Trail of destruction

A TOP tourist attraction will take years to recover from a trail of destruction left by snow and Arctic conditions.

Trees more than 100 years old have been destroyed, glass has been shattered and £50,000 worth of damage caused at the National Trust’s Cragside estate near Rothbury.

But despite the devastation, staff and volunteers are working around the clock to get the attraction back up to speed.

General manager John O’Brien is confident it will be business as usual for opening at February half-term.

“Extraordinary events call for extraordinary acts,” he said.

“The scale of the snow and ice damage has been astounding, but our staff and volunteers are making every possible effort to ensure that Cragside’s beautiful buildings and gardens are safe and that no further harm will be sustained.”

He added that despite having to close early before Christmas, Cragside expects to be open as normal for half-term.

“And that will in no small part be due to the enormous dedication and devotion of our staff and volunteers who are making Herculean efforts to put right the worst the weather has thrown at us over the past weeks,” he said.

“The extent of the damage has to be seen to be believed and is a reminder of just how brutal Mother Nature can be.”

Head gardner Alison Pringle said it will take many years for the wider estate to recover.

“There are so many branches down,” she said. “There is nothing more dramatic than seeing a tree completely split open, but the number of branches that have broken off or are hanging is almost beyond belief.

“We have a wonderful copper beech in the formal garden which has lost six limbs, three on each side. It looks a real mess, and while we are determined to retain it as a tree it is going to need a lot of work. It is devastating when you remember that many of these trees have been here since the time of Lord Armstrong and are such an important link with the past.

“People may say that bad winters were once a common occurrence, and yes, in the time of Armstrong they were much colder. But you have to remember that then these trees wouldn’t have been so big.

“Even in the winters of 1947 and 1963 which are held up as being particularly bad, the trees would not have been so mature and there would have been less room for damage.”

One of the most spectacular scenes was a 30-foot-high, 140-year-old holly tree that was split into five by the weight of snow.

Mr O’Brien said that despite the National Trust having buildings and contents insurance, millions of trees and plants cannot be insured.

He said: “We do everything we can to protect the fabric of our buildings under a planned repair programme. We also carry out tree-surgery and plant shelter screening in the gardens and countryside.

“But we have millions of trees and plants which cannot be insured. Planned maintenance protects these buildings and landscapes from many threats, but not exceptional weather such as we have recently experienced.”

Alison added that the damage to the Orchard House was particularly extraordinary.

“It looks like a giant has gone along with his finger and thumb and snapped off all the panes, such was the weight of the snow,” she said.

Anyone who wants to make a donation to help repair the damage at Cragside can either do so in person at the property or send cheques made payable to the National Trust to Val Miller, property administrator, Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland, NE65 7PX. To volunteer for conservation work, call 01669 622001.

Elsewhere, trees and rhododendrons at Howick Estate were also damaged by the weight of the snow.

Head gardener Robert Jamieson said: “We lost one or two rhododendrons and a couple of biggish trees. But it has created new planting opportunities for us. It was the worst snow I have seen in the 20-odd years I’ve been here.

“There was nothing too drastic. There are some gaps in the garden but they will be filled before the public come.”

In Northumberland National Park, some ancient trees have split and branches broken off.

Concerns have also been raised about the barn owl population after more than 100 dead birds were reported during last winter’s heavy snow and more are being reported this year.

More than 20 farm sheds collapsed with the weight of the snow. The effect on the Cheviot wild goats will not be known until the annual census later this year.