Monthly Archives: July 2014


In a spectacular boost to the project to create a giant cairn of friendship with Scotland, actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley has committed to working alongside volunteers on the English-Scottish border. She will be driving up from her house in England on Thursday 31st July bringing stones from her garden to help build The Auld Acquaintance Cairn at Gretna, and is inviting volunteers from around the UK to join her in the construction.The cairn – which has been called a ‘cairn of friendship’ and a ‘cairn of caring’ – has been built by individuals and families from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to show their respect, their love and their affection for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. It will be open every day over the next two months.Stone and support has already come in from leading public figures including historians Simon Schama and David Starkey, philosopher AC Grayling and writer Alain de Botton, and this Monday 28th July the project will be led by a team of mountaineers and explorers including Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Doug Scott OBE and Alan Hinkes OBE (the first british man to climb every peak over 8000 metres.)

Joanna Lumley OBE FRGS was born to a British family in India, lives in England but has family in Scotland. She began her romance with the Union as a Bond girl (the fictional spy James Bond, like his creator Ian Fleming, was of Scottish ancestry but worked from London with the British secret service and remains a powerful symbol of Scotland’s place in the Union).

She has also been a human rights activist on behalf of Survival International and the Gurkha Justice campaign, and a prominent campaigner for animal rights. Radio 4 named her “one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom”. As one of the country’s most popular figures her presence will be a very powerful endorsement for the cairn and the Union.

The project is being led by the writer and campaigner Rory Stewart MP, a Scot who represents a border constituency, and will take hundreds of thousands of stones to complete. The cairn is located at junction 45 north on the M6, at Gretna. more details can be found at: and

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Rory Stewart is inviting all to join him on Monday 28th July in welcoming Sir Ranulph Fiennes and some great British climbers, from Alan Hinkes OBE to Doug Scott OBE, to help build the Auld Acquaintance Cairn at Gretna. People are invited to muster from the morning, with Sir Ranulph joining in the afternoon.

Rory Stewart said: “Please bring your own stones and gloves if you have them – if not we have them on site – and be ready for action! Sir Ranulph, the first man to have crossed both polar ice-caps and climb to the summit of Mount Everest (aged 64) is ‘putting his muscle into the cairn’ to show his commitment to the UK. All ages and nationalities are invited. Sir Ranulph will be bringing his stone from Exmoor, but there are also stones on site from around the UK. The climbers and explorers will be making a brief speech shortly after 4pm and would be delighted to chat to any volunteers on site.”Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ father was killed commanding the Scots Greys during the Second World War and he himself served in the Scots Greys before joining the SAS. The experience of serving alongside Scottish soldiers has left him with a deep respect and affection for Scotland and its place in the United Kingdom.

The Auld Acquaintance Cairn is behind the ‘First House in Scotland’ toll-house at Gretna (just south of the Gretna Gateway). Directions can be found at

ranulph fiennes


A large crowd gathered Sunday 20th July at Gretna on the English-Scottish border to lay the foundation stone of the Auld Acquaintance Cairn symbolising the friendship between the nations of the United Kingdom. Individuals and families, aged from 2 to 92 had come from as far afield as Skye, Kent, and Wales, bringing stones from their own homes. The foundation ceremony was marked with a crowd of about five hundred people linking arms, in a circle three deep, to sing Auld Lang Syne. Their action defined the perimeter of the cairn, which is to be 150 feet in circumference. People have been invited to continue to visit the site at any time over the next two months to add their stones to the cairn.

The event is the only ‘physical’ opportunity for English, Welsh and Irish to demonstrate their belief in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. It aims to be one of the most exciting and ambitious mass participation events of the year ahead of September’s Referendum on Scottish independence. In a cross-party, cross-border show of solidarity Penrith and The Border MP and author Rory Stewart was joined by Shadow Scotland Minister Russell Brown (Labour, Dumfries and Galloway) and David Mundell (Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale). Historians Simon Schama, David Starkey, Max Hastings and Antony Beevor, the ‎philosopher AC Grayling, Field Marshal Sir Charles Guthrie, and the writer Alain de Botton have all contributed stones to the cairn. Next Monday, 28th July, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes will be at the cairn in the afternoon working with volunteers to continue building the cairn, which will take hundreds of thousands of stones to complete.

