I go back again and again to the North-east of England, to an inn run by friends at Greta Bridge, the hamlet immortalised by Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby. A hike along the river takes you through Turner country, Co Durham, past the sites of a Norman keep and Roman fort, a brisk breeze tugging at your collar and blasting away the city bustle.
Presumably this is the “desolate” North-east dismissed yesterday by the Conservative peer Lord Howell of Guildford – George Osborne’s father-in-law and a former Energy Secretary – when he said there was “plenty of room” there for fracking, and fewer environmental concerns than “beautiful natural areas” elsewhere.
Some in the North-east would appreciate the jobs created by fracking, no doubt. Before pronouncing on the region again, though, Lord Howell might take a hike through the unspoilt countryside; the deep purple heather on the North York Moors.
Nearby Middlesbrough has been attacked as the worst place to live in Britain, the gag going that the best thing about the town is the A19 out of it, but Teesside has an industrial beauty, inspiring the opening scenes of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – where flames lick the night sky. Like many of our other cities, ’Boro is trying to find its feet in a post-industrial economy. There is room for hope: research laboratories have put down roots alongside the feted cultural rise; Sunderland is undergoing a tech makeover. What Gladstone called the “infant Hercules” can rise again.
I’d second the Archbishop of Canterbury’s riposte to Lord Howell last night: “North-east England is very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring, historic, advancing.”