Monthly Archives: September 2014


Two Million Steps

Two Million Steps

by Charlotte Higgins

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On the road down South,

there isn’t even a line –

the miles fall away,

replaced by kilometers on the road signs

and underneath the English, Irish names

Dún Laoghaire, Dún na nGall, Baile, Átha Cliath –


but the landscape doesn’t change

the brooks don’t flow through fields of gold

the grass still blows

not a blade more or less free

because we call this one home

and that one another country


Between Scotland and England

is it not the same?

We have built up walls

inscribed new names

but walk from Gretna to Carlisle with me

and tell me that we have changed countries


from Land’s End to John o’Groats there are

two million steps in all

point me to the one where England falls away

and Scotland rises in its place

tell me how much has changed


If, in these islands, there is space

for the ragged CAusway coast

and there isa space for King’s Cross Station,

London, joy and hope and smoke

and there is space for all the highlands

rising in the heather dusk

and for the valley-mines, their spiral and song,

that’s more than space enough –


If we can fit this in one country,

why can’t we fit all of us?

Beacon at the Cairn on Tuesday 16th September at 8pm


Tomorrow night we will be lighting a beacon at the Cairn to send a message of love to the rest of Scotland. The beacon will be lit from 8pm until 10pm. So bring a rug and a hot drink, we very much look forward to seeing you all there.

Our Aerial shot of ‘NO’

























On Saturday afternoon as part of the BRIT ROCKS! Festival members of the public spelt our a giant ‘NO’ with the help of the Cairn.

In Their Own Words: Andrew, Chris and David, Glasgow

IMG_4855“A friend of mine basically got the van, got the trailer, filled it up with petrol for us, and said, ‘On you go boys. Go and do what you do.”

This week, we went up to Glasgow to drop off flyers for tomorrow’s Hands Across the Border BritRocks concert with Andrew, who thought flyers alone wouldn’t attract enough attention.  Hear Andrew, Chris and David in their own words, talking about why they devote eight hours a day to this endeavor.


Cairn, completed early, begins overflowing with tributes

IMG_4833Tens of thousands of people from all across Scotland, Britain and around the world have been coming to Gretna over the past six weeks to show their support for the Union and help build Hands Across The Border’s Cairn. People from all walks of life have come in a steady stream from as far afield as Mull, Aberdeenshire, Yeovil and Aberystwyth solely to place a stone on the cairn in a peaceful act of solidarity and respect for keeping the United Kingdom together. It was initially intended that the Cairn would be finished by the date of the referendum on 18 September, although the response has been greater than expected and it is already beginning to overflow its original structure.

Located on the precise Scotland-England border in a bend of the River Stark, the Cairn has been hand-built by ordinary people from both sides of the border as a symbol of the unity and friendship of the peoples of Britain.  It is a very visually powerful symbol of the union and is the only ‘physical’ opportunity for English, Welsh and Northern Irish people to demonstrate their belief in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.  The Cairn measures ten metros in diameter, is nine feet high and has been filled with over 300 tones of stone.  Stones have been brought from all areas of Britain, from as far away as the Falkland Islands and Australia, and been donated by quarries and members of the public from all over Scotland and England.

Rory Stewart, instigator of the project and MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “We are delighted with the success of the campaign.  The cairn has seen an overwhelming response – not only from the local area, but from all over the United Kingdom.  In a debate which has been dominated by finance and economics, it represents an opportunity for the silent majority who care deeply about the Union and Scotland’s place in it to show that there is more that unites than divides us.  Whether you have a vote in the referendum or not, there is still time to place your stone and make your voice heard.


Camp at the Cairn this weekend and enjoy our BRIT ROCKS! music festival and poetry event


Join us at the Cairn this weekend. You can camp either tonight or tomorrow night in the fields adjacent to the site. We have a poetry event on Saturday at one o’clock where there will be readings from our specially commissioned poets: Charlotte Higgins and Magnus Dixon. Charlotte won the poetry society’s 2011 competition and has written a remarkable poem about the cairn. At just thirteen years old Magnus was named the 2013 Foyles Young Poet of the Year. He will read about his identity as a Scot and the referendum.

Then at one o’clock we will host the extraordinary BRITROCKS! free music festival.  We will hear everything from Afro-Jazz act the Waaw Waaws based in Edinburgh to the Oprah singer Millie Underwood reflecting the diversity of our union. Other acts include The Alleys, Robby Boyd, Reuben Loftus and Christian Moss.  Take a look at the BRIT ROCKS! website ( to find out more details.

In Their Own Words: Stephen

IMG_4596“It’s become more apparent to me that, those things I would want for Scotland, I would want for everyone.”

Stephen Owen works in nature conservation.  Having previously considered voting for independence, he changed his mind over the summer as the thought of his country dividing became emotional.  He brought a special stone and spent a few hours at the Auld Acquaintance, building and meditating.  Listen to Stephen’s story in his own words.


