Looking up from my sketch, I remember how the sun fell brightly on my way to Widdybank Farm and how the howling teeth of a snowstorm chased me back out again.
An unforeseen yet fortunate change of circumstance now finds me working one day a week at Widdybank Farm, Natural England’s Reserve Base for Moor House National Nature Reserve in Upper-Teesdale. I walk each Wednesday along the rough track, with Cronkley Scar and lapwings as companions. Below the scar runs the infant river Tees, fast flowing and already filled with attitude, its character born from the high plateau of the north Pennines. No river in England has such a lofty place of origin.
On the other side of the river Widdybank Farm sits in the shadow of the great Cronkley Scar and it’s a perfect spot to enjoy some of the rare wide flowers of Upper Teesdale, not to mention the fauna and especially the wader birds. People of the past have also left their mark on the land. From the harsh landscape of Forest-in-Teesdale to the lower reaches below High Force, Mesolithic, Bronze and Iron Age people have made this area their home. There is also evidence of Anglo Saxons at Simy Folds, although very little is known about the early medieval period of the area.
Working in such a remote location offers escape from the trappings of my normal routine. At Widdybank I have no mobile signal, I’m divorced from that other world, I have no connection with it, other than those who share the old farm as their office.
However, I’m constantly in awe of the view from the window. The light is forever changing, as shadows of the clouds race across the hillside. From one moment to the next, the view is different, as details in the rocks and landscape are revealed and then hidden once more.
How exposed those old occupants of the farm must have felt. For them, darkness was consuming. Those of us growing up in towns or cities know darkness only through the friendly street lamps or headlights of cars. Here in Upper Teesdale, darkness is absolute.
As I headed home, I glanced back towards the farm, which by now had become lost in a snowstorm. I felt lucky and alive.