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Weardale Wordfest

Weardale Wordfest is a community book event that celebrates local writers and books about Weardale and the North Pennines. This year’s main weekend will be in Stanhope from 21st to 23rd October.

A programme of free workshops is available during the fortnight leading up to the main event, including a ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshop facilitated by myself in Frosterley Village Hall on Wednesday 12th October.

During the workshop we will explore the process, products and purposes of writing for wellbeing. Registration details for this and other workshops can be found at

Discovering History in the Community

This weekend, while people were making history by coming together to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, I had the good fortune to meet up with Helen and Paul Harding who were reenacting historical moments at Warkworth castle in Northumberland.

I first came across this award-winning duo at Richmond Castle in 2014 and was delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with them again. The range of services they offer to schools, community groups, museums etc. can be found at

On Sunday, I visited Amble where I came across The Auckland Shanty Singers who hail from my hometown of Bishop Auckland in Co. Durham. They were performing sea shanties and songs of the sea as part of the annual Puffin Festival.

If you enjoy singing and would like to help this community group keep the shanty traditions alive, you can find out more about them on Facebook at The Auckland Shanty Singers. They hold weekly and monthly singalongs in Shildon and Hamsterley.

My final discovery this weekend was Hulne Park and Priory near Alnwick, where the rhodedendrons are currently blooming in jubilee purple. The park, which was landscaped by Capability Brown, is the only one left of three parks which used to surround Alnwick Castle.

The priory ruins within the park were a favourite picnic spot of the 4th Earl of Northumberland and were used as a film set in the making of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. They can now be hired as the setting for personal special occasions, weddings etc.


We have become beachcombers,

scanning the seawrack each day

for treasure left by the tide;

a feast of cockles, mussels,

limpets, oysters, razors, clams,

crabs, starfish, urchins, tallins,

cochines, lucines, angelwings,

whelks to salt a poet’s tongue

and a calico scallop,

all the way from Florida,

like the folks we came across

at the Hermitage pub quiz:

brought together by currents

in the ebb and flow of time.

A creative idea for you, following on from the above and adapted from the Beachcombing chapter in Writing the Bright Moment by Roselle Angwin & others (Fire in the Head: 2005), is to:

  • bring 7 objects together: one manmade, one natural, one ordinary, one unusual, one that originates from someone else, one that is personal and one that is random
  • write what comes to mind about them
  • look for the surprise, contrast and difference in them
  • reread what you have written and ask yourself what is it really about?
  • give the piece an oblique title

My alternative title for the above poem is: ‘Casting Up on Stranger Tides.’

Waiting for the Tide to Turn

While waiting for the tide to turn on a visit to St. Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay, I had a piece of luck when a seagull flew into the photo I was taking of the lighthouse. I only recently discovered that the island is accessible by a causeway at low tide and did not know that seals bask there until I spotted them among the camouflage of the rocks.

The second piece of luck waiting for us further along the Northumberland coastline was a pre-used static caravan, which has enabled us to turn the tide of our lives around. We were walking in the area discussing options as we had not been able to take up our summer contracts due to roof damage caused by the winter storms.

Taking a leap of faith and going ahead with the purchase has enabled us to set up a summer base in Northumberland and brought a third piece of luck in the shape of a seasonal contract with English Heritage. Being part-time, this leaves me plenty of time to dust off poems written during previous visits to the area and to capture others rising with the tide.

Lifelines was first written following a visit to the Grace Darling museum in Bamburgh in 2014. Much is written about this lighthousekeeper’s daughter and the part she played in saving lives from the wreck of the Forfarshire in 1838. My aim was to capture the parts of her storyline that struck me the most:

One mile I rowed that night,

one mile there, one mile back, just in time.

Nine souls I hauled that night,

the angel’s share of a mermaid’s prize.

The fate I caught that night,

brought fame, fortune and a shorter life.

The price I paid that night,

no bairns to keep the family line.

The name I made that night,

borne forever on the wind and tide.

Heritage Gem Reopening for Easter

I had the good fortune recently to visit Gayle Mill near Hawes, North Yorkshire prior to it reopening for Easter.

First opened as a cotton mill around 1784, the building has a fascinating history of transforming itself to keep up with changing times and demands.

In 1810 it began producing flax (instead of cotton), which was used in the manufacture of sails and sacking, and then in 1820 it adapted to producing wool.

Following a period of time as a domestic property, it changed again in 1860 to become a sawmill.

It has an interesting link with being a secret tank testing ground during the second World War and has in the past generated its own electricity.

Cultura Trust, who currently own the building, aim to restore it to operate in a self-sustainable way once again.

Repair work has been carried out so that this heritage gem can reopen to the public this Easter with tours from animateur Stuart Robinson, who has many interesting stories to tell about the mill’s life and times.

To find out more about the mill, opening times and events, visit

Plan B on a Wintery Wednesday

daffodils wither

tulips shiver in their beds

snowdrops droop their heads

spring snowflakes seep underground

encourage new shoots to rise

… and thanks to today’s weather, plan B came into play.

coat cupboard painted

touch dry one hour later

free to leave again

So, what did you find to do while you were sitting in the cupboard waiting for the paint on the pocket door to dry, I hear you ask???

