Amid the Hills of Redesdale audio drama
Click on the image below and listen to this online radio play inspired by the community that built a reservoir. Written and directed by Rachel Cochrane
Sometimes the seed of a creative idea or story can take a long time to germinate. An unexpected opportunity can arise to carry it forward, only to be thwarted by equally unexpected events that no-one could have predicted.
And so it was with Amid the Hills of Redesdale, my latest online radio play.
Over a decade ago, I attended a talk at my Local History Society by Beryl Charlton about the building of the mighty Catcleugh Reservoir in the very north of Northumberland, situated on the A68 just before the border with Scotland.
I was fascinated by the stories of the construction workers and their families who had come from far and wide to live on the banks of the River Rede in their dwellings of ‘Black Houses’ (wooden houses coated in tar to make them waterproof). Today, only one Black House house remains, preserved and available to visit via the Northumberland National Park Warden.
It wasn’t until 2019, that a chance conversation about my interest in Catcleugh, whilst at Northumberland National Park Headquarters, led to a commission for me to write an online radio play. The project was to be funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership Scheme which aims to celebrate, conserve and enhance Redesdale’s rich cultural heritage, landscape and wildlife.
My brief was to write a drama which reflected the story of the beautiful and remote Northumberland valley of Redesdale with its focus on the community that came together from 1890 to 1905 to build Catcleugh Reservoir. I was also to direct the play with the local community, involving people from across the generations.
Writing the Play
For this, I drew my inspiration from visiting the reservoir and the remaining Black House and also studying the domestic and work-related artefacts, documents and photographs left behind after fifteen years of occupation at Catcleugh. Being immersed in the landscape and environment of the community and the everyday objects that they left behind was a powerful catalyst for creativity and for writing the imagined stories of the people who lived and breathed at Catcleugh.
Useful background on Catcleugh and the surrounding area was provided by The Story of Redesdale written by Beryl Charlton (who had delivered the original local history talk) and They Danced, They Drank and They Built a Reservoir written by Tony Evans, National Park Warden of the Black House. Both Beryl and Tony took part in the play. Also weaved into the story were verses from Billy Bell the Redesdale Roadman and Border Bard.
The starting point of the story is the present day when two psychic investigators arrive and set up their state-of-the -art equipment at the Black House to record ‘paranormal activity’ but very soon we are transported into the past…
Rehearsals and Recording
Early March 2020, we had just had the first read-through of the radio play in Rochester Village Hall when lockdown started. When it was realised that we would not be able to gather in person for the forseeable future, rehearsals began via video link and phone. The majority of people taking part had no previous experience in acting or recording a radio play. From feedback received, many felt that being involved in the project provided a welcome distraction during this period of uncertainty and isolation, a chance to connect with others and to take part in something they had never done before.
It wasn’t until May 2021 that we were able to record Amid the Hills of Redesdale over a series of staggered and socially-distanced sessions. The young people were recorded from home. Recording the adults took place in the Village Hall at Elsdon, the historic capital of Redesdale in the heart of Northumberland National Park, surrounded by moorland and overlooked by the magnificent earthworks of a Norman motte and bailey castle. We had an audience of some very bemused sheep who poked their head through the fence and watched us through the window! However, you can listen to Amid the Hills of Redesdale in the comfort of your own home by clicking onto the YouTube clip at the top of the page.
To all the performers for their commitment in bringing Amid the Hills of Redesdale to life. For many, this was a completely new experience and I hope they all take away something positive from it. For me, it was a truly enriching experience to work with them.
To Julie Bartley, sound engineer of Rolling Audio, for such skilled recording and editing and putting all the performers at their ease.
To Karen Collins, Revitalising Redesdale Heritage and Engagement Officer, who not only performed in the play, but gave her unwavering support for the project from its initiation and throughout the very challenging time of COVID19 – something we had not envisaged in the planning stages!
Amid the Hills of Redesdale is dedicated to the memory of Beryl Charlton, local author, historian and archaeologist, whose talk sparked my initial interest to write about Catcleugh and who also played the part of Dorothy Temple in the play. Beryl sadly passed away in July 2021, shorty after recording.