Rory Stewart said: “I am overwhelmed at today’s turnout, where friends old and new, of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the British Isles, came to place their stones on our cairn. The Auld Acquaintance is about showing that we are proud to be British, and proud of our Union, and it will be a permanent marker of the strong love and affection we feel for Scotland. For the next two months we will be building our cairn on the precise border of England and Scotland, and we want to encourage anyone who wants to make a peaceful statement about our Union to please come and place their stone right here on this monument.”

The Auld Acquaintance is a traditional circular dry-stone structure that will be created over the next few months, during which thousands of visitors will have the chance to visit and place a stone on the cairn as a symbol of the UK’s commitment to stay together. Individuals and families are invited to bring their own stone, or alternatively to use traditional slate, lime and sand stones supplied on-site. Dry-stone wallers from both sides of the border will be working on the construction, which has been designed by architect Paul Jakulis in a bend of the River Sark – the precise borderline – next to Scotland’s First House.


Hundreds gather at The Auld Acquaintance Cairn at Gretna

cairn handshake


Rory Stewart and David Mundell officially launch The Auld Acquaintance Cairn



Local MP, Rory Stewart, met with Vista Veg,  a co-operative of local
producers who grow high-quality vegetables just outside of Crosby
Ravensworth, to celebrate Cooperatives Fortnight 2014. Rory was led
around Vista Veg’s poly-tunnels and packing facilities by Lynne
Barnes, who runs the co-operative, and who explained the success of
their initiative to the Penrith and the Border MP, whilst they picked
the latest crop of vegetables.

Delivering 150 bags of vegetables every week to the surrounding
communities, the co-operative model allows Vista Veg to trade directly
with local families and businesses who care about where and how their
food is produced. There is increasing recognition that localising food
supply chains in this way can have significant economic, social and
environmental benefits.

Speaking afterwards, Rory said:

“This really is the most wonderful initiative, with local people
growing great quality vegetables for families and businesses in the
local area. It’s a model that not only dramatically reduces food
miles, but one that brings a community closer, re-establishing a
precious link between local people and our own local, farming

Sunday 20 July – Come to the Laying of the Foundation Stone for ‘The Auld Acquaintance’

Please come and place a stone on our cairn, at Gretna, this Sunday afternoon, 20th July. There will be music, poetry, face-painting for children, and food for all. If you have a stone, please bring it.  If you don’t have one, there are stones on site. Everyone’s welcome. It’s free. All you have to do is turn up. We are calling the cairn, ‘the Auld Acquaintance’. We are building it, with stones from around the country, to demonstrate that Scots, English, Welsh, and Northern Irish care about each other and are still committed to building things together.

Trying to organise the cairn, has been a glimpse of just how much is involved in any “event” in Britain, from an agricultural show, to the Bampton sports-day. It’s not simply the “the risk management”, planning regulations and the rest. My blackberry packed up by four today – its battery run down by what I think were seventy phone calls in nine hours. But the real work has been done not in emails but by volunteers, working past midnight, on a hundred separate tasks.

Some of it has been artists’ work – Paul has given days of his time to designing and drawing the cairn (modelled on the neolithic structures of Scotland and Cumbria). Steven Allen, one of Cumbria and Britain’s best wallers, has been on site repeatedly, working out how to build a dry-stone inner chamber, fifteen feet in diameter, in the very centre of the cairn. But it’s not all architecture. Steve Chettle called this afternoon from a layby to report on twelve tins of white paint, grass-suppressant and fencing. (He has asked me to ask whether anyone has a spare wheel-barrow – we need four). Lucy called from Burlington Stone, to give us 200 tonnes of Cumbrian slate; Lowther has offered great boulders from near Penrith; Philip is sending 20 tonnes of collapsed dry-stone wall from Naworth; Norman has offered limestone. And it is not just Cumbria. We are getting limestone from Kent, more limestone from Wales, a little red sandstone from Perthshire and a lot of granite from Inverness.  (But none of it seems right yet for Steven’s chamber walls).

