New earth mother is both a big lass and a bonny lass

The Northumberlandia earth art form taking shape at Cramlington with views of the surrounding area including the Shotton Mine Works and windmills.
The Northumberlandia earth art form taking shape at Cramlington with views of the surrounding area including the Shotton Mine Works and windmills.

THERE has always been a soft spot in north east hearts for a big lass if the old folk song Cushie Butterfield or Viz’s Fat Slags comic strip of recent years are anything to go by.

Now set to keep up that tradition is the biggest lass of her kind in the world – the Northumberlandia earth sculpture taking shape near Cramlington.

Bonniness might be in the eye of the beholder, but, at 400m in length and 34m high, there is no disputing the scale of this project.

The colossal structure, reckoned to be the biggest depiction of a human in art anywhere on the planet, is being created on land owned by Blagdon estate and a former mining site.

And it’s even made out of slag – literally.

Unlike some designs, this is not art for art’s sake as the green goddess serves a practical purpose, using the slag from the nearby Shotton opencast mine to form her core.

A total of one and a half million tonnes of soil and clay has been shipped in from the nearby mine to create Northumberlandia, which has been under construction since last year.

It can be seen in all its glory by commuters on the A1 and rail passengers on the East Coast main line.

The controversial piece of art, like Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, has attracted some criticism since plans for it were first revealed, but its creators are confident it will attract more positive comments than negative ones.

It was originally due to open to the public in 2013, but bosses at the Banks Group are now confident it will be completed by September next year.

The figure itself is now finished, and those creating the artwork just need to install the pathways and allow time for it to bed in before it is officially unveiled next year.

The £2.5m land form, being paid for by the Banks Group and Blagdon Estate, will form the centrepiece of a 29-hectare public park after it opens next year, and an estimated 200,000 visitors a year are expected to flock to see it.

Made up of a core of rock, and then a layer of clay and a further layer of soil, it has now been sprayed with hydroseed top soil to enable it to grow a skin of grass.

Banks Group is now in talks with the Land Trust in the hope that the charity will take over the care of the site, including three man-made lakes, after it completes its mining operations nearby in 2018.

Banks Group communications manager Katie Perkin said: “This wouldn’t have happened without the mine as there would not have been anywhere else to get that amount of material. It has been very carefully selected.

“It is estimated that 200,000 visitors a year will come to Northumberlandia, which will then have a potentially positive effect in that many people coming to the site will also use the facilities in the area.

“The basis of the art form is now in place. We have some intricate pieces still to finish on the face and hands, but mainly now we just need to plan the pathways and get them in place before it opens to the public.”

The new structure, designed by US landscape artist Charles Jencks, will offer a four-mile network of pathways along the curves of its body to various strategic viewing platforms on its face, breasts, hip, knee and ankle, with different levels of difficulty to offer something for every level of ability.

Katie added: “Northumberlandia will give people the chance to see the mining operations, as well as views right across south east Northumberland. There really is something for everyone.

“The mining industry continues to be a major contributor to the north east economy. We employ 200 people in Cramlington.

“The pathways have been designed in such a way so that everyone can come and see her and explore, regardless of their level of fitness.

“If they want to walk for three hours up and down, then they can, but equally if they want to just look at her from one of the viewing mounds, they can do this too.

“Northumberlandia and the surrounding park will be a wonderful place for local people to enjoy and will also add significantly to the regional economy through increasing the numbers of visitors that come to the area.”