In Their Own Words: Jill & John

IMG_4651“We had lots of relations in Scotland.  I suppose we had idyllic family holidays there, climbing Ben Rinnes, egg hunts, building dams across bournes and rivers.  If we didn’t come back every year, something was really missing.”

Jill and her teenage sisters moved from Aberdeen to London when she 11.  Listen to Jill’s story in her own words.

Secrets to Planning a Festival on the Border

by Alice (Brit Rocks Producer)

Our Brit Rocks concert is just six days away, and we spent all day yesterday making mad phone calls and sending emails–for musicians, production systems, stage, safety measures, etc.  We want to stream the Proms on Saturday night and I have been trying for days to reach my friend Big Al who knows how to do magical things like bring the internet and a big screen to the middle of a field.  I couldn’t seem to get a hold of him.  We have also been looking for a few more musicians and I was having trouble reaching anyone.  I got some rejections.  There were plenty of other frustrations and by 5pm we were all exhausted and went outside to lay in the sun by the cairn.

We all stretched out on our backs and stomachs in the grass.  The cairn, a hundred yards away, looks fresh and colorful after dozens of people came to add a few tons (literally) of rocks to the top.  Laura took out some popcorn she had in her bag – it was rather stale, but appealingly salty – and as we munched we talked about how to maximize our time before the concert.

As we talked we began to reflect on all the interesting people that have walked to this spot from far and near over the past few months.  Everyone has something to contribute – among the rocks in the cairn are stories from every continent, but also passions and encouragements, new connections and ideas, and loads of creative energies.

I was suddenly struck with what a magic catalyst this monument has been.  It has allowed thousands of regular citizens to participate in this important time in our history, not just as individuals but as a collective, by giving us a reason to be in the same place and combine our imaginations.  At that moment of exhaustion, a thrill and sense of peace gathered around us and offered an instant of respite: this is the beauty of our democracy and the choice we make to raise our voices together.

Tomorrow, we thought, instead of making phone calls, why not sit out here, by the cairn, and ask visitors for suggestions about musicians?  It made more sense.  This physical space has offered so much community already.  I agreed to spend tomorrow outside.

Just then a woman came by with her son to place a stone in the late evening, and we broke up to chat with her.  I almost forgot to ask her if she knew anyone who could help us with Brit Rocks, but then Angus reminded me just as she was headed back to her car.  Immediately she offered a name and contact.  I took out my notebook and in a second had something I’d been after all day.

Late that night, Laura and I drove out to the cozy, traditional Crown Pub in the village of Hesket Newmarket to meet with Reuben, a brilliant up and coming musician who agreed to play at Brit Rocks.  We spent two hours over brews and wine, tossing around ideas for the festival with my friends Shaun, a true local Cumbrian, and Amy who is a professional violinist.  The sound of folk music drifted in from the other room, where a group of locals had met up to play and sing together.  My notebook became filled with scribbles of names and ideas and contacts.  It was 11:30 pm by the time we left.

We piled back in the car.  It had been an amazing day’s work.  We throttled along the narrow country road, winding through the dark under a near-full moon that spilled over the hills.  As we neared Amy’s house, we saw two figures walking along the deserted street.  It was nearly midnight.  Shaun leaned over.

“Is that Big Al?”

I pulled the car over and rolled down the window. “Big Al!” I cried.  “What are you doing here?  I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”

“Hello,” he answered, as if it made perfect sense that we should run in to him in the country side on an empty road at midnight, after failing to reach him by phone for nearly a week.

“I need to set up an internet feed and projection in the middle of a field,” I said. “Day or night?” he asked, leaning in the window.

“Dusk.  7-9pm.”

“We can probably stream from a modem,” Big Al said.

“Ok, but the signal is rather weak.”

“If that doesn’t work, we’ll try 4G,” he added.

“Right right, 4G,” we all agreed.

“I suppose if that doesn’t work, I know someone who can help us with a satellite connection.”

Are we talking about this now on this road? I thought.

“Good night Big Al,” I shouted as I rolled up the window, and we drove off through the dark country side, laughing hysterically.  What’s the point of dial-up when you know a guy who can help with a satellite connection, anyway?


Planning Brit Rocks over brews at the Crown Pub

Planning Brit Rocks over brews at the traditional Crown Pub in the village of Hesket Newmarket

In Their Own Words: Max

In IMG_4589the next two weeks, we’ll be posting stories from visitors to the Auld Aquaintance, in their own words.

At home in Shropshire, Max Hora restores classic cars from the 1960s.  He’s driven over 200 miles to volunteer at the cairn, arranging stones so that all the messages are easily visible.  How many times has he made this trip?  Listen to Max’s story to find out.