08 Mar Living in Alston – Bob
Life in Alston
I first arrived to start my training in Alston in April 2010. The hills surrounding the South Tyne Valley were covered in snow and the town was very quiet. I started to think I might regret moving to this tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Now I can’t think of a nicer place to be. The Barhaugh Hall staff team are year on year self-evaluated as the happiest Robinwood centre team. Mix this in with one of the friendliest local communities in England and you have a fantastic place to live.
A lot of Robinwood staff are outdoor enthusiasts, and Alston is a great base to explore the North of England and Scotland from. Firstly, Alston Moor is the centre of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it will not take you long to see why. Every season brings a new set of colours to the hills and sky, and different plants and animals including red squirrels, buzzards, lapwings, curlews, adders and roe deer.
It is a fantastic place for walking, trail running, wild swimming and many other outdoor sports. Alston is the intersecting point for the Coast2Coast and the Pennine Way and last year we hosted the finish line of stage five of the Tour of Britain Cycling event at Hartside Top. Cavers will also appreciate the vast network of old mine workings at Nenthead and Killhope, the elusive Ballroom and the impressive Brewery shaft are well worth seeking out. The nearby Ashgill Force provides a fantastic venue for gorge walking and paddlers are spoilt for choice: the South Tyne runs through Alston, but also the Eden, the Allens, the Tees and a number of flat water locations nearby. We are in a central location between the Lake District NP, Northumberland NP, North York Moors NP, the Cheviot Hills, the Yorkshire Dales NP and the Scottish border is less than an hour away.
Perhaps the best thing about working at Barhaugh Hall is the fact that there is always someone with the same day off who wants to do something interesting, go somewhere exciting, and there’s always someone with spare gear and a spare seat in their car. Oh, and Alston Moor also has England’s only natural ski slope at Yad Moss!
A favourite question of teachers visiting Barhaugh Hall is “What’s the nightlife like in Alston?”, usually delivered with a smirk. My answer would be that it is what you make it. There are five pubs in Alston, each with different personalities, and we definitely help to keep them full of customers, but there is a lot more going on than just drinking. I have, for example, nipped to the shop for a pint of milk and found myself in St. Augustine’s church listening to an international opera tour.
The town hall regularly hosts cinema nights, theatre productions, live bands, ceilidhs and the local market. On top of that, Robinwood staff are, by their very nature, resourceful and entertaining people. One of our staff houses recently organised the best pub quiz in the world ever, I’ve never seen so many instructors in one living room before. We also devised our own endurance race event last May in the neighbouring village ‘Slaggyford’. The Slaggyford Slog was a 6K team race with improvised obstacles and a particularly wet final challenge. Lots of staff houses host dinners, house parties and games nights.
The centre also has a social budget which covers a night out at the start and end of every season (usually out of Alston), but also other jollies like paintballing, go-karting, curling, bowling and other events suggested by the staff.
Community and Charity
Alston is a small place with a tight knit community, and Robinwood has a very active part in it. Barhaugh Hall has its own Social Responsibility team which makes links with local organisations and charities to make a difference to the town. We run weekend clubs for local children to try archery, canoeing and climbing, we organise visits to help out at the old folks home in Alston, and once famously saved the Alston scarecrow festival from annihilation. We hold an Open Day at the centre every year for the public and the proceeds go to the local Mountain Rescue and Great North Air Ambulance.
We also have a fireworks display every November just for employees and their families. We have diverted our lost property this year to help the Syrian refugee crisis and helped to steward a solidarity march organised by the people of Alston. We also helped to staff a Christmas party for the children of Slaggyford, and we organise a team of instructors to help old folk through the winter months. We have done skydives, bungee jumps, ziplines and even abseiled off the local viaduct for local causes, and not so long ago a few of us walked from Todmorden to Alston on the Pennine Way for the NSPCC (it took us 7 days, can you do it quicker?!) Alston is a community built from mining and sheep farming, and everyone knows everyone here! This can put some people off, but if you embrace Alston, it has a lot to give back!
Let me start by saying that life on Alston Moor is possible without a car! I have not owned a car in the six years I have been here and I think anyone can get by without one. Barhaugh Hall is several miles out of town, but we have a dedicated Facebook page for car sharing, so getting to work is very easy. Also when the weather is nice it is an absolute joy to bike/walk/run and sometimes paddle to work. People also advertise lifts to the big smoke on Facebook, as well as to the cinema, climbing walls, swimming pools and so on. There is a bus to Haltwhistle every day, which is our nearest train station (on the Carlisle to Newcastle line) and there are buses to Carlisle on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The instructor team usually offer lifts to those in dire need so relying on buses isn’t always essential. The staff get around quite a bit, favourite destinations include skiing in the Alps or Scotland, bouldering in Fontainebleau, climbing in North Wales and partying with Vikings in Shetland.
I think all of us are a bit nervous when we first arrive in Alston, but it really is a beautiful, friendly community. The staff team are so welcoming and helpful and there is always something going on. Barhaugh Hall is truly the centre for outdoor enthusiasts, eccentrics, nature lovers and those looking for something different – we look forward to meeting you!
Perhaps the best thing about working at Barhaugh Hall is the fact that there is always someone with the same day off who wants to do something interesting, go somewhere exciting, and there’s always someone with spare gear and a spare seat in their car.