Fact, fiction and the great outdoors feature in an archaeological investigation by storytellers, as David Whetstone explains
Four adventurous storytellers have been engaged in an epic outdoor project, digging up tales which may have been lost to us.
It is about to come to fruition with a series of performances, guided walks and epic bike rides, all with stories aplenty.
The two-year project, called Tales of the Forgotten North, has been supported by the Norhumberland National Park Authority and the Northumberland Coast and North Pennines areas of outstanding natural beauty.
It has taken the group to archaeological sites in Northumberland and the North Pennines.
These include Yeavering Bell in the Cheviots, where the remains of an Iron Age hill fort can be found; Bronze Age cairns overlooking the Ingram Valley; Neolithic rock art at Lordenshaws beneath the Simonside Hills near Rothbury; motte and bailey remains at Elsdon; and the ruins of Thirlwall Castle at Greenhead.
Never let it be said that the raconteurs of A Bit Crack - Chris Bostock, Malcolm Green, Pascale Konyn and Pat Renton - just sit around and tell tales.
In Tales of the Forgotten North they have collaborated with archaeologists Paul Frodsham and Jessica Turner and worked with schools and community groups. The result is a blend of stories old and new which have “emerged” from the various sites, from local history, from conversations and also perhaps from the folklore that echoes down the generations.
Chris Bostock, who admits to being the proud owner of a new hip and knee, explains: “For centuries people have walked Northumberland. They have explored, worked and travelled the land.
“Hunters, farmers, herders and kings have shaped the landscape and left their mark but their stories have sometimes been forgotten.”
A Bit Crack’s journey of discovery was to find out what the land and its people could tell us now.
Chris reports that things did not get off to the most auspicious start when two members of the group embarked on a trial walk.
“Malcolm and Pat set off but Pat looked down and found a four-leaf clover and said, ‘This is a wonderful omen’.
“As they proceeded, rehearsing some of the stories they were going to be telling, they got lost.
“A local farmer, in his dressing gown, dragged from his bed, finally guided them back to their car and all for the moment was safe.
“The stories were intact, their bodies were intact but their reputations were in tatters.”
One positive outcome was that the intrepid pair discovered camping spots they wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
Another is expressed by Pat: “I’m a changed woman. Never again will I look for a four-leaf clover at the beginning of a walk with Malcolm Green.”
Tales of the Forgotten North is about to wash over us in a series of public events which promise to be a lot of fun.
First there’s a series of performances in which the gathered stories will be laid before an audience. The first is tonight at 7pm at St Mary’s C of E Middle School in Belford.
Pat and Pascale will tell “mystical and magical stories from the North and a new and wondrous tale about the people who lived at Green Shiel, an Anglo Saxon farmstead on Holy Island”.
Jessica Turner will talk about life in the 9th Century and pupils will also tell the stories they created while working on the project.
Other performances will be at Kirknewton (July 1), Rothbury (July 6), Tarset (July 9) and Greenhead (July 11).
Also coming up are two Story Walks, led by members of A Bit Crack - who promise they now know the way - to one of the archaeological sites.
The first, on July 7, is in the Simonside Hills and the second, on July 9, is at Tarset, near Bellingham.
Then there are the storytelling Bicycle Rides, organised by Sustrans and ranging from eight to 30 miles. They take place on July 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11.
Details, including how to book, are on www.abitcrack.com