How do we pay for the transport for any of the stone? Constance has set up a ‘crowd-funding’ website. Yesterday thirty people made donations online between three pounds and a hundred pounds. The donation site is Last weekend, we were getting stones and support from local dairy farmers. Yesterday, it was soldiers. A Scot has just written in from Saudi Arabia saying, “I propose to bring a stone from my golf club (Royal Mid Surrey) where the remains of James IV are said to be buried in the Priory that was on the site after the Battle of Flodden.” Today, it was historians and writers – Simon Schama, David Starkey, Alain de Botton, and Max Hastings. On Sunday, I am hoping it will be mostly families and children from Cumbria and Scotland.

Then there is the mystery of websites, and social media. Angus is to be found sitting opposite me, as I write, at a kitchen table, gazing at a screen with a video editing program. Tara is pondering hash-tags. Shoshana is checking the emails I am sending out to friends. Every few hours I fire something boldly into the internet. Mostly the tweets sink without trace.

A journalist has just called, desperate to know how many people we are expecting. I have no idea. Does a cairn appeal? Does the issue appeal? I believe people must – as the referendum gets closer – realise that this is the most important decision we have made in three hundred years. There are a dozen reasons to be concerned. I am particularly struck by how our four nations, peacefully combined, and cooperating in a single country, is a miracle. The pressures for disintegration: to break into ever smaller units, arranged around an ever smaller definition of your identity – set against what used to be your fellow countrymen – can seem irresistible. That was the story of much of nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe. That is part of the story of Iraq and Syria today. But in Britain, we have grown from that creative friction between the different nations, their different literatures, histories, politics and characters. It is a country which we, as separate nations, have built together.

But so many are still hanging back from the debate. Some English apparently feel that Scottish independence is too complicated, too political, and nothing to do with them. They are afraid of being seen to ‘tell other people what to do.’ And somewhere – worse than insecurity – lurks indifference. Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland have drifted apart over the last thirty years, in a shocking way. We don’t study each other’s history in schools, we don’t really try to understand each other’s cultures – it sometimes feels as though we are hardly aware each other exist. Even if Scotland does not separate, we need to become reacquainted with each other.

That is the real reason to come and put a stone on the cairn. Amidst all the economic arguments, and political ranting, the cairn is an opportunity for the public – not politicians or celebrities – to show that when our country was under threat, we were prepared to say we cared about each other, that we were determined to continue to build together.  See you on Sunday. And if you can’t make Sunday, come any day in the next two months, stop at Gretna and add a stone to The Auld Acquaintance.

Rory takes part in BBC 4’s ‘Any Questions’

Jonathan Dimbleby presents political debate and discussion from Pollokshields in Scotland with deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP, chair of the Westminster Defence Select Committee Rory Stewart MP, journalist Lesley Riddoch, and shadow secretary of state for International Development, Jim Murphy MP.

To listen to the discussion, click here.

Rory bridges the gap between head and heart, even if he is a Jacobite

Article first published in The Sunday Times, by Gillian Bowditch on 13 July 2014

The Commonwealth Games may yet come to the aid of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and the Ryder Cup is still ahead of us, but on all the evidence to date it clearly is not going to be a spectacular summer of British sport. But could it be a summer of love?

You may not have noticed it but the George Clooney of the House of Commons has been making overtures to you for some months now. Rory Stewart, the Eton- and Oxford-educated former army officer and diplomat who is now MP for Penrith and the Border, wants Scotland to feel the love.

