The Story of W H Auden and Alston Moor

W H Auden and Alston Moor: W H Auden in 1957, a prominent 20th-century poet known for his profound connection with Alston Moor.

W H Auden in 1957, capturing the essence of his reflective and contemplative nature.

W H Auden (1907-73), one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, had a profound connection with Alston Moor, a picturesque region in the North Pennines National Landscape. This area, rich in history and natural beauty, became a significant source of inspiration for Auden’s poetry. His relationship with Alston Moor began in his youth, and over the years, he made numerous visits, each time deepening his bond with this enchanting landscape.

W H Auden and Alston Moor: The Early Encounters

Auden first discovered Alston Moor during his school days at Gresham’s School in Norfolk. It was on a geography field trip that he encountered the region’s rugged beauty, and it left an indelible mark on him. The area’s remote moorlands, old lead mines, and quaint villages resonated with Auden, offering a stark contrast to the urban environments he was more accustomed to. This early encounter sparked a lifelong passion for Alston Moor.

w h auden personalised poems

A young W H Auden visiting Alston Moor. The decaying mining settlement of Rookhope was a spiritual epicentre for the aspiring poet.

The Landscape of Inspiration

W H Auden’s poetry often reflects his deep appreciation for Alston Moor’s landscape. The rolling hills, expansive moors, and the haunting remnants of its industrial past provided a rich tapestry for his creative mind. Poems like “In Praise of Limestone” and “New Year Letter” are imbued with imagery that can be traced back to the vistas and experiences he had in Alston Moor.

W H Auden and Alston Moor: The rugged landscape of Alston Moor, a significant source of inspiration for poet W H Auden.

The rugged landscape of Alston Moor that inspired W H Auden’s poetry.

The solitude and tranquility of the region allowed Auden to immerse himself in his work, free from the distractions of city life. The austere beauty of the moorlands, with their shifting weather and timeless quality, mirrored themes of transience and endurance in his poetry.

“Between the ages of six and twelve I spent a great many waking hours in the fabrication of a secondary sacred world, the basic elements of which were (a) a limestone landscape mainly derived from the Pennine Moors in the North of England, and (b) an industry – lead mining […]. From this activity I learned certain principles which I was later to find applied to all artistic fabrication.” – W H Auden and Alston Moor

Repeated Visits and Deepening Connection

Throughout his life, Auden returned to Alston Moor numerous times. These visits were not just for brief respites but often extended stays where he could fully engage with the environment. His love for the area grew with each visit, as did his understanding and appreciation of its subtle nuances.

In the 1930s, Auden brought fellow poets and friends to Alston Moor, sharing with them the special place he had found. These trips were often filled with vigorous walks, spirited discussions, and moments of quiet contemplation, all set against the backdrop of the North Pennines. At this time, of course, many of the industrial sites of Alston Moor were still functioning, although much diminished from their Victorian heyday. 

 H Auden and Alston Moor: The one-inch OS map of Alston Moor that W H Auden kept, symbolizing his profound connection to the region.

The one-inch OS map of Alston Moor that W H Auden kept close, highlighting his deep connection to the area.

It is said that Auden always kept an enlarged one-inch OS map of Alston Moor close at hand, lovingly referring to it as ‘My Great Good Place’. For Auden, the map symbolised Alston Moor in his adulthood, with its detailed depiction of boundaries, rivers, passes, and mines deeply ingrained in his memory and prominently featured in his writings.

Alston Moor in Auden’s Works

The influence of Alston Moor on W H Auden’s work is undeniable. In addition to specific poems, the region’s ethos permeated his broader literary output. The themes of nature’s power, the passage of time, and the intersection of human industry and natural landscapes are recurrent in his writing, all of which can be linked to his experiences in Alston Moor.

W H Auden and Alston Moor: Nenthead Mines, a surviving remnant of the industrial landscape that inspired poet W H Auden.

Nenthead Mines, one of the few surviving remnants of the industrial landscape that inspired W H Auden in Alston Moor.

Auden’s keen observational skills allowed him to capture the essence of the place in his poetry. The lead mines, for example, became symbols of human endeavour and decay, reflecting broader existential themes. His ability to transform the tangible aspects of Alston Moor into metaphors for life’s complexities is a testament to his genius.

