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My Britain: The North Pennines

BY Alice Gawthrop

9th Oct 2023 Travel

5 min read

My Britain: The North Pennines
Known for its rolling hills and wild open moors, we talk to the residents of the North Pennines about life in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
One of the most unspoilt areas in England, it’s not hard to see why the North Pennines is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the inspiration for some 40 poems by the great English poet, W H Auden.
Boasting a landscape of open heather moors, tumbling dales and meandering rivers, the North Pennines are home to flora and fauna rarely, if ever, found elsewhere in Britain. Millions of years of geological processes in the area have created a unique and impressive environment, recognised in 2003 as Britain’s first European Geopark. Amidst the hills and moors is one of England’s biggest waterfalls, High Force. Its name is a souvenir left by Viking invaders centuries ago, coming from the Old Norse word “foss” for waterfall. 
The High Force waterfall in the North Pennines
Meanwhile a breath-taking trail through the valleys, forests and fells charts the North East’s religious history. Beginning at the site of a battle victory for Oswald of Northumbria that led to the Christianisation of the region and ending at the imposing Durham Cathedral, the Way of Light tells the story of the dawn of Christianity, illustrated by abbeys, seminaries and chapels. 
Alongside these natural and religious wonders, the North Pennines have a rich industrial history due to the prevalence of lead mining since medieval times. This history is best explored at Killhope Lead Mining Museum and Ashes Quarry. 
At night, the North Pennines are just as beautiful. Away from the hustle, bustle and light pollution of big cities, the North Pennines have some of the darkest skies in the country. Wrap up warm and set up camp on a clear night, and you’ll be rewarded with the sight of thousands of stars blinking down at you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write a poem or two of your own. 

Liz Bousfield, horticulturist at Eggleston Hall Gardens

Eggleston Hall Gardens
I have lived in the North Pennines for 16 years. I’m originally from York—I came to the area to work at a stables in the summer holidays and never left. I heard of a job at Eggleston Hall Gardens knowing nothing about plants, went for it and have been here for 13 years now.
The North Pennines are a beautiful place to live. Everywhere you go has a beautiful backdrop, especially when you come from flat York! The people are down-to-earth, friendly and tough. The winters are long and hard work, but when the snowdrops first pop up you know spring is around the corner.
"The North Pennines are a beautiful place to live. Everywhere you go has a beautiful backdrop"
Eggleston Hall Gardens is like a little garden of Eden nestled amongst the hills. This time of year the walls are laden with apples, pears and plums. There are really unusual plants around every corner, too.
The old chapel area is carpeted with snowdrops in spring. Summer is beautiful with the garden’s big walls creating a warm microclimate. In autumn, everything is blazed with colour. It really is a special place to work.
Eggleston Hall Gardens
I love propagation, creating new plants and watching things flourish. I enjoy talking to the customers, sharing advice and growing tips for plants. My favourite place in the North Pennines has to be the gardens. It is a sheltered little paradise, but you can see the wild beautiful hills just beyond.

Helen Ratcliffe, co-director at Allenheads Contemporary Arts

Allenshead Contemporary Arts
I am a co-director of Allenheads Contemporary Arts, along with my partner Alan Smith. We are both from Swansea in South Wales and after spending a few years studying, living and working in Massachusetts and New York City in the 1980s, we returned home looking for a new adventure.
"From our observatory we can wonder at the spectacular views of the Milky Way, nearby planets and even other galaxies"
In 1993 we chanced upon the Victorian Old School House overlooking the North Pennines fells and village of Allenheads. It was the perfect place, we thought, to live our next chapter. We were excited to continue our work in the contemporary arts in a totally new environment. Thirty years later and we are still here, with two adult children, a dog and a vast network of artists who have worked in residence over the years, inspired by this extraordinary place, its people and its heritage. 
We love the open, expansive landscape, the extreme weather, the wildlife and the dark skies. From our observatory we can wonder at the spectacular views of the Milky Way, nearby planets and even other galaxies. Quite awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time. 
Dark Skies in North Pennines
We are not interested in the notion of a romantic, rural idyll, but rather see our home as a vibrant intersection between rural and urban, local and global. It all happens here in the microcosm of the North Pennines. Nothing is isolated or remote. This tiny village, the highest in England, at the centre point of the British Isles, is a crossroads of influences, always in flux with a constant flow of residents, artists and visitors, which makes this unique place so fascinating. 
There are many magnificent sights around Allenheads and the North Pennines; the powerful waterfalls, expansive heather moorlands and the vastness of the cosmos on a clear night, to name a few. For me however, I am grateful that every day, I can soak up the magnificent, panoramic view from my front garden. It’s a great way to start the day

Sami Nash runs the Hemmel Cafe and Crafty Farm Shop

Hemmel Cafe
We moved from Newcastle upon Tyne to the North Pennines when I was 15 years old. It was very much a culture shock, moving from the hustle and bustle of city life to a world of quiet, with our nearest neighbour 500 yards away. Our first winter we had 10 foot snow drifts—not going anywhere was a total shock to the system!
Forty years down the line, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world with scenery that changes every day. There is a big community spirit there to look out for people and help you if need be. The people here are very hard working.
"We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world with scenery that changes every day"
I took over the Hemmel Cafe and Crafty Farm Shop two years ago. We are a little family of eight staff. We all live out in Allenheads, a small village steeped in lead mining history, so we travel in every day.
No two days are the same, but we get a lot of cyclists on the C2C, walkers, motorbikes and in winter we even get skiers who come from all over the country to use Allenheads Ski Slopes. All our food is homemade fresh every day, and we have built up a reputation for the best cheesecakes!
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