The Carrshield Camping Barn, renovated out of the old mine shop of Barney Craig, is one of the components of the portfolio of Allen Valleys Enterprise Ltd, or AVEL as the Community Benefit Society is called.
AVEL was created to manage several of the projects developed under the auspices of the North Pennines ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ in partnership with Fawside, which facilitated the £2.4million grant from the Heritage Lottery for the Allen Valleys. The renovation of Barney Craig was the last building effort in the series, and with additional funding from Historic England, completed the Landscape Partnership’s primary efforts in this five year project.
You wouldn’t have known it to look at a couple years ago, but Barney Craig was a Scheduled Ancient Monument, as it was the largest extant mine shop in south Northumberland. In fact, it was at serious risk of complete collapse.
But now it’s a delightfully spartan camping barn, ideal for groups like the Allen Valley Scouts, who spent an incredible few days there earlier this year and expect to be back in October. Renovated with safety and maintenance challenges in mind, the premises includes a composting toilet and a wood-burning stove in each of the three camping rooms (which in total can accommodate 18 campers) to make for dry, warm and cosy evenings. There’s no indoor water, no WiFi, no phone signal, and no electricity! The bed platforms are hard, so a sleeping mat is recommended too, in addition to sleeping bags. It’s spartan all right, but therein lies its charm.
From Barney Craig, paths along the River West Allen spread out over the moors, up to Killhope Law and back over Black Trod. This is the North Pennines wilderness which the poet W. H. Auden considered his ‘great good place,’ and of which he wrote, as presented so thoughtfully at the online Museum of Thin Objects by Nick Holt:
… I have observed
The sombre valley of an industry
In dereliction. Conduits, ponds, canals,
Distressed with weeds; engines and furnaces
At rust in rotting sheds; and their strong users
Transformed to spongy heaps of drunken flesh.
Deep among dock and dusty nettle lay
Each ruin of a will; manors of mould
Grew into empires as a westering sun
Left the air chilly; not a sound disturbed
The autumn dusk except a stertorous snore
That over their drowned condition like a sea
Wept without grief.
From Section II of The Annunciation, in The Collected Works, which include Auden’s love poems to the North Pennines landscape.
With its vast horizons, limitless moorlands, and age-old limestone caverns hidden below, carved out, as Nick Holt relates, like the inner chambers of Auden’s mind and body, the huge expanse of territory above and around Barney Craig is sure to stimulate in the senses of a visitor a reciprocal feeling of passionate wonder growing out of terrible despair.