At first, the visage appears androgynous in its skyward gaze, but then you notice the rest of the figure stretching a quarter of a mile to your right — the breasts, the hips, a delicate hand open and pointing, outlined by slivers of pond water.
Meet the supine earth goddess named, variously, Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North or, to the locals in this coal-mining area, the Lady.
Officially opened by a woman — Princess Anne — in September, it has become an apparent hit, with 25,000 visitors in its first few weeks.
And yet as Northumberlandia was in the planning or building stages, it was assailed for various reasons, not least by a tabloid press mesmerized by its nearly 100-foot breasts. At one hearing, local evangelicals said it was promoting paganism over Christianity.
“They were worried about it being a pagan love god that would inspire the locals to make love on her,” said Charles Jencks, the creator of the landform. “She’s not a pagan god, and people aren’t going to lose their moral compass if they walk all over her,” he said. Jencks, 73, is an architectural critic and land artist who was born in Baltimore (his grandfather, Raymond Pearl, was a fast friend of H.L. Mencken’s).
The figure is said to be the largest human form on the planet. From its summit, the face, you can see as you turn the distant North Sea, the city of Newcastle and, north, to the hill country of the Cheviots, whose undulations inspired the lady’s curves and contours.
At times, there is a Lilliputian feel to hiking on her, as you traverse four miles of paths that delineate her legs, hips, hair and the rest. The face, in particular, draws the eye. The nose forms a triangle of stone and turf, in cross section, and the enlarged forehead provides a sheltered seating area against the constant blowing winds. The stone lips are full. On his digital drawing board, Jencks exaggerated the features, knowing we are all wired to look at faces.
“What is the most interesting thing to people?” Jencks said. “Other people.”
Critics aren’t sure what to make of it. “It’s quite difficult to take it seriously,” said Tim Richardson, a London-based landscape historian and critic. “This massive woman you climb up.”
A joint project
The Lady is a joint project of the Blagdon Estate, a 10,000-acre family property that dates to 1698, and the Banks Group, an energy company. Banks is extracting coal from a surface mine next to the site. The entities wanted to create an iconic feature that would enhance a part of the site, given its visibility near a major highway and rail line, and they shared its $5 million cost.