Leanne Tonks is the Freelance Digital Officer at Northumberland National Park. Temporarily on-loan from our PR agency, Round Table Solutions, Leanne looks after the Park’s website and social media channels. As part of her induction into ‘Park-life’, we sent Leanne out on a guided tour of the National Park with our Head Ranger, Paget Lazzari. This is Leanne’s blog about her day…
Trundling along a narrow country lane at 10mph stuck behind a lorry and a handful of cyclists, I started to wonder whether my sat nav was taking me the wrong way.
Having lived in Northumberland my entire life (albeit, closer to the coast than the National Park), I like to think that I know my way around. However, finding my way to Housesteads Roman Fort was too much for my geography skills, so I was having to rely on technology to get me there. Having finally sneaked past the lorry and the cyclists, I meandered through a few small villages and quite a lot of open country before I eventually found myself on the B6318, commonly known as the Military Road and on course for Housesteads.
Arriving in the car park at Housesteads, I was greeted by a lady called Claire, who is a volunteer at the Park’s Eastburn headquarters and was coming along for the tour, and then by Paget Lazzari, Northumberland National Park’s Head Ranger.
Paget has been working for the Park for nigh-on 30 years and has lived in and around the Park his entire life, so there is pretty much nothing that he doesn’t know about it. When I explained to him the bizarre route that my sat nav had brought me from the A69 up to Housesteads, he immediately said: “Oh yes, you must have taken the Stanegate.” On seeing my bewildered face, he went on to explain that ‘Stanegate’ in the old English tongue means ‘Stone Road’ and that the route I had taken was the original Roman road up to Hadrian’s Wall. There was lesson number one for the day.
Pleasantries exchanged, the three of us hopped into Paget’s car and set off on our little adventure. We hadn’t gone far back along the Military Road before Paget pulled over to show us a section of Hadrian’s Wall and the adjacent Vallum, a deep ditch carved into the landscape on the Wall’s south side to provide further protection to the Romans.
Northumberland National Park is positively bursting with historic remains from bygone ages, from the Romans to the Reivers, to the Iron Age and the Neolithic period. If we’d have stopped the car to look at every monument, we would probably still be on the road now, so instead, Paget simply told us about the different historic periods, the marks they had left on the landscape and how best to spot them.
From history to geography, conservation and forestry, ecology, law, archaeology and geology, Paget’s incredible range of knowledge and obvious passion for the landscape of Northumberland kept Claire and I spellbound throughout the tour.
The National Park covers over 400 square miles of Northumberland so naturally, we couldn’t see everything in one day, but Paget certainly gave it his best shot! From Housesteads, we visited countless different areas of the Park, including Hadrian’s Wall country, Kielder Forest, the North Tyne Valley and the Pennine Way, only stopping for a quick lunch break and a short wander over the peat bog near Padon Hill on the Pennine Way, where we came across a lone fell-runner competing in the Spine Race.
Shortly before lunch, Paget had given Claire and I a choice, either to pay a visit to Hareshaw Linn and take a walk through the ancient forest up to the 9-metre waterfall which resides there, or alternatively, to keep driving to one of Paget’s favourite viewpoints in the Park, a place which could only be reached by first calling the Ministry of Defence at Range Control for clearance. Our curiosity made us opt for the latter of the two choices and so we set off for the Otterburn Ranges.
The Otterburn Ranges are the wild heart of the National Park. Owned by the Ministry of Defence since 1911, the Otterburn Ranges are a sparsely populated, intensely beautiful area of the Park which boasts a variety of wildlife and an undulating landscape which stretches uninterrupted for miles and miles in every direction.
Paget took us to a viewpoint called the ‘Outer Golden Pot’ which sits almost at the top of the Ranges, looking down into the vast valleys below. The MoD use this viewpoint to monitor their artillery fire during training exercises because it provides such a good vantage point across the whole landscape.
Although the red flags were up, which indicated that live-firing was taking place somewhere, there was nothing but absolute silence to be heard as we got out of the car to take pictures (including some shamelessly bad selfies!) which only added to the drama of the view.
From the Outer Golden Pot, we started to head back towards Housesteads and civilisation, taking in villages such as Otterburn, Alwinton and Elsdon on the way. With a head full of newly acquired knowledge and with rosy cheeks from the cold, I felt absolutely exhausted but so glad that I had had the opportunity to see and experience the National Park like this, in the company of someone who knows and loves it better than anyone I am likely to meet again. For this, I’d like to once again extend my thanks to Paget and to the Northumberland National Park for a truly fantastic day!