Archive for Northumberland

Boxing Day in Warkworth

Posted in History with tags , , , on December 26, 2013 by telescoper

So the traditional Boxing Day spin around Northumberland took place this year in very nice weather (for change). Here are a few pictures of Warkworth Castle..

Incidentally, the decaying wooden structures that you see in the foreground of the last picture are the remains of disused coal staithes that were used to transfer coal onto ships. Amble (where the picture was taken from, with Warkworth Castle in the distance) was once a fairly busy coal port serving numerous local collieries, including Broomhill, Radcliffe, Shilbottle, Widdrington, Whittle, Togston and Hauxley. All are now closed and the harbour at Amble is now only used for fishing and leisure craft.

Around the old home

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on December 28, 2012 by telescoper

Back from a brief Christmas visit up North I thought I’d post a few snaps I took on our traditional Boxing Day spin around Northumberland. The weather wasn’t exactly marvellous, but it did at least stop raining for a while when we reached Amble  so we got out of the car and went for a stroll around the little harbour…



Although it was a cold and wet day it wasn’t too windy. They must be tough fishermen who go out into the North Sea in those little boats, but they’re friendly folk too – waving to us landlubbers as they came in and out of the harbour.

On the way home we stopped at Benwell, not a picturesque place but the part of Newcastle in which I was brought up. I’ve posted about the little house where my first memories live here, and there’s an old photograph of it here:

The house itself (ours was the one on the left on this picture) was built of brick but to the left hand side you can just see a stone wall. The two cottages were demolished some time ago, along with Pendower School which was behind them as viewed from the picture. The whole area has now been covered with new houses, but for some reason they left the stone wall. I hopped out of the car to take a couple of pictures, as this is all that remains of the first place I can remember living. These were both taken from Ferguson’s Lane, which is immediately behind the stone wall I mentioned earlier, i.e. to the left of the two cottages in the old photograph.



In the second picture you can see the filled in outlines of the door which led to our backyard (on the right) and (on the left) the holes through which the coalman used to deliver the coal that was the only form of heating in the house. There was no central heating and no heating at all upstairs, incidentally, so we had very cold bedrooms in winter!

Rothbury Hills

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , on December 22, 2011 by telescoper

Well the old batteries are very nearly flat and I’ll shortly be heading up North for a Christmas break, after just one more meeting this afternoon about our consolidated grant application which is due in the new year. I can’t help getting a bit sentimental about the land of my birth at this time of year, especially the lovely countryside of Northumberland, so I thought I’d leave you for the holidays with this little clip I found on Youtube which also features the evocative sound of the Northumbrian Smallpipes played by Kathryn Tickell and her band.

Air is blown  through the smallpipes using bellows under the arm rather than the mouth. The  chanter – that’s the bit you finger to produce the notes – has a completely closed end, combined with the unusually tight fingering style (each note is played by lifting only one finger or opening one key) so that the style of playing is staccato; there are no grace notes in the Northumbrian smallpipes tradition. Their sound is also far quieter than most other bagpipes because the bores on both chanter and drones are very narrow. Anyway, I think it’s a beautiful sound and one that’s redolent with nostalgia, for me.

I don’t think I’ll be blogging while I’m up North, so let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy holiday!


Kielder Star Camp

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 27, 2011 by telescoper

I  came across a story in the Grauniad about the Kielder Forest Star Camp at which scores of amateur astronomers are gathering along with their tents this week to exploit the darkest skies in England.  The skies are pretty dark above  Cardiff right now, but that’s because of the thick cloud rather than lack of light pollution. I hope they have better weather in Kielder which, if you didn’t know, is in Northumberland. With an area of 250 square miles, Kielder Forest is  England’s largest forest (although it’s actually more of a plantation, being man-made under the auspices the Forestry Commission) and it surrounds Kielder Water, the largest man-made reservoir in the UK. Anyway, as the time-lapse video shows, it’s  a fine spot for astronomy when the clouds stay away; at the end you’ll see the excellent new Kielder Observatory too!

Good luck to all the participants (and, more importantly, clear skies…) .

Death in Rothbury

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on July 10, 2010 by telescoper

After a restless, uncomfortable night I woke up this morning as usual to the 7am BBC News on Radio 3. The lead item was the death  of Raoul Moat by his own hand in the small Northumberland town of Rothbury. Moat was released from Durham prison last week, and proceeded to Birtley where he shot his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, killing him and wounding her. He then made his way north to Newcastle where he shot an unarmed police officer, carried on to Seaton Delaval on the coast where he held up a chip shop, and eventually wound up in Rothbury early this week. The small town and its environs were flooded with armed police but they didn’t find Moat until last night. After a long standoff, Moat eventually shot himself apparently with a sawn-off shotgun.

I don’t mind admitting that this story has unsettled me on several levels, which is why I’m writing about it here. I’ve found doing this blog quite cathartic on some past occasions and hope it will do the same job again now.

