and distances mile by mile, to see how much you’ve ascended and descended and how many calories you’ve burned. It’s a satisfying way to round off a good cycle ride. You can post the details on social media too and it’s a good way to log your progress and share with others.

That’s all part of the fun and can be facilitated by downloading great route-tracking GPS apps like Endomondo, Strava or Mapmyride to your mobile phone. It’s always good to review your times and distances, when you get back to base, and to check your best and slowest lap, though often, I find, I’ve lost more than an hour or so stopping to take photos or admire the beautiful views along the way. I’m certainly not going to complain about that.

Tyne Bridge. Photo: David Simpson
Tyne Bridge. Photo: David Simpson

Update!

We’ve been out on the bike again (the day after this blog) this time from Consett to Newcastle and back (38 miles) taking in the Derwent valley and Tyne riverside with Lydgett’s junction as our starting base. Another lovely route. Check out our sunny day of cycling photos of the Derwent Valley here and of Newcastle-Gateshead here.

Useful links

Railway-paths in County Durham  (for cyclists, walkers, runners, horse riders and wheelchair users) with downloadable pdfs of maps and route features.

Sustrans C2C Cycle Route  and other routes throughout the North East of England.

Cycle Routes in Northumberland from Cycle Northumberland

Cycle friendly cafes: englandsnortheast.co.uk/2016/08/21/many-reasons-get-yer-bike/ a blog by Helen Gildersleeve

www.cycle-route.com Has an astonishing  choice of suggested cycle routes. Select by nation and county for an extensive list of routes with map details.

Kielder Forest Mountain Bike Trails: www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/OverviewA0panel.pdf/$file/OverviewA0panel.pdf

Hamsterley Forest Cycle Trails: www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/nee-hamsterley-cycle-trails.pdf/$file/nee-hamsterley-cycle-trails.pdf

Cyclists on the Shields ferry: www.nexus.org.uk/ferry/guide-ferry  Large groups of cyclists should contact the ferry in advance.

GPS Cycling apps

Endomondo: www.endomondo.com/

Strava: www.strava.com/

Mapmyride: www.mapmyride.com/app/

A Festival of Innovation

The NWG Innovation Festival comes to the region in July. Guest blogger NIGEL WATSON, Director of Information Services, at Northumbrian Water Group looks ahead to the exciting  problem-solving tasks set to challenge some of the most talented innovators in business.

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group
Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group

The North East has a proud history of innovation, from being the birthplace of the railways to the region that sparked such inventions as the friction match.

Now, some of the best-known names in business are descending upon the North East to explore how innovative thinking can be applied to environmental and social problems, with the aim of benefiting customers and communities.

Flooding, water leakage, infrastructure and even the teenager’s bedroom of the future will all come under the microscope during week-long “sprints”, with a range of industry and academic experts, and members of the public all dedicating their brain power and experience to the task at hand.

These “sprints”, which take design thinking developed by the likes of Google and apply them to a particular subject for a dedicated amount of time, will take place in Newcastle Racecourse’s marquee village as part of Northumbrian Water’s first ever Innovation Festival.

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We’re very aware that such problems aren’t surmountable by one company alone, so we are collaborating with some important partners. The festival is supported by IBM, BT, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, Ordnance Survey and CGI, with each of these companies leading a sprint throughout the week, from July 10 to 14.

Set in a festival environment designed to bring people together and be creative, we want to come up with, and develop the best new ideas. By getting our customers involved, we want them to be at the heart of this innovation – and to ultimately benefit from it.

We’re expecting 400 people each day, with around 300 of those actually getting involved in the sprints and a hackathon – where analytical experts led by Microsoft will delve into large volumes of data on leakage to see what lessons can be learned.

The sprint sessions will be sandwiched between yoga and mindfulness on the mornings and a range of entertainment on the evenings, including live comedy, music, inspirational talks, and even a pub quiz. At the end of it all, we will be converting one of the main tents into comic book heaven and hosting a special ball in support of the global charity, WaterAid.

The big questions under consideration during the week are:

 ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM

  • ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and headline sponsor Microsoft, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
  • ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
  • ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
  • ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
  • ‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

The NWG Innovation Festival is  delivered in association with Newcastle University, Genesys, Interserve, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys and Unify.

People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival, and how they can get involved at innovationfestival.org

For further media information, call 0191 3015678.

Reconnecting with the great outdoors

PAUL WHITE pays homage to the region’s scenery and explores the beautiful Low Barns Nature Reserve in the Wear Valley of County Durham.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

In the last year or so, I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors.

I remember when I was a kid, I had books galore on things like birds and could recognise many breeds and even some of their calls. I’d spend my weekends and holidays exploring the area in and around my uncle’s farm and any sunny day would be spent out and about.

That sort of thing was probably lost to football and girls and, to be fair, not that I was that good as far as either were concerned (all together now, “aww”).

Then life got busier as I got older and, as much as I enjoy a nice walk, other things got in the way.

But since starting to work with Northumbrian Water a year back, I’ve found new connections with the great outdoors. I won’t go into too much detail about the great work the company does for the environment, but suffice to say, I’ve learned to find time to just put my walking boots on and get outside more.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

Having had the need to visit Low Barns Nature Reserve at Witton-le-Wear a few weeks back for a whistle-stop tour, I decided to go back and take a more leisurely look around.

The site is one of many run by Durham Wildlife Trust and I had vague recollections of primary school trips there, but, despite it being only around five miles from home, I hadn’t been back since.

I’d certainly been missing out on this wonderfully tranquil place. From the reed beds (which are on the site of an old sewage treatment works – how’s that for a stunning change of use?) to the banks of the Wear, it has so much to enjoy.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

And the peacefulness is incredible. Needless to say, we signed up as members of the Trust on the spot and will be planning on visiting as many of the other sites around the North East as we can.

Between that and spending Easter weekend in beautiful Weardale, as well as recent trips to Kielder Water & Forest Park, I can safely say I’m hooked once more on the beauty of the North East.

Our region truly is stunning and not one of us can say we have explored and seen it all. So get out there and find those places that really inspire you with natural beauty.

Listed Buildings Heritage in North East England

Did you know Newcastle has one of England’s highest concentrations of listed buildings?  Guest blogger, JOHN MURPHY explores the North East’s building heritage and the risks historic buildings face in rural areas.

We join John Murphy and Lycetts, providers of insurance for listed buildings in an exploration of the region’s listed buildings.

sandhill
Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson 

In Britain, Listed Buildings form the backbone of some of our most famous cities – whether found prominently on high streets serving as banks or offices, or tucked away in quiet streets as ornate homes.

Grade I and II listed buildings are beautiful, historical structures that have decades (and sometimes centuries) of character. They are prestigious, eye-catching and come with their own rules for builders and occupiers.

The North East, in particular, has one of the best concentrations of listed buildings in the UK with many in Newcastle upon Tyne. The North East enjoys a far higher concentration of Grade I and II* listed buildings than other regions.

Newcastle, in particular has the following:

  • Grade I – The national average for concentrations of Grade I buildings (which are of exceptional interest) is 2.5% throughout England. In Newcastle upon Tyne, that number is as high as 7%.
  • Grade II* buildings are deemed to be of more than special interest and in England Grade II* accounts for around 5.5% of all list entries. Newcastle, astonishingly, enjoys almost quadruple the national average at 20%.
  • Grade II (without the *) are buildings of special interest that make up the remaining 92% of listed buildings in England and in Newcastle that figure is 73%.

Grainger Town, the historic heart of the city centre, enjoys one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in the entire country. Of its 450 buildings, 244 are listed – with 29 Grade I and 49 Grade II*.

GreyMonument
Grey’s Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson

All work on these buildings is protected by the planning authority, with English Heritage involved for any Grade I and II* buildings. Some of the most famous structures in the city fall under this protection. For example, the popular landmark Grey’s Monument is Grade I listed.

Unfortunately, despite this protection, listed buildings are at risk due to a lack of investment and damage from both vandalism and wear and tear. The Heritage at Risk register monitors buildings of historical significance that are at risk and unfortunately, the North East is in crisis – nationally the ratio is 3.8% and the North East has 6.2%.

BlackfriarsNewcastle
Blackfriars, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson

What is causing this risk? How can the region remedy it?

One of the biggest risks the region encountered was urban decay in Newcastle City Centre during the early 1990s. The area experienced decay as private investor’s moved out of listed buildings, which were being classified as both ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable.’

However, a programme of development and enhancement was started by Newcastle City Council and English Heritage. Thanks to both government and private investment through the late 90s and early 2000s, the area was revamped and now stands as one of the best examples of listed buildings in the country.

