Blue remembered hills
Housman’s timeless phrase conjures up many landscapes, real and imagined, for all of us. The deep azure ripple of far uplands basking in the heat haze of high summer offers a distant prospect that until lock-down was by no means beyond our reach and still exerts a pull on our heartstrings every time we glance in their direction on a clear day.
Looking north from as far south as Kenton Bar in Newcastle, for instance, Simonside and the Cheviots are in full view. The hills of our National Park are just some of the many ‘broad, sunlit uplands’ Northumberland is blessed with. In fact, there are few places in the county without a vantage point nearby from which at least some of our hills can be seen – the north Pennines, the Wannies, or the sandstone ridge that stretches through the county from Rothbury to the Kyloes. It’s this feature that is celebrated in the well-known description of Northumberland as ‘the land of far horizons’.
When we respond to their call and ‘head for the hills’, we leave behind the rigours of everyday life and take on a different kind of challenge. One that energises, liberates and refreshes.
Head for the hills
Hill walking in Northumberland offers peace and seclusion for the lone walker, easy gradients and soft green tracks perfect for families with youngsters or older walkers – and a wealth of heritage features to create talking points for groups of all ages. Even our most remote upland landscapes are all endearingly approachable and accommodating, with the bonus of a herd of feral goats that can bring a highly diverting encounter on a lucky day.
The National Park has for years run a programme of walks throughout the four seasons, well supported even in winter, and led by skilled volunteers including CPRE Northumberland Treasurer, Jeff Wild.
Different seasons, of course offer widely different experiences. From the austere spirituality of a February walk on fresh snow to the sun-kissed comforts of an August picnic.
But whatever time of year you go, it is always an immersive experience. Nothing brings you into more intense contact with the natural world than a day of hill walking. Breathing a different air, following a different course, we realise how abrasive urban life has become as we absorb the unhurried calm exuded by our hills, and feel something deeply restorative, healing even, in its effect on us.
There is nothing new in this idea. A Chinese poet noted a similar effect 1600 years ago:
‘I wander the winds boundless and clear,
And the headlong rush of spring-fed streams.
Rivers and hillsides open to reveal
That alluring lustre shared by cloud and sun,
And as twilight’s clarity infuses it all,
I savour a joy at the very heart of things’
(Hsieh Ling Yun, trans. David Hinton)
Protecting green spaces for future generations
When the restrictions of lock-down are over, and we are able once again to experience our hills first hand, that priceless benefit will be there for us. If we have learnt nothing else over the past few months, we should all have come to realise how essential it is to protect our cherished green spaces as a lifeline in a world increasingly dominated by the pressures of an unsustainable materialism.
The Northumberland hills offer countless pathways to explore, all leading to landscapes of peace, harmony, breath-taking beauty and ‘a joy at the very heart of things’. We should make the most of their precious legacy, and work to ensure they will be there for the generations to come.