Meet some real-life heroes in my series of special interviews with people who represent the spirit and heart of the North East.
Jane Riddell is a Ranger at Northumberland National Park, based in the North of the Park which covers the Coquet Valley, Elsdon, Simonside and up into the Cheviots.
In this interview, Jane tells us about her connection to the North East, her favourite local myth, and more…
Please tell us a bit about you and your connection with the North East.Before 2001 I had very little connection with the North East at all. I was born in Hawick in the Scottish Borders but lived near Lockerbie growing up. I think when I was in third year at university, in Edinburgh (I studied Rural Resources at Napier Uni/Scottish Agricultural College), we had a field trip to the Breamish Valley and when I was much younger and on holiday staying with family, we would have day trips to Hexham and Bellingham. Other than that, I wasn’t familiar with the area. I moved to the North East from just over the Scottish Border in April 2001 to begin my one-year contract as a Ranger with Northumberland National Park – 21 years later I am still here! Having lived down here for that length of time I do now consider it home.
Tell us about your role at Northumberland National Park – what do you love most about the work you do?I work as one of the Rangers based in the North of the Park which covers the Coquet Valley, Elsdon, Simonside and up into the Cheviots. My job is varied, and no two days are the same. I can be out with a school group in the Breamish Valley river dipping one day and then up on the Border Ridge/Pennine Way checking a right of way the next. I feel very proud and privileged to be able to call the wide-open space of the National Park my ‘office’. One element of my job which I thoroughly enjoy is getting young people involved with the National Park, be this through coming out for a day to take part in fun activities or young people who are looking to pursue a career in the countryside/environmental sector. I know how difficult it can be to get into this line of work, after studying for 4 years I then volunteered for 15 months to develop and gain the practical skills I needed. Northumberland National Park launched the Young Volunteer Ranger Placement back in 2014, which was set up to help young people gain practical skills and give them hands-on experience as a Ranger. The majority of people who take part in the Placement are still studying so they can fit their days with us around their timetables. Being able to pass on the skills and knowledge I have gained over the years and see young people develop and, in several cases, gain employment in the Ranger sector is both fulfilling and rewarding. From April 2021 to May 2022, I was seconded to work on the Generation Green Project which was a 16-month project connecting young people to nature. The project created and saved jobs and helped build an aspirant workforce for a green recovery. During this time, we were able to deliver sessions to young people who do not normally get the opportunity to come to the National Park. During these sessions we took them on walks along Hadrians Wall, got them to light fires, use tools to make whistles, stay overnight in the YHA at The Sill and go stargazing in the International Dark Skies Park. For many of the young people, we were taking them out of their comfort zones and it was great to see how they approached everything with such passion and adapted to their new surroundings. During my time at Northumberland National Park, I have worked on several other projects. From 2008-2009 I was the Project Officer for the Cheviot Hills Heritage Project. This Project worked across the English/Scottish Border with the local communities in the Cheviot Hills to explore, research and celebrate the rich and natural and cultural heritage of the area. This Project highlighted to me what a special place the North East is. For somewhere so remote and at that time maybe not visited quite as much as it is now, a total of 235 assets were highlighted which ranged from favourite walks to archaeology sites to historic buildings. It wasn’t just the diverse range of assets which were highlighted it was also the reasons people gave for putting these assets forward. It truly is a special area, valued by everyone who experiences it.
That all sounds fantastic, and so varied!
Which three words best describe the North East to you?‘Remote’, ‘Ancient’, ‘Dramatic’.
It’s often said that the people and landscapes of the North East are full of ‘spirit’ and ‘heart’. What do you love most about the region?Everyone is very friendly and accommodating here. When I first moved from Scotland, I didn’t know anyone, but I was soon welcomed in and became part of the team. As well as the people, I really like the diverse landscape, we have a fantastic coastline within easy access of most places, but we also have the Cheviot hills and the wide-open spaces up on the Otterburn training area. If I have been away and I’m driving back (especially from the South) once I start to see the Simonside Hills, I know I am nearly home.
Is there one place you always like to visit that you would recommend to others?It depends on the weather, but there is nowhere better than the Border Ridge/Pennine Way on a sunny day – plus the fact you can just nip over the fence and be in Scotland! Walking up from the Coquet Valley to Windy Gyle and Russell’s Cairn on a clear day when you get 360-degree views is fantastic. On a wet day, for me the coast is the place to visit, with all the majestic castles standing strong.
Favourite North-Eastern slang?Clarts – just a great way to describe mud/dirt. Canny – it’s not over the top but if someone says somethings ‘canny’ then you know it’s alright.
The North East is packed with history, myths and legends, songs and folklore. Do you have a favourite story, myth, or song that you associate with the area?Simonside Duergar – a few years ago we had an event on Simonside where we took groups of people through the forest to the viewpoint below Simonside to see a light show. One of the stories we told people on the way up was about the Simonside Duergar.
Who are your North East heroes?I really admire the two shepherds (John Dagg and Frank Moscrop) in the College Valley who, along with Sheila the sheepdog, rescued several of the American airmen who crashed their plane during the blizzard in December 1944. The fact they were willing to go out in all weathers and put their own safety at risk to help others is something to admire. Again, I have a huge amount of respect for the members of the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue team. Like the shepherds, they are willing to drop everything to go out in all weathers and any time of the day or night to help people. They not only go out and find lost walkers but during any inclement weather they make sure families in the remoter parts of the National Park are okay and assist if needed.
Yes, they really are heroes. Finally, what makes you smile?During autumn, the colours in Northumberland National Park’s valleys make me smile. The brightness of the red rowan berries and the glorious colours of the autumn leaves on the trees always puts me in a good mood. From our National Park office in Rothbury, we are lucky enough to look out onto Simonside, in December we get to see some cracking sunsets over the hill – the bright red sky may only last a few minutes, but it always puts a smile on my face when I get to see one. Finally, seeing people enjoy themselves in the great outdoors always makes me smile.
That’s a lovely note to end on. Thanks so much for telling us all about your role as a Ranger and about your connection to the North East!
Special thanks to Kate Baguley, who helped co-ordinate this interview.