A LITTLE book called Blanchland’s Lead Mining Heritage makes much of exploring the Old Shildon vein.

This morning in some similarly nether region of Darlington hospital they will be exploring the Old Shildon arteries – something called an angiogram, apparently – a do-or-dye procedure doubtless necessary, but hardly relished.

It nonetheless offered an excuse last week for a return visit to the North-East’s secondary Shildon, where the old engine house, now a listed ancient monument and once known locally as Shildon Castle, has been carefully restored.

No fewer than three information boards are needed to tell the story and to explain how it was all done. The hope is that the ancient monument from the senior Shildon may similarly be returned to good fettle, and without recourse to English Heritage.

The second Shildon, as we may suppose it, is a country mile north of Blanchland, a once-monastic village on the wild side of the Durham/Northumberland border.

We headed up through Weardale and on to Rookhope, that fascinating and rough-hewn old village where the workmen’s club survives yet and the front gardens flag huge leeks. Maybe there’ll be a show. Maybe we’ll go up and write about it.

A few miles over the top, Blanchland’s gardens are bigger on dahlias, though sandbagging around the doorsteps suggests that the recent floods weren’t confined to the Yorkshire dales.

Shildon’s up the road, little more than a farm track, past the White Monk tea room. Lead’s thought to have been mined since Roman times, though it was the extensive silver deposits about which Edward I and his successors became particularly excited.

Similarly in County Durham, many a stranger has arrived in Shildon and believed that he’s struck gold.

The engine house was built in the early 19th century to accommodate a large steam pump, ordered from a company in Birmingham and improbably transported north by canal, river boat, sea and teams of horses.

By 1850 the village had 158 inhabitants, bigger and busier than Blanchland itself, though sharing just 27 houses. Shildon also had a Primitive Methodist chapel, though much else was primitive, too.

Writing in 1776, the historian William Hutchinson described the area around Shildon and Blanchland as like the realm of mortification. “The distress and ragged appearance is most deplorable,” he added.

From around 1850, however, lead mining steeply declined. Though Shildon Beck and Shildon Wood remain, those now-tranquil acres are home to just three or four families. Among those who left Shildon were Ralph Gibson and Mary James, who eloped (it’s said) to Australia, leaving Mary’s mother Susanna behind.

She wrote, stoically, in 1859. “I have three lodgers at present. They pay me four shillings a week and I have 2/6d parish money so you can see I have not made any hurt as yet –– and I have killed the pig.”

One of Ralph and Mary’s offspring returned to England in 1908, following his forebears – or so he thought – to Shildon. It was only after his death in 1954 that family historians discovered that he’d been living in the “wrong” Shildon, the one between Bishop Auckland and Darlington, thereby alighting from the ship and landing very squarely on his feet.

HOMEWARD from the more northerly Shildon, we look into the ever-excellent Grey Horse in Consett, named Camra’s North-East pub of the year last week. There, too, is Jon Gordon, whose son Sam died tragically last year and who with fellow Grey Horse regulars has devoted much effort to helping CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which seeks to draw attention to the issue of male suicide. The previous weekend they’d raised £3,500 from something called the Beer Belly Fun Run. “Wonderful people,” says Jon. Pretty good pub, too.

THE Reeth Gazette, featured hereabouts last week, contained in its August issue a list of upcoming speakers at the Bellerby Study Group – Bellerby being a village near Leyburn recently remembered for having two simultaneous centenarians.

The scheduled October 9 talk is on astronomy, a slight surprise since my own diary claims that it’s on more down to earth matters, and by Mike Amos.

An email exchange ensues. “You are no longer speaking to the Bellerby Study Group,” the reply ends. No matter, the astronomer will doubtless be much the brighter star.

SCORTON Feast had its feet beneath the table last week, or at least for the first four days of it, as it has with the occasional meal break every year since 1257.

Always it’s centred around August 15, that being the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Originally, it’s said, it was the serfs’ only day off. Traditionally when Scorton Feast ends, winter begins.

The Eating Owt column wrote of it in 1990, ate at the Farmers Arms – ham salad £3 20 – supposed it almost a lunchtime nightmare even at those prices. Agricultural ordure ensued.

There were angry letters to Hear All Sides, stirrings in the hedge backs, a mugshot on the pub noticeboard making it clear that the wanted man should on no account be allowed across the threshold.

Scorton’s in North Yorkshire, roughly between Richmond and the A167, the feast now offering everything from quoits to clay pigeon shooting, welly throwing to wheelbarrow racing and, of course, Mr Murphy’s dodgems. With half an eye on the children’s pet show, 2pm, it seemed safe to look in again.

The noticeboard had something about a missing dog called Nina, a new build called nothing in particular, lots about the Feast, but nothing about the voracious villain. The coast was clear.

The pub was welcoming, immaculately kept, offered a very good pint of Ossett Blonde. We both had an excellent bowl of prawn chowder with good bread followed by a half-ciabatta – Cajun chicken and cheese and stuff, with plenty of fresh salad and a big bowl of moreish chips. The food was £15.50 the lot.

At 2pm we took a dander around the green. There being no obvious sign of a pet show, we followed Mr WC Fields’s advice about never working with children or animals and went back for another pint.

RICHARD GAUNT’S wonderful photographic exhibition of County Durham in the 1960s ends at Darlington art gallery, next to the library, tomorrow. It really should be seen and tomorrow, by way of monochrome aide memoire, it’ll be possible to buy prints for between £10-£30.

We’ve written of Richard before, the Darlington schoolboy who quite literally got on his bike to photograph the region’s fast changing backdrop. “It didn’t take a genius to realise you’d better be quick,” he writes in a potted profile.

Particularly he appears fond of steam engines and snow, neither of which are much seen nowadays, though there’s much else of a nostalgic nature. A picture of Witton park washing day is quite wonderful.

Richard, who now lives in Wales, has also offered prints to a Darlington church which wants to capture the past.

Simon and Garfunkel had a song, improbably called Kodachrome, which supposed that everything looks better in black and white. There are just two days to see how vividly Richard Gaunt proves the point.