Stewart, who is half Scottish and half English, believes the unionist camp in the referendum debate should stop talking politics or grubby economics and try to woo Scotland instead. He wants unionists in England to “show how much they love Scotland, are committed to it, respect it and want it to stay in the Union”.

A latter-day TE Lawrence, Stewart, whose life story has been optioned by Brad Pitt, has been penning billets doux to the Scots for months now. He is nothing if not romantic and he is immensely frustrated that his compatriots south of the border are keeping quiet about their affection for the Union.

Stewart initially proposed a line of 100,000 people linking hands across the 84-mile border to show their solidarity but, as he ruefully admits, he failed to appreciate the logistics involved. Such as the need for 300 portable loos. Or the requirement for 84 ambulances, one for every mile of Hadrian’s Wall. Not to mention English Heritage, which insisted upon an “events management plan” to protect the scheduled monument from a potential invasion of 200,000 clumsy feet.

Faced with a logistical nightmare, Stewart has instead proposed building a monument to the love that dare not stake its claim.

He is planning to build a giant henge or cairn of stones as a permanent memorial. The project will begin on July 20 on land at the River Sark near Gretna. The idea is that the cairn will grow over the weeks in the lead-up to the referendum and that people who leave stones will write personal messages on them.

He hopes that citizens from all over Britain will come to lay the stones. “It will be a beautiful opportunity to get people together to express their feelings for Scotland but it’s all down to how people feel about the Union,” he said last week.

To date such romanticism as exists in the independence debate has resided firmly with the Yes camp. In the head-verses-heart stakes, the nationalists with their plucky, Braveheart version of separatism, exemplified in the work of the nationalist writer Alan Bissett, have stirred the emotions more effectively than the drier, more cerebral Better Together, led by the deceptively named Alistair Darling.

Those within Yes Scotland may argue that the idea of emotional nationalists pitched against rational unionists is a lazy cliche — and they would be right. The nationalists have attempted to play down the emotional element, preferring to concentrate on the injustices of political control by Westminster rather than any airy idea of freedom, and there was certainly nothing poetic in Scotland’s Future, the case for independence launched by Alex Salmond in November.

Nevertheless, the emotional pull of the nationalists’ argument has been enough to spook the unionists, who have to date been more successful at convincing the electorate that independence would be difficult than they have been at selling the benefits of the Union.

The polls may suggest the referendum has become becalmed, with little progress being made by the Yes camp, but there is still nervousness in the unionist camp that, in the privacy of the ballot box, the emotional appeal of nationalism could overrule a prior decision made on economic grounds — hence their emphasis on the argument that Scots can be unionists and patriots.

Given the unionists’ desire to tick the heart box and the head box, why has there not been more high-level support for Stewart’s approach? There certainly is no lack of passion among the electorate. Meeting up with friends the other night, the talk turned to family members in different camps. Tensions are running high. One friend has gone so far as to change his nationality to be able to vote in order to cancel out the vote of at least one of his children. Another is in a stand-off with her husband on the issue.

According to the latest Survation poll released last week, 21% of Scots say they have fallen out with a family member, friend or colleague over the referendum, with Yes voters at 28% more likely have fallen out with somebody than No voters on 19%, suggesting that nationalists are more involved and have more at stake in the debate.

It may be that Stewart’s cairn is just a bit too kumbaya for those in power. Perhaps they have never experienced the redemptive power of love. But it is most likely to be because Stewart, who has packed more into four decades than any prime minister has in a lifetime, is one of the most dangerous breed of romantic radicals — a Jacobite.

Flamboyant, headstrong, loyal and idealistic, Jacobites tend not to flourish in our dreich climate. It’s difficult to maintain a vision when the view is shrouded in mist. But Stewart’s cairn is more than a pile of stones — a symbolic, and some would argue futile, gesture. He is interested in the gap between government rhetoric and reality, and interested in radical localism.

