Patrick Norris is a qualified hill walking guide, holding the Walking Group Leader Award, and is a member of the Mountain Leaders Training Association. In addition, he holds the Basic Expedition Leaders Award and has been, until recently, a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme leader. He has lead young people on expeditions to Nicaragua and to some of the wilder and remoter parts of England and Wales.
Patrick and his wife Louise Almond-Norris own and operate Footsteps in Northumberland, where they take people out walking along the Northumberland Heritage Coast, in the rolling countryside and along the valleys and over the hills of the Northumberland National Park. It is a new business, having set up in May 2011 and much of their first year has been focused on researching walks, networking, and marketing. They lead walks six days a week and offer walks throughout the year. Patrick believes that Northumberland offers something to walkers all year round, so even in the depths of winter, there is always something to see and the weather is perfect for walking.
Patrick understands and is able to share his knowledge relating to the diversity of habitats to be found in Northumberland. This diversity is fundamental to the needs of the flora and fauna and without it the county would be significantly poorer in terms of the wildlife to be found here. On a Footsteps walk, we try and embrace a little bit of everything. Northumberland offers it all in abundance; Patrick and Louise look forward to sharing it with you.
He is now author of a new walking column at www.thisisnorthumberland.com called The Walker’s Guide, where he will be writing about all aspects of walking, from its history, health benefits and equipment through to clothing, boots, safety and favourite routes. With this latest In the Know interview we introduce Patrick to our readers, and you can read his full biography beneath the interview. Patrick shares his love of his new home county and reveals what he believes are its best kept secrets.
How long have you lived/worked/visited in Northumberland?: In some ways for most of my life. We moved to the Scottish Borders in 1965, where my father managed poultry farms in the Dumfries and Lockerbie area. It was there that we first went on family holidays to Northumberland, staying in Embleton and discovering the coast and castles, Northumberland National Park and this amazing place for the first time. I first brought Louise to Northumberland in 1990 and we have been back most years for holidays. She and the children Sian and Ben all love it here and long may that be the case.
After a move to Carlisle in 1972 where I finished my secondary education, I went on to join the Royal Navy, which I served in for sixteen years. After three years at Seale Hayne College in South Devon, I had the idea of starting my own guided walks enterprise, Dartmoor Safaris, but a lack of opportunity, money and just getting on with life meant it didn’t happen at that time.
However, the idea never went away and after working as a professional countryside manager in Hertfordshire and then in the Great Western Community Forest in Swindon, we found ourselves drawn inextricably towards Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and as the wheel turned full circle, here we are running our own guided walks business.
The idea has flowered and we just love it. Strangely enough, I find myself working part-time on a poultry farm to earn some extra money, my home is rented from the Greenwich Hospital Trust and the Secretary of Defence it would seem is my landlord, strange but true, life and history is following on behind me.
What is it about the county that appeals to you?: Northumberland and the Scottish Borders have great diversity, the coast, the countryside and the National Park offer choice for walkers. When you combine that with its cultural history, which is both prehistoric and historic, its natural history which is remarkable and the beauty of its landscape, then you have everything you need to make walks interesting, diverse and above all enjoyable. You never quite know what you’re going to come across. Every walk and that means the same walk on different days has something new to offer and we are always surprised by what we see and discover along the way.
What’s your favourite Northumberland/Borders beauty spot?: Because it is so remote, wild and little visited, my favourite beauty spot is the top of Wester Tor on the northern edges of the Cheviot Range. You can see from Melrose to Lindisfarne, there are wild Cheviot goats and red grouse and despite it being just off St. Cuthbert’s Way. You can be pretty sure that you’ll always be the only one sitting on top of this hill enjoying the experience!
Tell us about your favourite view/walk/cycle route/town/nightspot?: It’s difficult to choose a favourite view, because there are so many, but if I have to choose one, then it must be the one from the top of Ros Castle near Chillingham. On a good day like last Sunday, we could see seven castles, the coast, the Cheviot Hills and all points in between. It’s accessible to most, it has good links to it on the footpath and bridleway network and it’s somewhere that everyone should at some point visit; they will never be disappointed.
My favourite walk is along the coast path between Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle and onto Low Newton; it is perhaps one of the great coast walks in England.
I must do more cycling, I’ve got enough bikes, and one day I’ll do more. We are lucky to have Route 1 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network passing outside our front door; it tempts me out to explore it and as Mike Scott says in his book One Man and his Bike, he described Northumberland as being like ‘cycling through your own Arthurian legend’; I know exactly what he means.
To be fair, I don’t do nightspots, but the public bar of The Old Ship above the harbour in Seahouses is one excellent place to spend an evening.