I suppose the first thing to explain is that I was born in Newcastle. Although I haven’t lived in the North-East for a long time, I know many the places that feature in the Raoul Moat Saga pretty well. For example, Moat’s attack on the police officer in the Denton area of Newcastle was just a matter of yards from where I used to get the bus to school when I was a kid, although the location has changed quite a lot since then; the incident happened at the junction of the A69 and the A1 western bypass (which hadn’t been built when I lived there). That spot is only a half a mile or so from where my mother lives now. I never imagined  such a familiar and friendly  place would appear on the BBC News as the scene of a shooting!

Rothbury too is a place I remember well. When I was very little we never travelled far for our holidays – we couldn’t afford to – but the upside of that was that I got to know some of the beautiful places on our doorstop. Few people know how beautiful Northumberland really is, in fact, even those that live there. Rothbury is a place that features in some of my earliest memories as a child, especially  the River Coquet with its stepping-stones. That’s exactly where the last acts of this tragedy were played out in the early hours of this morning.

The thing is that as I’ve got older I’ve, for some reason, started to regard such childhood memories as especially precious. I often think of certain places in Northumberland  – such as Bamburgh, Warkworth, and Seahouses  – because they remind me of a much simpler time, before the world got complicated. Rothbury used to be among them. Now I realise I’ll never be able to think of paddling in the river there without also thinking of Raoul Moat. The place has changed forever. The Rothbury of my mind is now dead.

When I got home from the pub last night, at about 8 o’clock, I happened to glance at the News and it was obvious something serious was happening and the police had almost certainly found their man. I sat glued to the TV screen as the press went into overdrive. The coverage varied from intrusive to comical to downright ghoulish as they made  a minimum of real news go a very long way diluted with speculation and innuendo. I had a look at Twitter too, but there the feeding frenzy was even worse and the pondlife that contributed to it even more loathsome. Things like this bring out the worst in some people, and the worst of the worst is often to be found on the internet.

I felt guilty watching the live TV coverage of the standoff, as I found much of it distasteful but, all the same, I couldn’t stop. Why? I don’t know. All I can say I was gripped in much the same way as I was on 9/11. I watched the footage of the Twin Towers burning and collapsing over and over again, mesmerised, appalled, unable to comprehend what was happening. But also, I have to admit, somehow excited by it. Does everyone have such a dark side to their fascinations?

I went to bed around 1am, with the standoff continuing but didn’t sleep very well because I was a bit rattled by the events of the evening and conflicting emotions about what I’d been watching. I had little doubt that it would end sometime during the night. Indeed, from the moment Raoul Moat started his trail of violence last week only one outcome seemed likely: that he would eventually take his own life. So it turned out. Of course I hoped that he might surrender himself – so, I’m sure, did the Police – but that always seemed very improbable. I don’t think he was capable of listening to reason. The only question was whether he would kill anyone else before turning his gun on himself.

 There won’t be much sympathy for Moat. I’ve already heard the opinion expressed that his suicide has saved the taxpayer from having to keep him in jail for the rest of his life.  The Police will be happy that Moat was stopped without committing further acts of violence. There will be questions asked, though,  about how he managed to live in such close proximity to so many police officers yet evade detection for such a long time, despite leaving numerous clues (such as his mobile phones and camping gear). It appears that Moat broke into at least one house in Rothbury while he was at large and may even have walked down the main street on Thursday night. Still, Moat had specifically threatened to kill police officers, so I can certainly understand the extreme caution with which they carried out their investigation. In the end, no members of the public or police officers were injured.

But it’s the townsfolk of Rothbury that I have the most sympathy for. It must have been terrible to have this Bogeyman lurking about the town, to see armed police invading the place, and to have the press poking their noses in during a time of obvious fear and distress. No doubt it won’t be long before a macabre tourist trade develops. I hope the town can return to peaceful normality soon, but I don’t think it will be that easy.

I mentioned before that I went to the pub yesterday evening. A Friday trip to The Poet’s Corner is a fairly regular fixture in my limited social calendar. The subject of Raoul Moat came up, jokily, during the conversation. We didn’t know at the time what was about to happen in Rothbury. An American visitor expressed astonishment that the press were making such a fuss about a lone gunman, who’d only committed one murder anyway, and incredulity when he was told that most British police don’t carry firearms. 

Those comments reveal a positive side of Raoul Moat story. The hysterical media reaction only occurred because such episodes are thankfully still very rare in Britain, due at least in part to severe legal restrictions on the availability of firearms. The very fact that people did get so gripped by this tragedy means that we’re not as desensitized to gun-related violence as many across the Pond.

As a postscript let me add this picture of a prominent yet macabre local landmark near Rothbury, Winter’s Gibbet, which serves as a reminder of a time when dubious executions were much more commonplace than they are now. To make it even more bizarre, we often had picnics underneath the Gibbet when I was a kid. Don’t ask me why.