Neil Telfer - the furniture maker who created a nature reserve

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott. This week Neil Telfer: a kind and helpful Coquetdale Creative.

Neil Telfer.
Neil Telfer.

Neil is a Coquetdale Creative whose resourcefulness means he can turn his hand to a wide range of activities, from: wood carving and furniture making, to creating a nature reserve.

His talents include drumming and he has played the drums in a variety of dance bands throughout Coquetdale, for over 65 years.

When I met Neil, I was fascinated to hear him talk. He is a great storyteller, and he has the wonderful Northumbrian dialect, which is so infrequently heard nowadays.

Neil Telfer on the drums.

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    His voice has been recorded for posterity in the British Library Sounds Archive. You can hear him speak here: Neil was born in 1935 at Hepburn Moor, Chatton, and lived as a child in Uswayford.

    He tells me about his early life: “There was five of us children, and three hired shepherds. 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.

    Neil met his first wife, Isobel, at the local dance in Rothbury. She used to come each week from Ashington. They loved dancing to the music of the local musicians.

    Neil tells me: “There was a local band and a chap called Jock played the drums. He was always saying to me, ‘come on, you take a turn while I go for a smoke’. One day he says to me, ‘I’ve got a set of drums, would you like them’? I gave him £10 and taught myself to play them.

    Something which Neil is rightly proud of is his work in creating Caistron Nature Reserve.

    “We extracted the material from the haugh land and began restoration straight after extraction. This worked best for the wildlife,” he said.

    Neil created peninsulas and islands, formed around mature trees. “We made wading areas for the shallow feeding birds.”

    Neil built hides and an information centre. When it was opened up to the public Neil was put in charge of the Reserve.

    He said: “We had over 190 species of birds. People came from all over the country so see it.”

    This conservation work was acknowledged by the Forestry Commission, and in 1983 Neil went to Birmingham, appearing on television at Pebble Mill, to receive a trophy from them.

    Besides being a great raconteur, Neil is one of those people who always lends a helping hand.

    He was church warden, chair of the bowls club, and after retiring, Neil volunteered with the WRVS, then RVS and also drove the school bus, then the shoppers’ bus.

    I am pleased to tell you that in the 1990s Neil’s contribution to our community was recognised and he attended the Queen’s Garden Party in recognition of his work.

    Neil Telfer was talking with Katie Scott