The list of places to visit is endless. But some are more special than others. A trip to Northumberland/the Borders wouldn’t be complete without . . .: There’s something about crossing Borders that attracts, so I would have to choose a point on the border where St. Cuthbert’s Way crosses from England to Scotland and vice versa. It’s remote; you can only get there on foot or perhaps on horseback and you get that marvellous sense of ‘travelling’, so it’s not so much about how you got to your destination but the journey you undertook to get you there.
Why is locally produced Northumbrian/Borders food the best?: Well it just is; you only need to eat a kipper smoked in Seahouses or Craster to know that.
Do you have a preferred place to eat out in the county and why?: Our favourite place to eat is the Neptune Fish and Chip restaurant in Seahouses; cod and chips, a mug of tea and a slice of white bread and butter, just perfect. It has that lovely noisy buzz of families enjoying the moment, it’s clean with friendly service, and the fish leaps off the boats in the harbour on to your plate and all that for less than a tenner, heaven.
Northumbrians and people from The Scottish Borders are renowned for the warm welcome they offer holidaymakers and day trippers alike. What do you think is the secret ingredient for this friendliness?: It’s something about Borders I think; you get a similar feeling in the Marches between England and Wales, where the people who perhaps because of the remoteness of their location have always made visitors welcome. There is too perhaps a tradition of hospitality and generosity, which is clearly evident to anyone who comes here. In Cornwall, visitors are called ‘emmits’ and in Devon they are known as ‘grockles’; no such disparaging term for visitors exists in Northumberland and the Borders, so the mind set and attitude to visitors is a positive one. This is reflected in the warm welcome, which we keep for our friends, holidaymakers and day trippers alike.
Coast or country, and specifically which part? The Heritage Coast, a designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and in particular the coast at Beal which is part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. Here on the wild coast there are huge skies, endless sandy beaches, and castles on the horizon, wildlife, wildflowers, wild birds, religious history, Viking raids, reminders of World War II and a sense of remoteness that is hard to beat. However, it all so easy to get to and accessible and after your walk on the wild side, you can get a cup of tea and a slice of cake and enjoy the view from the terrace at The Barn at Beal; it’s so Northumberland.
11. Your favourite market town and why?: Of all the towns in Northumberland and the Borders (and I have by no means visited them all) my favourite at the moment is Rothbury. It’s a lovely place, full of history, grand houses, galleries, great places to eat and an excellent place to begin a walk with the stunning Simonside Hills to the south, the great estate of Cragside to the east and beautiful Coquet Valley to the west.
Your favourite historical site?: I have always liked the idea that we are just passing through and that really we too are just part of the landscape. When I pause to marvel at the cup and ring markings on the sandstone rocks at Lordenshaw in the Simonside Hills or sit on the cairn on the summit of Yeavering Bell, then I am aware of the history that surrounds me and just happy to be there and ‘passing through’.
And the best road to take a leisurely and scenic drive along?: For a journey through history, it has to be the B6318, the Military Road built by the Romans, some 2000 years ago. It follows Hadrian’s Wall, takes in sites of early Christianity, it was fought over by the Border Reivers, it’s wild and remote, incredibly scenic and although it’s not that far in miles, in historical terms it’s endless and well worth the journey.
What would be your perfect day out in Northumberland and The Scottish Borders?: A trip to the Farne Islands in June on Andrew Douglas’s boat Serenity II to see the puffins, fish and chips in the Neptune Fish Restaurant and a pint of local Northumberland bitter in the Old Ship in Seahouses. All that in just one small town in Northumberland; what could be better?
Patrick’s story: After leaving the Royal Navy in 1990 with 16 years of service under his belt, Patrick went on to attend Seale Hayne College in South Devon, where he was able to develop new skills and knowledge about the countryside, a subject which is something of a lifelong passion.
New skills learned at college lead to work as a countryside ranger and manager in Cornwall, Hertfordshire and most recently in the Great Western Community Forest in and around Swindon where he project managed the planting of one million plus trees and numerous other community projects.
After that work, Patrick with his wife, Louise, moved to rural Northumberland to set up Footsteps – walking the beauty of Northumberland. Footsteps is a guided walks enterprise, which allows Patrick to share his knowledge and passion of the countryside in an area renowned for its wildlife, history, beauty and sheer tranquillity.
As a boy, he was a keen birdwatcher, an interest that has continued throughout his working life and wherever he was in the world, far out to sea, island hopping in the Caribbean or just closer to home, getting out and about with a pair of binoculars to see what’s around is and remains a good reason to go for a walk; unless at sea of course, when walking far was never much of an option.
Category: Northumberland Best Kept Secrets