Living Uplands

Natural History of Upper Weardale


By Phil Gates

Forty-five years ago, entirely by chance, we came to live on the edge of Weardale. Then, I could hardly believe our good fortune; today, I am still thankful that this is where we put down roots. It is an inspirational Dale for anyone who loves landscape, rural communities, history and natural history.

Image (c) Phil Gates - Weardale looking west above Stanhope

Reading The Natural History of Upper Weardale will surely add a new level of enjoyment to all those who love the Dale, and those who have yet to discover its delights. It was researched, written and produced by a team who generously dedicated their time, knowledge and talents during the worst months of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps that timing was fortuitous, as the conditions of lockdown have made so many of us acutely aware of the importance of open spaces, nature and the countryside in our physical and mental wellbeing.

In one sense, this book is a state-of-the-Dale inventory, covering a period that spans deep geological time until the present day. It should raise awareness of what we have and I hope it will inspire readers to share their own observations online, by following and interacting with the social media accounts on the associated Living Uplands website, so they can contribute to the story of the Dale.

Wherever you look in Weardale, you can see traces of past generations who worked the land and quarried its minerals; and find evidence of its past history and of continuous change. Even in the relatively short period that I have lived here there have been losses and gains. When I first came to Weardale I met retired farmers who could still remember the rasping call of corncrakes in meadows in the upper Dale. I saw red squirrels so often that I never really took much notice, but now I have to take my grandchildren further afield to see them. But, forty-five years ago, I would rarely have seen buzzards, nuthatches or butterflies like the small skipper, comma or speckled wood: all are now common. What is perhaps most heartening is the way in which nature reclaims sites that were once hives of industry.

I hope readers will be inspired to get out into the Dale, find their own favourite places and add their own records, in words and pictures, of their experiences in this wonderful North Pennine landscape. I thought I knew it pretty well, having trod so many miles of its footpaths, until I read this book: it has reminded me that there is so much more here to learn and to marvel at.