Now, the more rural areas are by far the most at risk – with 30 buildings in Northumberland listed on the heritage risk list. 24 from County Durham are at risk. Compared to more urban areas, it’s clear buildings in those areas are more vulnerable. Just five buildings in Newcastle upon Tyne and six in Gateshead are on the heritage risk list – clearly illustrating that their more central location has given access to better funding and repair work.

SundQuaysideExchange3
Quayside Exchange, Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

Crime is one of the biggest risks to listed buildings, especially in rural areas where surveillance and protection isn’t readily available. A national survey found that 70,000 buildings were harmed in 2011, mainly due to metal theft.

However, in rural areas in the North East, such as Northumberland, the main threats to buildings seem to be erosion and plant growth. Perhaps the region as a whole needs to turn its attention to the more rural areas, especially as Northumberland grows as a visitor attraction. The historical buildings of the past must be preserved as the future nears.

Sources:

http://www.securitynewsdesk.com/thousands-listed-buildings-damaged-crime-english-heritage/

https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/conservation-heritage-and-urban-design/listed-buildings

https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wwwfileroot/planning-and-buildings/conservation_heritage_and_urban_design/listed_building_guide_v.08.pdf

Green Party leader presents alternative plans for Durham

England’s North East blogger and Green party member, RICHARD CALLAGHAN looks forward to the visit of party leader Caroline Lucas to Durham to present proposals for the future development of the city.

Durham City. Photo: David Simpson
Durham City. Photo: David Simpson

OnThursday, December 8, Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas will be in Durham City to introduce the Durham Future City Plan. The event, at Durham Miners Hall 5:00pm-6:30pm, is free of charge, and tickets can be booked here: (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/caroline-lucas-introduces-the-durham-future-city-plan-tickets-29218135229?aff=efbevent)

I was born in Durham. I like that. It’s a city which I enjoy living in. When my wife and I got married, when we started our family, it’s the place we decided to move. But Durham, like the North East, like the country as a whole, finds itself let down by its political class.

Just as a Tory hegemony at Westminster continues to serve the region poorly, so the supremacy of Labour in the North East does little to further our interests. As with anywhere that finds itself dominated by one political party, at times political discourse in the North East threatens to slip to the level of almost total irrelevance, Labour’s certainty of victory against all comers rendering their capacity for compromise charmlessly unnecessary in all but the rarest of cases.

Last year’s failure of Durham County Council’s County Durham Plan is emblematic of all that is failing about local government in the North East. Called “unrealistic and flawed” by a senior inspector in early 2015, it was swiftly withdrawn by the Council who have, since then, been scrambling to put together a new version which will pass muster.

It is in this context that the County Durham Green Party’s Durham Future City Plan represents an interesting addition to the conversation. As a gauntlet, thrown down. What could a regenerated, revitalised Durham City look like? Can it be somewhere which works for all of its citizens, which offers progressive answers to questions about the economy, housing, transport, the environment, food and social wellbeing? Are we content as a dormitory town for students, many of whom have no interest in or connection to the city other than as members of the university? How do we make Durham somewhere that those talented people want to stay after they’ve finished their years of study? How do we balance those demands against the needs of people for whom this city is their home? How are we going to make Durham more than it currently is?

They’re fascinating problems, important ones. 2016 has been a year which has seen the political establishment challenged, but all too often those challenges have been little more than primal screams of rage. This anger understandable but, like a runaway train, it has the capacity to take us to places we do not necessarily want to be. What is needed now is direction, intellectual engagement, an acceptance that things can’t carry on like this married to a vision for where we’d like them to go.

The idea of a Durham Future City Plan, not just as a rejection of the Council’s ideas but as an expression of a viable alternative, marks one attempt to ensure that the necessary challenging of the political class forms part of a positive contribution to the conversation. Even if you reject the conclusions, any attempt to encourage reasoned debate is valuable. In times like these, with all that is at stake, it is essential.

Richard Callaghan is a member of the County Durham Green Party.

Rivers, becks, burns and linns : What’s in a (North East Place-)Name?

In this first blog exploring the curious and fascinating origins of North East place-names DAVID SIMPSON examines our rivers, streams and waterfalls and plots the great beck/burn divide

The River Tees at High Force waterfall. Photo: David Simpson
The River Tees at High Force waterfall. Photo: David Simpson

Alright please don’t ‘Pity Me’, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by place-names and especially those of the North East. I don’t know why precisely, but it’s certainly linked to my interest in history.

