Category Archives: Environment

Land of Oak & Iron

The Land of Oak & Iron is a vast region rich in natural and industrial heritage and is right on the doorstep of some of the most populous parts of the North East. DAVID SIMPSON explores.

Aerial view of Allensford in the Land of Oak & Iron.
Aerial view of Allensford in the Land of Oak & Iron. Photo: Michael Ball

Have you ever visited the Land of Oak & Iron? Perhaps you have without realising. This is after all a land covering around 177 km2 of North East England and features a wonderful wealth of ‘heritage, history, heroes and habitats’.

Focused on the beautiful Derwent Valley this land encompasses parts of County Durham, Northumberland and the Borough of Gateshead and is a superb part of the region to relax and explore on foot or bike and all within easy reach of Tyneside and many of the most populous parts of the North East.

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre
Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Recently we visited the plush new Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre and the adjoining independent café Shrub which are very easy to reach just off the A694 at Winlaton Mill between Consett and Gateshead. In the sunny Autumnal sunshine there were plenty of people enjoying good food in the café – much of which is sourced from North East producers, while others were trying their hand at wood-engraved print-making in the heritage centre, courtesy of visiting demonstrator, Shona Branigan of Salmon Jam Press.

Wood-print engraver, Shona Branigan.
Wood-print engraver, Shona Branigan. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The centre and café look out onto the beautiful wooded Derwent Valley with its extensive network of pathways that are popular with cyclists, dog walkers and families out for a stroll. Formed as a landscape partnership, the Land of Oak & Iron is hosted by Groundwork NE & Cumbria and with £3.4 million of secured funding, is undertaking a programme of fourteen interconnected projects to conserve, enhance and encourage accessibility to the area’s unique cultural and natural assets. The developments began in 2016 and will continue all the way into 2020.

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre
Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre. Photo: landofoakandiron.org.uk

The opening of the café and heritage centre in October 2018 has been an important milestone in these developments and the centre is a good starting point to explore the whole area. However it’s about much more than just one place. This is the heart of a region that stretches north west from the wooded valley of Allensford near Consett along the beautiful Derwent to where the little river joins the Tyne at Swalwell. From there the region stretches west along the Tyne to Cherryburn the one time home of famed eighteenth century engraver, Thomas Bewick.

Bewick is just one of the many local heroes associated with the Land of Oak & Iron. Others include the fraternity of seventeenth century German sword makers who settled at Shotley Bridge; the renowned industrialist, Ambrose Crowley; the ‘Unhappy Countess’, Mary Eleanor Bowes of Gibside and the ‘pitman poet’ Tommy Armstrong.

Wonderful wonderland in the Land of Oak and Iron
Wonderful woodland in the Land of Oak & Iron. Photo: landofoakandiron.org.uk

In terms of heritage, the landscape speaks for itself. Extensive woodland includes Chopwell Wood, Milkwellburn Wood and the Thornley Woodlands which are typical landscape features of the district. In fact in the old Brythonic tongue of the Celts, the name Derwent means ‘oak river’ and is testament to the long-established sylvan nature of the district.

Improved access to woodland, encouraged through the work of Access & Woodlands Officer, Peter Downes, works to assist and support local owners of small woodlands and is another successful aspect of the Partnership’s work, bringing owners of adjoining woodlands together. According to Kath Marshall-Ivens, Community Engagement Officer at Groundwork NE and Cumbria, the area covered by the partnership has a 13% woodland cover which is higher than the national and regional average. It includes a number of PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites), which are sites that were ancient woodland but have been replanted in more recent years. Ancient woodland is that which has existed continuously since 1600 or before.

Country parks, Land of Oak and Iron
There are four country parks within the Land of Oak & Iron. Photo: landofoakandiron.org.uk

There are four country parks within the whole area, namely Derwent Walk, Derwenthaugh, Allensford, and Tyne Riverside and there are additional visitor centres at Thornley Woods and The Lodge Heritage Centre at Consett and Blackhill Park.

The numerous landscape features and habitats across this beautiful region include wildflower meadows like Blaydon’s Shibdon Meadow which lies in close proximity to the MetroCentre, adjoining the Shibdon Ponds nature reserve. Further to the west near Prudhoe are the intriguingly named ‘Spetchells’ to the south of the Tyne which in the North East form a unique chalk meadow landscape created from the spoil heaps of a former chemical works that stood on the site. As well as interesting fauna the Spetchells form a special habitat for solitary mining bees.

