On Saturday, 14th October we held An Afternoon with Stan Beckensall in the Jubilee Hall in Rothbury.
The event was a celebration of places within the National Park which Stan thought of as ‘places of power’ because of their importance in history, their visual attraction, or some indefinable quality that made them special.
Stan has published many books on Northumberland, based upon a long period of visiting and research, including archaeological excavation, and he has more recently compiled collections of his poetry covering the same extended period of his life in the county.
The first volume of poetry, called ‘Pilgrimage’, supported by the NNP, was also presented in the Queen’s Hall, Hexham, and the Prior’s Hall, to packed audiences, with readings by his friends and by accomplished musical interludes.
For the Rothbury event, Stan’s poems were read by Toni Bush, the Education officer at Hexham Abbey, whilst Stan showed projected pictures of places and talked about them. Both are experienced and notable speakers, so this combination worked very well.
Beginning actually outside the county with the Angel of the North, this iconic sculpture stands at the entrance to a different kind of landscape, but tells of the past struggles of the people to make a life through industry, standing as it does above coalfields, rusting metal running into earth, with an absence of those fluffy and bland images that so often represent angels, but strong and determined.
The Park itself was the next poem, accompanied by photographic images that showed its extent, variety, and its purpose in preserving the best for the future. The general then became the particular, as a series of poems focused on places in a time sequence, beginning with the abundant evidence of prehistory in the county, especially in the Rothbury region, with sites of habitation, hunting, agriculture, burial and ritual singled out.
Lordenshaws, with its finds of flint implements, its rock carvings, burials, enclosures, overshadowed by the great scarp of Simonside, had sufficient to be a microcosm of much else in the county. Although there are few standing stones left in Northumberland, they too attracted poems, forming tantalising glimpses of a deep past that archaeology and field walking continue to bring to life. High Humbleton, on the edge of the Cheviot range, was the subject of a poem of its own, with its head crowned with a burial mound and fortifications was like some ancient fire-borne giant, the silent witness of the passing of time.
The spotlight then turned on to the Roman wall, concentrating on the thoughts of a soldier who had helped to build it, followed by reflections on the ruined Harbottle castle. The meaning of names was given throughout- another important aspect of interest within the Park.
Two hours, including a break, seemed not enough to explore further, and Toni chose to read ‘Autumn gold: Edlingham’. She chose well, and the programme ended on this poignant reminder that we cannot hold beauty forever.