Across the region our place-names offer unique insights into our distant past and I find it fun to discover that a familiar place we take for granted is often not quite what it seems. Then of course we have all those strange and peculiar names: Pity Me, Witherwack, Wallish Walls, Snods Edge and Foggy Furze. How about Shiney Row, Seldom Seen, Success, Once Brewed or even No Place? These are the places that arouse much curiosity in our region  but even seemingly mundane place-names also hold unexpected secrets.

The first thing to know when studying place-names is that for a period of a little over a thousand years  – and that’s how old most of our place-names are – our language has changed an awful lot. This means spellings in old records can be notoriously inconsistent. So you can’t just look at a place-name today and guess what it means; you have to go back in time.

The North East has many fascinating and curious place-names
The North East has many fascinating and curious place-names

Place-name experts look for the earliest spellings, scouring ancient documents and interpreting the names according to the language of times past.

The experts are skilled linguists and historians, with an exceptional knowledge of how language evolved. They come with a good grasp of old languages like Latin, Old Welsh, Indo-European, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Middle English and a knowledge of local dialect too. They also need a good understanding of local history and know about the local topography by familiarising themselves with the landscape. It might also help to know a few folk tales connected with the place-names they study. The experts are prepared to do much detective work to reach their final conclusions and even then they may not always be sure. In the end the fruits of their labour are often nothing more than a passing curiosity for most of us.

The fun part for me is exploring and interpreting this work and looking for patterns. I enjoy puzzling over baffling contradictions and being surprised that seemingly obvious explanations are not what I had expected. I also believe, well I’m certain of it in fact, that place-names and their local features have close links to local dialect. You see, place-names and dialect are living history and often a very old part of our heritage that we can easily overlook.

The Tyne at Newcastle Photo: David Simpson
The Tyne at Newcastle Photo: David Simpson

Since most place-names have evolved over long periods of time, it’s best to start at the beginning. If we glance at the map we find the  most ancient names are those of the rivers and larger streams. Names like Tyne, Tees, Team, Wear, Aln, Allen, Don, Derwent and Deerness go back thousands of years to the pre-Roman Celtic times or sometimes to the era when the inter-related Indo-European languages across Europe and parts of Asia were beginning to evolve.

The Tyne, for example has one such ancient name. Tyne derives from a root word ‘ti’ meaning ‘to flow’ and could simply be interpreted to mean ‘water’. One of its tributaries, the River Team, now partly culverted through Gateshead’s Team Valley has a similar root, related to river-names like the Thames in London or the Taff in Cardiff. Further east, the Don that joins the Tyne downstream at Jarrow comes from an Indo-European word ‘danu’ simply meaning ‘river’. The Don of Jarrow shares its roots with the Don at Doncaster and the Don in Russia, as well as the Danube of Austrian river fame.

The River Don entering the Tyne at Jarrow. Photo: David Simpson
The River Don entering the Tyne at Jarrow. It shares its name with a river in Russia Photo: David Simpson

The River Tees is thought to have a Celtic river-name though its roots may be earlier. It’s related to an Old Welsh word for ‘heat’ and means ‘boiling, surging river’ perhaps alluding to the waterfalls of upper Teesdale like High Force.

The name of the River Wear is thought to derive from ‘uis’, another Indo-European word for ‘flow’ but Uisiria and Uedra were later forms of the name. This was interpreted by Welsh speaking Celts (the Britons) to ‘Gweir’ which means ‘bending’. Look at a map and compare the whole course of the Wear from source to sea with the course of the Tyne or the Tees and you will see that ‘bending river’ is an apt description.

The River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
The River Wear at Sunderland – ‘the bending river’. Photo: David Simpson

Other river-names with ancient origins include the Derwent which forms part of the border between Northumberland and Durham. One of a number of rivers called Derwent in England, the name comes from Old Welsh and means the ‘oak tree river’. Further south, a smaller County Durham river, the Deerness combines the Welsh element ‘dwfr’ meaning river with an Indo-European element ‘nesta’ meaning , ‘roar, rush’ that is found in names such as Loch Ness and Inverness.

