Northumberland Day 2018 was officially launched in true maritime style on May 17 when a party of organisers, sponsors and participants headed out to Longstone Island, in the Farne Islands, to lay a heart of red and yellow flowers in commemoration of Northumberland heroine, Grace Darling, whose heroics of 180 years ago were based around this island and the lighthouse in which she lived with her father.

The heart was laid on the island by Carla Robinson, new General Manager of Langley Castle Hotel, in Langley-on-Tyne, which first put out a call for Northumberland to have a ‘Northumberland Day’ in July 2015, with Carla’s being the face that launched that call.

She was yesterday assisted by two of the participants in Northumberland Day 2018, Kevin Robson of Haydon Bridge-based tour specialist, Wild Dog Outdoors, dressed as Celt ‘Venutius’, and Angus McTavish of Kirkharle, who was in the attire of a Regency gent.  They represented centuries of Northumberland history, marking the heroism of a 19th century woman who achieved national fame.

Also in the launch party were Northumberland Day’s awards designer, Helen Grierson, participants Allie Walton-Robson (Creative Director) and Fran Castle (Chief Executive) from Headway Arts, Blyth and Jane Hunt of Catapult PR, the organiser of Northumberland Day from day one and its conceiver.

This special trip was made possible by George Shiel and Ailsa Campbell-Shiel of Golden Gate Boat Tours, who wished to participate in Northumberland Day 2018 by offering the organisers the use of the only boat and skipper licensed to land on Longstone by Trinity House.

The heart of flowers laid on the rocks represents the symbol in Northumberland Day’s logo, which replaces the ‘o’ and which was designed last year by Cockermouth-based Creative in Cumbria.  This was brought to life in the floral decoration by Dillies of Hexham.

The launch was timed to precede the first Northumberland Day 2018 event, which takes place at Headway Arts in Blyth, on Friday May 18.  This is followed by a Dawn Chorus walk, organised by the Friends of Ridley Park on May 19, and a very special walk to Holy Island, timed to coincide with the tide being out, led by Footsteps in Northumberland, on May 20.

It also precedes activities taking place in classrooms around the county, as schools follow the lead of Newsham Primary in Blyth, which last year scooped the ‘Northumbie Award’ for ‘Most Passionate School’.  Many schools are this year using Northumberland Day’s new education pack, to inspire in-class activities, whilst others, like Wooler First School and Glendale Middle School, are having a red-and-yellow dress-code day, on the last day of term, to mark Northumberland Day.

Next week sees a whole host of events being laid on, at places like Blyth Battery, Hexham Racecourse, Taste of Northumbria (the Alnwick Rum Shop) and Kirkharle, along with a very special disability sports event in Alnwick, being staged on May 22, which will be attended by Paralympian, Stephen Miller.

Headway Arts’ main event – ‘Stottie, Sarnies and Singing Hinnies’ – takes place on May 24 and is a not-to-be-missed community event featuring Northumbrian afternoon tea combined with canny songs and taal tales.

Saturday May 26 will see a distinctly Northumbrian feel at Alnwick Market, the launch of a new gin at Taste of Northumbria in Alnwick and a Tyne Valley Art Fair event at Hexham Trinity Methodist Church.

This will also be the day on which Langley Castle, which first put out the call for a Northumberland Day back in July 2015, lays on its extravaganza – ‘Marvels, Massacre & More’ – which will feature a re-enactment of the Hexham Massacre of 1761, by the Time Bandits, tours of the battlements with Kevin Robson of Wild Dog Outdoors, falconry displays and talks, arts and craft stalls, Northumbrian pipes, the Sunshine Panners steel band and a super-sized food treat to rival last year’s wow-factor ‘World’s Biggest Stottie’.

There’s lots to do in Newbiggin and Amble over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, but there is also a feast of walks – from Hexham Ramblers, North East Guides and Alnwick Civic Society – and very special village celebrations in Beadnell, Boulmer and Norham – to which anyone is invited, whether they want to see a parade and Northumbrian pipers, taste extraordinary crab sandwiches, or take part in a village picnic and castle tours.

