The Middleland and Marches

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 […]

Our Viking Heritage

When I was eating in the Gate at Yanwath, I heard a lady at the next table remark loudly, “of course we are all Vikings here.” I looked up. And everyone at her table nodded, unsurprised. But two hundred years ago, Cumbrians would have been surprised to learn they had Norse ancestors. One of the […]

Fell. Mire. Heath. Moor.

Fell. Mire. Heath. Moor. Each generation has found its own particular upland landscape. On my walk last week, the rain did not stop. I slowed to two miles an hour and stared at the wet ground. The colours were more muted, and more extreme than I had remembered – the cherry-brown grass, and the yellow-brown […]

The not so recognisable Braveheart

“… no English man, that has any honour in the glorious memory of the greatest and truest hero of all our kings of the English or Saxon race, can go to Carlisle, and not step aside to see the monument to King Edward I. at Burgh upon the Sands, a little way out of the […]

Between the absurd and the wonderful

This land was first turned from bog into farmland in the 12th century. The medieval monks cut drains, burnt back reeds and choked the sphagnum moss, to create rough pasture. By the nineteenth century, it had become a landscape of hawthorn hedges and oak avenues, cut with rich soil. Now, on the field edge, the […]

Middleland, our lost realm of beauty, art and blood

The idea of ‘England’ and ‘Scotland’ is immensely powerful in the year of the referendum. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to understand what is now two was once three. I’m half-English and half-Scottish. I spent years living and working on borders from the Balkans to Afghanistan. And I’m now the MP […]

Hadrian’s Wall – 1800 years of Immigration

The central section of Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most remote landscapes in Britain. It is a place of scattered, isolated farms, held by the same families, sometimes perhaps since the time of the Vikings. There is no mobile signal, and few buses, let alone super-fast broadband. The ‘global world’ feels very far away. […]

Swindale – What future for our landscape?

Steve was repairing a dry stone wall. It was almost eight feet high. I suggested it was unnecessarily high. He agreed that a sheep did not need a wall so high, and did not offer a theory on why it was so high. But he implied that whoever built it must have had their reasons. […]

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest: the North-Eastern edge of this constituency. From the Bloody Bush stone, 160,000 acres of dark trees flow into every hollow in Tynedale. It appears almost as a blank space on the map, without roads or villages. As a walker, it is almost impenetrable: a slow push for five hours, on steep broken ground, […]