Yorkshire hills alive with the sound of age old music

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Jamie Walton’s cello is a thing of beauty. A Guarneri, made in 1712, with a rich sound that he adores. So prized is it that it has its own special cupboard in his home, alarmed, with sensors.

And yet, every now and then when the mood takes him and the Yorkshire weather is kind, Jamie will pop it in the back of his car, fasten it in with a seatbelt, and take it onto the moors to play.

“It’s an amazing, connective experience,” he says. “It feels so fabulous and free. The cello is 300 years old but you can’t treat these things like museum pieces. They have a soul, they have to be played.”

At 41, Jamie, founder of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, has pretty much got life sussed. He’s ditched London life and made a permanent move to the National Park where he starts every day by drinking in the ‘awe-inspiring’ view from his bedroom window before the cello comes out for a quick blast before breakfast.

“In my heart I left London a few years ago,” he says. “I hardly knew my neighbours in Highgate; here I know pretty much everyone.”

Living full-time in the county has been a dream that Jamie and his civil partner Joel have only recently achieved and he now only returns to the capital for business.

As dedicated foodies they feast on local produce bought fresh every day, game from the butcher’s, fish from the fishmonger, and veg from honesty boxes left outside farmers’ gates.

The shopping provides an excuse for Jamie to drive across his beloved moors. Not that there is any need to travel further than his front door to see them. From different rooms there are views of the National Park, the Howardian Hills and the Wolds.

“We’ve come to appreciate the seasons here,” Jamie says. “In London I would say ‘I hate the rain’ but here the landscape looks dramatic. When the sea fret rolls in you can’t see anything on the moors and in autumn you get wonderful colours and the mist and rain, I love that – it’s very Wuthering Heights.

“I get up very early here because the symphony of birds is so loud. I do some Bach practice and then I’m set up for the day. I wouldn’t be able to do that at 6.30am in London.

“It’s a great life for a musician; if you nurture your soul your sound blooms.”

Locally the internationally-renowned cellist is the man who brings world-class musicians to remote churches where folk pay just £10 to hear them. The 10-day festival has become an annual pilgrimage for many who attend every concert when the heather is in full colour.

On Saturday he’s launching the 2016 event and a new record label – Ayriel Classical Records – with a concert at St Peter & St Paul church, Pickering. The cellist and six fellow string musicians will play Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and two works by Strauss – Capriccio and Metamorphosen.

“Being here has made me work harder because I feel privileged to be here,” he says.

“I’m living my dream now so I can focus on the job at hand.”

The emotional pull of Yorkshire has always been strong for Jamie with memories of trips with his late father, a Lancashire man who used to take him to the moors when he was a lad.

Jamie recalls the late-night journey 20 years ago when he realised he’d fallen for the wild open spaces as he drove home from a performance in Whitby.

“It was misty and so atmospheric that I started crying. Being in Yorkshire has changed me as a person. I feel like I’ve come home.”

Saturday’s concert at St Peter & St Paul church, Pickering starts at 7pm. Tickets are £15. Go to ‘extra events’ at www.northyorkmoorsfestival.com for booking details.

Looking out towards Arkengarthdale in the Yorkshire Dales. PIC: Simon Hulme

Fighting for the future of communities in the Yorkshire Dales