A sleepy community in the Tyne Valley of Northumberland. On the surface, all is peaceful and tranquil. But what is really going on in the apparently sleepy pastoral haven of Sleathwaite? Will love and community be enough to weather the storms that beset them?
The Macalister family
Jack Macalister. Parent and Grandparent, retired farmer.
James Macalister. Husband and Father, Farmer.
Rachael Macalister. Wife and Mother. District Nurse.
Scarlett Macalister. Daughter and Sister aged 9. School girl.
Cameron Macalister. Son and Brother aged 6. School boy.
George Crosby. Parent and Grandparent, retired Engineer.
Marian Crosby. Parent and Grandparent retired Psychiatric Nurse.
The Mayhew Family
Thomas Mayhew Reverend of Sleathwaite Methodist church.
Husband and Father.
Emily Mayhew. Wife and Mother, District Nurse.
John Mayhew. Son and brother aged 11, School boy.
Jamie Mayhew. Son and brother aged 11, School boy.
The Turner Family
Matthew Turner. Husband and landlord of the Hadrian Pub.
Caitlin Turner, Wife and Landlady of the Hadrian Pub.
Philip Marsden. ICT Consultant.
Patrick Hunter. ICT Consultant.
Set on the banks of the River Tyne sits the village of Sleathwaite, which is between Corbridge and Hexham in the Tyne Valley, Northumberland. Here and throughout this county you will find the most iconic countryside set within Northumberland National Park. It was here that the Roman Emperor Hadrian came and settled with his army and built the Roman wall across Britain, also known as Hadrian’s wall, in AD 122, which still stands today, along with the ruins of the army camps.
Sleathwaite gets its name from a nearby slate mine which offers employment to the community and thwaite meaning settlement.
In the village is the local school which has now been turned into an academy, a pub called the Hadrian, a surgery, shops and a church. It also has a rugby club where a lot of the villagers play, from children to adults; and there is the most beautiful park with lovely gardens full of floral displays, a bandstand, playing fields and the village also has its own bowling club.
On the outskirts of the village sits Sleathwaite hall once home to a local landowner called George Hamilton. His family were upper-class and belonged to the gentry, as he was the Duke of Northumberland. He had lived there with his family since the beginning of the nineteenth century when the hall was first built. Unfortunately, he passed away in the late 1990s. His grandson David now dealt with financial matters regarding the estate.
The Hamilton family still owns the hall and grounds, but the estate is run by Camden Leisure Complex. It is now a hotel with a restaurant, a bar, a swimming pool, spa and golf course, including a range of sporting activities.
The hall and grounds are as beautiful now as they were then. Although the hall has been extended to allow for the hotel, they have still kept the new buildings, in keeping with the style of the original hall.
Set higher up on the edge of the village is Brookfield Farm, where the Macalister family live, and it is here where we begin exploring the lives of these villagers.
It was very early in the morning in the Macalister household and James had not been out of bed long. It was Saturday and he was having a quick breakfast, a bowl of cereal and a glass of breakfast orange. He was getting his coat and shoes on ready to go out to feed the animals. As it was only five a.m. he had to be quiet so as not to wake the others who were still fast asleep.
James had inherited the farm from his dad Jack who now lived nearby in a bungalow but still often came to visit and helped out when he could. However, Jack was getting on a bit now, he wasn’t physically fit enough to do the heavy work. He was in his eighties and had a few health issues but still liked to do his bit,
James was a proud family man and believed in strong family values which came from his upbringing. He grew up on the farm and had helped since he was a small boy. He worked hard, and the farm was doing well. They got a lot of business supplying local businesses.
The farm had been in the family for generations. He wanted his children to have the same upbringing as himself and to grow-up to live independently and become well-rounded human beings.
James looked up. Suddenly, there was a noise on the stairs, sounding like buzzing?
“Brrrr, Brrrr, Brrrr, Brrrr.”
It was Cameron his six-year-old son, standing at the top of the stairs in his pyjamas.
“Hi Pal, how are you doing or what are you doing?”
“I am a bulldozer ready to crash into everything, BRRRR,” he said rolling down the bottom few steps.
“Shush you’ll wake Mammy and Scarlett. It’s very early. Don’t you want to get back into bed where it’s warm?”
“NO spells no,” said Cameron. “I came to help you.”
James thought for a moment.
