Fontburn Valley in 2009

Exmoor ponies grazing the old sludge beds looking across towards Greenleighton.

People still live and work in the beautiful Fontburn valley. There are ten households here including a fully working farm at the head of the valley and a newly established rare breeds’ farm on the eastern side with plans afoot to develop a rare breeds’ visitor centre adjacent to the reservoir. There are still children and young people growing up here too. The eleven Fontburn junior residents (including a toddler and several teenagers) attend schools in Rothbury, Cambo and Morpeth. People commute into the valley to work for Northumbrian Water in the water treatment works and fishing lodge and of course nowadays residents themselves sometimes need to commute to work as far as Newcastle and Blyth.

The winters here are generally very quiet, you will meet the occasional group of walkers enjoying the scenery but most of our visitors arrive with the better weather – to fish in the well-stocked reservoir, watch the extensive birdlife and natural life or simply enjoy the varied walks in and around the valley where there are excellent boardwalks and paths and (usually from mid-March to October) refreshments available at the fishing lodge with its small shop. Northumbrian Water maintains a wild-life reserve at the western edge of the reservoir, with the support of English Nature whose detailed wildlife management plan for the area supports all kinds of interesting and rare wildlife including crested newts. Last year there was an exciting addition to the reserve, with a small colony of tough little Exmoor “Mousie” ponies arriving to graze the old sludge lagoon area. They are independent little creatures but nevertheless very interested in their surroundings and visitors especially those bearing snacks. They went away to winter quarters elsewhere in the autumn but should be returning in the spring.

There is still quite a strong sense of community within the valley even with so few people living here permanently. Most of us have family and social links in and around Rothbury, Morpeth and the surrounding villages. But, in addition to this, the Fontburn Residents’ Association is now well-established and over a number of years has raised funds to build and maintain an adventure playground for the children living in and around the valley; the Association organises at least one shared social gathering every year, usually to cheer ourselves up in the winter months, at which a welcome is extended to families from other nearby farms and cottages who are associate members – taking us up to around twenty households in all - and from time to time we hold fund-raising events such as our Spring Plant Sale at the nearby “Gate” pub (along the road towards Rothbury at Forestburngate).

Several members of the Residents’ Association are very interested in local history and were keen to find ways of celebrating the centenary of the Fontburn Reservoir in August 2008. With support from other residents, past and present, from the Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All Scheme and from Northumbrian Water, we put together a Centenary programme of events and had an absolutely brilliant time! We enjoyed an afternoon tea for past and present residents, an evening ceilidh and BBQ, history and wildlife walks, and a great gathering of material for a longer-term social history project on the valley.

In addition we were able to find the resources to build a war memorial by the Fontburn cottages celebrating those lost in the Great War – we discovered that the original memorial had been dismantled and lost along with the Fontburn School. We had some additional good fortune in that we received two generous individual donations during 2008 of a time capsule and a hand-crafted sundial. The Centenary year finished in November with a small service of dedication by the new war memorial which incorporates the sundial and the time-capsule – definitely a case of three time dimensions intersecting!

The Residents’ Association is also very grateful for generous grants received in 2008 from Northumbrian Water, Alnwick District Council and Northumberland County Council – towards the cost of re-surfacing the children’s adventure playground at Fontburn.

It was great that so many people, Fontburn residents and workers, past and present, found the time and joined in and worked together to help bring about the Centenary events – a once in a lifetime experience for all of us, except possibly the very youngest residents!

We are delighted to support Isabel with her research into the history of this lovely and fascinating area, and especially thrilled that she has come up with her imaginative and brilliantly executed project for the Centenary Web Site. This has reached out to touch so many people who have happy memories of Fontburn, the response to it has been amazing and continues apace.

Back in 1908 the Fontburn valley was at the cutting edge of new technology when the dam opened and when the railway line was still running. It isn’t all history at Fontburn, however, the Residents’ Association has been working towards a special project with the regional business portal,, to bring a wireless and satellite based internet service into the valley. Fontburn is just a few miles too far from the Rothbury exchange to receive broadband, which is a massive disadvantage to the community here in this day and age. It took a lot of work and lobbying but eventually our funding bid was successful and the new link was up and running by February 2008. It presently links 10 households very effectively to the internet and has made a huge difference to these households over the last year it has been operating. It isn’t a cheap service, not everyone here has been able to budget to subscribe, but it is cheaper and much more effective than trying to run the only other dial-up service that is (intermittently!) available. We are continuing to keep up the pressure to bring better broadband access to rural areas such as Fontburn, where services can so easily fall way behind what is available elsewhere in the country, making life here much harder and more expensive than it ought to be.

You can contact the Fontburn Residents’ Assocation via e-mail at:

Some of our favourite links and contacts fpllow - they may be of use use if you plan to visit

These pages contributed by Fontburn Residents' Association, February 2009

Fontburn's very own website - find out what is going

Information about what's going on in and around the town of Rothbury, the nearest small town to the Fontburn Reservoir.

Information relating to the wider Coquetdale community as well as Rothbury.

Jon Monks has set up an imaginative and useful site about his walking programme and special local maps available throughout Northumberland – and now further afield.

This is an excellent and comparatively new site covering the history and archaeology of Northumberland and Co.Durham, including access to extensive archives and maps.

These following three institutions are handily next door to each other and the central station in Newcastle!

The Mining Institute located in central Newcastle houses a huge amount of historical as well as technical information relating to the industrial background of the north eastern region.

The Northumberland and Durham Family History Society has collected over many years a wealth of information about local families and communities.

The North East Labour History Society is particularly interested in the history of working people since the last war.

This site will put one in touch with the many strands of oral history work presently being undertaken in the region. If the link does not work try putting oralhistorynortheast into the Google search box.

Here is the starting point for accessing information and services relating to Northumberland County Council including the county libraries. Library users should note that for a token fee you can join the new “Inspire” passport system which will enable you to negotiate personal access to libraries and collections throughout the north-eastern region including many private collections as well as some in universities and colleges.

The Northumberland county archives have recently found a new home at the re-modelled Woodhorn Colliery site near Ashington where they can be easily consulted due to very user-friendly opening hours.

Fontburn Centenary celebrations in July 2008: old and new friends getting together.

Everyone joined in the dancing at the Centenary ceilidh.

Cooking up a treat at the Fontburn Centenary.

The new War Memorial and Centenary Sundial.

Rainbow over Fontburn: the cottages with Simonside in the background.

Fontburn Residents' Association

Website created by WarrenAssociates 2007

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Copyright © Maud Isabel Warren 2008

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