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Issue 5 • Summer 2015

Inside p2-3 News from the valley: FORESTRY AND WILDLIFE


p6 a lifetime of MEMORIES from college valley

robson green’s star turn in the valley Actor’s enthusiastic visit for TV show lets the nation in on our secret


p7 conservation - keeping An EYE ON our SQUIRRELS

e’s one of Britain’s most talented actors, but there was nothing feigned about Robson Green’s enthusiasm for the College Valley when he came to film here for his popular television series More Tales from Northumberland. In the film, which can still be seen online, the Hexham-born star is shown standing beside the lake at Hethpool, chatting to land agent Colin Matheson about the history of the valley and what makes it so special today – see picture below. He learns about the Collingwood Oaks, planted as a memorial to Admiral Lord Collingwood, Nelson’s

second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar. And he is told about the rule that limits visitors’ cars to 10 per day in order to preserve the peace that people treasure so much here. Robson goes off to explore, and, looking down from a lofty viewpoint, pictured above, says: “How about that for a backdrop? Surrounded by the Cheviot Hills – 12,000 acres of stunning landscape. The valley was once a thriving shepherding community, but today just two farms remain, and this is one of the quietest stretches of road in Britain. continued on back page

photographs: horizon ap

p8 encouraging year for our feathered friends

hard taCK on the border A strenuous ride through the lonely lands between Gretna and Berwick provided a chance for reflection


ast September I had the great good fortune to be asked to ride with four friends along the scottish border from Gretna to Berwick-upon-Tweed. No problem, I thought, 80 miles by road, very dry ground conditions, and good support from the army in the form of four soldiers from 1 sCots. so on the morning we were due to start, i hauled a fat young horse called the President Slobodan Milosevic out of his field and shoved him into a lorry whilst promising him it would be a breeze. Well, it wasn’t. The walk took the full six days that our leader, Ed Swales, had predicted. Despite having been brought up and spent most of my working life in the Border country, i had really no idea of the isolation and terrain to be found a few miles beyond windy gyle. We north Northumbrians might think of Goldscleugh, Mount Hooley and Elsdonburn as “hard” country: well, believe me, there is considerably harder to be found close by. Once we left the fertile lowlands of northern Cumbria, we were into the rough stuff. Bridleways? These look fine on the map but turn into timber-strewn bogs on the ground.

Not taught in the Pony Club: crossing obstacles close to the Border. Close to home: on the Border beside the Hen Hole below Cheviot

Forestry tracks? Frequently not as plotted on the map and covered in rough stones. I was struck by the almost complete lack of stock on these uplands. The pristine state of such tracks as we found revealed that human users are also few, and many points, I would suggest, go unvisited for months, if not years. Another thought that struck me was what a Border it must have been. As a national boundary, it started to become obsolescent from the union of the Crowns in 1603. But signs of fortification are still everywhere: from massive structures such as the Hermitage to the remains of humble pele towers on almost every farm. Our expedition took place within a week of the referendum on Scottish independence. Seeing the remains of those fortifications

made me think what a relief it must have been for people to escape the nightmare of living on a Border, with its security concerns and restrictions on trade. I suspect they would be horrified to see their descendants so close to re-erecting a real Border. And the President? He made it, but not without some equine grumbling and a much reduced profile to his bottom. And he helped raise a few thousand pounds for Combat Stress, which supports ex-servicemen with mental problems. so if College valley becomes too crowded and you yearn for deeper solitude, go to Red Cribs and head south, young man. But take some spare dry socks. John Cresswell, Chairman, College valley estates

THE ESSENCE OF NORTHUMBRIA College Valley and its surrounding hills have a wildness that inspires Mike Pratt, who is chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust – and now a nature writer, too


arK is approaching; it’s that twilight time as day fades away, which in the hills is a slow creeping shadow softening the land, cloaking its detail. I am standing between the College Valley near Hethpool and the Cheviot ridge, marking the English-Scottish boundary. It is all downhill now and I am pleased to be walking out of the hills and into the valley rather than the other way around. There is a sense of leaving behind a wild upland and descending step by step into the refuge of the valley, as if, in hunter-farmer mode, I am approaching my camp, sometime back in the Neolithic. The sounds are of the birds’ last songs before roost, as a big murmuration of starlings wind-socks overhead and I look across the hillside to woodland in the mid-distance. I have been walking in the Cheviots for two days and have not yet seen another person. I remind myself again, I am walking part of Saint Cuthbert’s Way, in the footsteps of Celtic Christian monks, but very much in the 21st century. You would hardly know it. This sense of wildness, of pristine hill country, of a landscape in balance and that was once peopled and which has been influenced by man,