Industry has certainly played a role in shaping the landscape of the Land of Oak & Iron. The Derwent Walk pathway that forms the primary walking and cycling route through the whole area follows the course of a Victorian railway that linked the former iron town of Consett to Tyneside. Many of the smaller pathways of the network follow the routes of colliery wagonways some of which date back to the 1700s and 1600s.

Major heritage features in the region are often reminders of its important links to the iron industry and include the early eighteenth century remains of Allensford Blast Furnace near Consett and the impressive Derwentcote Steel Furnace of the 1730s near Hamsterley Mill. We also have the rare and curious Whinfield Coke Ovens near Chopwell Wood, built by the owners of the Victoria Garesfield Colliery in the 1860s.

Derwentcote Steel Furnace
Derwentcote Steel Furnace. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Other heritage features within the Land of Oak & Iron include two major National Trust sites in the form of Thomas Bewick’s cottage at Cherryburn which stands in a splendid rural setting and of course the wonderful parkland of Gibside near Rowlands Gill including the magnificent Palladian chapel and much else besides. Somewhere between the two we have a major English Heritage site in the shape of the twelfth century Prudhoe Castle, reputedly the only castle in the North East never to have been captured by the Scots.

A lesser-known heritage site that forms a lovely independent attraction is the Path Head Water Mill, a restored operational water mill complete with a working water wheel and adjoining mill pond. Parts of the mill were salvaged from mills at Acomb and Guyzance in Northumberland and it forms a super attraction in lovely grounds near the valley of the Blaydon Burn.

Path Head Water Mill
Path Head Water Mill. Photo: landofoakandiron.org.uk

Perhaps a more surprising heritage feature of the Partnership area are the remains of the thirteenth century medieval manor house called Old Hollinside Manor near Whickham. It was known as the ‘Giant’s Castle’ because the men folk of the Harding family who once resided here were noted for being so tall in stature.

Old Hollinside Manor
Old Hollinside Manor. Photo Gateshead Borough Council

The River Derwent and Tyne are of course an important aspect of the area’s cultural, industrial and natural heritage. In recent years improvements have been made to the Derwent as a habitat for fish and this has been one of the partnership’s most publicised projects. Salmon and Sea Trout can now migrate much further upstream to lay their eggs after the development of a rock pool fish pass at Lintzford, overseen by the Tyne Rivers Trust.

Opened in November 2016, the new fish pass complements the existing 300 year old weir that had previously blocked the migration of the fish. Another fish pass will be created upstream at Shotley Grove and this will open up the whole river for spawning and have a positive impact on trout and salmon numbers in the valley and even out at sea.

Fish Pass, the Land of Oak and Iron
Fish Pass, the Land of Oak & Iron. Photo: Julia Richardson

Towns such as Consett, Rowlands Gill, Ryton, Whickham, Blaydon and Prudhoe all lie within the Land of Oak & Iron as well as several smaller villages. The proximity of neighbouring Tyneside make this all the more important as a region of natural and industrial heritage in close proximity to so many thousands of people.

Community involvement has been a major factor in the success of the Land of Oak & Iron Partnership and has included outreach programmes to local schools with sessions aimed at exploring the industrial and natural heritage of the area.

Notable creations associated with links to schools include the composition of a song and also the creation of an orchestral piece both inspired by the landscape of the area. In addition there has been much work in partnership with Gateshead College aimed at engaging with the landscape, with projects including photography and work for building students in the conservation of the industrial heritage sites.

Although the projects will be completed in 2020, the legacy and community involvement will continue far beyond with a ‘legacy group’ ensuring that the wonderful Land of Oak & Iron can be explored, enjoyed, understood and appreciated for many generations to come.

