Working every day in a beautiful wild place, National Park Rangers have a dream job. We meet up with Margaret Anderson, Northumberland Ranger of 11 years, to find out how it really is…
How much land are you responsible for?
"Northumberland National Park (NNP) Rangers cover the 405sq miles of the park. We are a small team of six full-time posts and, since my return from maternity leave in March, I do a job-share, so we have a big patch to cover! "
How often are you outdoors?
"I’d say we are outside 80 per cent of the time... even on the wettest and coldest days – if there’swork to do then we are out there doing it!"
What moments make you think ‘this is the best job in the world’?
"On those moments of quiet, driving into work on a morning with a stunning sunrise, amazing clear skies and views for miles on end into the landscape of the Park, then I do think I have a pretty good start to the day!"
Tell us what a typical day looks like for you at different times of year.
"There are no typical days. But the spring is often spent preparing for the summer. The summer involves a lot of visitor interaction and management, so we need to get the sites ready. The autumn and winter months are when we get the bulk of our work done – it’s not the best weather, but it means we are not getting in the way of the public, landowners or farmers during their busy season when we're working on rights of way."
How do you keep your enjoyment levels up when the weather's bad?
"I’m a happy person most of the time, so the elements have to be pretty rough to really get me down. But even in the wettest and coldest of days, when you’re soggy literally to the pants, I know in a few hours I will be home, dry, warm and with my family. I am very lucky to do a job I love, with great people, in a place I call home."
“Sitting in the local pub or at a show listening to the ‘craic' of the locals, this is where you get the true essence of Northumberland..”
What aspect of the job do you find most fulfilling and why?
"I really enjoy working with our student and work experience placements. I am really passionate about helping young people who want to do this sort of work as their career. I find it so rewarding to see them grow, gain experience and progress to hopefully get where they want to be. We’ve had some great people come through our Young Volunteer Ranger programme who have gone on to do wonderful things. The latest is a Newcastle University student who has secured a six-month internship with the RSPB. I am so proud of her!"
Have you always wanted to be a ranger?
"Actually, no. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I did all sorts before I came to NNP. Worked in pubs, retail, as a riflesmith... so what I always say to students is not to worry if they don't get the perfect job straight away. Look at the long-term, the organisation, the experience and keep an open mind."
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."
YOU AND THE PARK
Can you describe what makes Northumberland distinctive?
"The landscape is so incredible, on a clear day it just goes on forever. But the people and communities are what make it. NNP is so sparsely populated, under 2000 residents, but the small villages and farms are alive with local tradition and culture. Sitting in the local pub or at a show listening to the ‘craic' of the locals, this is where you get the true essence of Northumberland."
What are the must-sees on a visiting hiker’s hit list, and why?
"The Cheviots, because the views on a clear day are the best. Also walking Hadrian’s Wall – you understand why the Romans built the wall where they did when you see how imposing it is."
What’s the one place no one knows about but everyone should?
"I love The Black House at Catcleugh Reservoir. It’s an old workers’ hut from when they were building the dam, and is set up as it would have been when the workers lived there. I love it. My great-grandfather farmed just down from it and used to deliver milk to the workers."
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 most surprising thing you’ve seen while out working?
"Naked people! We’ve had naked walkers with very strategically placed maps. Out with a work group we stumbled upon a group of skinny dippers, not sure who was more surprised! A lot of people seem to like to get their kit off here, which is strange given the weather!"
What’s the one best way people can help look after the Park?
"Come and visit it. Stay local and eat local, because by doing so you will be helping the Northumberland's rural economy. Enjoy the area, appreciate it and the work, from so many different people, which goes into looking after it, and make sure you ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’."
YOU AND YOUR FREE TIME
What do you do outside of work?
"I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I love to be out on the farm. I’ve ridden horses all my life so getting out on horseback is a great way to enjoy the countryside. I’m also a big football fan and a season ticket holder for Newcastle United, so I’m there through the bad and good!"
You want to give a first-time visitor to Northumberland the best possible flavour of the Park. What’s your itinerary?
"Call in at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre to get some inspiration first. Then head out for a short walk, maybe Hareshaw Linn near Bellingham. Grab some lunch at a pub. Then head further up north to the Coquet Valley. Have a tour up the valley then head back to Alwinton to the Rose & Thistle for a drink and some supper. It’s probably late by then, and you’ve had a drink so I’d say stop there too!"
“A lot of people seem to like to get their kit off here...”
YOU AND YOUR GEAR
What’s important in a Ranger’s working wardrobe?
"Tough waterproofs. And gloves you can work in; I hate cold hands!"
Talk us through your Columbia wardrobe for work and for play.
"My Titan Trail trousers are great to work in as they’re comfy and flexible, while my Redmond Waterproof Low trainers, which I did the photo shoot in, are my go-to footwear for work and pleasure. I recently had to run into a puddle, quite a large one, and my feet stayed dry. This would not have happened in my previous ones!"
Which item of kit could you not do without?
"Waterproof leggings... I always seem to get filthy, even in the dry, so I will usually have them on as I am such a mud magnet."
What’s your favourite album?
"Nirvana Unplugged in New York. I must have bought this at least five times over the years in various formats."
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
"Take arnica to help reduce bruising."
What’s your favourite animal?
"My little terrier. She’s a dude!"
What’s the best thing to put in a Thermos on a cold winter’s day?
"Hot chocolate. Mmm..."