and vice versa, for thousands of years, the sense of walking through time, is the essence of the Northumbrian experience. It is an intrinsic part of the quality of what once constituted the Kingdom of Northumbria, a landscape and cultural coherence you can still sense and touch today in places like Cheviot and the College valley, but also on moors and marshes, meadows and bogs and coast, even occasionally in the urban fringe, in the north-east. I have experienced this feeling of connection with time and place and land many times over the last few years as I explored large areas of the landscapes that once constituted the old Kingdom, from the Borders to the Humber and even across into the north Midlands and west, gathering experiences for my book, published this year by Red Squirrel Press – My Wild Northumbria. My walks in the Cheviots and through College Valley, learning forays, gradually acquainted me with the particular character of these hills.

Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 5 • SUMMER 2015

If you go down to the woods today There’s plenty of forestry activity in the valley just now, as Netty Horne, of Border Consultants Forestry, explains


orestry in College Valley was established on difficult terrain and with no consideration for access when the woodlands were planted. Since those days, harvesting machinery and timber lorries have changed. The most cost-effective method of harvesting is felling with a purpose-built harvester that fells the tree and cuts it into the correct assortments for the different markets. It is stacked and then extracted by a “forwarder”, a specialised tractor with a hydraulic grab that collects the timber and stacks it at the roadside. These multi-wheeled machines with wide tyres have been developed now so that they can work on very steep terrain. The alternative, of winching timber using a “high lead” system, a bit like a ski-lift, for the steepest ground, is very

expensive and rarely necessary, although this year it will be used for part of the harvesting in areas where the ground is too steep and the surface too unstable for traditional machinery. Horses were considered, but steep, slippery ground is also unsuitable for horses. The distances involved are too great for harvesting to be completed in one summer. The machinery can travel straight up and down, but to travel along the hill, tracks have to be constructed to avoid machinery toppling over. Often these tracks are reinstated after harvesting. To avoid damage to the forest soil, branches from the felled trees are laid down for the machinery to travel over and most modern harvesting sites show very little soil damage. The machinery can be very damaging to

Harvesting at Hethpool, left, and Madam’s Law, right

Working with memories of the places I had visited all my life, I got to understand what was distinctive and what the whole region of the north-east still held in common. I am from North Yorkshire but spent childhood holidays in Northumberland and the Wolds and have worked in Northumberland for ten years. I visited the familiar and the new and blended it together, to express my “mind map” of Northumbria today. But it was the pure unspoilt qualities of landscape and feeling of apparent wildness I felt in this north Northumbria that set the whole tone and which I keep returning to in my thoughts. A word on “wildness”. It is a relative term and an emotive one; there is much talk of rewilding and creating true wilderness. In England this is misleading. No landscape here is truly natural, indigenous or purely wild, the nearest we get are large bog lands like the Border Mires, fragments of ancient woodland and river valley, parts of the coast. Everywhere else, especially uplands and moors, are semi-natural at best and mostly managed. Indeed nowhere apart from the most extreme environments on Earth are really wild. But what many people feel is wild is down to their personal experience of nature. To some, a piece of urban woodland or meadow is wild and to many people the Cheviots are as natural, as wild, as it gets. To encourage more scrub woodland on moors is to my mind to deny the heritage and evolution of our landscapes. When people talk of this I point to the balance and harmony of landscape we see in the College

road surfaces, so every effort is made to keep the forwarders off the road. A well-designed timber-stacking area keeps lorries and forwarders apart. Modern timber lorries have also been adapted to reduce impact on roads. The most innovative system is the central tyre pressure control system. This allows the driver to change tyre pressure from the cab on the move, improving grip and reducing damage. It is a unique British invention. The weather also has a big impact on roads, and harvesting is best carried out in dry conditions, during the summer. This is especially important in the College Valley, as roads here were not built with modern timber lorries in mind. All efforts are made to avoid water pollution and measures such as extra drainage and filtering can be put in place where necessary. Again, dry conditions make this a lot easier. Prior to harvesting, areas are surveyed for nesting birds, badgers and bats to ensure as little disturbance is caused to wildlife as possible. With good planning, the latest in machinery and a bit of luck, the forestry in College Valley can play its role in providing a diverse habitat and financial security for the estate. This year’s harvesting removes a conifer plantation from an ancient woodland site, to allow restoration after felling. 

