A MASSIVE earth sculpture which has slowly risen into view from the Northumberland countryside has been described as “absolutely stupendous” by a leading tourism official.
Giles Ingram – the man responsible for leading the tourism drive in England’s most northerly county – says he believes many visitors will be attracted to the unique Northumberlandia landform once work on it has been completed.
Mr Ingram, chief executive of the Northumberland Tourism agency, said he was “blown away” after visiting the £2.5m sculpture and climbing to its highest point, which is 34 metres from the ground.
The 400 metre-long Northumberlandia, which will be the world’s biggest human landform, is being created using 1.5m tonnes of stone, clay and soil taken from Banks Mining’s opencast site at Shotton near Cramlington.
The naked, reclining female figure – which has been dubbed the Goddess of the North – is now clearly visible from the roads, rail links and countryside that surround the site, and landscaping work is scheduled to finish later this year.
Designed by landscape artist Charles Jencks, the sculpture has been funded by Banks Mining and the Blagdon Estate, and will be the centrepiece of a 47-acre public park aimed as a major new visitor attraction for the region.
Mr Ingram, who sits on an advisory panel overseeing the project, said: “I’m blown away by the realisation of the Northumberlandia project. Seeing plans, models and photographs just doesn’t do it justice. Once you go up there you realise what an enormous creation it is; it is absolutely stupendous.
“From a tourism point of view, I’m certain people will be interested in it and intrigued by it from a distance. But until they come up and see it, they’re not going to fully comprehend what it is, because what else have we got to compare it with?
“It’s quite unlike anything else that anyone will have been on, and I think it’s going to be one of those things that people are going to have to come and experience if they really want to understand it.
“What’s going to be fascinating is seeing it through different seasons – in every different time of the year, it’s going to appeal to people in different ways, from climbing up to the forehead when the wind’s blowing in winter to just strolling around it when the sun is shining.”
Neil Bradbury, the county council’s executive member for tourism, said: “We have the Angel of the North, and know how popular it has become, and soon we will have the Goddess of the North. Northumberlandia is a unique landmark and will give local people and visitors an ideal place to exercise, picnic and enjoy themselves.
“It is sure to generate enormous interest and publicity for Northumberland and beyond, which can only be a good thing.”
When the public park opens it will have more than 6.5km of surfaced or grassed paths.
Katie Perkin, from the Banks Group, said: “There’s already a great deal of excitement building around the tourism, cultural, landscape and amenity benefits that Northumberlandia will bring to this part of the region.
“Its artistic merits will add to what is already a hugely attractive regional offering for visitors, and we’re confident that the economic benefits of the scheme will be quickly felt by businesses in the surrounding area.”
She said the project was designed to provide a lasting legacy for the area. She added: “Part of this legacy will be the increased number of visitors that the landform brings to both the local area and the wider North East, and the additional tourism revenues that go with that.”
BEST IN BUSINESS
THE mining company that is creating Northumberlandia is celebrating after being named the best in the business by its industry peers.
Banks Mining, part of the Banks Group, was awarded the title "Surface Miner Of The Year" at the annual IHS McCloskey Coal UK conference in London.
The accolade is voted for by opencast companies across the UK, as well as by their customers and suppliers.
It recognises excellence in areas like business achievements, environmental performance and site management.
Banks Mining’s commitment to positive interaction with local communities – and its work in bringing tangible benefits to local people and projects – was noted as a prime example for the whole industry to follow.
The company, which has offices in Durham, employs more than 200 and has operated more than 100 surface mining sites in the UK over three decades, several of them in the North East.
Executive director Gavin Styles said: "This is a fantastic achievement and one that reflects the commitment and dedication of every member of the team, from those that initially identify potential site locations and develop our planning applications through to those that shape, work and then restore the sites that we operate."