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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Durham Cathedral’s much-anticipated Open Treasure exhibition finally opens its doors to the public this weekend. DAVID SIMPSON takes a sneak preview and is captivated by a wonderful collection of precious exhibits in extraordinarily beautiful spaces
When it comes to history, I must admit to having a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon age and especially the part it played in the story of the North East. Yes, of course we have the Romans and the wonderful Hadrian’s Wall but for me our region’s identity truly emerges with the Golden Age of Northumbria and the flourishing Christian art and culture of the seventh century.
St. Cuthbert, the Venerable Bede and the Northumbrian king, Oswald, are the great figures of this age, whose remains all lie within Durham’s stupendous cathedral. They are still remembered affectionately across our region like old friends from a distant time. They are part of our folklore, our heritage. Even the dialect of our region has its roots in this age. Cuthbert would have understood that ‘to gan’ means ‘to go’ and as a monument to our region’s roots, beginnings and rich Christian heritage, Durham Cathedral is most certainly the place to go.
The Cathedral is of course Norman, but its story has Anglo-Saxon roots, brought about with a little help from the Vikings and the settlement of a community of monks carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin to Dunholm – or Durham as it became. Here they laid their saint to rest in a simple, specially-built church some 98 years before the building of the Norman cathedral began in 1093.
The cathedral provided a central focus for a monastic community whose influence stretched from Lindisfarne in the far north of Northumberland deep into North Yorkshire to the south. Today Durham Cathedral still carries this legacy as a focal point recalling the region’s earliest spiritual development and identity.
With the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, £10.9 million has been invested in the creation of a new exhibition that utilises two particularly wonderful buildings of the cathedral’s former monastery along with a new interconnecting gallery space. Together they serve to fulfil the legacy of recalling the story of the region’s spiritual enlightenment. They will provide visitors with an experience to match the cathedral’s international, cultural and historic value and aim to transform the way visitors enjoy the Cathedral and gain inspiration from it.
Open Treasure begins in the wonderful Monks’ Dormitory, entered from the cathedral cloisters by a short stairway or a glass lift both of which reward you with the exhibition’s opening scene – a stunning view of the dormitory itself, a great medieval hall 194 feet long and 39 feet wide. It is the only intact monastic dormitory in England.
Once the sleeping quarters for Durham’s Bendictine monks, the Dormitory was commenced in 1398, in the era of Bishop Walter Skirlaw and we know the names of the medieval contractors who built it – John Middleton and Peter Dryng – but it is the work of a carpenter, Ellis Harpour that really grabs our attention for his spectacular oak beamed roof, the largest outside Westminster, and completed around 1404.
New light is shed on old stones, in a quite literal sense, as we enter the Dormitory and find ambient, atmospheric lighting illuminating the rich features of the structure, the roof and the details of its ancient artefacts. An impressive collection of sculptured stones of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking eras, for so long a perhaps unloved and poorly interpreted feature of display, now take on a new life of their own.
My particular favourites are the so-called Hogback stones of the Viking period from an era in which the Vikings were converting to Christianity. The era is reflected in the fusion or tension of conflicting Christian and pagan decorative styles. The sculptured stones come from across the region with a large number from the Vale of the Tees in south Durham and North Yorkshire.
Wandering around we are drawn to explore the stones of different eras in detail; the carving of bears heads clutching the hogback stone, the carved name of an Anglo-Saxon nun from a convent at Hartlepool and the huge awe-inspiring crosses that tower above the collection.
Much thought has been put into interpretation and information. Beautiful touch screens invite you to explore. Of special interest is a screen that shows the development and growth of the cathedral at different stages in its life. The stage that caught my eye was the cathedral in 1483 with the cathedral’s central tower at only half its present height. Since the tower’s later extension is currently in wraps as it undergoes repair it’s not too hard to imagine the cathedral in 1483 although back then the two western towers were twice their present height topped as they were by huge spires.
Close by a colourful interactive screen that will appeal to young and old alike highlights the different roles of monks within the Durham monastery of which the cathedral was an integral part. You can pick a role to discover what their jobs involved.
My favourite feature of the Dormitory exhibition is, however, a cathedral timeline set out along an illustrated display bench complete with artefacts from different eras.
It is the great stone sculptures and crosses that dominate the scene in the Dormitory but special mention must be made of the grand bookcases that adorn the periphery of this hall, each uniquely crafted and containing books of many eras. In preparation for the exhibition they have been fitted with beautiful oak and brass screen doors each individually crafted by specialist carpenters to match the dimensions of each unique bookcase.
At the south west end of the Monks Dormitory an attended door leads through to the next stage of the exhibition, where we enter the sudden coolness of the Collections Gallery where the atmosphere is closely monitored and sustained for the protection of exhibits. It is a surprisingly recent part of the cathedral, being nothing but an empty void until the 1950s when it was made into a linking passageway that later served as the Dormitory Library’s search room.
A case displays some of the interesting finds discovered within the monastic buildings including fish bones from the old cathedral priory kitchen and a broom or ‘besom’ discovered under the dormitory floor along with horse racing sweepstake tickets left by joiners in 1852.
Leaving the gallery, the next stage of the Open Treasure which will ultimately prove to be the highlight of the treasure is the spectacular octagonal kitchen (though it is square from outside) with its impressive and deceptively complex ribbed ceiling created by John Lewyn in 1366-74. Once surrounded by great fireplaces – their recesses can still be seen – it was here in the kitchen that the monks’ meals were prepared along with those of their guests. The building still served as a kitchen until the 1940s and more recently, up until 2011, it served as the cathedral bookshop.