I opened The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Vintage:2022) and discovered a refreshing read by a new author who has inspired me to think what words I would like to have included in a new dictionary, so that they are not forgotten over time.

WordPress would be my choice today, with the definition: a pensieve `a la Dumbledore.

What would your word be?

P.S. There are 3 more space saving pocket doors in my house. Two wardrobes and one bijou bathroom to go …

Bringing Heritage Organisations Together

For the past three months I have been providing coaching and consultancy sessions for three heritage organisations in Bishop Auckland to kickstart the Volunteer Development Project for Historic England’s Heritage Action Zone. The aim of the project is to bring the organisations together to build their capacity and resilience so that both they and the annual Heritage Festival have a more sustainable future.

The three organisations share a similar purpose in that they each protect, preserve and promote part of the social history of the people, places and pastimes of Bishop Auckland and the surrounding area. Through reviewing the aims, activities and aspirations of each organisation we identified common goals that could be achieved together to create something better for the town and its residents.

Last week representatives from each organisation met to form the project steering group and I handed over to colleagues at Northern Heartlands who will work with them to deliver the next part of the project. The group aims to organise joint events and exhibitions in order to raise their profiles, recruit new members and volunteers, and attract further funding.

They also plan to expand and develop existing heritage trails to produce a new digital heritage trail available to download on appropriate platforms. To do this, they need the help of someone who has a range of digital skills and knowledge that they would be willing to volunteer in order to assist the group with developing both this and other websites as well as related social media pages.

If you are interested in being involved with this joint project or in helping out one of the individual organisations, please email Jayne or Jill at Northern Heartlands via: Further information and details of other projects they are involved with can be found on their website at:

The Way of the Spirit

The Way of the Spirit is my name for a personal seventh long-distance walking trail that I would like to add to the Six Northern Saints Trails created in 2020. Having dipped in and out of them over the past few months, I was inspired to create my own trail from sections of the Northumberland coastline this week.

Perhaps not the best week to take a winter walking holiday, and we certainly wore a ‘windswept and interesting’ look while storms Eunice, Franklin and Gladys blew through, but my year is not the same without an annual pilgrimage to the area and Holy Island/Lindisfarne .

One mistake I made was not taking my camera along as I thought I had already seen everything there was to see along this coastline over the years. Not so when weather conditions conspire to create rainbow paths through the water as far as the horizon.

Not having the means to take a photograph, I captured this natural phenomenon in the following haiku:

waves whipped by high winds

refract into rainbow paths

across the gray sea

The treasure I found at the shoreline edge of the rainbow was a collection of periwinkle shells in different colours, shapes and sizes. I’ve put them by for a rainy day when I plan to study and draw their patterns. In the meantime my holiday is over and its ‘back to the other drawing board.’

If you have time for a walk to restore mind, body and soul, the six trails based on ancient pilgrimage routes in North East England are called: The Way of Light, The Way of Life, The Way of Love, The Way of Learning, The Angel’s Way and The Way of the Sea. Route details can be found at

Bishop Auckland Revisited

Yesterday, I met with members of Bishop Auckland’s Civic Society. The Society promotes and preserves the fabric, history and heritage of the town and the surrounding area, and has been at the forefront of saving historically important features such as; the viaduct, the Town Hall (see photo) and the Zurburan paintings.

They organise public meetings, an annual town quiz and are collaborating with other heritage organisations in the town to find sustainable ways of keeping their legacies going and raise the profile of the town’s heritage. Their next public meeting is at 7:30p.m. on 28th March in Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

During the meeting, Dr. Anne Allen, project manager for the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone will give a talk entitled: ‘Picture this then and now.’ The talk will outline the different projects taking place in the town, which aims to become a nationally significant heritage led visitor attraction.

Attractions currently open include: the Town Hall, the Spanish Gallery, and The People’s Museum. The Mining Art Gallery, Tower and Auckland Castle are scheduled to re-open as of 23rd March. Kynren will run from 6th August to 10th September, and the Heritage Festival will take place again in September.

If you are interested in the history and heritage of the area, particularly the built environment, and would like to give a talk, attend a public meeting or become a member of The Civic Society, you can find out more at

G.R.O.W. bags for self-coaching

These G.R.O.W. bags, containing sheets of questions from each of the stages of the Grow method developed by Sir John Whitmore, were created for participants at Wednesday’s Creative Retreat Day. They are a playful way to keep inspiration flowing through self-coaching when the well is running dry.

Filling up the well through ‘artist dates’ is one of many ideas promoted by Julia Cameron for keeping creative. Our latest ‘artist date’ was in Richmond, North Yorkshire. We met in The New Comrades, music venue and community hub, to work together on our individual writing projects (novels and poetry).

We wondered if Euterpe, muse of music, song and poetry, might have a positive influence on the rhythm and rhyme of our words, and were surprised to find new voices in our stories, a way of writing whispers in the wind and an increased flow of writing.

We achieved more working together in relative silence than when immersed in our own writing worlds at home, and agreed we would like to repeat the process on a more regular basis. If you live near Barnard Castle or Bishop Auckland and would like to meet up to write, email Jane at

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