Tuesday 20 August 2013

From Clattery to Wandylaw: I should have seen it coming

My favourite place in the whole world, surpassing even Venice, was a damp two-room cottage on the moors above Warenford in Northumberland.

It was called Clattery or, on the maps, Clattering Houses. My family rented it as a weekend retreat for most of the last century, and my mother was born there in 1909.

My family at Clattery, circa 1909
My grandfather (in Panama hat) and the family business from which he apparently needed a weekend retreat: the Lion Garage in Alnwick Market Place
Clattery in July 1986, when I moved in

I was lucky enough to live at Clattery full time for two years in the 1980s, while I pretended to write a book. I will never forget the magical view down to Bamburgh and the Farnes, or the sweep of the Longstone light in the evenings.

I thought its peace and beauty were timeless, but the place is a ruin now. I left when the neighbouring Wandylaw estate decided to try its luck at opencast coal mining. Since then a much bigger profit opportunity has emerged in the form of a wind farm.

Today's view of Wandylaw from Adderstone, where my great-grandfather was the local blacksmith

With hindsight, I should have seen all this coming. Clattery got its unusual name from the racket of the primitive drift mines once worked on the moors, while you probably don’t need me to explain that “Wandylaw” means “windy hill”.

The fact that I never go back to my favourite place is sad for me, but of no consequence to anyone else. Those moors were the opposite of a tourist hot spot. Many years ago my uncle introduced me to Ros Castle, the hill fort a little further inland, and pointed out the seven castles one could see from its top.

Now visitors to this favourite resort of the foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey seem much more likely to end up counting turbines.

Looking east from the roadside near Ros Castle

Which is another shame, though Ros has never drawn the huge numbers of visitors its breathtaking views merit. But then a major part of the attraction of Northumberland has always been the ability to go hill walking or sit on a stunning beach, and feel that one has the place almost to oneself.

Sadly this becomes a serious handicap when attempting to stir up opposition to those who would transform the character of the place in the pursuit of profit.

My own position is unusual in that, for most of the last 25 years, I have had my home in Northumberland but earned my living elsewhere. Hence I tend to see the county from the semi-detached perspective of a frequent visitor rather than that of a permanent resident.

I have never wanted to take my holidays anywhere else, and have spent the last five years battling with a series of dreadful summers to bring my wife round to my point of view. Last week I felt we came close to a breakthrough as the children played happily on the sun-drenched sands of Newton-by-the-Sea, fortified by truly excellent fish and chips from the village’s Joiners’ Arms.

Family holiday fun at Newton-by-the-Sea

Driving around the county, the intrusion of huge wind turbines into the views I have loved all my life upsets me, and the prospect of many more seems simply appalling. But I am well aware that my views are not universally shared. Even my four-year-old son disloyally announced that he found them “pretty”.

I haven’t yet been able to ascertain his views on the alternatives, though I hope he will share my joy in the irony that those who shouted loudest to defend the miners from “the Tories” now seem to be the most vociferous opponents of the new fossil fuel technology of fracking.

Personally, I’d prefer some fracking rigs and the odd fully functional nuclear power station to serried ranks of intermittently operative wind turbines. I’d also like to explore the potential for a revival of coal, plus wave and tidal power.

But, at the end of the day, the will of the people should prevail. If those who share my son’s perception are in the majority (and I hope not, because he’s been wrong about most things up to now) let us proceed with a wind farm free-for-all.

If not, neither central Government nor local planners should be trying to impose them on unwilling communities.

If I prove to in the minority, I’ll sadly move on from Northumberland as I did from Clattery and never come back, though I hope I may continue to enjoy some very precious memories.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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