Valley and the Cheviots, with all its micro variety, from hill, to valley. It’ll do for me, anyway, and for many others. I love the rolling shapes of the sheep-grazed hill tops. Back in the hills again, approaching the Hen Hole, from the Schil and Mount Hooley, it is the views and colours that impress, like being on an island interior looking out from one hill to the next. As I walk I experience the ‘Russian Doll effect’ of one hill eating up the next as you climb one and then the next, which is slightly higher. It’s something I’ve never felt so much as here, as if the hills are being stacked into one another. I lose count of the hillforts and prehistoric features I have seen in one day. I feel like I am collecting them as I progress. My lasting memory this time, which will transfer on to pages down the line, is of watching a pair of kestrels wing-tumbling a raven, of a moonbow reflection across the darkening skies, of a dipper so close I could see its white eyelids, a hare burnished by the evening sunset. Having now written my experience of the whole of Northumbria, I am tempted to come back to the College Valley and Cheviots and just focus my energy here. It is so sewn through its weft and warp with natural inspiration. It is the true heart of Northumbria, the start and end of it all. My Wild Northumbria is published by Red Squirrel Press and is available from, from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and frombooksellers. page


HOME COMFORTS For your holiday Work goes on to make the valley’s popular cottages even better places to stay


t is SPRING – I know this because the painters have finished at Dunsdale and the new super king-size bed arrives this week. As I write this, though, in the last days of April, the hills are white with snow – what they call “lambing storms”. We have had a mild winter with very little need of snowploughs and the like. it is not easy to schedule maintenance for the houses in the valley because it needs to be slotted in between guests when the roads are not likely to be blocked with snow, which cuts out the school holidays, January and February and often March and some of April, too. We are lucky in having very flexible and helpful people to do the work and some understanding guests who don’t mind half the house being painted and half not, so at Dunsdale all was finished by the end of March. dunsdale is not only the biggest of the houses but also the most “out bye”, or set apart, making it much more susceptible to problems with snow, so it is something of a



relief to have got the job done. It is nine years since we began to let dunsdale and some of it was showing so we set about giving the inside a facelift. new cornicing in the dining and sitting rooms, fitted carpets upstairs and an all-over paint job. A small complication arose when, having asked the joiners to see if they could screw down the upstairs bedroom boards to try and stop the squeaking, we were told they had discovered that the top layer of boards had simply been nailed onto the original floor and that the original floor had woodworm. We were assured that woodworm cannot survive in a warm centrally heated house, but just to be sure we took up the whole thing, burnt the boards, treated what was left and put down a new floor then carpeted it. It has had the desired effect in that the squeaking problem is much diminished but at an unbudgeted and not inconsiderable cost; that is what contingency allowances are for. New blackout roller blinds in the bedrooms

should be easier to use and more effective and the shutters for the bathroom should be very smart – when they eventually arrive. The big bed in the double room downstairs means that there is little room for anything else. Cat swinging is not possible, but it is a lovely, comfortable bed and the general consensus among those of us with taller and bigger husbands is that a comfortable bed makes for a very important part of a holiday, so we went ahead. Ros has been hard at work in the gardens tidying up and planting bits and pieces; she is a mild person but is beginning to doubt that bunny rabbits are really as cute and fluffy as they appear, since they have devoured with relish every plant that she has lovingly put in the Schoolhouse garden at Southern Knowe – even the ones that rabbits are not supposed to like. Planters are being hung on walls out of bunny reach. Ros has also taken over at Hethpool Mill as caretaker, leaving the other three houses in the tender care of Pat. The Schoolhouse and Hethpool Mill have

Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 5 • SUMMER 2015

Find out more about holidays in the College Valley, and check prices, at accommodation.htm To book, call our holiday cottages manager Jane Matheson on 07974 797724 or email To book online and to see availability go to

Dunsdale, one the valley’s popular holiday cottages, has benefited from a number of improvements this year. Below right: the Roaming Retrievers gundog group pictured on their visit to the valley

both had very smart new purpose-built kennels erected. The Schoolhouse ones are snug in the old dairy and the Hethpool Mill ones have a view; we hope the canine occupants enjoy the insulated sleeping boxes. Coldburn is next on the list for a refresh and we will get there as soon as there is space in the letting schedule, which at the time of writing is looking like the autumn. Then new curtains, shutters, blinds and a slap of paint to freshen up; I am afraid it will never be possible to put a big bed in Coldburn. Apart from the impossibility of getting it upstairs the double bed takes up as much room as can be allowed given the combed ceilings. Stephen senior is constructing picnic benches for the gardens and I am hoping to take delivery of some heavyweight benches that even the worst valley winds will be unable to blow away. Peter Podmore, who lives in the hamlet of West Newton at the bottom of the valley, has been painting a lot of local scenes and has had

a few prints made that are hanging in the cottages and are for sale at a very reasonable cost. If anyone is interested, please let me know. Our guests have, as ever, been many and diverse; lots of wedding guests, families and friends, a few big birthday groups who have taken two, three or all of the houses and the bunkhouse, our faithful dog trainers who persist in working their wonderful dogs through unfamiliar ground and cover not known in Leicestershire and Buckinghamshire and the like and are due next weekend again and already booked in for 2016. Some very organised people have already booked for Christmas 2016/17. It is lovely to have familiar names and faces coming back. It gives all of us involved huge pleasure to read the positive comments in the visitor books and I personally am very encouraged and just downright chuffed when people email or write to me after their holidays to say how much they enjoyed it. I would like to say a special thank you to those of you who care for

the houses as if they were your own and leave them immaculate when you leave – we really appreciate it. We think College Valley is a very special place. I have known it for more than half my life and I never go there without being grateful for that fact.  Jane Matheson Holiday cottages manager



A valley rich in memories Few people know these woods and hills better than Colin Matheson, who has been land agent for 42 years. We asked him to look back at his working life in the valley he loves


N 28 OCTOBER 1953 the James Knott Trust, chaired by the 10th Duke of Northumberland, purchased the College Valley at an auction held in the County Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne. The 12,600-acre upland estate comprised 8,000 acres of inhand land, two let farms extending to 4,500 acres, a mansion house, 17 cottages and 24 acres of woodland. The price: just £75,000. The sellers were the Executors of Sir Arthur Sutherland, a prominent Northumbrian ship owner who had improved the estate considerably in the 35 years since acquiring it for £17,000 from the Trustees of Earl Grey at the end of the First World War. The new Board of Directors represented a formidable quartet of landowning, farming, forestry, sporting and military expertise: Hugh 10th Duke of Northumberland, the 4th Viscount Ridley, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Sir Alfred Goodson Bt. It was this Board in January 1973 who invited my firm, John Sale & Partners of Wooler, to manage their estate. My first task as a young land agent of 27 was to organise the takeover of one of the let farms, Hethpool, then tenanted by the Honourable Claude Lambton. The ingoing valuation on 13 May was a very social occasion and a great gathering of neighbouring shepherds helping to gather the sheep flock from the surrounding hills. Andrew Oliver & Sons, Auctioneers from Hawick, acted for the estate in the valuation and my records show that the Cheviot sheep page


stock was taken over at a fixed price of £6 per ewe. I recall much whisky being consumed until well into the night. In those days the estate employed a sizeable workforce that consisted of an agent (me), a farm manager, 12 shepherds, a head forester, three woodmen and an estate man with a total weekly wage bill of £350. Today the same work is done by a workforce one quarter of the size. My direct boss was the Farming Director Sir Alfred Goodson, a benign but sometimes crusty gentleman who was a brilliant breeder of just about anything: pedigree Aberdeen