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LINKS

Land of Oak & Iron website:

landofoakandiron.org.uk

 

On Twitter: @LandofOakIron

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/LandofOakandIron

Café Shrub, Winlaton Mill: cafeshrub.co.uk/

Path Head Water Mill: gatesheadmill.co.uk/

Cherryburn: nationaltrust.org.uk/cherryburn

Gibside: nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside

Prudhoe Castle: english-heritage.org.uk/

Salmon Jam Press: salmonjampress.co.uk/

Main Partners Land of Oak & Iron Partnership: County Durham Community Foundation; Durham County Council; Durham Wildlife Trust; English Heritage; Gateshead College; Groundwork NE and Cumbria; New Visions Heritage; Northumberland County Council; Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust; Tyne River Trust; The Woodland Trust. Other partner organisations include: Blaydon Youth and Community Centre; Friends of Chopwell Wood, Heritage Lottery Fund; Industrial Heritage Networks; Newcastle Gateshead Initiative and Visit County Durham.

Have you visited the Land of Oak & Iron?

Please tell us about your favourite places to visit in the district or anywhere else that you like to explore across the North East of England.

Leave your comments below, we’d love to hear from you.

Blessed with Beaches

When you’re out with a young teenage kid it’s hard to beat the beaches of the North East coast. DAVID SIMPSON explores some of the best beaches in our region.

Bamburgh Castle and beach,
Bamburgh Castle and beach. Photo © David Simpson 2018

“Wow look at this view” you might hear me say as I drive through some lovely spot in the fabulous Northumberland and Durham countryside. My thirteen year old who says she loves it when I take her for drives in the countryside lifts her head, momentarily, from her phone, to see the lovely winding River Coquet up in the Northumberland dales, glistening in the summer sunshine. “That’s nice”, she says, before quickly returning to the engaging glow of that tiny screen.

Whitley Sands, Whitley Bay.
Whitley Sands, Whitley Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

It’s hard to inspire young people about our region’s wonderful scenery but at least when I test her patience by leaping out of the car (parking up first) to take a quick snap of an interesting castle, village, dale or vale, she can still maintain the undisturbed contact with her digital world.

“Is it ok if I take a quick picture?” I ask, though the question is rhetorical, I’m going to take that picture.

“So long as I don’t have to get out of the car”, she sighs.

Now I’m not complaining. I remember a distinct lack of passion for endless nature, knowledge, views and visitor centres in the distant days of my own youth out on those long day trips with my mum and dad. My feelings of indifference weren’t that much different to what my daughter feels now and there were no digital distractions for us kids back then.

Whitley Bay
Whitley Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Head to the beach though and things are quite different, just as I’m sure they were for me:

“Here dad can you look after my phone while I explore?”

The beach, I’ve found, is the best place to bond with the girl. It’s just unbeatable.

It’s not just about bonding with your kids though. I’m single and in my occasional, mostly unsuccessful, ventures into online dating I’ve discovered just about every lovely lady out there in our region declares an interest in their online profile for “exploring the Northumberland Coast”.

Dunstanburgh castle from the beach at Embleton Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2015

There you’ll find it in profile after profile, like there’s some kind of hidden sponsorship deal. The coast is so predictably popular (though understandable given its ‘romantic’ beauty) that it makes me wonder how many couples wandering Amble, Alnmouth, Bamburgh, Beadnell, Whitburn, Whitley or wherever are only recently acquainted courtesy of findyournortheastcoastmate-dot-com if there’s such a thing.

Beautiful Bamburgh.
Beautiful Bamburgh. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Anyway, I digress. When I’m out with the teenager the beach is a definite best choice and there are so many to choose from. I only see her properly at weekends every couple of weeks and during this glorious summer or even back in the winter, we have often ended up strolling along one of the region’s beautiful beaches.

Beach at Seaburn / Roker
Beach at Seaburn – Roker : Photo © David Simpson 2015

Our coast really is stunning and not just in Northumberland. The beaches and coastline north and south of the Tyne as well as along the Durham coast or around the cliffs of Cleveland are all different and simply marvellous in so many ways.

So far this year we’ve done Marsden, Whitley Bay, Whitburn,  Seaburn, Saltburn, Tynemouth, Alnmouth, Bamburgh, Druridge Bay then Seaham, Seahouses, Seaton Carew and Crimdon and of course we’ve found the rocky shorelines around places like Craster or the Cleveland cliffs just as appealing. Some days were sunny, some days were winter grey and grim, but it never seems to spoil the fun.