A Lasting Legacy

W H Auden’s passion for Alston Moor has left a lasting legacy, both in his body of work and in the cultural memory of the region. Today, literary enthusiasts and scholars often visit Alston Moor to walk in Auden’s footsteps, hoping to capture a glimpse of the inspiration that fuelled his creativity and looking to discover more of the enduring legacy of W H Auden and Alston Moor.

W H Auden and Alston Moor: From Thomas Sopwith's 1833 account, depicting Nenthead Mines and the mining districts that inspired poet W H Auden. © Mechanicalcurator.

From An Account of the Mining Districts of Alston Moor, Weardale and Teesdale in Cumberland and Durham: Comprising Descriptive Sketches of the Scenery, Antiquities, Geology, and Mining Operations in the Upper Dales of the Rivers Tyne, Wear and Tees by Thomas Sopwith, 1833. © Mechanicalcurator. The mining districts, including Nenthead Mines, significantly inspired W H Auden and Alston Moor.

The local community embraces the association of  W H Auden and Alston Moor, with various initiatives to celebrate Auden’s ties to the area. Events, readings, and guided tours highlight the significant places and landscapes that influenced his writing.

W H Auden and Alston Moor

W H Auden and Alston Moor: W H Auden as a schoolboy in the early 1920s, during the time he first discovered Alston Moor.

W H Auden as a schoolboy in the early 1920s. These formative years laid the foundation for his deep connection with Alston Moor.

W H Auden and Alston Moor share a unique and enduring connection. The region’s impact on his poetry and his repeated visits underscore the deep bond he felt with this beautiful part of England. Alston Moor, with its rich history and natural beauty, continues to inspire and attract those who seek to understand the profound relationship between place and creativity. As we reflect on Auden’s legacy, his love for Alston Moor remains a testament to the power of nature to inspire great art.

Stay at Salvin House Alston: Walk in W H Auden’s Literary Footsteps

If you want to follow in the literary footsteps of W H Auden and Alston Moor, consider staying at Salvin House Alston. This charming holiday cottage offers comfortable rooms and a welcoming atmosphere, making it an ideal base for your journey. Located in the heart of Alston, Salvin House provides easy access to the scenic landscapes, historic sites, and walking trails that inspired Auden. Whether you’re a literary enthusiast or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Salvin House Alston is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the spirit of Alston Moor.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What inspired W H Auden's connection to Alston Moor?

W H Auden first encountered Alston Moor during a geography field trip while attending Gresham’s School in Norfolk. The rugged beauty, remote moorlands, old lead mines, and quaint villages of Alston Moor left an indelible mark on him, sparking a lifelong passion and deep connection to the area, which significantly influenced his poetry.

How did Alston Moor influence W H Auden's poetry?

Alston Moor’s landscape, including its rolling hills, expansive moors, and remnants of its industrial past, provided rich inspiration for Auden’s poetry. His works often reflect themes of nature’s power, the passage of time, and the intersection of human industry and natural landscapes, with specific poems like “In Praise of Limestone” and “New Year Letter” directly drawing imagery from his experiences in Alston Moor.

What are some notable locations in Alston Moor that influenced W H Auden?

Significant locations in Alston Moor that inspired W H Auden include the decaying mining settlement of Rookhope, the Nenthead Mines, and various landscapes depicted in his poetry. Auden’s frequent visits and his habit of keeping an enlarged one-inch OS map of Alston Moor highlight his deep connection to these areas.

How is W H Auden's legacy celebrated in Alston Moor today?

W H Auden’s legacy is celebrated in Alston Moor through various initiatives, including literary events, readings, and guided tours that highlight the significant places and landscapes that influenced his writing. The local community embraces Auden’s ties to the area, promoting his work and its connection to Alston Moor’s natural beauty and history.

Where can I stay to explore W H Auden's connection to Alston Moor?

For those looking to explore W H Auden’s connection to Alston Moor, staying at Salvin House Alston is a great option. This charming holiday cottage offers comfortable rooms and a welcoming atmosphere, making it an ideal base for visiting the scenic landscapes, historic sites, and walking trails that inspired Auden.

Rob

Rob

Rob Lawson is a property investor and communications consultant who grew up in the South Tyne Valley. With a deep passion for historical preservation, he fell in love with Salvin House and committed to restoring it to its former glory. With a vision that blends respect for its heritage and modern comforts, Rob has revived this historic gem for future generations to appreciate.

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