More tales from Northumberland: Keeping our industrial heritage alive

Published: Friday 17th Apr 2015

Written by: The Grace Darling Holidays Team

TV star Robson Green burst back onto our screens this week for the fifth installment of local travel show More Tales From Northumberland, and it was time to look at the industrial heritage of the area – and the locals who are helping keep it alive.

With a rich railway, farming and farming heritage, Northumberland has a very strong industrial background, and even in this modern age, it’s clear to see tradition is still honoured across the county.

The pretty seaside town of Amble has a strong history of boat building. Going back 50 years or so, the harbour at Amble would have been filled with traditional fishing coble boats, but today just a handful remain.

Hoping to change this is community group Amble Coastal Rowing Club, which has gathered members from all walks of life as part of a project to build St Ayles Skiffs boats from scratch. 

Dozens of volunteers came together – many without any boat building experience – to build a boat that would be ready for a race at Amble Harbour – including Robson, who pitched in with the hard graft during his visit.

The project isn’t just about creating community spirit and bonding – for many it’s also an important way of keeping Northumberland’s coastal heritage alive.

Find out how the team – who named their boat Coquet Spirit – got on when they raced against three other teams from the North East, by watching More Tales From Northumberland on the ITV Player.

Also learn more about Amble Coastal Rowing Club from their official website.

From sea to land, Robson’s next stop was in Wylam, a Northumbrian town that might be small in size – with a population of around just 2,000 – but huge in stature.

Wylam is known to many as the ‘birthplace of the railway’, as it’s where railway pioneer George Stephenson – aka the ‘father of the railway’ – was born and raised, in a small cottage near the River Tyne. 

George paved the way for the golden age of steam, with his design of the Wylam Railway Bridge a revolutionary feat of engineering which provided inspiration for the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle – and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, amazingly. 

“This small Northumbrian town changed the world,” a humbled Robson explained, as he took in the enormity of George’s legacy.

However, in the 1960s, the boom of the motor car, and the publication of Dr Richard Beeching’s reports, which recommended the reduction of route network and restructuring of the railways, known as the Beeching Cuts, lead to many thousand miles of train tracks being closed down, including across Northumberland. 

One of the tracks, which led a route directly between Alnmouth and Alnwick, and at its peak carried 60 trains a day, was among those shut.

But in the last few years there has been something of a mini railway revolution, as a group of volunteers have united to reclaim disused lines, and give them a second lease of life. 

The Aln Valley Railway project has over 40 volunteers who are on a mission to reopen the line from Alnmouth to Alnwick.


The team is laying the track in the old fashioned way – by hand – and is hoping that it will be back in operation by 2020, all going well. 

One of the volunteers explained to Robson his reason for putting in the hours to see the track back in use again.

“There’s quite a number of us who remember the Beeching days...

“Beeching spoiled our hobby and a lot of the railway system, and to think we are now reinstating the line gives us a lot of satisfaction.” 

Learn all about the Aln Valley Railway project from Welcome to the Aln Valley Railway

Robson’s latest explorations into ‘the secret kingdom’ ended this week on Sillywrea Farm, which has earned the title of being the last known farm in Britain to be worked solely by horses.

Headed up by 85-year-old John Dodds, the patriarch of the Dodds family wouldn’t have it any other way – and neither would son David, or grandson Richard.

While most have swapped good old horse power for tractors and combine harvesters, the Dodds believe their six Clydesdale horses can work a farm as well as – and in some cases better – than modern day machinery. 

 “We’re proud of what we do. We’re keeping something on and I’m quite convinced the horses will keep this place going for some time,” David explained.

A book called The Last Horsemen has been written about John Dodds and his life on Sillywrea Farm has been published and available online now from Amazon, if you fancy finding out more about the farm: The Last Horsemen

Next time on More Tales From Northumberland, Robson will be finding out about some of the area’s natural wonders, from rock formations to the sprawling woodlands, as well as meeting the world’s rarest breed of cattle.

* Catch up with More Tales From Northumberland on the ITV Player if you missed it on TV Episode 5
* Book a Grace Darling Holidays cottage as the perfect base for your next holiday in Northumberland: Grace Darling Holidays


The Grace Darling Holidays Team
The Grace Darling Holidays Team

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Your team of holiday experts in Northumberland.


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