Songs along a trail - exploring the Northern Saints Trails
Updated: Sep 24
This Autumn I’ll be walking the Northern Saints Trails to blow away the Covid cobwebs and soak in the rich heritage of the North East. I may be travelling solo, but I won’t be short of company. From the meditations of ancient saints, to the pioneers of the world’s most impressive engineering, I’m seeking to capture stories old and new through songwriting as I walk.
Each trail will inspire a song or two (or perhaps an EP!) - and when restrictions ease and funding allows – the project will engage people and communities along the way with Citizen Songwriters and create a living archive of songs of ‘modern saints’ whomever they may be and how ever they may have left their mark on our ever-changing landscape.
Day 1 - 'The Way of Life' - Saturday 19 September 2020
Any ordinary Saturday in September and Durham would be buzzing with late summer visitors and the buzz of excitement as a new university term looms. But today Durham feels sedated, as I walk through its ancient streets heading for the Cathedral to begin what will be the first of six Northern Saints Trails this autumn. The streets seem sedated and suppressed by the new round of social distancing restrictions as the North East goes back into semi-lockdown.
And I feel suppressed by it all too. Six months has finally taken its toll. First it was cancelled gigs and workshops, then it was Zoom this, that and everything. And although the summer gave some air to breathe, as the evenings shorten and the schools return, and as the coronavirus cases rise once again, there is a sense that “fear we go again” to quote a recent newspaper headline.
So, truly fed-up with it all, I’ve decided to get back to the thing I love and miss the most – songwriting in conversation with the world. And while the world may not be read to speak, a whole rhizome of stories and encounters lie waiting to be discovered in the Northern Saints trials. While it may be a more solitary musical project, at least to begin with, I hope it will instigate a future direction of songwriting more grounded in stories and landscapes. I’m walking not only to steady my own stress and anxiety that has somewhat peaked recently, but to remind myself of what drew me, and subsequently kept me, in the North East for the last 12 years.
The Northern Saints Trails are something of an overlooked treasure. They’ve no doubt been overshadowed by Covid-19 that has quashed this year’s public events planned to officially launch them. But the trails are these absolutely imaginatively pieced together walks that route you along ancient pilgrimage paths, as you rub shoulders with local heroes and heroines of the past, drift by beautifully abundant natural landscapes, encounter sites of world changing industrial history and discover forgotten folklore.
There are six trails in total connecting towns and cities such as Gainford, Hexham, Durham, Jarrow, Hartlepool, Chester-Le-Street and Lindisfarne, with the shortest spanning 29 miles, the longest 45 miles, and covering a total of 209 miles. In the next post, I’ll bring insights into the first of the six trails I’ll embark on: ‘The Way of Life’. The most southerly trail, The Way of Life, is a 29-mile trip from Durham to Gainford which includes healing wells, Roman fortifications, and the world’s oldest steam passenger railway. I’ll trek as far as Bishop Auckland with Part 2 from Bishop Auckland to Gainford set aside for next Sunday which happens to be the anniversary of the very first steam-hauled passenger railway (27th September) which the Way of Life includes!
You can follow updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Ordinarily, I’d be taking every opportunity to meet folks along the way and discover how these stories speak to people today. Until Covid finally comes to pass, please message me if you have a story to share that you’d like to include in the project!