“Okay, just keep the noise down. Right first things first. Help yourself to cereal and then I want you wrapped up in a warm, hoody, jeans and coat. Oh, and put your wellies on. I’ll get the quad bike out of the garage.”
James headed out of the front door. He looked back at Cameron sitting and eating his Cheerios and watching the Simpsons on the telly. Bart was causing mischief with Homer.
He thought Cameron looked like a miniature version of himself with his blond curly hair. He suddenly thought back to when he was a boy sitting at the table having breakfast, getting ready to go out and feed all the animals with his dad.
He went into the garage and got out the quad bike. It was a big double garage, which he had built next to the farmhouse. He hoped to build above it one day and extend the upstairs of the house to make more bedrooms. Rachael had come up with the idea of doing bed and breakfast for holidaymakers, when they got nearer to retirement age.
He looked around the garage, gathered the feed he needed and put it in the storage area of the quad bike. He could hear Sammy banging the door of his kennel which he shared with his sister Kim. They were Border Collies and were kept as working dogs, but the children adored them, and they did go into the farmhouse, but they knew that their kennel was where their beds were and their own private place.
James let the dogs out and they wagged their tails in excitement and started to bark at the sight of their master. He gave a command and they sat up straight and became quiet. They were still quite young dogs and still got excitable, but also knew they had a job to do.
“Okay, Cammy,” said James, using his nickname. “I know you are excited but remember it is only five-thirty in the morning.”
As he walked towards his son he couldn’t help smiling. There stood his little boy with his hat perched on the top of his head like the archbishop of Canterbury’s, his coat over his pyjama top. He had his jeans on, undone, and his wellies were on the wrong feet.
“I see you got ready then.”
“Yes, and I did it all by myself!” said Cameron proudly.
“Well done but let me help you a bit and then we’ll get off.”
James sat him down, put the wellies on the right feet and helped him with fastening his jeans and straightening his hat.
“You still have your pyjamas on under there,” James pointed
“I know. I want to be cosy when I get back, before my bath.”
“Okay son,” said James patting him on the shoulder.
Cameron felt his hand being licked and looked down and Sammy was there.
“SAMMY! KIM!” Cameron whooped for joy.
Kim nearly knocked him over in excitement.
“Right let’s all get on the quad and get going, it has taken a little longer to get organised this morning. Good job it is Saturday, and you don’t have school.”
“Silly Billy Daddy, it’s the summer holidays!”
“Of course, silly Daddy,” said James, putting the key in the ignition. The quad roared into life, and they were off down the dirt track road.
“Where to first Dad?”
“We’ll see to the sheep and lambs.”
They arrived at the field where the sheep and lambs were. Some of the younger ones were in the lambing shed with their mothers in the next field, nearby.
James stopped the engine and turned around to Cameron.
“Right Cameron can you open the gate? You should be able to manage.”
Cameron jumped down from the quad and ran to the gate to open it to let his dad through but couldn’t resist having a swing on it while closing it.
“You love doing that don’t you?” said Dad.
“Yes, can we go to the park this afternoon, Please!”
“Well after your homework is done, okay?”
Sammy and Kim jumped down from the quad and ran off to round up the sheep.
James and Cameron walked down the field. As he held the small boy’s hand, he noticed he was skipping along.
‘Such a happy little boy,’ he thought.
James stopped and took out his whistle. “Come by!” Come by!”, he shouted.
The dogs had rounded up all the sheep and Cameron ran to open the gate but struggled with the rope keeping the gate in place.
“Oh!” said Cameron struggling to undo it.
“Hey, it’s okay, let me help,” said James gently.
He opened the gate and Cameron helped to get the sheep in.
“Can I give them some food Daddy?”
“Yes, I’ll lift the sack down and using the scoop you can fill the trough for them, but not too much.”
“Like this?” said Cameron eager to impress.
“Yes, let’s spread it out a bit, we’ll make a farmer out of you yet.”
“I like helping with the animals better than washing dishes,” said Cameron.
“Well, we all have to help with the domestic chores, because we all have a lot to do,” said James reproachfully. “However, I am glad you want to help and learn about farming.”
“I don’t want to be a farmer till I am older.”
“I want to be an astronaut and live in space!”
James laughed. “I wanted to be a pilot.”
“Yes. Right is that them fed?”
