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Saturday, 01 November 2014

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Explorer Ranulph Fiennes backs Union Cairn monument

A record-breaking mountaineer and the man dubbed the world’s greatest living explorer have joined the growing number backing the creation of a monument celebrating Scotland’s membership of the UK.

Union Cairn photo
Ranulph Fiennes, left and Rory Stewart

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and mountaineer Doug Scott – who with the late Scottish climber Dougal Haston became the first Britons to conquer Everest in 1975 – joined scores of people laying stones on the ‘Union Cairn’ at Gretna, just north of the border.

The project is being led by Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart.

Actress Joanna Lumley is expected to follow their example, visiting the cairn on Thursday to lay stones from her garden.

During his visit yesterday, Sir Ranulph spoke of the “huge sadness” he would feel if Scotland and England were ever to part company.

He said: “My struggle has been to beat other country’s world records in remote places and when we do it’s with a team from the UK. If we plant a flag it’s not an English flag; it’s a Union Jack.”

Sir Ranulph highlighted the shared history between his own family and the UK, citing the death in the world wars of his uncle – a captain with the Gordon Highlanders – in 1917 and his father, a Lieutenant Colonel with Royal Scots Greys in 1943.

“We’re better off together,” said Mr Scott, who lives near Carlisle. “If they do get independence they’ll have different immigration policies, but I don’t think we need any more borders in the British Isles. It’s ridiculous.

“We are better off together and that was demonstrated when Dougal Haston and I became the first Britons to go up the south western face of Everest and became the first Britons to conquer Everest – one from England and one from Scotland.

“We didn’t leave the top until 7pm, then bivouacked 300ft down and had to survive the night in a cold snow cave. He let me put my toes in his armpits; we were looking out for each other.”

Also at the cairn was Alan Hinkes, the first British mountaineer to have claimed all 14 mountains with peaks higher than 8000 metres. A Yorkshireman by birth, he said: “Yorkshire has more people than Scotland and a bigger gross domestic produce. But we know the power is still with Westminster and it makes sense to work with it.”

There were many at the cairn yesterday who expressed similar sentiments.

They included Gary Weston, a retired Reuters project manager from Farlam, near Brampton.

He said: “Britain is much stronger – and I don’t want to exchange money or queue at the border.”

Mr Stewart said recent events in Ukraine – particularly the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner – underlined the need to be strong in an uncertain world.

“It’s very difficult for smaller countries to shape things in the world in a positive direction because you need a certain critical mass,” he said.

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