The painted rocks craze will also underpin two events on Northumberland Day itself (May 27), one in Druridge Bay and one in Ridley Park, Blyth, and these should prove irresistible for children.

Northumberland Day will also see another fantastic rock concert – Ashington Rocks – being held in Ashington for the second year, a ‘Music in the Locoshed’ event at the Aln Valley Railway and the spectacular lighting-up of the Royal Border Bridge in Berwick.

Events are still coming in and interest is at an all-time high.  Organiser, Jane Hunt of Catapult PR, says: “The passion for Northumberland Day is really overwhelming this year and we have events taking place county-wide.  We know that there are many that we don’t get to hear about, as communities and villages instinctively celebrate together, and don’t tell us, but that sort of celebration is absolutely key as we build Northumberland Day from the grass-roots up and we wish to credit absolutely everyone who plays their part.

“We have no funding and very little corporate sponsorship, but what we do have – from Langley Castle, Hexhamshire Brewery, Newcastle International Airport, Pencil to Pixel, Catapult PR and the Helen Grierson Design Studio – is enabling us to build something very special, which should have a legacy and be embedded in the Northumberland calendar.

“We chose to launch on Grace Darling’s island, as our new education pack features Grace’s story and relates various in-class activities to it, as well as having many more ideas for teachers to use.  Our very special, handmade and fused-glass ‘Northumbie Awards’, designed by Helen Grierson, this year feature a lighthouse and a seascape, so when George and Ailsa Shiel offered us the use of a Golden Gate Tours boat, we just had to take that up.”

Carla Robinson, Langley Castle, says: “We are extremely proud to have instigated the concept of a Northumberland Day and are now delighted to see so many people, businesses, organisations and passionate communities taking it to their hearts.  It’s incredible what can be achieved purely through commitment and pride and so rewarding when we hear people telling us how much Northumberland Day means to them, their community, their pupils, or their business.”

Kevin Robson from Wild Dog Outdoors, adds: “We have been involved with Northumberland Day since 2016 and are delighted to see how much it is growing, year-on-year.  It’s such a feel-good concept, and an incredible way to build communities, as well as being a great generator of visitor footfall and business.  We are sure 2019’s event will be even more impressive, as the momentum behind Northumberland Day is incredible.”

Angus McTavish from Kirkharle says: “We are delighted to get involved with Northumberland Day for the first time.  We are planning to have over 30 flags flying from our flagpoles, which will be visible for miles around and act as a symbol of our participation.  Our courtyard artisans are all looking forward to telling visitors about their Northumbrian produce, works of art, or craftsmanship and we can’t wait to establish ourselves as a participant this year and build on it for next year.”

Allie Walton-Robson, Creative Director of Headway Arts in Blyth says: “We are repeating our event of last year, because it was hugely popular within our community and enables us to reach out and engage more people from Blyth and the wider area.  We are already planning to put something very exciting together for 2019, as we know that Northumberland Day is here to stay, and we shall be working with the organisers on an initiative that will be very precious indeed.”

Helen Grierson adds: “It was a real honour to be asked to design the ‘Northumbie’ Awards last year and so rewarding to see how much last year’s winners cherished their fused-glass trophies.  This year’s award design will again reference key components of Northumberland life and I hope that whichever individuals, school, or communities win them this year, will be just as proud to put them on their mantelpiece, counter or display shelf.”

So is there anything that could be better.  Jane Hunt says: “The only disappointment is that we don’t see more businesses sponsoring our Northumbie Award categories, which is an extremely affordable way to demonstrate support for Northumberland and its communities.  We still have categories available that deserve to be supported, so that those committing their time and effort to participating in Northumberland Day can be rewarded.  Please get in touch to take one of these up.  It’s not too late.”

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