The “Land of Oak and Iron” – a journey of discovery

The word “professional” is often used and abused but what does it actually mean? In its purest form, “professional” describes the high standards of education and training a professional community undertakes to qualify to practice their specific role. In the context of professional tourist guiding in the UK, Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guides have undergone 18-24 months of intensive training in guiding. As all professions, they are subject to strict codes of conduct, enshrining ethical and moral obligations. Professional standards of practice and ethics for a particular field are typically agreed upon and maintained through widely recognized professional associations; in the context of Blue and Green Badge Guides, the British Guild of Tourist Guides is such a body. In addition, what also characterises a professional community is Continuous Professional Development (CPD) which ensures the professional community’s skills and knowledge are kept up to date on an ongoing basis.

Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guides are continually offered CPD opportunities nationally and also regionally. To that end the North East of England Tourist Guides Association recently undertook a fascinating full day CPD exploring the history of the Derwent Valley, today known as “The Land of Oak and Iron”, its industrial past including coal mining, iron and steel production as well as former corn, fulling and paper milling industries. North East Blue Badge Tourist Guide Anna Unger  explains.

North East of England Blue Badge Tourist Guides on a CPD day of the Land of Oak and Iron

The day commenced at Winlaton Mill Heritage Centre with a guided walk led by local volunteers who shared historic photographs and stories of Sir Ambrose Crowley’s Iron Works, opened in 1691 as one of the great manufacturing enterprises of the Early Industrial Revolution. The walk included stops at the impressive Lockhaugh Viaduct, locally known as “Nine Arches” built for the 1867 Derwent Valley Railway Line to transport goods such as timber, bricks, and iron ore as well as passengers.

Column to Liberty at Gibside

We then continued by coach to Gibside, the former estate of the Bowes-Lyon family with its magnificent Georgian Grade I listed Park and Gardens, today in the care of the National Trust. Built literally and metaphorically on coal, the region’s prime resource, we then explored the story of its illustrious owners on a volunteer-led walk. Along the way we took in some of the estate’s great buildings including the beautiful Palladian Gibside Chapel, designed by renowned architect James Paine, with views across the tree-lined Avenue to George Bowes’ Column to Liberty, the ruined Orangery and Walled Gardens.

We were also given a short insight into the successful return of the Red Kite to this valley by a volunteer from the Friends of Red Kites.

Derwentcote Steel Furnace, a Grade I listed building and a protected scheduled monument

The afternoon was spent discovering the hidden gem of Derwentcote Steel Furnace, the earliest surviving and best-preserved steel-making furnace of its kind in Britain (1730s) on a guided walk with English Heritage volunteers. Finally, we travelled further up the Derwent Valley with coach commentary through Ebchester with remains of “Vindomora” Roman Fort on Dere Street, Shotley Bridge, a former centre for sword making in the 17th and 18th centuries and spa town to Consett – once a mighty iron and steel making town and now a prime example for 21st century regeneration.

Fourteen pages of detailed notes, 5000 years of heritage and 177 square miles later we fully explored what was once a cradle of the Industrial Revolution, with a booming iron & steel industry. We also learned all about the nature that has now reclaimed that industrial landscape, a rich patchwork of riverbanks, woodlands and grasslands; attracting otters, deer & red kites. We cannot wait to share our knowledge of this beautiful part of the North East of England with visitors from across the globe this summer and beyond.


About the Author

Anna is a Blue Badge Tourist Guide for the North East of England specialising in walking, cycling and coach tours of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teeside in both English and German. Anna is a graduate of Art History and Archaeology and passionate about showing off the amazing cultural heritage in her region which includes UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Hadrian’s Wall and Durham Cathedral. Anna, admits, that although she is German by birth, she’s definitely Geordie by choice and she loves sharing her home turf with visitors to the North East of England. You can book a guided tour with Anna here