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Amid the Hills of Redesdale – an audio drama by Northumberland writer Rachel Cochrane

Inside St. Francis’ Church, you might have seen the stained glass window commemorating the 64 men, women and children who died during the building of Catcleugh Reservoir.

The reservoir was constructed between 1891 and 1905, holds 10.5 billion litres of water, and still supplies drinking water to Newcastle, Gateshead and surrounding areas today.

Northumberland writer, Rachel Cochrane, remembers the forgotten army of workers and their families who came from near and far to build the Catcleugh Reservoir, in this audio drama, Amid the Hills of Redesdale.

Performed by residents of Redesdale and inspired by artefacts and photographs left behind by those who were part of the Catcleugh story, the drama unfolds through a series of monologues, with characters telling their imagined stories of joy and tragedy against a backdrop of brutal hard work and danger.

The play drew on extensive research carried out by Northumberland National Park volunteer, Tony Evans, author of They Danced, They Drank and They Built a Reservoir. The play is also dedicated to the memory of Beryl Charlton, local author, historian and archaeologist, who played the part of Dorothy Temple in the play, and who sadly passed away in July 2021, shortly after recording.

Due to Covid restrictions and lockdown in March 2020, rehearsals were held online via video calls which not only helped the progression of the radio play and kept people safe, it also brought people together virtually and kept spirits high, in what was for many a lonely and difficult time.

The play was recorded in May 2021 at Elsdon Village Hall, with Covid safety measures in place; the young participants recorded their monologues from home.

More about the Black House

This is the last remaining dwelling that was built to house the Catcleugh Reservoir construction workers and their families in the late 19th century.

Two small towns of wooden huts, housing up to 600 people, once stood on the north and south banks of the River Rede, and were nicknamed ‘Newcastle’ on the north bank, and ‘Gateshead’ on the south. The huts were coated in tar to make them waterproof, giving rise to the name ‘The Black Houses’.

After Catcleugh Reservoir was complete, the Black Houses were demolished – except for this one, which has served as an office and a store room over the years.

It’s now been lovingly restored and its living room, bedrooms, pantry and wash-house contain artefacts that would have been used in everyday life in the 1800s. Tours of The Black House take place several times a year; find out more here.

More about the Pennine Way

The Pennine Way is a 268-mile walking route which takes you through spectacular natural landscapes and historic sites.  

It was England’s first National Trail and was created thanks to journalist and rambler, Tom Stephenson, who was inspired by routes like the Appalachian Trail in the USA and lobbied parliament for an official National Trail in England.

Since its opening on 24 April 1965, The Pennine Way has welcomed millions of walkers and has encouraged people to explore sites along its path, including Redesdale. It’s one of the best ways to see many types of birds, like breeding waders which can be spotted in spring and early summer.

A survey by National Trails found that, if you walked the entire length of The Pennine Way, you’d go through 287 gates, climb over 249 timber stiles and 183 stone stiles, and cross 204 bridges.

The record for the fastest completion of the Pennine Way is held by US ultra-marathon runner, John Kelly, who completed the route in two days, 10 hours, four minutes and 53 seconds in May 2021.

From Byrness, you can follow The Pennine Way to Blakehopeburnhaugh or along the Border Ridge to Chew Green.

Find out more about other places to visit in Redesdale through the landing pages for the interpretation panels along the valley.
The self guided walk to Byrness Village from Blakehopeburnhaugh goes past St Francis church. For information about self guided walks in the area see our walks page with downloadable pdfs of 18 walk routes.