Seaburn, Sunderland during the 2018 Tall Ships race.
Seaburn, Sunderland during the 2018 Tall Ships race. Photo © David Simpson 2018

You don’t have to spend lots of money to enjoy our splendid coast. Just take a packed lunch, though I admit a lovely fish shop, café or perhaps enjoying a bite on the beach with table service from Riley’s Fish Shack at bustling Tynemouth or an enormous ‘posh’ fish finger sandwich at the Marsden Grotto pub can be part of the delight.

Simply pottering about just seems to pass the time when I’m with the girl. This delighted beach dad can enjoy the views and take the occasional snap shot of spectacular scenes, passing ships or shapely sea shells but is just as happy gathering together a collection of countless coloured stones to make a mosaic on the beach or searching for crabs and limpets in a rock pool.

The North East coast simply rocks
The North East coast simply rocks and is never more than a stone’s throw away. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The girl loves this kind of thing too or perhaps just writing her name or mine or her mum’s in huge letters in the sand. It’s good simple fun and so too is ‘plodging in a pool’, to use a North East phrase.

My daughter found a nice pool formed by one of those huge concrete cubes, designed to keep the Germans out, though in fairness I saw no beach towels here. This was on the beach at Alnmouth and she was strangely engrossed by that pool. A great place for her to test her briefly reclaimed phone’s waterproof photography credentials (it fortunately passed), before it was returned to me and forgotten again.

Whichever beach you choose, simply wandering along the shoreline with the mesmerising sound of crashing waves is just so peaceful and life affirming and if there also happens to be an extraordinarily majestic giant sand castle called Bamburgh looming in the distance, well that’s just a bonus.

Now we’re not going to choose a favourite beach or coastal spot because, well, we couldn’t possibly be forced into any particular coastal corner. They’re all so different anyway with their own individual charms, so I’ll start by mentioning the last beach we visited at Alnmouth.

View of Alnmouth
View of Alnmouth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

We do love Alnmouth. So often people comment on how pretty it seems from the passing car as they head north along the coastal route but if you take a right turn and actually get out and explore this place it really is rather charming.

River meets the sea at Alnmouth
River meets the sea at Alnmouth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Park up near the golf course to the north but watch out for golf balls. From here you can wander south along the beach, which then continues slightly inland along the little estuary of the River Aln itself and then onwards into the harbour with its moored up boats. From there you can wander into the delightful little village of Alnmouth itself – or is it, perhaps, a very tiny town?

Incidentally, my favourite fact about Alnmouth is that it was once fired upon by American privateer John Paul Jones during the American War of Independence when he came by in his passing warship. The cannonball missed the village church , bounced a couple of times and hit a farm building. Nobody was harmed.

Down at Saltburn in the far south of the region (a part of Yorkshire we especially love) there’s a slightly stony stream that cuts across the beach to enter the sea where you can roll up your trousers, take off your socks and shoes and plodge across. Ah, the simple pleasures!

Saltburn.
Saltburn. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Here at Saltburn the daughter and I spent quite a lot of time at the end of the pier just watching kids effortlessly catching crabs in nets on long fishing lines dropped into and raised from the sea below. The daughter was delighted when she spotted a curious whiskered seal that popped its head out of the water to watch a couple of kids paddle by in a dinghy.

Saltburn Pier.
Saltburn Pier. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The sands of Northumberland’s Druridge Bay at five miles long are a delightful find that are perhaps not so well-known. They’re relatively sedate, quite different to the buoyant beaches of say Whitley Bay or South Shields to the south. Part of a country park, Druridge Bay has the added bonus of the lovely Ladyburn Lake, a substantial freshwater lake to the rear of the Druridge dunes.

Druridge Bay
A grey day won’t stop play at Druridge Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Tynemouth and Cullercoats are always firm favourites and justifiably popular. Whitley Bay looked lovely and lively in the sunshine on our recent visits even before they reopened the beautiful, elegant revamped Spanish City.

St Mary's Island near Whitley Bay.
St Mary’s Island near Whitley Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

We love the sandcastle sculptures there which are quite quirky and as for St Mary’s Island, I’m sure it’s been said so many times before but it’s simply picture postcard perfect.

Marsden Bay near South Shields.
Marsden Bay near South Shields. Photo © David Simpson 2018

South of the Tyne, Marsden Bay is still a great spot and the novelty of the lift down the cliff to the grotto pub and beach below never loses its simple appeal.

