AFTER 50 years of sitting behind a desk thumping away at a typewriter, or latterly a keyboard, it’s hard to put into words the sheer pleasure of working outdoors.

Instead of the grim skylights in the roof of the Courant office, my workplace now offers an endless vista of rolling hills and deep valleys where Romans, reivers and rampant Scots once trod.

The plaintive wail of a curlew blots out the distant hum of traffic from the A68, and the hills are alive with the flickering of small birds, and the scurrying of many feet. Adders up to five feet long are reportedly commonly seen in the area, but the closest I have come to seeing one is the discovery of a newly-shed skin by granddaughter Elise.

No one has died from an adder bite in this country since 1975, and there have only been 14 such deaths over the last 100 years – so I am prepared to give the reptile a break.

It’s not all been beer and skittles though for last week I became an involuntary member of the Upper Redewater quad bike stunt team. I was perched on the back of the quad when it swooped in and out of a drain so swiftly my feet shot up in the air, and my head all but touched the turf. I had just about managed to right myself when another drain loomed, and I was once again catapulted backwards until I was lying on the back of the bike like a freshly-gralloched stag.

It was exhilarating stuff causing much merriment and underwear dampening all round, but it did get me thinking about some of the wildlife which has inhabited the Courant offices in Beaumont Street over the years,

The views were not too bad from the office window when the editorial department was upstairs, affording elevated views of the Abbey in all its glory, as well as glimpses of the Abbey Grounds.

Battalions of swifts would hurtle round the sky, screaming endlessly and, on one occasion, one of these sooty marvels of the sky somehow mistook our open window for the crack in the roof tiles where it had made its home.

The creature swooped round the office several times before stunning itself against a window pane, and crumpling to the floor.

I scooped up the scrap of feathers, and was startled to see its plumage rippling away of its own accord. I swiftly deduced that the movement was caused by innumerable fleas feasting on the flesh, which possibly explains why swifts do all that screaming.

The swifts were not the only odd creatures inhabiting the Courant office – and I don’t mean the reporters. In pre-computer days, the building was awash with newspapers all bundled together in enormous files which had to be scoured through every week for the compilation of the weekly looking back column.

I was made aware that most of the female reporters were very reluctant to do looking back, for in going through the musty yellow pages of back issues, they were not alone.

One told me frankly: “I’m scared of the spade-footed spiders that live among the old pages because they don’t like being disturbed. They look like something out of a horror film, and probably carry all sorts of diseases from the days when Hexham was a sanitary inspector’s worst nightmare.”

I treated her remarks as a joke at the expense of the new boy, and did my stint of looking back without any qualms, until one day I opened a yellowing page and found my gaze being returned by a creature, the like of which I have seen neither before nor since.

It was about half an inch long, of a greeny brown colour, with a raised armour-plated body, and six long legs which ended in large feet which did indeed look like the business end of a spade.

It looked something like a paler version of the black scarab which gets under the skin of the baddies in those excellent Mummy films with Rachel Weisz.

It scuttled out of sight before I could swat it and, over the years, I saw many other specimens of the SFS, until they disappeared without trace virtually overnight sometime in the early 1980s.

They were not spiders of course – they only had six legs – so I suppose they were some sort of paper beetle, although a little bit of me wants to believe they were visitors from another galaxy.