“When I started, there was an agent, a farm manager, 12 shepherds, a head forester, three woodmen and an estate man on a total weekly wage of £350” Angus cattle, sheep, fowls, hounds. He was also a legendary huntsman of foxhounds. He and Lady Goodson lived in a stately pile in a fold of the Cheviot Hills near Morebattle. It was here that I reported somewhat nervously each Friday afternoon to keep Sir Alfred appraised of goings-on in the valley. We would sit for tea at a long dining room table, Sir Alfred at one end, Lady Goodson at the other and me in the middle. They were

Colin Matheson, hard at work doing some heather burning, and relaxing with his dogs

both very hard of hearing and would shout at each other down the table, usually on totally different subjects. One board meeting each year was held at Alnwick Castle, always on a Sunday, that being the only day that His Grace was not in London engaged in Royal duties, attending to his extensive estates or pursuing various sporting interests. It took me one meeting only to recognise that the Duke was an exceptionally astute man; it was better to admit that I did not know the answer to a question about the estate than to pretend that I did. I made this mistake only once. Back in the Valley, the directors had embarked on an ambitious afforestation programme to plant 1,600 acres of woodlands on the estate. A tree nursery was created at Hethpool and over a period of eight years nearly 1.5 million mainly coniferous trees were raised for planting out. I remember replanting failed young trees at Goldscleugh a plantation now mature that we are clear felling this year. The Farm Manager Gilbert Elliot, father of today’s farming tenant at Hethpool, Bill Elliot, was a great character loved by everyone. An exceptional stockman, he was able to manage his boss, Sir Alfred, where others failed. One day the shepherd at the southern extremity of the valley sold his old house cow at Wooler Market, the sale went well and

Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 5 • SUMMER 2015

A close eye on squirrels there was much celebration into the night at the Tankerville Arms. At midnight, the Wooler Police Sergeant took it upon himself to drive a slightly incoherent Gilbert back to Hethpool. At 6.30am, Gilbert deposited a distinctly bleary-eyed Police Sergeant outside the Police Station in Wooler. One weekend I took my young children to camp at Goldscleugh. Before long the son of the Goldscleugh shepherd, Willie Junior, appeared and demanded to see my vehicle permit. I told him I didn’t have one, whereupon he insisted I pack up and leave. I told him that I actually signed the permits myself. After much confusion and apologies, he disappeared back to the cottage and reappeared on the burn side with a bottle of whisky. Off he went with my small son and daughter and within ten minutes joined me with delighted children and two beautiful 2lb sea trout. A quick lesson in filleting followed, my children’s eyes on stalks. In no time the fish were in a frying pan over the open fire – we had a wonderful supper and talked into the night until the whisky was finished. When I started my career in College Valley, farming and forestry were the only enterprises supporting the estate. Over my 42 years the emphasis has broadened to encompass environmental outcomes, tourism, holiday cottages, engaging with the public as well as farming and forestry. Directors, each with their own expertise and strengths, have come and gone and I believe that the estate is far stronger and more diverse now than when I first set foot in the valley. Charles Baker Cresswell, chairman for a number of years, was a great driver for change to meet the requirements of the 21st century. We had much fun together achieving this. His son John, the present chairman, continues in this tradition. At Goldscleugh, on the hillside below a group of ancient and gnarled broadleaved trees, some of my wife Jane’s and my working Labradors, who gave us so much pleasure out on the heather hills, are buried (a hard dig!). They gaze down one of the most beautiful valleys in the country, a valley I have been privileged to be part of for over 42 years. It is now time to stand down at the end of this year and hand over the reins to younger and sharper brains. Perhaps one day, with my dogs, I too will gaze down this unique and lovely valley. 


rin Barritt, an undergraduate zoology student at Newcastle University, spent two months in College Valley last summer studying its grey and red squirrels – and her report makes fascinating reading.

