What a wonderful example is set by Ewan Boyd, who runs Langdon Beck Youth Hostel in the upper dale, when it comes to saving the world's resources for future generations.

The cosy building, set amid breathtaking scenery, is a model of how to cut down on the use of all fuels - and many of the hikers and cyclists who stay there go away with thoughts of starting the same economy measures in their homes.

Mr Boyd told me this week that he hopes to produce up to 70 per cent of the electricity he needs this year, thanks to a wind turbine and photo-voltaic panels. And he should save about 40 per cent of oil costs by using solar panels to heat the water.

The loft is insulated by thousands of recycled newspapers, and visitors are given simple hints on how to save power, for instance by switching off lights when they leave a room, and turning off radiators if a room is too warm, rather than opening a window. "People show a great interest in what we are doing to protect the environment, and many say they will try to do the same when they get home," he said. "I like to think we are spreading the word and doing some good in other places."

It has been calculated that the hostel produced 41 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2000, but this was reduced to 16 tonnes last year and the hope is that it will drop to ten or 11 tonnes this year. Children in school parties are always eager to learn about the system and ask their teachers if they can do projects on it when they get back to their classrooms, so the Langdon Beck effort may lead to a widespread impact for many years to come.

A visitor who spent some time in Cotherstone recently has asked for details about a famous racehorse that was named after the village. The thoroughbred, owned by John Bowes and born at his stud at Streatlam Castle, was described as weedy and unimpressive as a yearling, but went on to win the Derby in 1843. Bowes, eventual founder of the Bowes Museum, was strapped for cash around that time, according to his biography by the late Charles Hardy. He had spent a lot on an election campaign to become MP for Durham, and was on the verge of having to take out a large loan. But he staked £1,000 on Cotherstone in the Epsom classic and won £22,000, which put his finances back into good order. It was more than most people could earn in their lifetime in that era. It has to be hoped that Cotherstone residents trousered some winnings, though they would bet in pennies and shillings rather than pounds. Bowes, who sold the horse the following year for £3,000, also had three other Derby winners - Mundig in 1835, Daniel O'Rourke in 1852 and West Australian in 1853. The latter, which also won the 2000 Guineas and St Leger, was buried in the grounds of Streatlam.

Stella Redfearn has always been a jolly soul but she sounded annoyed when she protested to me this week that someone has been interfering with her garden gnomes, Wayne and George. They have been regularly moved in the night to different positions in her front garden at Meadow View, Eggleston."I don't know why anybody should bother doing this," she said sternly. "It must be somebody who lives nearby." But then she added with a loud laugh, "Maybe the pair keep wandering off to the Three Tuns for a drink and plonk down in the wrong spot when they get home. I think it's funny really."

Former pupils of Barnard Castle School who knew Kevin Whateley when he was there will be pleased to hear of his promotion. The fine actor, who was Inspector Morse's sergeant on TV for years, is to star as Inspector Lewis in a new series based on Morse's old patch. The modest Mr Whateley once told me he thoroughly enjoyed his time at the school and loved the Teesdale area. He has always acknowledged the skilful guidance he got from English master Alan Wilkinson in school plays. Mr Wilkinson, now retired and a local historian, spotted the talent of young Whateley right from the start and did his utmost to encourage him to try for an acting career. But for that, Kevin might not have gone on to find fame and fortune in Auf Wiedersehen Pet and several other highly-praised series.

* 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.