Born in 1935 at Hepburn Moor, near Chatton, Neil lived as a child in Uswayford in the Upper Coquet Valley.
“There was five of us children, and three hired shepherds,” he told Katie Scott in a 2019 interview for the Northumberland Gazette.
‘My mother cooked breakfast, dinner, tea and supper for us all.
“We had a milking cow, hens, a pig. We grew vegetables and caught fish in the Coquet. There were about 12 sheep dogs, we would make harnesses for them and get them to pull our sledges in the snow. They were the happiest days of my life.”
The son of a shepherd, Neil’s first job was tending sheep, although he had dreamed of being a carpenter or a car mechanic.
His resourcefulness meant he could turn his hand to a wide range of activities, such as wood carving and furniture making.
He also played the drums in a variety of dance bands throughout Coquetdale for over 65 years.
He was also renowned as a great storyteller with a distinctive Northumbrian dialect which has been recorded for posterity in the British Library Sounds Archive. You can hear him speak here: http://tiny.cc/hjr1gz
Neil helped to create Caistron Nature Reserve in a former quarry, creating peninsulas and islands, building hides and an information centre. When it was opened up to the public he was put in charge.
‘The Coquet has lost a champion’, said Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett in a heart-felt tribute.
“He helped build a nature reserve that became home to thousands of animals and birds and Coquetdale's answer to Sir David Attenborough was recognised nationally for his work.
“In amongst his woodwork, playing in various bands, being a churchwarden, chairman of the bowls club and helping to raise a family.
“Neil in later years became one of the volunteer drivers for the WRVS service - he loved nothing more than getting out and about and his welcoming smile and warm personality was greatly appreciated by anyone he happened to be driving.
“I'm sending my deepest condolences to all of the family at what I know is an exceptionally difficult time for them.”