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Events > 2013

The 2013 Wainwright Memorial Lecture

Over 200 people gathered at Rheged on Saturday 28th September for the annual Wainwright Memorial Lecture. The speaker this year was Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and The Border.

Like Alfred Wainwright, Rory is a prodigious walker. In 2012, he spent the parliamentary recess walking through his constituency on his way through the Border country to his parents’ home in Scotland. Rory’s lecture was a reflection about that journey through what he termed ‘the Middleland’; an area that stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Humber estuary.

L-R Derek Cockell, Secretary, The Wainwright Society, Rory Stewart MP - Photo © David Johnson

It was not only a walk through the landscape but a walk through time. His talk was illustrated with photographs that he had taken on his journey. The wide sweep of history from the pre-Roman Iron Age Celtic tribes through to the present day was the canvas on which he painted his view of a land far more important than has been appreciated.

The greatest predators on this land were the Romans who tore up the established order and marked the border with the wild north with a modern-day equivalent of the Berlin Wall – the Roman Wall, as AW knew it. This was not just a convenient way of controlling trade but an aggressive line in the landscape; a no-man’s land of formidable banks and ditches that defined the very edge of the Empire. And today the landscape is still dotted with the reminders of that time when the Romans controlled this region.

Local populations suffered as the land to the north of the Wall was cleared of all habitations and became waste. But following the collapse of the Empire, the land was, once again, repopulated and, during the early Middle Ages despite waves of invaders from Europe, Pagan and Christian influences became fused together and ‘the Middleland’ became the hub of a great European civilisation centred on the Kingdom of Northumbria where the monks of Lindisfarne wielded extraordinary influence over the Holy Roman Empire.

But Rory’s lecture was far more than an extended walk through history. He wanted to meet people and amongst these were Sir Chris Bonington and Mary Burkett, the former director of Abbot Hall museum and also a friend of AW. Other folk not quite so well-known included the residents of a 50’s housing estate in Wigton and the half-net fisherman of the Solway. At Mirehouse the owner showed him a fascinating relic from the Victorian age: a receipt for a captured Afghan king, which stated, ‘Received one Afghan king, intact’.

It was the relationship between the communities that he met and their connection with the landscape that fascinated him. Rory argued that the collective knowledge of people was far greater now than in any time in history, yet it seemed to him when comparing those communities to people he had met in other places such as Afghanistan that people in 21st century Britain had lost that connection with the landscape that they inhabited.

But he felt that Alfred Wainwright was someone who was at one with his adopted landscape. He described him as ‘someone at one with the soil and the landscape’ and, like Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott before him, he was able to interpret the landscape as a writer and artist at the very end of the Age of Romanticism.

At the end of his talk, Rory was given a warm and prolonged round of applause. Derek Cockell, Society Secretary, thanked Rory for his fascinating talk and then presented him with honorary membership of the Society.

Rory is a Patron of the Sunbeams Music Trust, a charity that provides therapeutic help to disadvantaged and disabled individuals through creative live music. The Society was delighted to donate £250 to this very worthy cause. On behalf of Sunbeams, Rory thanked the Society for its gift.

Derek Cockell
Secretary, The Wainwright Society