Ponteland and Darras Hall - villages in all but stature

PUBLISHED: 11:41 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013

Vicar’s pele

Vicar’s pele

Ponteland and Darras Hall are mistakenly thought of as stylish dormitory settlements for nearby Newcastle and Tyneside. But there's a vibrant, working community in its own right, as Steve Newman discovers

Its the flowers that bring me back to Ponteland every year. The town has one of the finest displays in the region and is always a strong contender in the annual and highly competitive Northumbria in Bloom competition.
You may notice, I said town there rather than village, and although the local people still refer to the centre of the town as the village, it has had its own town council for over two years now.
We have over 150 local groups and organisations in the town, said Mayor Robin Ramsay, and we are constantly trying to improve the look and improve the landscaping. The new entrance to park, for example, has removed an unsightly area. This is a thriving community and not simply a commuter town, a misconception many people in the North East have.
With the River Pont winding its way through the town, Ponteland has a country air about it. It is thought that the town takes its name from a corruption of Pont Island as whenever the river flooded it left the original settlement as an island surrounded by an expanse of marshland.
What makes the town unique is the way that 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. There still exists today a book of bye-laws providing guidance and rules where an elected committee of 15 owners help to maintain the presence of a country environment of trees and hedgerows.
Driving though Darras Hall it appears to me that it is changing in many ways. A lot of the houses now have electronic gates and security measures, which dont seem to fit in with the original ethos of the place. But the abundance of trees and hedgerows still makes it appear like an English village buried deep in ancient woodland.
Ponteland is a lovely place and there is a lot of money in the town, said Matthew Gray, the third generation of his family to run Bonner and White, the carpet specialist in the towns shopping precinct. There are over 700 businesses in Ponteland and we have a Community Partnership and Forum that we hope will evolve into some form of Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, plans are afoot to improve the shopping precinct itself.
The precinct is now home to the farmers market on a monthly basis but the town has its own country market held every Friday morning from 9 to 11.15, where people can bring produce they grow or make and have it sold for them. Ninety per cent of the purchase price is given back to them while 10 per cent is kept for administration. Weve been doing this since 1976, said Marjorie Goodchild. Its just like a co-operative society really and backs up that Ponteland is half way between city and beautiful countryside. Its a lovely place to live.
A walk around Ponteland will reveal quite a few historical buildings, such as the Vicars 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 Marys Church. However, there arent that many places in the North East that have a Waitrose, so that does give you some idea of the affluence of the area.
Its another modern day invader thats worrying many people here though, the grey squirrel. Many cars in the town sport the Save the Red Squirrel sticker. In many ways, the whole community is involved in the groups work by telephoning the hotline with sightings
of greys, which carry a virus deadly to the reds.
You cant talk to people here without noticing their pride in the place. I am very proud of Ponteland, said Ray Tipping, chairman of the towns highly-admired Rotary Club and who has lived here for 79 years. Over 11,000 was raised last year for good causes. The
local people and businesses are
extremely supportive.
It is amazing how these businesses seem to reach out all over the world. Indeed Rays own company, Kirkhouse Productions, is one of the UKs leading suppliers of folding tables and associated products, including Westmister Cathedral among its clients.

Art in Ponteland

Jess Arthur (left) is a Ponteland trompe l'oeil and mural artist. Tromp l'oeil is the art of making someone think they are seeing a three dimensional scene or an object such as a door or bookcase that's not there, or perhaps a window or poolside with an amazing view of the African savannah! Her work is found all over the world and she recently had a commission for the Injured Jockeys Fund in Oaksey House, Lambourn, which was opened by the Princess Royal.
Alan Reed is one of the North East's most successful watercolour artists after discovering the medium at school. He has exhibited in London, Edinburgh and New York. His Ponteland studio and gallery in his home has attracted buyers from Rolls Royce, Coutts Bank and Italy.

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