In this country of ours there is a definite North / South divide, not the difference between the affluent south and the more impoverished north but rather the difference between the softer rolling countryside in the south and the more rugged lands of the north. Exactly where this divide is has been a matter of debate for some time but for me it is quite simple at least it is on the east coast.
The North / South divide is at the Seaton Burn roundabout where the Holiday Inn is located, just off the A1 about six miles north of Newcastle. To the south are the conurbations of Tyneside, Wearside and Teeside, the rolling hills of Durham and the flat, rich farming lands of the Vale of York. To the North are the open moors and hills.
When you get past the junction, heading north, the road begins to rise up a long hill and cuts through open craggy rocks with wind shaped trees hanging on, fighting for their meagre existence. It’s as if you have crossed a border between England and some Baltic Country. The trees have changed from deciduous to evergreen though there are still silver birches dotted here and there and the gorse bush is becoming more common. At the crest of the hill the road passes the scarred earth of the open cast works with huge diggers and earth moving trucks which move around back and forth like ants, scouring the coal from underneath the battleship grey rocks. From here, on a clear day, you can see for miles over the moors, passed the Simonside hills to the snow capped Cheviots on the horizon some fifty miles away.
The road sweeps down over the river Wansbeck and then lifts and falls over a series of wooded valleys with the landscape becoming ever wider and horizons ever longer until you will eventually see the sea away to the east, a hazy blue smudge bordered by marram grass covered dunes which spilt and crack to show their sandy innards. The higher ground becomes tougher, harsher, more broken and rock strewn, less fertile and more northern, heath land with a scraggy covering of heather and bog. The breeze becomes stiffer and bites harder. Towns thin into villages which evaporate into hamlets clinging to the roadside and lonely farmsteads are perched high up on the hillsides and people eek out a living in the beautiful but stark countryside.
Seaton Burn for me is where the south ends and the north starts and every time I pass by, heading north, I know that I am getting close to home and back where I belong.