PUBLISHED: 16:13 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
The prime addresses of Ponteland and Darras Hall attract not only discerning human residents. These parkland locations are also much sought-after by other inhabitants WORDS AND PICTURES BY STEVE NEWMAN
One of the features that makes Ponteland such a sought-after location is that it is a haven of rural splendor within 20 minutes drive of Tyneside. Indeed, treecreepers, nuthatches and red squirrels can all be seen on occasions in its shopping centre. Darras Hall Estate brings much of the custom and the wildlife to the town.
The estate was set up by Joseph Whiteside Wakinshaw just over 100 years ago, stipulating many conditions to ensure a good quality of life. There still exists today a book of bye-laws providing guidance and rules where an elected committee of 15 owners help maintain the presence of a country environment of trees and hedgerows.
With the River Pont winding its way through the town, Ponteland has even more of a country air about it. It is thought that it takes its name from a corruption of 'Pont Island' as whenever the river flooded it left the original settlement as an island surrounded by saturated marshland. Frequent flooding was a common feature of the river and the village has suffered severe flooding due to the swollen river, even in recent times.
The woodland in and around Ponteland has also given rise to the Ponteland SOS 'Save Our Squirrels' group. 'Our aim is that Ponteland will have a red squirrel population for future generations,' says Sally Hardy, 'and in many ways the whole community is involved in the group's work by telephoning the hotline with sightings and receiving our newsletter.We would-be delighted if anyone wants to help out in any way or record any sightings of greys, which carry a virus deadly to the reds.We can be contacted by phoning our hotline number.'
A walk around Ponteland will reveal a number of historical buildings such as the Vicar's Pele and the Blackbird pub which stands on the site of a small castle that was destroyed by a Scottish army the day before the Battle of Otterburn and is rumoured to contain an old tunnel from here to St Mary's Church, across the road. Every fourth Saturday of the month the town holds a small but successful farmers' market. Here you will find fresh bread, organic meat, cakes, vegetables, and other produce with much of the food on sale being produced locally.
Robin Ramsay is Ponteland's Town Mayor and lives in Darras Hall. 'People often think that Ponteland and Darras Hall are separate entities when, in fact, they are both part of the same community.We have over a 150 clubs and societies here and a population of about 10,000 who are served by five churches. This is a thriving community and not simply a commuter town, a misconception many people in the North East have. One of our biggest assets is the town park, which is run by the Town Council with help from Friends of Ponteland Park for the benefit of all.'
What is striking about Ponteland is the large amount of floral displays, not just in the village centre but also in the private gardens and perhaps it is no surprise the village is host to the North East Alpine Plant Group where it meets on a monthly basis from September through to May. Just to the north of the town is the small hamlet of Blagdon which is centred on the large country house of Blagdon Hall, home of Viscount Ridley. The house was built in 1735 and enlarged in 1830. At the beginning of the First World War the house became the regimental headquarters of the Scottish Horse and in 1944 suffered a fire. The subsequent renovations restored the Hall to its original proportions.
The Blagdon Estate has been in the ownership of the White/Ridley family since the 1690s and occupies some 13 square miles. Many of the old farm buildings have been renovated and now house privately-owned businesses. Among these is The Northumberland Cheese Company, started here by Mark Robertson in 1996. It now produces 16 artisan cheeses from the converted mid 19th century granary and among the 14 people it employs is Jackie Riley. 'Blagdon is a really nice place to work and I especially like the way that most of our cow's milk for our cheese comes from cattle on the estate,' she says.
This renovation of redundant farm buildings is best seen at The Milkhope Centre, which has become a popular destination for visitors, with a number of small privately-owned niche retail businesses, some of which have gained a high reputation including the Blagdon Farm Shop, which sells local produce from the surrounding area. 'We're very proud of the fact that we've won 'Best Farmshop Butchers' in the country twice,' said Jo Celerier, who manages the shop.
On another part of the estate is Chris Hartnell who runs Northern Heritage, 'We're a traditional family business which specialises in books, DVDs and traditional gifts with a northern heritage theme, many of which are exclusively produced for us,' he said.
Red Squirrel Hotline 0773264694. Ponteland Town Council 01661 825092.