This was a day to make even the most suicidal among us feel that life is worth living after all. I drove along the icy single-track road from North Charlton towards Chillingham and parked just beyond Quarryhouse, at the start of the track to Blawearie. The otherwise muddy ground was frozen solid, making for excellent walking. The crisp air guaranteed superb views in all directions, while the sunshine generated an almost spring-like warmth on my face. In short, one could not wish for a more perfect day for a longish walk. The dog and I managed about eight miles.
These moors are within walking distance of the cottage that my family rented as a holiday home for most of the twentieth century, and where I lived for three years in the 1980s. It is one of my favourite places on Earth. Indeed, for most of my life, if asked where I would live if I could choose anywhere at all, I wouldn’t have gone for somewhere with palm-lined, sun-kissed beaches, but the shepherd’s cottage at Blawearie. After his death, I discovered that my uncle felt exactly the same, so maybe it is a hereditary longing.
One of the great attractions of the area for me is that remarkably few people ever visit it. This is also its weakness when it comes to resisting the designs of greedy developers. I was driven out of my cottage by a short-lived and apparently satisfyingly unprofitable opencast coal scheme. Now the area is firmly in the sights of wind energy promoters; and, although Alnwick District Council has bravely rejected the Middlemoor scheme to turn it into England’s largest onshore wind farm, it takes a real optimist (which I’m not) to believe that it will not ultimately come to pass.
The futility of the technology was well illustrated by the tall anemometer mast we passed shortly after leaving the road; on one of the coldest mornings of the year, both its wind measurement gauges were totally stationary in the flat calm. Proposing to stick up ranks of giant 450 foot turbines is just the twenty-first century equivalent of cutting down all those railings during the darkest days of the Second World War, and pretending that they were going to be used to make battleships or Spitfires. It shows the man in the street that we are up against it and that “something must be done”.
Ironically, Blawearie was abandoned at the start of the Second World War, when the Army moved in. Another noble sacrifice in the wider public interest, no doubt. I paused to take some photographs and then continued to Harehope for a sandwich lunch, and back in a loop over Cateran Hill. Near the summit, I caught the evocative sound of a hunting horn and leant on my stick to watch a hunt in full cry below. They’ll be following an artificial trail, then. Yeah, right. Although I’ve never felt the faintest desire to go hunting, or felt the slightest personal sympathy with those who participate in it, there is no denying that it is one of the most magnificent spectacles the English countryside can offer.
And is there anything sexier than a beautiful woman in a close-fitting riding jacket, white jodhpurs and a well-tied stock? Preferably wearing a traditional top hat rather than sensible protective headgear, to demonstrate her disdain for Elfin Safety. As I drive back, I wonder whether the extensive selection in my local garage includes a “special interest” publication devoted to this field.