The more difficult question is not what we do to Afghanistan or Iraq, says Stewart, who walked across the former and was deputy governor of two provinces in the latter, but what do we do with our own countries? Where do they go? It’s the question that all of us need to ask irrespective of the outcome of the referendum.

Some of Stewart’s ideas may be kooky, naive or impractical but the tragedy of the referendum debate has been that an opportunity to examine and shape the future has been lost amid unionist threats of economic disaster and nationalist bribes. Half English, half Scottish, passionate, achingly intelligent with a deep devotion to the Border, Stewart is a refreshing voice in a debate that has trudged rather than soared.

His cause of spreading the love in this tetchy referendum campaign may be as doomed as Culloden and the ’45, but this latter-day Jacobite is an original and refreshing voice in the campaign with a beguiling message. It would be fitting if his cairn became the stones of destiny.



Article first published in The Sunday Times by Mark Macaskill and Jack Grimston on 13 July 2014.

A member of parliament who wanted 100,000 people to link hands along the Scottish border in protest at Alex Salmond’s independence plans said he had been forced to drop the idea after health and safety fears were raised.

Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, now plans to create a Stonehenge-style stone monument at Gretna with the help of the British public. The foundations for a 50ft-wide cairn are being laid, and a stone-laying ceremony will be held on July 20. People will be invited to add stones and slates to create a permanent symbol of the Union that will resemble a lampshade.

Among those expecteed to contribute stones are Sir Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate; the author and jouranlist Sir Max Hastings; the historian Simon Schama; and the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

“It is an exciting proposal. It is a much more permanent testimony to the Union: a chance for people to work and build something together over time. And it draws on the deepest traditions of community building,” Stewart said.

The idea for 100,000 people to hold hands along Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned quietly last month, fuelling speculation it had a lukewarm reception on both sides of the wall.

Stewart said the mass gathering hit the buffers when English Heritage feared Hadrian’s Wall would be damaged. The police raised concerns the event would cause massive traffic congestion. Stewart said the logistics of a mass gathering became clear only after he publicly launched the idea, and was told the event would require more than 300 portable loos and 80 ambulances. “It’s been a learning experience,” said Stewart, 41, a former officer in the Black Watch.

“I think with much more time, and probably many more staff and support, we might have been able to overcome the issues and reassure the agencies.

“English Heritage was very concerned that gathering thousands of people in a line along the wall would damage the monument. It was possible to do, but in Britain we seem to have a lot of regulations.”

Stewart said building a cairn was “a better idea” that was already invoking a community spirit. Several local farmers had offered to bring “truckloads” of stones to the site for those unable to bring their own, he said.

“I genuinely feel that the changed Hands Across the Border is a better idea. It is less of a logistical nightmare but, most importantly, it is a stronger event and symbol,” Stewart said.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said the organisation was “content” for the Hands Across the Border event to proceed “as long as it did not involve damage to Hadrian’s Wall and was subject to a satisfactory events-management plan”.



Visit the new website:


We’d like to thank all our supporters for what has been an overwhelming response to the “Hands across the Border” initiative. It is amazing that so many people from both sides of the border have committed to creating a visible display of union between our nations.

We’ve now decided that rather than pushing the human chain – which has proved logistically very difficult – we are going to work on something more straightforward and more enduring. So we have come up with what we feel is a better plan!

We wanted to come up with a lasting marker of our union. Something more accessible for the young and old. Something that future generations will look at and remember, with deep gratitude: the moment we chose to stay together.


Right on the border, in a field at Gretna (adjacent to the M6), we are inviting families from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring stones and build a great cairn. Stone cairns have been built in Northern England and Scotland for millennia, to celebrate a sense of shared space. Together we hope to construct a striking and lasting testimony to the Union.*

We will begin the project on Sunday July 20th and continue every day thereafter, for the following eight weeks and hopefully beyond. We would always love to hear from anyone who is coming, but we also want people to feel they can just turn up and make their mark.

Most of all we hope that this is an opportunity for creativity, and for you to put your own personal touch on this testament to the Union.

