Northumberlandia is a large earthwork sculpture in Southern Northumberland which sits directly adjacent to an open cast mine which is currently being infilled and returned to a visually appealing state. The sculpture itself was first conceived as a joint venture between the landowner (The Blagdon Estate), and Banks Group, who wished to excavate a large plot of land. These two partners stumped up the money to create the earthwork in 2010, with the sculpture finally opening to the public on August 29 2012.
The form of the sculpture is as a lady, imagined to be an embodiment of the goddess of Northumbria. She is a stately 400 metres long, and 34 metres tall at the highest point, the entire sculpture is interlaced with footpaths and viewpoints to give plenty of space and opportunity to walk about and interact with this unique piece of landscape art. Surrounding Northumberlandia is a selection of small ponds and grassland, with a three quarter mile circular walk around the base. Half of the site also contains woodland, in addition to the earthwork. The whole entity is managed as a public access park, with people able to come and go freely as they desire. The planning concept states that part of the inspiration for the work was the profile of the Cheviot hills, some thirty miles away on the horizon, but this fails to be realised in the finished sculpture.
Looking down from this vantage point just above her eyes, we can ascertain a sense of the scale that this work of landscape art is built to, it’s fairly monumental. There are already signs of erosion, and an unplanned footpath up on the top of the nasal ridge, despite the monument only being open for nine years at present, this is coupled with a recently fixed erosion issue on the side of her face last summer, giving the overall impression that this structure will be more transient than the planners intended, which was for it to develop, after building in a natural manner. Though I had imagined it be the ecosystems that spring up between the woods, grassland, and ponds which would be left to develop.
From this high vantage point, you can also see the paths winding up over here breasts, and down her legs, with their sculped form holding windbreaks and viewpoints of their own. The asphalt paths criss-crossing their way up and over Northumberlandia, these give a series of observation points within the walk, with different parts of her body and the scenery exposed at different points.
From a personal perspective, the point of view that is most thought provoking for me is looking up over the huge hands as they rest in the grass, looking up at the relaxed posture of the reclining head and breasts. It’s a point that can make a person feel very much more diminutive than they are, almost like a lilliputian observing Gulliver after he is on the ground. This angle not only emphasises the forced perspective of huge nearby fingers with distant form, but also alludes to the serenity and calm that the landscape work was supposed to create for a small portion of nature which would reside there. This effect of making the observer feel small in the presence of nature rightly restores humanity to its proper location within the world, as opposed to viewing itself as the biggest most important thing, above nature herself. This is the midpoint of the circular walk, which at three quarters of a mile around, is a nice fifteen to twenty minute stroll allowing all aspects of her to be viewed from below, and at a slight distance.
This last view highlights one of the ponds sculpted into the landscape around Northumberlandia, these ponds help enhance the sculpture by reflecting it in themselves, making almost a mirror image at times. At other times, the availability of water creates a mist in the early morning, shrouding her in an eerie fog wrapped around her base. These ponds are now a part of nature, they have fish in them, birds nesting close by and an assortment of insects associated with water. The whole experience on a sunny day is that of a park, but on a cloudy, rainy day, with the lack of shelter on the site of the artwork it feels much more like it could be out in the countryside.
Whether the Northumberlandia artwork has achieved its goals or not is debatable, but from the perspective of providing a small haven for nature on the edge of a huge industrial project, it is most definitely a success. The majority of the building materials come from adjacent to the site, where an open cast mine was being opened, if Northumberlandia hadn’t been planned, then there is every chance that the plot of land on which it sits could have just been a part of the huge spoil heaps surrounding the mine for a time before being used as infill material. It has also become a well-used site with lots of visitors and even events on from time to time, not only giving local people a place to go, but also a place that contributes to the local economy.
Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North.