“Yep, what’s next?”
“Lambs of course.”
James let the sheep back out to graze, they were fine in this field for the moment. He got dogs and boy back onto the quad and they went down to the lambing shed.
“Ahh! They are gorgeous,” said Cameron looking at the baby lambs.
“Would you like to help give some of the older ones their bottles?”
“Of course, here give him this one. Tip it like this so he gets it all but not too much. We don’t want him to choke.”
“He’s hungry,” said Cameron laughing as the young lamb guzzled down the milk.
James looked up and saw Scarlett running down the path towards them.
“Hello love, you’re up early.”
“I wanted to help; mum’s still asleep.”
“Oh, she’s probably still really tired. She did the late shift last night. She wouldn’t have got in till way past midnight.”
“Can I give the lambs their bottles?”
“Well, you can help. Cameron’s been doing a great job.”
Cameron beamed, he adored his dad and used to follow him everywhere when he was smaller.
“Ohh! They’re so cute,” said Scarlett, taking a bottle from her dad.
“Now just a little bit at a time. They tend to guzzle it, and I don’t want them to have wind.”
They finished off the feeding of the lambs and went off to see to the hens and collect the eggs.
“Right Cameron, you can do some counting. I want six eggs in each carton okay.”
“D’oh!” said Cameron playing Bart Simpson.
“I can’t open the carton!”
“Just try without ripping it, see,” said James opening the lid.
“Surely you can open a box Cammy?” said Scarlett in a superior manner.
“I am trying, there I did it!”
“Scarlett! He has trouble with things like that. Give him a break, okay,” said James quietly.
“One, two, three, oh sorry, I dropped one!”
“Don’t worry, there’s plenty more.”
“Four, five, six, done it, all finished.”
“We have six cartons to fill.”
They all worked together and soon got the job done.
“Race you back to the quad!” Scarlett shouted, and sped off before the other two had a chance to get going. She reached the quad and shouted. “I won!”
“That wasn’t fair!” wailed Cameron. He was starting to get tired and was ready for something to eat.
It was eight thirty when they walked into the kitchen where Rachael stood cooking bacon.
“Morning all, who’s up for a bacon barm and a brew?” she asked, smiling.
“Yes please!” They chorused.
“Well sit down. How’d it go? Did you enjoy yourselves?”
“It was fun!” Cameron shouted.
“Mum, the lambs are gorgeous,” said Scarlett.
“Aren’t they just!” agreed Rachael.
“They’ve worked hard,” said James proudly.
“Good, they’ll have worked up an appetite then.”
“How are you love after your late shift, still tired?” he asked, putting his arms around her and nuzzling into her neck, finishing off with a big kiss.
“Err! get a room!” shouted Scarlett.
“Hey, you!” said James laughing. “I don’t know where she gets it from.”
“I am still a bit tired; it was a busy shift last night with some difficult patients. Some also needed a lot of special care.”
Rachael worked as a band seven nurse in the district. She was the sister to several community staff nurses and health care assistants.
She was originally from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, where her parents still lived. She trained at Leeds for her first year but then she met James when she came for a weekend to Newcastle on a wild girl’s night out, and they had kept in touch.
They met up every other weekend at either Hebden or Sleathwaite and eventually, she moved to Newcastle and transferred her training to Northumberland University, at Newcastle upon Tyne.
She worked at Newcastle Infirmary on the Cardiology ward, treating adults and elderly patients.
They eventually got married, settled down together and had a family.
They all sat down to a hearty breakfast.
“Right, you two,” said Rachael. “Baths, then homework, please!”
“Ohh!” both children protested.
Although it was the summer holidays, the school had set some homework for the children which wasn’t mandatory, but they had suggested that the parents encouraged the children to complete tasks and activities. Each child had received a list of suggestions. This was so the children didn’t fall behind in the six weeks off. Scarlett was writing a journal about her everyday activities. This included what she did on the farm and days out with family and friends; and also her two weeks holiday to her grandparents in Hebden Bridge.
Cameron had to practice his writing and numbers and was collecting treasures to stick into his scrapbook. They had been to York for the day, and he had got leaflets, stickers and masks from the Jorvik Viking Centre and the railway museum.
The idea was that the children could then talk about what they did in the holidays when they were back at school.
“And then, lunch, park and cinema!”
“Yippee!” they shouted.