Here, the highlight for me is a copper and enamel 13th century crucifix discovered on the site of the fourteenth century Battle of Neville’s Cross which took place in 1346 on the outskirts of Durham City. Unearthed in the grounds of a house called Western Lodge in the 19th century it passed through a family line to a Mrs Patricia Alvis of Bideford in Devon who donated the cross to the cathedral’s collection in May.
The main feature of the kitchen is the cathedral’s silver plate and particularly the impressive collection of Bishop John Cosin dating from the 1660s which is the centre piece of this grand building, for now at least. Next summer this central display area will become the permanent place of display for St Cuthbert’s 1,300 year old wooden coffin.
It is important and only fair to note that the coffin and many of the most famous cathedral’s treasures are not going to be on display in the Open Treasure just yet. If you are hoping to see the St. Cuthbert relics including the famous pectoral cross of circa 640-670 AD or medieval manuscripts of later periods you will have to wait for now.
This is for understandable reasons.
Conservators have to ensure that the cathedral’s most precious and delicate items are properly and very carefully acclimatised to their new surroundings. The impact of visitors in all kinds of weather conditions and numbers on the sensitive micro-climates of the display areas has to be assessed. It will be very closely monitored to ensure that the artefacts are protected and preserved for generations to come. This means that some of the best-known treasures of the cathedral will not make their debut in Open Treasure until the summer of 2017.
It is hoped that Open Treasure will attract 120,000 visitors a year and the admission price of £7.50 per adult and £2.50 per child to the exhibition is surely a worthwhile investment for the upkeep and conservation of one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
So, as the Anglo-Saxons might say “gan and-langes” (go along) and soak up almost 2,000 years of culture and beauty. St Cuthbert would surely approve.
Open Treasure opens its doors to the public on Saturday July 23, 2016.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE finds out how a popular urban-based farm hopes to achieve self-sufficiency as it faces major cuts in funding
Based under Byker Bridge, the Ouseburn Farm in Newcastle is a rustic green oasis in the heart of the city.
Sadly, the popular farm may face closure after a key backer was forced to withdraw support, leaving a significant funding shortfall.
Established as a charity in 1973, the farm is owned by Newcastle City Council, though for the last eight years Tyne Housing Association (THA) have paid £100,00 towards annual running costs. Cuts in funding mean the housing provider can no longer support the farm beyond April 2017.
The free-to-enter farm is a much-loved feature of the Ouseburn townscape and is home to cows, pigs, sheep, goats and ducks. It gives an opportunity for city people to get close to farm animals and provides farm-based and environmental education for over 4,000 school children and students in term-time.
Workshops teach agricultural, horticultural and environmental skills to vulnerable adults and members of the public and are provided by a staff of six full-time and two part-time employees supported by up to 20 volunteers.
Closure of the farm would be a major loss to Ouseburn but things are looking hopeful, as the charity is making steps towards becoming financially self-sustaining. The Board of the Tyne Housing Association has transferred a carpentry workshop and two furniture shops in Wilfred Street, Byker to the farm charity to help generate the much-needed funds.
Further funds come from Ouseburn Farm Shop on Heaton Park Road which opened its doors at the end of June. The shop sells upcycled furniture that has been restored and recycled at the Wilfred Street workshop which in turn reduces a cost to the environment by helping reduce landfill waste.
In addition, the shop sells homemade bakery items and preserves produced at the farm. It is very a positive step forward for the farm in its aim to become self-sufficient
The farm itself in Ouseburn Valley also generates income from its newly refurbished coffee shop and educational classrooms. Workshops are available which aim to teach school children, students, vulnerable adults, volunteers and members of the public about agricultural, horticultural and environmental projects.
A spokesperson from Ouseburn Farm, said:
“We’d like to give a massive thank you to Tyne Housing Association who have funded the farm for the last eight years and we remain positive that the farm, treasured by all the community – near and far – will get backing in the near future.
“If anyone would like to do their bit to help us then they are more than welcome to donate as much or as little as they can afford.”
Councillor Stephen Powers, Cabinet Member for Policy and Communication, said:
“The Council has had a long involvement with the farm and was instrumental in saving it ten years ago when it was discovered that the old City Farm was situated on land that was heavily contaminated from its historic use as the site of an iron works.
“Because it was recognised as an important and much-loved attraction in Ouseburn, which also had great potential, in 2006 the Council oversaw a major project to clear the contamination and replace the old buildings with a new environmentally friendly building.
“An innovative agreement with Tyne Housing Association for them to take over and develop the Farm has been very successful and I am very keen to see the Farm’s future secured. Both the Council and Tyne Housing face serious financial pressures in a time of austerity and so it is essential to find an alternative external funding source so the Farm can continue its excellent work with schools, volunteers and vulnerable adults.
“It is one of the key visitor attractions within the Ouseburn Valley alongside Seven Stories, the Victoria Tunnel and the various galleries, pubs and cafes and is integral to the emergence of the Valley as a unique and vibrant area of the city.
“The Council will work alongside THA to find a way of securing the future of the Farm after April 2017 and would be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in becoming involved with such a fantastic place.”
To find out more about Ouseburn Farm visit:
To donate to Ouseburn Farm, visit their Just Giving page here