Spontaneous joys, where Nature has its play,
The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;
Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind,
Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined.
Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”
One of the best lines in the new series of “The Thick of It” refers to the hovering, grey haired, Glenn as someone who is “always on the horizon like a fucking Anthony Gormley statue”. When Newcastle got their very own Anthony Gormley, The Angel of the North, it was given a rough ride by the locals at first, but there’s no doubt that it’s love at first sight for the Angel’s new rival, The Lady of the North. The Lady isn’t so much a statue as a public park, covering 47 acres, with 4 miles of paths, which wind in sensuous loops around the lady’s body. There’s a great sense of freedom which I think arises from the fact that this is a privately funded project by someone who’s a bit of an anarchist at heart (Matt Ridley) and there are none of the usual fun-sapping rules which you get in publicly funded parks. You can’t really take it all in from ground level, that’s only possible from the air, and, no doubt, from outer space, but it’s thrilling to walk to the various viewing points on the hands, the hips, the breasts and finally the head, from where the whole of Northumberland seems to be stretched before you. The park overlooks a working open-cast coal mine. It will be heaven for little boys to be able to sit on one of the statue’s nipples watching the dinky toy lorries scuttling up and down the hillside. On the horizon you can see the dim outline of the Cheviot Hills, whose undulating shape gave the landscape architect, Charles Jencks, the idea for the reclining female form.
You need a clear day like today to see the Cheviots, which are 35 miles away, but within easier viewing distance is the village of Kirkharle, which is where ‘Capability’ Brown was born. Jencks, like Brown, has achieved fame by designing parks and gardens whose predominant characteristic is greenness. But what Jencks has created here is the antithesis of the parks which Brown made. Brown’s parks were for the exclusive use of the families which owned them; this is an entirely public space. Brown’s parks ruthlessly excluded any reference to human endeavours, even to the extent of removing farmsteads and barns if they spoilt the view; this is set in an industrial landscape. Brown’s parks were fashioned from attractive landscapes; this is made from a slag heap.
As for the name, Northumberlandia is too much of a mouthful. The owners have dubbed it The Lady of the North; Jencks prefers The Goddess of the North because he’s into cosmology and other such nonsense. A wag from Viz has called it Slag Alice, but I’m reliably informed that in fact it’s not made of slag, as some lazy journalists have said, but rock clay and soil. Let’s stick with The Lady.