Some river-names came much later in Anglo-Saxon or Viking times, suggesting their earlier names were forgotten or replaced. In County Durham, for example, the little river called the Browney (occasionally called ‘the brune’) has a name dating to Anglo-Saxon times that comes from ‘brun-ea’ meaning ‘brown river’

Two little-known North Eas rivers, the Deerness and Browney merge at Langley Moor near Durham City. Photo: David Simpson
Two little-known North East rivers, the Deerness and Browney merge at Langley Moor near Durham City. Photo: David Simpson

In Northumberland the River Wansbeck at Morpeth and Ashington has a name from the same era and is thought to derive from ‘waegens-spic’, a bridge made from logs (a spic) that was crossed by wagons. The Wansbeck is not a ‘beck’ in the usual sense of the word though. The word ‘beck’ is usually from a Viking word meaning stream but that is not the case here.

For the Germanic Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria who arrived in Britain between 500 and 600 AD from southern Scandinavia and neighbouring areas of what is now the German coast ‘burn’ was one of the terms they used for a stream. As their territory extended north beyond Edinburgh into what is now Scotland the word was introduced there and has had a lasting legacy. Its roots however are Northumbrian rather than Scottish.

North East England or more particularly County Durham is the battleground between the ‘burns’ and their later Viking counterparts the ‘becks’. The Vikings arrived from across Scandinavia from around 866AD and in areas more intensely settled or shared out by the Norsemen the Viking word ‘beck’ replaced the older Anglo-Saxon word ‘burn’ in the names of streams although ‘burn’ often survives in the names of local places associated with those streams.

So we find places like Saltburn (salty stream) on the Cleveland coast and Sherburn (shiny stream) near Durham but the local streams from which they are named are now called becks on the map as well as by the locals too. The Bowburn Beck at Bowburn near Durham, for example, flows in the shape of a bow (as in bow and arrow) and was originally simply called ‘the Bow Burn’.

Many other places in the region include the word ‘Burn’ and the names of the streams from which they derive can often be self-explanatory. Take Fishburn and Seaburn for example, one would have been noted for its plentiful supply of fish, the other simply flowed into the sea.

Whitburn near Sunderland, named from a barn rather than a burn. Photo: David Simpson
Whitburn near Sunderland, named from a barn rather than a burn. Photo: David Simpson

It’s easy to be fooled though, as we find at Whitburn near Sunderland. Not a burn at all, this was originally the ‘white barn’, a white-painted barn or one built with white stone. Then we have Sockburn near Darlington  which was actually Socca’s burgh rather than a burn. It was the ‘burgh’ (a fortified place) belonging to someone called Socca. Even here further doubt is thrown on the explanation because the River Tees hereabouts quite clearly flows in a massive meander that forms the  very obvious shape of a sock offering a more popular ‘folk explanation’. The fact that Sockburn was for centuries the southernmost point of County Durham and thus at the limit of the ‘soke’ of the BIshops of Durham adds further to the confusion. Both Whitburn and Sockburn by the way have fascinating links to Lewis Carroll and his Jabberwocky poem and you can read about those links here.

So enough of the burns, what about the becks? Well, the word  ‘beck’ comes from the Old Norse ‘bekkr’ – ‘a stream’. It is the usual term for a stream in Viking settled Cumbria and Yorkshire but is missing from Northumberland where burn is used. In County Durham we get both becks and burns with burns in the north and becks in the south and the boundary between the two lies somewhere around Durham City and mid Weardale.

Durham City lies on the dividing line between becks and burns in the naming of streams across England. Photo: David Simpson
Durham City lies on the dividing line between becks and burns in the naming of streams across England. Photo: David Simpson

Streams north of Durham City are called burns all the way up to John O’ Groats in the far north of Scotland while south of the city they’re called becks all the way down to the Viking settled areas of the Norfolk coast. Meanwhile in much of southern England and even in Lancashire they prefer the later Dutch word ‘brook’ though burn in the form ‘bourne’ often occurs in place-names across the whole of England.

In Hamsterley Forest in Weardale we find a stream named from an Anglo-Saxon man called Bede (though probably not the famous Venerable Bede of Jarrow). It is called the Bedburn Beck. It seems superfluous when surely the name Bed Burn would suffice? It’s as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind whether to call it a beck or a burn.