She set up 34 hair tubes and three baited trail cameras in order to gain an idea how many squirrels of each species lived in the valley, and how the less common reds could be best protected. The tubes and traps were used to survey 52 points in the valley. The hair tubes were 30cm lengths of drainpipe, wired to trees. A small strip of Velcro was attached to either end of the inside, and the tubes baited with sunflower seeds, maize and peanuts. Any squirrel entering the tube to get at the food would be bound to leave guard hairs (outer hairs) behind on the Velcro, allowing Erin to determine whether reds or greys, or both, had visited. Rather than relying on the hairs’ colour to identify squirrel species, a more reliable method was used – studying the shape of the hairs in cross section. A rounded cross section indicates a grey, while a compressed figure-of-eight cross section will have come from a red. The infra-red motion-sensitive cameras were attached to trees facing baited feeders

and were set to take a picture whenever movement was detected. Evidence was taken from eight points in the valley. Reds were found to live at Hethpool Bell Wood, Whitehall, Fawcett and Goldscleugh. Greys were found at Hethpool Bell Wood, Hethpool, Whitehall and Mount Hooley, and now pose a threat to the reds, Erin believes. Of the 52 points studied, only eight showed evidence of squirrels. Erin reports: “This low level of discovery could be due to the success of the vegetation and the high level of food availability over the sampling period, rendering bait less attractive to the squirrels. Although few individuals were detected, this probably does not reflect the true size of the population in the valley.” Erin’s advice is to continue controlling greys by live trapping and dispersal – moving them well away from the valley. Any reds found in the traps are released on the spot. Monitoring of the populations should continue, to assess where control efforts should be focused. Clearing areas of trees by felling should be avoided, as the disturbance can cause reds to disappear. She was sent a letter thanking her for her work and saying that her recommendations would be useful in formulating management policy for the woodlands. 



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“It’s no coincidence that it’s called the land of the far horizon. There’s one thing that this county has more of than anywhere else in the country, and that is space.” He camps overnight on the hillside and then says: “Some people start their morning with a nice cup of coffee. Others go for a brisk jog. Me, I do this.” With that, he leaps into the College Burn for a bracing dip, noting that “the streams here are the purest in England”. Praise indeed. Even the first series of Tales from Northumberland led to an upturn in bookings for the holiday cottages as awareness of the county’s landscape spread. This time, with the star of Soldier Soldier and Grantchester taking such a close look at College Valley specifically, the benefit looks like being even more pronounced.  Robson Green’s visit was featured in the second episode of More Tales from Northumberland, on ITV. To watch the programme it online, go to

Valley’s birds in good hands


ell, last year was another great year for the barn owls in the valley, with the box in the Wilderness fledging six chicks, the same as 2013. They were all ringed. The nest box in the Wilderness was replaced this year so hopefully the owls will find it to their liking. But the Whitehall pair were by far the most productive, with a record for the county – they had two broods, one of six and one of five. The coming and going from the shed was non-stop. You couldn’t help but watch them, which wasn’t very helpful when trying to get the odd job done outside. In the picture, right, my daughter Lauren has a close encounter with a fledgling in the hayshed at Whitehall, during ringing. There was some concern that we had no ring ouzels in 2014. I did see two pairs in the Dunsdale area in late April, but I didn’t see any young sitting on wires or fences last year, so can’t say how successfully they bred. John Steele, former ranger for the Northumberland National Park, said it was the first time in 32 years he’d not seen or heard any. This year, however, there have been quite a few sightings around Dunsdale. Peregrine falcons have been successful, breeding in the valley in their two usual sites. We think the Bizzle pair reared two and the Henhole pair reared three. The Henhole pair nested in an old ravens’ nest as usual, which might account for ravens being absent from the Henhole in 2014. Ravens were present in the Bizzle and page


at Elsdonburn, but the tree nesters in Fawcettshank were not seen, possibly due to the wind blowing down quite a few trees close to the nest site. The Elsdonburn pair reared at least two young, and we are not sure how the Bizzle pair fared. There were some redpoll in the young trees at Goldscleugh forestry, which I’ve not seen before. A pair of golden plover had one chick that I saw on Cheviot. Red squirrels are now colonising the young woods at Goldscleugh and as we are about to fell the remaining mature trees in the area we can be happy that they will move to the young blocks.  Stephen Crees, Estate manager

The Sir James Knott Trust The College Valley was bought with funds originally provided by the Trustees of the late Sir James Knott, a north-east industrialist, MP and philanthropist. He died in 1934, but his spirit lives on through the Sir James Knott Trust. The Trust’s website can be found at

The Valley summer 2015  

News from the College Valley Estate in Northumberland.