Proud Northern Irishman Tony Gates has just celebrated ten years as chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority. In 2016, Northumberland National Park will celebrate its 60th anniversary and the following year, Tony and his team will oversee the opening of The Sill, the UK’s first dedicated landscape discovery centre.
I studied Town and Country Planning at Newcastle University in the 1980s. I fell in love with the place, as did Faye, who was studying the same course and who would later become my wife.
Ironically, prior to taking my current job, we lived in Newcastle, County Down. Knowing the North East as I did, it was the only job that could have tempted my family to leave my native Northern Ireland.
The best thing about living in the North East is the diversity of the place and its people. The cultural scene is terrific and the self-effacing people of the North East remind me so much of the people I grew up with in Northern Ireland.
My favourite part of the North East is the 405 square miles of Northumberland National Park. We’ve got the incredible landscape of Hadrian’s Wall, the tranquility of the North Tyne Valley and the spectacular views from the Cheviots; on a clear summer day, you can see across counties.
My favourite place to eat is The Feathers at Hedley on the Hill in Stocksfield. It’s rustic and a little quirky but the menu is based on terrific local produce and the service is first class.
I hope the North East will become immensely proud of The Sill. It’s an ambitious project that will transform how people of all ages understand and explore the landscapes and cultural heritage of the region.
If I’m conducting business away from the office, Matfen Hall always greatly impresses me. Last year, I hosted a meeting of the chief executives of the ten English National Parks at the hotel. It came as no surprise when Matfen Hall was named Large Hotel of the Year at the 2015 Visit England Awards.
The best view in the North East is from the observation ridge at Otterburn Training Area. You can look as far as the eye can see in any direction without seeing a single manmade structure apart from the training facilities themselves.
The North East’s hidden gem is Black Middens Bastle House just north-west of Bellingham. It’s a 16th century fortified farmhouse and is part of the Reivers Trail. It’s very accessible and on a visit you get a real sense of what life was like when borders were fluid and people essentially owned what they could take from the land.
Construction work is already underway at The Sill but I want to build engagement with the people who will access it. The building, spectacular though it will be, is really the means to the end. What I want to build is a level of confidence in people to go out and explore not only Northumberland National Park but the wonderful countryside and coastlines of the wider North East.
Tony Gates is chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority