Monthly Archives: November 2016


Rory Stewart MP has written to the Minister Caroline Dinenage to express concern regarding the new funding rates for Early Years provision, which will see nurseries in Penrith and The Border potentially negatively impacted by new county-wide funding rates.

The new funding rates for 2017 will see an increase for most providers, with the exception of Maintained Nursery Schools, who may see a drop in income. As a result, Rory – who recently met with local nursery staff at the Muddy Boots nursery at Newton Rigg – has been lobbying the Minister for transitional arrangements to be put in place to alleviate any consequences, and in particular to request a review of the rate set for Cumbria which, as a county, is set to receive one of the lowest national rates.

Rory Stewart said: “From the indicative figures the Department for Education have provided, Cumbria is going to be one of the lowest-funded local authorities nationally. Not only do I want to raise the issue of the low rate for Cumbria, but also the disproportionate impact that the plans will have on Maintained Nursery Schools. Cumbria arguably deserves a much more generous rate because of all of the indices of sparsity and a lack of access to services, and I hope that the Minister will consider our representations carefully.”

Thoughts on my father

I have spent a lot of the last four years thinking about my father, and writing about him, and walks through Cumbria, in a book, published last week, called The Marches. I thought – at first – that I could learn more about him by interviewing him. Often, therefore, when we sat down for dinner at home, or travelled together abroad, I would put a tape-recorder on the table. The tapes preserve his deep baritone voice, with its rolled Scottish ‘r’s, speaking patiently and at great length about his time as a soldier, and later as a colonial civil servant, and intelligence officer.


But I didn’t learn what I expected from these interviews. I had known, for example, since I was a child, that, before I was born, he had kept a honey-bear as a British diplomat in Burma. Every day when he came home from work my sisters would say, ‘Daddy, Daddy the honey-bear is stuck up the tree” and he would have to climb up to coax it down with a baby-bottle. But I knew nothing about what he had thought or felt about his life in Rangoon. So I took him all the way back to Burma – after an absence of fifty years – and found his house, unaltered. Entering with him, I expected a sudden burst of new memories. But he was reluctant to leave the garden, where he had found a blackened stump. “That,’ he insisted triumphantly, ‘was the tree on which the honey bear sat – “Daddy, Daddy, the honey-bear…” And that was all I learnt. It was even worse if I tried to ask this talkative man about the character of his brother – who was killed in the War – about his ambitions and frustrations, or his nationalism. All he ever said about his own father was that he was ‘a quiet good-looking man, always reading the newspaper.’

But as I continued on the walk described in the book – from my cottage on the back of Ullswater, over Blencathra, to Maryport, up to Silloth, East to Wigton fording the Solway to Annan, and then working my way along the border-line to Berwick  – I realised my father was not the exception. Almost every one of the hundred people I interviewed left me as bewildered as I had been by my father. They spoke fluently about subjects, in which I had not expected them to be interested, and were often taciturn about their local area, which I thought would absorb them. I found it very difficult to guess much about anyone. The man in Jedburgh, playing border ballads on a border bagpipe, turned out to sing in an American accent, and came from Essex; remote hamlets that I expected to be filled with farmers contained IT consultants and aromatherapists; and even Willy Tyson, a herdwick shepherd by Blencathra who could count fluently in ancient Cumbric, wanted to talk mostly about the time he rode a motorbike to Afghanistan.

It was often difficult to create a coherent picture of an individual’s identity. A lady told me that she was a Scottish nationalist because of the miners’ strike, then conceded that most of the miners effected had been in England, and she hadn’t known any miners personally. She felt Scotland needed independence because England didn’t understand rural areas; but had herself grown up in Livingston New Town, a place with a population larger than the city of Carlisle, close to Edinburgh; and concluded by saying that Scotland was a gloomy place, and that she would much rather live in California.

Which brings me back to my father. His fiercest identification was with his Highland regiment, the Black Watch, with which he fought in the war. He was an extreme Scottish extrovert, swathed in tartan, serving haggis aggressively to his English guests; while remaining a fervent believer in the Union. He invested most of the last twenty years of his life in planting trees, and constructing earth-works around his house in Scotland. But if I tried to question him too seriously about any of this, he would laugh. He never took the trouble to learn the names of many of the trees that he planted; and although he gave names to his earthworks (a ‘lochan’, or a ‘ha ha’, a ‘duck-pond’, or a ‘dyke’), he frequently filled them in, or demolished them the following year. When I questioned him about a new kilt, he said that he had no idea what tartan it represented, and that he had bought it for ten pounds in a charity shop in Crieff.

So, I began to see his Scottish unionism, like the lady’s Scottish nationalism, not as a detailed historical claim, or something steeped in organic roots in a particular soil, but instead as something curiously improvisatory, even whimsical. But which nevertheless produced a strong sense of national identity. And I began to see that asking questions about my father’s past life was not the right approach. (Nor were questions about his beliefs – ‘Do you think about death, Daddy?” “Can’t see the point in that.”) What mattered about his identity did not exist in a philosophy, or in what he had once done: it erupted in present activity. What he might or might not have felt on a particular day in 1958 in a house in Burma was irrelevant. He was instead that living ninety-year old, who struggled cheerfully out of bed, straight onto his quad bike, to dig a hole; and he was the man who grinned when I asked precisely what that hole might be for.



Article first published in the Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Wolfe on 4 November 2016.

In 2011, the British politician and diplomat Rory Stewart decided to walk the 73-mile length of Hadrian’s Wall, the nearly 2,000-year-old structure marking the northwest border of the Roman Empire, with his then 89-year-old father. Mr. Stewart’s goal was to reflect not only on the history of the part of Britain that he calls home but also on the nature of empires and national identity.

“To be honest, I had a lot of very grandiose, slightly pompous ideas about what I could achieve through walking. My father, I think, was more straightforward and just wanted to spend time with his son,” he says. “I suspect he would’ve been just as happy sitting in McDonald’s with me.”

Mr. Stewart, 43, tells the story of their journey in his new book, “The Marches.” The four-day walk didn’t go as planned. Mr. Stewart had hoped that his father, a former diplomat and British secret-service officer originally from Scotland, would accompany him for the first 3 miles of each day and then drive on and meet him later for meals. (The two stayed at inns along the way.) But his father became too weary and just ended up meeting him for breakfast and dinner.

The book details another, longer walk that Mr. Stewart, a Conservative member of Parliament representing part of the northwest English county of Cumbria, took on his own a year later. That one took him 380 miles, from his cottage in his constituency to his father’s home in Scotland. Although his father (whom he affectionately calls Daddy) wasn’t with him, his father was constantly in touch, sending “a continuous stream of 2,000-word emails, reflecting on what I had told him about the landscape and what it suggested about Britain,” Mr. Stewart writes.

That walk was also a good opportunity for Mr. Stewart to meet his constituents. “When you actually dig into people’s personal lives, you find the shepherds that can speak 16th-century Cumbrian turn out also to have motorbiked through Afghanistan,” he says. “The most surprising part was realizing how a society that seems on the surface so traditional is under the surface so incredibly varied and modern…. Every door is a surprise.”

At first, walking such great distances was a struggle. By the end—with his walking stick, a light backpack and two pairs of socks on his feet to prevent blisters—he could cover 36 miles a day.

The trek was far less treacherous than the one he described in his 2004 best-seller, “The Places in Between.” In 2002, he hiked on his own across Afghanistan, including through land held by the Taliban, sleeping on the floor of villagers’ huts along the way. It was part of a larger walk he did in pieces across Asia, from Turkey to Bangladesh.

Mr. Stewart was born in Hong Kong and raised partly in Malaysia, where his father was stationed, and partly in the Scottish highlands. He went to Eton and then graduated from Oxford University. He spent part of one summer tutoring Prince William and Prince Harry at the invitation of Prince Charles.

After graduation he joined the U.K.’s Foreign Office, serving in Indonesia and Montenegro in the 1990s. In the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he spent a year as deputy governor of two southern Iraqi provinces, Maysan and Dhi Qar, an experience that he recounted in his 2006 book, “The Prince of the Marshes.”

While in Iraq, Mr. Stewart helped to set up health and employment programs for the Coalition Provisional Authority with a monthly budget of $8.5 million. He remembers receiving suitcases of cash to go toward things like health clinics and election infrastructure. But as soon as Britain left the region, he says, the programs fell apart.

Today, as the second-ranking official in the U.K.’s Department for International Development, Mr. Stewart advocates a more targeted approach. In 2006, he and his wife, Shoshana Stewart, worked with Prince Charles and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to set up Turquoise Mountain, a charity that trains artisans and focuses on preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. The organization has since restored more than 112 historic and community buildings in an old neighborhood in Kabul and has trained over 1,000 masons, carpenters and laborers.

That kind of training gives people specific skills that pay off in the longer term, he says. “I wish when I was in Iraq we actually saved the historic bazaar rather than try elaborate, very grand government services in the context of a war.”

In the international arena, Mr. Stewart supports a strong, engaged global presence for the U.S. Still, he sympathizes with President Barack Obama’s resistance to being drawn into Syria. “I saw so clearly in Afghanistan and Iraq the perils of overoptimism,” he says.

Mr. Stewart lives in Cumbria with his wife, who runs Turquoise Mountain, and their 2-year-old son. His father, whom Mr. Stewart calls his “living hero,” died last year. Mr. Stewart says that neither he nor his father, who was proudly Scottish, advocated for Scotland’s independence. “He would feel it was no fun being Scottish if he didn’t have the English to annoy,” he says.

As for future journeys, Mr. Stewart says that he would like eventually to walk from northern Myanmar to southern China and to take a trip on a camel across the Sahara. He also aspires to re-create his long walk through Asia, but going the other direction this time, from Bangladesh to Turkey.

“The challenge is, how do you do that when you have a 2-year-old son?” he asks. He hopes that his son will one day walk with him, just as he did with his father. For now, he says, “Maybe he’ll bicycle alongside me or something. He has incredibly tough little legs.”


marmaladewestminster-25371-1Rory Stewart MP hosted an event in Parliament last week to celebrate the work of the Dalemain Marmalade Awards. At the event, Mr Stewart was joined by His Excellency The Hon. Alexander Downer, the Australian Ambassador, and both spoke of the wonderful energy of the organiser, Jane Hasell McCosh of Dalemain.

Rory said ‘Jane has brought her remarkable energy to this endeavour, publicising the very best of Cumbria while raising money for great causes in the process. The combination of Jane’s energy, international interest and the delicious marmalade has made this one of the most enjoyable events to attend in Cumbria.’

Next March Dalemain will be hosting the marmalade awards, in what promises to be a wonderful celebration of both some of the best marmalade from across the country, as well as a huge number of international entries and of course, the very best of Cumbria.

Picture attached – L-R: Jane McCosh of Dalemain Marmalade Festival; Rory Stewart MP; and The Hon Alexander Downer AC, High Commissioner of Australia in the UK