JUNE Atkin, who was a night nurse at the Richardson Hospital for 18 years, has spent £3,800 of her savings on having her first novel printed.

Mrs Atkins wrote the novel in longhand at her home in Baliol Street, Barnard Castle.

She received 250 copies of the 240-page paperback, The Druid's Last Apprentice, and has put some of them on sale at £13.95 at newsagents shops in the town.

"I just hope that some people will enjoy reading my work," the determined grandmother told me. "I think it's a gripping story, bringing in a lot of interesting historical facts. and I'm not too worried about the cash."

Her tale is about Cynward, who was born about the same time as Jesus, who he meets in Britain.

Cynward qualifies as a druid. He witnesses many stirring events, such as a massacre by the Romans and a battle involving Boadaecia during his long life - more than 1,900 years!

Mrs Atkin, who was also a military police corporal, got a lot of her ideas from her father, Joseph Shell, a regimental sergeant major who was born on Holy Island. "He used to tell me wonderful stories. I learned a lot from him," she said.

She is incorporating more of his tales into another book she is now writing, set on Holy Island.

NOTED historian Alan Wilkinson was back in touch with his old friend Tom Sayer this week, thanks to a Northern Echo report on the Black Prince cars, which were made in Barnard Castle from 1919 to 1922.

Mr Sayer's sister, Margaret Gibbs, who still lives in this part of the world, contacted Mr Wilkinson as soon as the report appeared, and gave him Tom's phone number, who is now based in East Anglia.

Tom's father Reuban Sayer did some work on the two-seater sports models when they were assembled in Thorngate Mill, so he was most interested to hear that they were in the news again.

Mr Sayer senior used to make cart wheels and other items behind his home in Cambridge Terrace, Barnard Castle, before getting involved with the Black Prince. Later, he had a large workshop in Coach and Horses yard in the town, where he made farm equipment.

His son Tom, who was once Victor Ludorum, at Barnard Castle School, the year's top athlete, corrected a mistake in the report: the car's chassis was made from ash wood, rather than beech, as it gave greater flexibility and did not crack.

ANOTHER of those old poems, which fascinated many families in the dale more than a century ago, was shown to me this week. The 96-line poem, by Robert Allinson, is about a practical joke played on a lead miner.

The victim was John T, a stern, bald fellow from Harwood, who had few friends. One night in a mineshop, a sort of lodging house, he bent down to tie his laces near a stove on which potatoes were simmering.

Another miner picked out a hot handful of potato and slapped it onto John's shiny crown, causing him to jump around and yell in agony. The culprit walked away looking innocent, while poor John shouted: "If but the joker I did know/I'd brain him that I would/I'd gladly to the gallows go/If I could have his blood."

It seems amazing that 96 lines could be composed about an incident like that.

But poems were a major source of entertainment, probably on a par with the TV soap operas of today. And those who performed them well were acclaimed as local stars.

ANYONE feeling in need of some exercise today or tomorrow could lend a helping hand to spruce up the adventure playground in Gainford. Volunteers will be welcome both days, mornings and afternooons.

* I'll be glad to see anyone who calls with snippets of news at The Northern Echo office at 36 Horsemarket, Barnard Castle, on Mondays and Tuesdays, telephone (01833) 638628.