A new podcast about an ancient dale - narrated and recorded by journalist / broadcaster Caroline Beck, and produced by Jay Sykes.
Somewhere high up in the North Pennines, between everywhere and nowhere at all, is Weardale, a remote northern dale. It’s a place of old lead mines, deep worked out limestone quarries, and hill farming; the home of day-dreamers, explorers, incomers, artists, philosophers, sky-watchers, story tellers and travellers.
Meeting a collection of writers and poets whose work is inspired by the scars and scale of this northern landscape, Caroline goes in search of what it means to live in England’s last wilderness.
Caroline goes on a journey underground and looks at how the North Pennines’ mines and quarries have proven a rich creative inspiration to writers.
In the former mine at Killhope, she speaks to performers and audience members of Trapped, a physical theatre and film work performed by Experiential. The piece is inspired by the collapse of the San Jose Mine, Chile in 2010, when the world watched as 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 terrifying days.
With poet Sean O’Brien, Caroline also considers WH Auden, a poet known for his urban and urbane writing, but whose obsession with the North Pennines bordered on religious, and inspired many of his greatest poems.
Caroline meets award-winning nature writer and environmental activist Karen Lloyd, author of The Gathering Tide; A Journey Around the Edgelands of Morecambe Bay and The Blackbird Diaries. While her first book takes in land and the landscape, The Blackbird Diaries takes in the more intimate environment of her own back garden.
Together with Rebecca Barrett, project manager for the North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty, Jill Essam of Harehope Quarry and local resident Carol Inskipp, they discuss how this seemingly wild landscape bears the scars of having been shaped by industry, from lead mining to farming, and how we can work with nature to rewild the area.
Caroline looks at the thin divide between religion, folklore and witchcraft, as well as the ‘othering’ of outsiders and incomers, with local resident John Gall and horror writer Andrew Michael Hurley. Andrew Michael Hurley’s Costa Award-winning novel The Loney – set in an another rural northern landscape – wavers in an unsettling place between the supernatural and the merely strange.
Caroline meets Lancashire-based writer Carys Davies, whose phenomenal novella West is set in the vast, wild landscape of the American Midwest in the middle of the 19th century. In this book about exploration and walking into the unknown, the sense of an undiscovered landscape offers remarkable parallels with Weardale. Local writers Susan Nicholson and Chris Powell of the North Pens writing group also discuss the book and its resonance with the area, while Chris Scaife, a caver and explorer, talks about the instinct for exploration and the excitement of visiting a place that how not yet been uncovered.
Caroline explores two experiences of the North Pennines as home: Considering it as somewhere that people escape from and escape into.
Caroline talks to Debbie Loane, an artist who relocated to Weardale as a young woman. Her painting was heavily influenced by the industrial archaeology and natural resources; this landscape remains the focus of her work despite no longer living there. Together they discuss the status of an outsider, and the deep and continuing connection that Debbie formed with the area.
Walking across the dale, writer Madeleine Bunting reflects on her childhood in North Yorkshire, and her relationship with her father, the sculptor John Bunting, who installed the family there. Madeleine moved away at sixteen, but returned years later after her father’s death and wrote her memoir The Plot.
Caroline delves into Weardale’s significant connections with the Gypsy Roma Traveller community.
Writer Damian Le Bas, author of The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain, joins Caroline to offer an insight into the lesser-known history of the Weardale area, particularly in relation to the nearby Appleby Horse Fair. They discuss some of the limited portrayals of Gypsy Roma Traveller community that have been told over the years and open our eyes to the vastness and richness of a hard-working community.
Caroline goes on a journey across the uplands, meeting and talking with Syrian refugees, curators and poets.
Caroline talks to the poet Gillian Allnutt about their time at a textiles workshop put on for Syrian refugees. Gillian has been working with refugees and asylum seekers in the North East for years and Caroline visited her making textile butterflies with a group of Syrian refugees who have been settled in County Durham. The collision of home and exile is explored through needlework, talking and singing songs.
Caroline also visits the exhibition, Craft and Conflict, curated by Karen Babayan. Award winning ceramicist, Paul Scott’s work is celebrated for capturing the history and mood of Damascus, with the families agreeing that the exhibition has successfully mixed the two cultures together, provoking memory, thought, grief and happiness.
In Wearhead Primary School, Caroline speaks to deputy headteacher Liz Judges about children growing up in Weardale and how living in the countryside affects them. The disparity between schooling and life experience for young people in rural areas compared to bigger cities is explored, and we hear how teenagers kept themselves entertained when there was just ‘one bus going to Newcastle on Saturdays’.
With author Sarah Moss, Caroline talks about northern identity, working class masculinity and growing up in rural areas. Critics have called Moss’s latest book, Ghost Wall, ‘a Brexit novel’, about a man enthralled by a lost England. The narrative focuses on Bill, a father keen to implement the social mores and societal rules of a Britain from long ago, and his beloved daughter who is growing into a woman in front of him.
In this ninth episode, Caroline considers grouse-shooting, one of the major uses for land in the area - and one which polarises the local community.
She meets Dr Mark Avery, an outspoken environmental campaigner, the former director of conservation at Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the author of hard-hitting book about grouse-shooting, Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands. Local resident Colin Organ, from Rookhope, involved in game sports since childhood, offers an opposing perspective rooted in preserving a rural way of life, while Roisin Beck-Taylor, Caroline’s daughter, who worked on a hill farm for nine years and now works in conservation, discusses the complicated relationship between economy and conservation.
As the series reaches its final episode, Caroline returns home on regular walk up into a former quarry now overgrown with wildflowers, where nature has healed its own ravages, and which has a restorative effect on the walker. As she reflects on the interviews she has undertaken with writers and poets across the series, she also considers the very concept of ‘home’ itself.
Ten Words for a Northern Landscape is commissioned Northern Heartlands and produced as part of Durham Book Festival, a Durham County Council event. The recording was made possible by funding and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. Look out for Ten Words for a Northern Landscape on the New Writing North podcast and Durham Book Festival website.