To the south it’s remarkable to discover that every single stream that joins the River Tees directly is called a ‘beck’ while to the north every stream that joins the Tyne directly is a ‘burn’. Along the Wear it varies between beck and burn. In upper Weardale as far east as Wolsingham the word ‘burn’ is the choice but in the mid Wear valley around Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor where the river briefly sways towards the south, the preferred word is ‘beck’.

aucklandcastlebishopa
Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland lies on the stretch of the River Wear where streams are called ‘becks’ rather than ‘burns’. Photo: David Simpson

In Durham City it changes again with the Mill Burn beneath the city’s shopping centre on the north side of the town marking the beginning of those burns again and it is the burns that continue to feed the river from Chester-le-Street all the way to the river’s end at Sunderland, or at least they do on the map. Over in East Durham locals use the term ‘beck’ and this may be the choice of word for some people in Sunderland too. It would be interesting to know.

River-names of Viking origin in the North East are not so common but include the River Skerne (it flows from Trimdon to the Tees at Darlington) but its earlier Anglo-Saxon name was something like ‘Sherne’ (the shining river). It became Skerne under Norse influence.

Historic view of Darlington and the River Skerne
Historic view of Darlington and the River Skerne

Other river names that are pure Viking include the River Greta (griota – its name means stony) that joins the Tees at Greta Bridge downstream from Barnard Castle. Upstream from ‘Barney’ the Tees is joined by the River Balder – Balder is the name of a Norse God.

At Bishop Auckland the Wear is joined by the River Gaunless, yet another Viking name. Gaunless (like gormless) means useless, but why is uncertain. Perhaps it was too short of fish to feed the hungry Vikings or too sluggish to power the workings of a mill.

Waterfalls are a bit like burns and becks in that they change their names according to where in the region you look for them. High Force and Low Force in Teesdale derive from a Viking word ‘foss’ that literally means waterfall. Forces also occur in Cumbria and Yorkshire too.

In Weardale though waterfalls are called ‘Linns’ and they go by this name in Northumberland too where there are many impressive waterfalls to see. Linn was seemingly a word used by the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria but has Celtic roots deriving from ‘Hlynn’ a word for a pool – probably from the plunge pools found at the foot of a fall.

The River Tees, High Force Waterfall
The River Tees, High Force Waterfall

So we can see that ancient people of long ago and sometimes the slightly more recent settlers, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings from Northern Europe have played an important part in the naming of our rivers and water features. It is those later peoples that also played a big part in the naming of our towns, villages, cities and topographical features as we will discover in the next What’s in a (North East Place-)Name?

Gems of the #NECoast

In preparation for a social media celebration of the North East coast PAUL WHITE explores the shores from Seaton Carew to South Shields

Sunshine at South Shields. Photo: Paul White
Sunshine at South Shields. Photo: Paul White

I don’t think it’s possible to live in the North East for so long that you know everywhere and everything about the region.

Personally, I’ve never lived outside of the North East in my 40 years. I was even fortunate enough to get on a degree course that was taught in Darlington.

I’m not someone who believes that there is nothing to be gained from venturing further afield, like some Shildonian version of Hale & Pace’s Yorkshire Airways pilots. I love traveling, but I am also increasingly aware that there is always somewhere new to discover here.

On Sunday, I decided to take my camera with me on a trip up the coast. It was inspired by a plan hatched at Northumbrian Water that this Friday, September 9th, we would like to try to get as many people Tweeting pictures of the North East coast at the same time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we can fill a small part of the vastness that is Twitter with imagery of our region’s stunning coastline, even for just a few minutes? Anyway, more on that and how you can get involved later.

I started at Seaton Carew, a place I visited recently for the first time since my childhood. What a lovely seaside destination we have there, just to the south of Hartlepool. No airs and graces, little in the way of over-the-top flashing lights, and an amazing gelato shop (Jo Jo’s), to stop and rest your feet, while taking on board one of a wonderful array of sundaes.

Moody Skies over Seaton Carew. Photo: Paul White
Moody Skies over Seaton Carew. Photo: Paul White

The sky was brooding, the southern backdrop industrial. Yes, it’s lovely to get a shot of the type of beach that goes on forever, with blue sky up above and the sun shining. But, if I’m honest, when I have my camera I’ll take a dramatic set of clouds any day. Not least because I burn like nobody’s business after 15 minutes in the sun.