Further south, Sunderland is a city of super beaches which are always good for a wander. We recently walked down from wonderful Whitburn to Seaham and Roker during the Tall Ships Race as the ships headed out to sea and it was certainly a serene sight to see.

Crimdon Beach
Crimdon beach looking towards Hartlepool and the distant cliffs of the Cleveland coast beyond. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The Durham coast, once shunned by tourists for its industrial blight of now distant times has emerged as a new jewel following decades of intensive clean up and has several smashing beaches to explore. Many are still largely unknown even to residents of that county.

The unique terrain and natural environment formed by the meeting of the Magnesian limestone and the sea  makes the Durham coast a special spot for nature especially when coupled with the beautiful neighbouring wooded denes that are a regular feature of this particular coast.

The town of Seaham Harbour has seen a stunning transformation and despite the rather industrial names of two of its  beaches –  ‘Blast Beach’ and ‘Chemical Beach’, –  the names are in fact quite misleading as it is nature that now rules.

Blast Beach, Seaham
Blast Beach, Seaham Photo © David Simpson 2018

Speaking of jewels you may find pretty gems of many colours washed up on a beach here at Seaham. These wave-weathered, smooth, rounded pieces of glass were discarded into the sea by a Victorian glass works that once stood hereabouts and create a delightful little treasure to hunt for if you know where to look.

Indeed the whole North East coast could be described as a wonderful gem in itself. I’m always flabbergasted to hear even the best-known beaches of our region described as ‘the best-kept secret’.  For me and my girl it’s no secret at all, the North East coast is our familiar friend and a place where happy memories are made.

External sites:

Northumberland Coast AONB:

http://www.northumberlandcoastaonb.org/

Durham Heritage Coast: 

www.durhamheritagecoast.org/

A North East Beach Guide:

www.thebeachguide.co.uk/north-east-england

England Coast Path: 

www.nationaltrail.co.uk/england-coast-path

Holy Island ‘paradise’ is an inspiration for Emma

DAVID SIMPSON speaks to Emma Rothera, a Holy Island-based award winning landscape and nature photographer. Part of our series of interviews focusing on creative talent in North East England.

Holy Island. Photo by Emma Rothera
Holy Island. Photographed by Emma Rothera

Tell us how you first started out as a photographer?

I went to Art College straight from School when I was 16 years old to study Graphic Design Communication and Photography.

What work are you most proud of?

My Holy Island portfolio of work  ‘A Journey of Light’

What inspires you?

Being out in the landscape and being privileged enough to witness nature during the most inspirational moments in time, first light, sunrise, sunset and last light, also the majestic golden hour.

What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?

It is just a completely magnificent canvas to work with, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

What has been your most challenging creation?

They are all challenging within there own right. Landscape photography tests the ability of a photographer on a daily basis as you are constantly working with mother nature and often unpredictable elements, so therefore much planning must take place.

Emma Rothera, photographer
Emma Rothera, photographer

Do you have any tips for up and coming artists or photographers?

You need to have a constant passion for what you do and be prepared for it to take a lot of hard work, inspiration and dedication to achieve your goals.

Which other artists or photographers inspire you?

There are many talented photographers in this world, a couple that inspire me are Charlie Waite and Ansel Adams.

What are your ambitions for the future?

To constantly push my boundaries to improve my photography and creativity further on a daily basis. I hope to offer further opportunities for learning to aspiring photographers through my workshops and discovery tours in the North East Region, predominantly the Northumberland Coastline and Holy Island. To produce further contributions to magazines and books and extend my portfolio of work. I hope to expand further commissions within the North East and in the UK, including Scotland and abroad.  I also hope to travel the world with my work in the future, photographing and writing as I go. I will always keep my base on Holy Island as this for me is paradise.

Bamburgh Castle by Emma Rothera
Bamburgh Castle. Photographed by Emma Rothera

To find out more about Emma, her inspirational photographs and her workshops visit Emma’s website at:

emmarotheraphotography.com

Twitter: @erotheraphoto 

Emma is a multi-award winning landscape and nature photographer. Accolades include:

2017 Winner of the ‘Creative Industries Award’ Northumberland Business Awards

2018 Shortlisted for the ‘Creative Industry Category’ Northumberland Business Awards

2016 Winner of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Photography Award

2015 Landscape photographer of the week, worldwide@Landscape photography magazine.