Join us, everyone – families,, students ,old, young, Scots, English, Welsh, Irish – to say that you want to keep our country together.

We look forward to seeing you there.

On Scale and Economic Growth

Penrith and the Border has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Britain – at last count 572 people were receiving job seekers’ allowance, out of about 65,000 adults in the constituency. We have one of the very highest rates of self-employment, and of people working from home (more than a quarter of our population). 92 per cent of people in Penrith and the Border work for businesses employing less than ten. And we have inherited a unique environment: a legacy of small villages and market towns, sheep, small family farms, and a landscape that combines the best of the wild and the farmed. We have a patchwork of energetic, resilient people, working in small groups, investing in their community life. But for decades policy makers have pursued economic strategies that seem to undermine our strengths.

In all our market towns, councils have tried to create more growth – and more revenue for the council – by increasing the population. They have built more industrial parks; and then, claiming a labour shortage, more homes; then more businesses to employ the people in the new homes; then more homes, and so on and so forth. Historic town centre have become encircled by new housing, and industrial estates. The new super-stores on the edge of towns have drawn people away from the increasingly isolated town centre shops. There are more traffic jams and more pressure on services. The economy grows, but only because the population grows. The ‘per capita’ wealth does not increase: the original people do not become any better off.

Only three years ago, a very senior county councillor told me that he dreamt of creating a car factory in the Eden Valley. The car factory was fortunately a fantasy. But his attitude was typical of nearly sixty years of industrial policy in Cumbria. In the nineteen forties and fifties, large government subsidies were used to bribe businesses to establish inappropriate industries, particularly in West Cumbria. When the subsidies ceased, the businesses closed their plants and sold their equipment to the developing world. We repeated the same mistakes in the 2000s. Almost 300 million pounds was spent by the North West Development Agency. Much was spent on grandiose multi-million pound projects, many of which have left little trace behind. Most of the policies have favoured larger shops, larger businesses, and even larger farms, in an area which in reality thrives on small shops, small businesses and small farms.

And a whole series of confident arguments and theories have been recited to justify such strategies. “We need to create affordable housing.” “We need to create employment.” Surely you’re not against growth?” (These arguments are used even when the development hardly includes any affordable housing; even when there is very little unemployment in the area; even when communities are willing to build their own affordable housing, and even when the ‘growth’ does not increase individual incomes).

Cumbrian communities have often fought back. Alston has again taken the lead in preserving its historic townscape; Appleby has so far resisted an out of town supermarket; Brampton has not stripped the GP surgery and care homes from the centre of town. The friends of the Carlisle-Settle railway saved the line from ‘government efficiency cuts’. Upper Eden has taken control of its own planning policy through a public referendum. Crosby Ravensworth has proved that a community can deliver high quality, attractive, affordable housing with good heating systems, and elegant design, without having to employ a big housing developer. Many other communities have fought to protect their landscape from inappropriate wind turbines or mass housing development. The fact that our area still remains so beautiful, prosperous, and distinctive, is in large part because of community action.

But we could do much better at the policy level. France has been much better at protecting a network of small family farms, local produce and local markets. Italy and Spain demonstrate how historic market towns can be protected and sensitively developed; how out of town supermarkets can be banned; and how even McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken can be forced to use discreet signs, and traditional buildings. Austria has been much better at bringing prosperity to small farms, preserving traditional architectural styles in the Alps, and encouraging young farmers to branch out into becoming guides for outdoor activities. In the Lake District, farming and our 100 million pound outdoor industry are kept very separate; in Austria such industries benefit from each other.

We must not be bullied into believing that there is no alternative to ‘scale’ and ‘growth’.  Instead, we should patiently explore and explain what we value about our area today, what we want to preserve, and what we would like it to look like in twenty years’ time. We should not be afraid to say that some things are better left alone. Penrith and the Border is a place that thrives on beauty, community, small farms, and small businesses. We need policies designed for who we are, not for what other people would like us to be.