Some of Britain’s best-loved public figures threw their support behind Rory Stewart MP’s Hands Across The Border initiative last week, with actress and activist Joanna Lumley and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes visiting the Auld Acquaintance cairn at Gretna to add their support to a campaign celebrating Scotland’s place in the Union.

Crowds thronged Sir Ranulph’s visit on Monday 28 July to hear him express his belief in the strength of the partnership of the United Kingdom throughout history. Sir Ranulph spoke movingly on the partnership of Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish soldiers throughout both of the World Wars, and the brotherhood he felt with Glaswegian friends in the army in his service during the Cold War. He said: “I’ve never been involved in any political campaign of any sort until this, because after so many years trying to break world records as British people, when we planted our flag at the North Pole, it was the Union Jack and we were proud of that. Let’s remain friends as we have been for a huge amount of time.'” The event was also attended by mountaineers Doug Scott, who with Scotsman Dougal Haston was the first confirmed Briton to summit Mt Everest, and Alan Hinkes, the first British mountaineer to scale all 14 peaks over 8,000 metres. Hundreds added their own stones to the ever-growing cairn, brought from all parts of the UK, and children painted their own designs on the stones provided adding a spark of colour all around the perimeter.

Even more supporters gathered again on Thursday 31 July to hear actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley describe her personal relationship with the United Kingdom. Joanna said: “I just don’t see that we can ever be divided; we are all so interlinked with each other. No matter whether we live north or south of the border, if you scratch back at our histories we are all related. Humanly, it just doesn’t seem possible, separating us.” Many agreed, contributing stones decorated with a variety of colourful designs and heartfelt messages. Amidst a joyful, village fete-esque atmosphere, the event gained coverage from both BBC and ITV regional news and was featured on the BBC website.

The event is the only ‘physical’ opportunity for English, Welsh and Northern Irish people 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. Historians Simon Schama, David Starkey, Max Hastings and Anthony Beevor, the philosopher AC Grayling, Field Marshal Sir Charles Guthrie, and the writer Alain de Botton have joined the hundreds of people continuing to arrive at the site on a daily basis, to contribute their stones to the project, and have their part in this deciding chapter of our national history. As the Referendum draws closer, the project continues to show promise as one o fthe most successful and heartfelt appeals to maintain the Union.

The cairn – named The Auld Acquaintance – is a traditional circular dry-stone structure which 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 sandstone supplied on-site. Dry-stone wallers from both sides of the border will be working on the construction, which has been designed by the architect Paul Jakulis in a bend of the River Sark – the precise borderline – next to Scotland’s First House.


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