Memories of Kielder come flooding back
Published at 09:06, Monday, 28 May 2012
IT’S hard to imagine the North Tyne these days without the grandiose sweep of Kielder Water.
It’s 30 years this month since the Queen pushed the button formally to open the boating lake and fishery, but it’s been part of the life of the valley for much longer than that.
I have many fond memories of the creation of the great lake, which saw many North Tyne folk give up their regular jobs to join the 1,500-strong workforce during the eight-year construction phase.
Long before “partnership working” became the buzz phrase of the chattering classes, the creation of Kielder welded together all manner of local folk to keep a beady eye on the men in suits from the National Rivers Authority.
They expected little opposition to their plans to stop the North Tyne in its tracks, and flood the scrubby land at Otterstone Lea– England’s biggest farm – between the villages of Falstone and Kielder.
However, opposition was stern and effective, with men like Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, of the Birks at Tarset, Chief of the Imperial General Staff in World War Two, joining forces with farm workers and foresters to oppose the proposals.
Front Line Frankie, as he was affectionately known by his troops, stumped around with his cromach demanding answers.
There were some memorable clashes, as local land owners and parish councillors, used to dealing with nothing more dramatic than the siting of the new village seat, found themselves as major players in a £167 million contract.
There were men like Coun. Alf Weir, of Kielder Parish Council, patiently pointing out that perhaps some action should be taken to deal with the infamous Kielder midgies, which were capable of reducing grown men to tears.
Falstone’s Donald MacLeod was adamant that some provision be made to ensure that when the dam was built, top jobs would be available for local residents.
“We don’t want to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water,” he declared.
Water engineers blanched when their hi-tech anti-erosion measures on the face of the dam, known as “rip-rap”, were dismissed as “pebble dashing” by Coun. Jean Sarson, from Wark.
They rolled their eyes in despair when former MP for Hexham, Sir Rupert Speir, refused to be convinced that the dam would not collapse, or be targeted by international terrorists.
They pointed out in vain that there would be 750 sensors known as piezometers buried in the core of the earth dam to detect the slightest movement of the structure.
Local legend had it that Hesleyside Hall at Bellingham, the ancient seat of the Charlton family, would twice be hit by fire, before being destroyed by a great flood – and the hall had already suffered the two fires...
That explained the presence of Major John Charlton, of Hesleyside, as a formidable opponent of the scheme.
Personal memories revolve around fishing, because sport in the river was ruined for years by dam construction work.
Local folk who had lost their fishing were graciously allowed free fishing on the new lake and on the opening day, Kielder garageman Tommy Slee hooked a plump rainbow with his first cast.
He put it back, certain of catching more of the bounty – and didn’t touch another thing for the rest of the day!
A big concern for river anglers during the early years was the water authority’s propensity for suddenly letting out large volumes of water from the dam without warning.
This could result in the water level downstream rising several feet in a matter of minutes, occasionally putting wading anglers at risk.
One such unfortunate was veteran fisherman Tom Rogerson, who burst into one consultation meeting with a memorable: “Noo, I’m the bugger yers tried to droond ....”
You may not be surprised to learn I too was caught out by a sudden rise in water levels when wading in the river.
I was fishing away when I spotted a mink slinking sinuously along the bank, which arched its back like a cat and hissed threateningly at me.
I found a large bolt in my pocket and threw it in the general direction of the mink, which fizzed even more ferociously and slid into the water.
Seconds later, I felt a tearing jolt on the back of my right wadered leg, and, squealing like a schoolgirl, fled shrieking from the water.
My assailant turned out not to be the angry mink, but the branch of a tree swept down the river by rising floodwaters ...
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk