One man's mission to protect natural and built heritage

Ex-North National Trust boss in pilgrim walk to rase conservation funds.

Oliver Maurice
Oliver Maurice

More than 20 years ago Oliver Maurice set off on a 285-mile walk to highlight the special places in the North East which were cared for by the National Trust.

Accompanied by two colleagues and Northumberland film-maker Charles Bowden, Oliver walked the boundaries of the trust’s Northumbria region.

The trek started at The Leas in South Shields, then the County Durham coast, Alston, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviot Hills and the Northumberland coast back to Newcastle.

Now on Monday, having just celebrated his 70th birthday, Oliver is on the march again.

He will be tacking the English Way – a pilgrimage route in northern Spain.

And once again the aim will be to raise awareness- and funds - for the conservation principles and values covering the natural and built heritage embraced by the National Trust.

These have been central to Oliver’s life since the 1970s, when he started work for the trust as a land agent in the Lake District.

From 1984-92, he was trust regional director for Northumbria.

During that time, the trust bought five miles of County Durham coastline when collieries were still tipping waste on to the beaches.

“The beaches were black but we took the view that when the collieries stopped, once again there would be a beautiful coastline,” says Oliver.

Also under his guidance, the trust launched its inner-city project, based in Walker in Newcastle.

The aim was to take youngsters into the countryside who would otherwise not have such experiences.

A group of older people, the Walker Walkers, were also part of the project.

At the same time the Armstrong energy project was set up at Cragside in Northumberland and what had been Lord Armstrong’s private garden was acquired.

Oliver then became regional director for the North West, retiring in 2002. But that did not mean he was finished with the cause.

He set himself up as a heritage consultant and offered his expertise, on a voluntary basis, to countries who wanted to develop or establish their own National Trust-style organisations.

Oliver helped launch the Bali Heritage Trust and also travelled to places such as Fiji, Malta and Barbados to nurture trust-based bodies.

He also found time for voluntary work with a number of other organisations, including the chairmanship of the Lake District’s Grizedale Arts and the Lake District Tourism and Conservation Partnership.

Oliver also attended the meetings of the international conference of national trusts, which are held every two years in a different country.

In 2007, at the Delhi conference, the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) was founded and Oliver was asked to be voluntary director of membership.

“It is an umbrella body for national trusts around the world and also works to help establish and trusts where they don’t exist,” says Oliver. INTO now has 65 members.

Oliver will be joined on his walk on Monday by wife Debbi and INTO representatives.

They will walk the route taken by English pilgrims from Ferrol, on the north coast of Spain, to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

The route is being promoted by INTO member Tesouros de Galicia.

The 120km walk’s aims are to raise awareness of the English Way, which offers a mix of art, history, culture, natural beauty and gastronomy, the work of Tesouros de Galicia which is INTO’s only Spanish member organisation, and to raise funds for and awareness of INTO.

Oliver says: “For many years I have wanted to walk one of the Pilgrims’ Ways to Santiago de Compostela and as I was approaching my 70th birthday I decided to celebrate the occasion by doing so.

“We have been working closely with one of our newer members, Tesouros de Galicia who are putting together the detailed programme for the Walk.”

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