Working every day in beautiful wild places, getting to know the most secret corners; National Park Ranger is a dream job. We meet the people who do the work to find out how it really is. First up...
Who are you, where do you live and where are you from?
"I’m Mark, I’m 50, I live in Netherton and I’m from Rothbury – both just outside Northumberland National Park."
How long have you been a National Park Ranger and how did you come to have this dream job?
"I’ve worked for the National Park for 23 years. I first started off as Field Assistant, then Estate Ranger. It was being in the right place at the right time, I suppose. I just saw the advert, went for it and I got the job. They were looking for someone practically minded and I fitted the job description, so that was it."
How much land are you responsible for?
"The Park’s just over 400 square miles and I look after the northern part. So, you could say 200 square miles."
How many days a year, at an estimate, are you outdoors for much or most of the day?
"In my role I would say a couple of hundred days in a year. I’m outdoors all the time anyway, because even in my time off, I’m still an outdoor person."
“The scenery’s just superb... you think, it doesn’t get much better than this.”
What are the kinds of moments you stop and think ‘this is the best job in the world’?
"There are loads of moments like that, I mean I really love the job and its different aspects. Every day could be different if you wanted it to be. For instance, I could be surveying a path, out there alone and the scenery’s just superb. Times like that, you think, it doesn’t get much better than this."
Tell us what a typical day looks like for you at different times of year.
"It depends on the workload, in the summer months we still do general maintenance but there’s more visitor management. So we have ‘hot spots’ where we know that on a good day, we’re going to have plenty of visitors. I could be filthy dirty one day, doing a mucky maintenance job, or looking after visitors, giving them information and showing them different types of walks."
How do you keep your enjoyment levels up, when the weather takes a turn for the worst?
"You take the job knowing that it’s an outdoor job. I can put up with most weathers but in the cold and wet the enjoyment levels can fade quickly. But you just get on with it. There's an old saying: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of kit!"
What aspect of the job do you find most fulfilling and why?
"I suppose it’s the variety, from the site’s maintenance to the visitor management, the different landscapes and being out in all different seasons… It’s all that rolled into one."
If you weren’t doing this job, what would be the next best thing?
"I’ve always fancied engineering design. I’m hands-on, practically minded and I like to know how things work."
YOU AND THE PARK
Can you describe what makes Northumberland distinctive?
"It’s the tranquility and solitude, I think. They call it ‘The land of the far horizons’. You’ve got Hadrian’s Wall in the south, which gets multi-national visitors, but up in the north of the park you’ve got the solitude. There are four main valleys that run from the Cheviot Hills and each one has its own merits."
What do you personally love about it?
"I’m an outdoor type and for me, it’s got everything: the clean rivers, the dark sky… The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre has just opened, which is a £14.8 million project and sortof a hub to get people from all different backgrounds and abilities into the Park."
What are the must-sees on a visiting hiker’s hit-list, and why?
"There are loads. We’ve got the high hills, the Cheviot and some lovely scenic waterfalls like Linhope Spout. We’ve got Simonside here in Rothbury and that’s a lovely walk. At this time of year the heather is unbelievable."
What’s the one place no-one knows about but everyone should?
"There’s a lovely little secluded waterfall called Dove Crag which is featured in our Poems in the Air project with poet, Simon Armitage. It isn’t spectacular, but it’s a secluded little craggy cove, and not many people know about it. It’s one of my favourite places in the Park."
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen while out working?
"Naked swimmers. We were walking past the College Burn in the College Valley and there was a group of guys swimming in the pool for all to see. That was a surprising thing!"
What is your vision for the Park’s future?
"Just to keep building on the success the National Park has already gained."
Northumberland National Park is the most northerly National Park in England and the least populated, with only two people per square kilometre. It has some of the cleanest rivers in the country and some of the best stargazing – it is part of the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. A visit there could include a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a walk over the remote Cheviot hills. Find out more at www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk
What’s the best way people can help look after your National Park?
"I think it’s to be responsible, and, what’s the old line? Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints."
What do you do away from work?
"I walk the dog, tinker with old tractors and there’s a motorcycle I’m fixing up at the moment; I’m a busy guy! I also look after a few gardens and I have 17-yearold twins, so I don’t get a lot of time!"
Where do you like to get out?
"I like the Simonside hill walk. I sometimes take a few friends up onto the Cheviot Hills, people that aren’t that familiar with the area. I’m a bit of a home bird and it’s a lovely county, I don’t spread my wings that far."
You want to give a first-timevisitor to Northumberland, the best possible flavour of the Park. What’s your itinerary?
"Because it’s one of my favourites, I would take them up the Coquet Valley. We would park there and head up onto the hills, probably onto Windy Gyle – there’s a nice circuit walk you can do. Then back to the Rose and Thistle in Alwinton for lunch and a couple of pints."
YOU AND YOUR GEAR
“The clothing has to do for the dirty side of the job... it has to be robust.”
What’s important in a Ranger’s working wardrobe?
"Sturdy, hardwearing clothing that are warm and waterproof. We need clothing that’s half clean when we’re being a presence in the valleys, giving information and helping people out, but it also has to do for the dirty side of the job as well, so it has to be robust."
Talk us through your Columbia wardrobe for work and for play.
"The full kit: boots, trousers, shirt, fleece and waterproofs, and it’s very much needed. As a Ranger, we wear a uniform and that is typically it. Columbia’s motto is ‘tested tough’ and it will get that kind of testing by the National Park Rangers."
Which could you not do without?
"We certainly need our clothing, and you wouldn’t want to be without a fourwheel drive in Northumberland."
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
"Never look back, because it’s not the way you’re going."
What’s your favourite animal?
"My Border-Lakeland-Jack Russell dog. She’s eight, so she’s slowing up but she’s a bundle of fun."
What would you put into your perfect packed lunch?
"I’d have a wholemeal sandwich,with Whole Earth peanut butter. Then, fruit and a sugary, pick-me-up snack."
...and in your flask?
"Soup warms you better than tea or you ould go for broth; I do like a bit of broth."