23 August 2002

Rural postie delivers more than just mail

Continuing our series celebrating key figures in rural

communities, Tim Relf visits a postman with one of

the most rural rounds in Britain

TWO pubs, a quarry, a youth hostel, an outdoor centre, a tiny village school and, of course, lots of hill farms all get their deliveries from Co Durham postman Norman Dunbar.

"Its nothing like being a town postie – its a different job altogether," says Norman, whose working day starts at 5am.

Normans round starts in Barnard Castle but soon takes him out into the Teesdale countryside. He covers about 65 miles on a typical day, with the remotest farm on his patch about five miles from its nearest neighbour. "In winter, you cant hear a single thing up here," he says.

Its a glorious July day when Farmlife visits – one of the best, Norman says, in whats been a dreadful season. The suns out, the farmers are itching to get haymaking and Norman has a quick word with some as he delivers their mail.

Whats happening on the farm is a key topic of conversation and Norman – a self-confessed townie – has got to know a lot about agriculture since starting this round about 12 years ago. On one occasion, a woman even asked him to help deliver a calf.

&#42 Tough winters

Winters, however, can be tough on this remote and high ground. "Ive always got a shovel in the back of the van.

"Thats about the only downside of the job – its often dark and windy and cold. When you get right up on top," he laughs. "If the wind drops, the people fall over."

Normans learned not to be lulled into a false sense of security about the weather. "It can change in seconds. Ive known it to be warm and sunny one minute, then hailing the next."

Some of the roads up to the farms, meanwhile, have five or six gates. "You get to know when stocks around and when you can leave the gates open," he says. "Mind you, you can misjudge it, make a mistake – and end up running round like a madman in the field."

Everyone knows him and hell grab a quick cup of tea somewhere on his round if theres time. His customers have become his friends. "They send me postcards when they go on holiday," he says.

Hes even become a bit of a celebrity in the local school with its 15 pupils, with a number of the children knowing him as Postman Pat.

And, in true postman style, hes got to know a lot of the dogs on his round. "I quite often have a bag of dog biscuits with me. I try to make friends with them."

&#42 Christmas tips

As for tips at Christmas, he reckons he does really well. Whisky, money, even the odd brace of pheasants are often given to him by his customers-cum-friends. "I feel sorry for town posties in that respect!"

Its all a far cry from life as a steelworker on Teesside – the job Norman had as a young man.

"Its funny," he says. "I hated Thatcher for making us redundant, but in the end she did us a favour. I love Barnard Castle, its a great place."