The Lady of the North

A couple of weeks ago I posted a story about the desecration of the landscape through industrial pollution, specifically the impact of coal mining.

Last week, my wife and I made the 225 mile journey from our home just south of Birmingham to Newcastle in the northeast of England. The route we took – M42, M1, M18, A1(M) – passes through many areas where coal mining was the main industry until quite recently. But as you speed past you would be hard pressed to realize that coal mining had ever taken place, such has been the rehabilitation of the landscape. Yes, in some places there are rolling ‘hills’, covered with scrubby vegetation, the remnants of the once dominating slag heaps associated with the deep mines. In general, the coal mining footprint is slowly and irrevocably disappearing.

Not so just a few miles north of Newcastle close by the village of Cramlington (where the musician Sting once taught at a local primary school before discovering his musical mojo). Just to the west of the village is the huge Shotton surface mining complex. And this is what it looks like from a slightly elevated location.

Not a pretty sight, but thankfully you can’t really see the extent of the open cast mining from ground level. It looked as though the mine operators were restoring some parts of the site, bringing in loads of top soil.

However, if you have £3 million, and are prepared to move 1.5 million tons of rock, gravel, clay and soil, then it’s possible to really make something from a ‘derelict’ landscape. And that’s what has been achieved at Northumberlandia (from where the photos above were taken). Undoubtedly one of the largest landscape sculptures of a figure – in this case a reclining nude Lady of the North, Northumberlandia – in the world, it took a couple of years of landscaping to achieve a truly remarkable design, and was opened in September 2012.

An aerial view of Northumberlandia, with her head on the right and feet on the left.

An aerial view of Northumberlandia, with her head on the right and feet on the left.

1. Viewing points. 2. Head. 3. M’lady’s breasts. 4. Hands. 5. Hip. 6. Knee. 7. Ankles.

Rising to 100 feet apparently at the head, there are over four miles of paths winding around the lady, with viewpoints from M’Lady’s breasts, hip, knees and ankles. Her right hand is raised in a salute with the index finger raised. There are three ponds to one side, which will surely become colonized by reeds and other water-loving plants and become a haven for wildlife. Already there is quite an impressive array of wild flowers on her flanks.

The paths have been laid out to provide easy access for everyone; the gradients are steeper in some sections than in others. Entry to Northumberlandia is free, but one is asked to contribute towards car parking – £2 is the suggested fee. It was a beautiful day when we visited last Saturday along with daughter Philippa and her husband Andi, and sons Elvis and Felix. Here is a small selection of the photos I took. This is what you see from ground level. It’s well worth a visit.