Next, I headed North, Seaham-bound. Only, I never got there. A little sign for Crimdon Beach caught my eye and I made an unplanned right turn and discovered an incredibly beautiful beach that I never knew existed.

Crimdon Beach. Photo Paul White
Crimdon Beach. Photo Paul White

A mix of pebbles, pools and sand, it was a revelation. Sure, I’d heard the name Crimdon, but never once associated it with a beach I’ll be sure to return to again and again. Wonderfully sheltered by the rising hills, there is less of a breeze, zero flashing lights, and it’s really quiet, almost like a little secret I’d stumbled upon. Ok, no gelato bar, but you can’t win them all.

Crimdon Beach
Crimdon Beach. Photo: Paul White

As the afternoon ticked on, I bypassed the lovely beaches of Seaham, Roker and Whitburn – and possibly one or two more gems I have yet to discover – and made my way to South Shields. This is another recent discovery (or, possibly, rediscovery) for me, I shamefully confess, but it’s got so much to offer for everyone.

I “found” it again – it’s another place I was probably brought as a child –  when a friend’s band were playing on the sea front a while ago, in a beautiful outdoor auditorium.

South Shields pier. Photo: Paul White
South Shields pier. Photo: Paul White

This was my first walk along the pier, however, and it provides a wonderful, fresh perspective on the mouth of the Tyne, with Tynemouth across the water and the Tyne heading inland, ferries setting off on their journeys and fishermen of all ages landing mackerel.

It was a whistle stop tour of three from countless wonderful places on our coastline and, while I will return to all three again, I will certainly be making a few trips to places I have never been, so that I never stop discovering the North East and its coast.

Beach at South Shields. Photo: Paul White
Beach at South Shields. Photo: Paul White

If you’d like to get involved with the plan to flood a small part of Twitter with beautiful images, Tweet your pics, using the #NECoast hashtag, on Friday, September 9, at around 4pm. Let’s show the world what they’re missing.

Find out more about Paul White and our England’s North East bloggers here

The light at the end of the roadworks

Roadworks may be frustrating for motorists but PAUL WHITE advocates patience with these necessary improvements to our civilisation

I drove from Durham to the MetroCentre a couple of weeks ago.

In rush hour.

Before I knew it, I was there.

It was the second time I’d experienced this phenomenon in recent weeks.

Having spent many an hour, over the course of the last couple of years, negotiating queues and 30mph zones, this was something of a pleasure.

Does that make me a sad case? Probably not. I’m sure many others will have enjoyed the freedom of the newly expanded A1.

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Roadworks on the A690 in Durham. Photo: David Simpson

We had similar issues not so long back on the A19 when the New Tyne Crossing was being built. Ok, so there is more to come as connecting junctions of the A19 are to be upgraded, but when you consider that these are the remaining clogs in that part of our road network, then surely the long term benefits are going to be worth any short term roadworks.

I must confess that I come to this from the viewpoint of someone who appreciates civil engineering from having worked with organisations and businesses in that sector in the past. I think I perhaps have developed a greater tolerance to the work that goes towards improving civilisation in our region.

Yes, improving civilisation. Think about it, this is what civil engineering does – it creates the world in which we live, from utilities to roads, bridges and buildings, flood defences and energy.

I’m not saying I’m a saint when sat in roadworks. I get tetchy, just like anyone. However, when I think about the end result, I tend to feel more tolerant. So long as I’m not in a rush, but hey, I know I should have given myself more time.

Earlier this year, proposed plans were revealed for a £290m upgrade of a 13 mile stretch of the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham, that will hopefully slash journey times from Newcastle to Edinburgh.

We still have some way to go to the south of the region, with the A1 upgrades in North Yorkshire, but if a trip to Leeds becomes such a smooth ride, are we really going to complain (much)?

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Roadworks. Photo: David Simpson.

Kielder: A jewel in the North East’s crown

PAUL WHITE cycles 26 miles round the shores of the beautiful Kielder Water and despite the ups and downs suggests the challenge is not solely for the enthusiast

Kielder Water
Kielder Water

It was only quite recently that I took my first ever trip to Kielder Forest & Water Park. Considering my global travels, to not have taken the 90-minute drive north seems like something to almost be ashamed of. Especially when you find it is so beautiful.

To the west, it’s a similar distance from home to the Lake District, a journey I’ve made many times. So, why not Kielder?

My wife had mentioned it on many occasions, but I’d simply never got around to it.

However, earlier this year, we got up early one Saturday when the sun was shining, I slung our bikes on the back of the car, and headed off up the A68.

Having recently started a contract with Northumbrian Water, which owns the park, I had decided I finally had to find out what all of the fuss is about.

To say it was a trip I had planned doesn’t mean “well-planned”. Yes, I had read that the Lakeside Way was just over 26 miles long. Surely, that was easily achievable. After all, the name “Lakeside Way” clearly represented a ride that would be flat? No.

Taking a break from Lakeside Way
Taking a break from Lakeside Way

We took it easy and, despite the many ups and downs, rode the distance from Tower Knowe to Tower Knowe in around four hours. It was the first time my wife had been on a bike ride in something like two years, so without being patronising, it is clearly a ride that isn’t solely for the enthusiast. It’s a ride that can be taken as lightly or as seriously as you wish.

There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the wildlife and a stunning art and architecture collection and, around eight miles from the end, the Kielder Waterside Park (previously known as Leaplish) is a great resting stop, where you can enjoy a meal at the Boat Inn. Admittedly, my body wasn’t so happy after an hour’s rest and a nice meal when I decided to set off on those final few miles.

This trip simply scratched the surface of Kielder, where plans are underway to make it the “best in Britain”, with new luxury lodges being developed at the Waterside Park. With the history of Kielder Castle and the area’s thriving art collection, there is a trip to Kielder for all enthusiasms.

Kielder
Kielder

The Kielder Ospreys are a great example of species being reintroduced to our region and, with everything from the tiniest birds through to these beautiful creatures and even buzzards, it’s a place for wildlife lovers as well as adventurers, food fans, history lovers, or just people wanting a great break.

And to think it was all created to help supply water to parts of our region as distant as Teesside.

How long does it take there? (Google Map timings)

  • From Newcastle – 1hr 19m
  • From Durham – 1hr 38m
  • From Sunderland – 1hr 47m
  • From Middlesbrough – 2hr 12m
  • From Berwick – 1h 34m

Durham’s hidden coastal gem

HELEN GILDERSLEEVE soaks up the rays at one of our region’s unspoiled beaches and discovers how tranquillity turned the tide for one of our rarest seabirds.

Crimdon
Crimdon

Crimdon is situated at the southern end of Durham’s Heritage Coast between Hartlepool and Blackhall Rocks. Once a thriving holiday destination for mining families during the 1920’s, Crimdon is now a destination for a rare seabird, the Little Tern, which beach dwellers can hear chattering delightfully. The Little Tern visits Crimdon to breed each year from West Africa. They usually return to Africa with their young at the end of summer.

The importance of these birds means they are well protected by wardens and volunteers, who are always available during the bird breeding season to talk to the public about the colony. An extensive, fenced breeding area has been set up for the birds away from people to ensure the Terns aren’t disturbed and to protect their eggs and chicks from predators.

LittleTern
LittleTern

Little Terns are the smallest species of tern in the UK, nesting exclusively on the coast in well-camouflaged shallow scrapes on beaches, spits or inshore islets. They do not forage far from their breeding site, which dictates a necessity for breeding close to shallow, sheltered feeding areas where they can easily locate the variety of small fish and invertebrates that make up their diet.

Little Tern conservation area at Crimdon
Little Tern conservation area at Crimdon

Colonies are predominantly found around much of the coastline where the species’ preference for beaches also favoured by people makes it vulnerable to disturbance. Their vulnerable nesting sites and a decline in Europe make it an Amber List species on the RSPB’s Conservation Concern list.

Luckily for the Crimdon Terns, their breeding ground remains tranquil and passers-by may even be able to witness a mating display. Courtship involves an aerial display with the male calling and carrying a fish to attract a mate in the colony.

Crimdon
Crimdon

The beach itself is now a much quieter haven than it once was, having lost many visitors in the 1970s and 80s due to the growing popularity of foreign travel. However, this is all part of its appeal.

From the Tyne to the Tees many North East beaches, although beautiful, can often be crowded and noisy. Crimdon, in comparison, has stretches of endless golden sands and rarely gets more than a handful of visitors at any one time. It’s enjoyable for families as well as bird-watchers, with its endless rock pools and rolling dunes. It also boasts free car parking and a regular ice cream van.

Mine’s a 99 please, with an extra Flake.

@DurhamCoast