February 19, 2013

Northumberland history of Kielder forest. Lord Robinson's great grandson visits memorial cairn

Lord Robinson’s great grandson's visit to Kielder memorial cairn
By Don Clegg

The ride or fire break where the cairn is located

Kielder forest played host to a rather special guest in the summer of 2012 - Michael Lawson-Smith.   Michael is the great grandson of Lord Robinson of Kielder and Adelaide, who was instrumental in forming the British Forestry Commission in 1919, and the first trial planting of pine trees on Smale farm near Kielder.  It was an enormously ambitious plan.

After finding the Woolshed1 blog where Lord Robinson’s story was reported, Michael confirmed his great grandfather’s role in starting the largest man-made forest in Europe.  But he wanted to see for himself where it had all started and find his great grandfather’s memorial cairn.

He got my contact from the blog and I was delighted to be able to facilitate the visit of Michael and his wife Marcelle, who stayed at our B&B at Yarrow Cottages near Falstone.

Apart from visiting the cairn, he was keen to glean further knowledge about his great grandfather from local Forestry Commission people, who I set about to locate for him.
Michael and Michelle suitably togged up for the Kielder weather at the cairn

However, once the Forestry Commission officials heard of his impending visit, they insisted in giving him the VIP treatment.  The morning after his arrival in the North Tyne valley he was met by Graham Gill, Forest Management Director for the North of England, Alex McLennan, Recreation and Leisure Officer for the Forestry Commission (Kielder) and Paul Gough, ex-forestry research officer who agreed to act as guide to find the cairn.

After the initial introductions and getting on board a forestry minibus, we trundled and lurched over what seemed to be endless miles of unmade forest roads through an ever-changing landscape.  This was made up of mature forest, clear felled areas, newly planted blocks of Sitka spruce, Norway spruce or Japanese larch and wide-open spaces of virgin unplanted moorland. 

As the road rose up into the hills, the weather became wetter and darker with visibility reduced to only one or two miles in any direction.  At last we came to a stop near the top of a hill covered in young spruce trees.  To the west was the border with Cumbria and the valley of the river Irthing, while to the east was the vast spread of Kielder Forest Park covering 155,000 acres along the Northumbrian border with Scotland.  It’s an awe-inspiring view.

Our small party, then clad in waterproofs and Wellington boots, made its way along a wide forest ride, clambering over great tussocks of bent grass and rushes, and frequently sinking into boggy holes filled with sphagnum moss. 

After several hundred yards braving the terrain, the weather and then the midges, we reached the Robinson memorial.  This is a neatly built sandstone rock cairn, about 4 feet high, covered in moss and lichen, and surmounted with a patch of – would you believe it – aubrietia!

A bronze plaque on the side proclaimed that this was indeed the memorial to Lord Robinson, Baron of Kielder and Adelaide.

 "To the memory of
Roy Lister Robinson OBE
Baron Robinson of Kielder and Adelaide
A member of the Forestry Commission from its
inception in 1919 and its chairman from 1932-1952
Born 8th march 1883 died 5th September 1952
His ashes are scattered in this forest which owes
its existence to his creative energy and vision"

For Michael Lawson- Smith and Marcelle this was, as you might imagine, quite an emotional moment.  They spent a considerable time taking photographs of the cairn from all angles and of the group of foresters who had brought them to this lonely and historic spot, which is certainly not on the local tourist trail.

Once our wet and bedraggled party returned to the minibus, we were driven down to Kielder castle – the one time shooting lodge for the Dukes of Northumberland, where a buffet lunch had been laid on in honour of our special guest.

During the meal everyone contributed to the knowledge Michael already had of his great grandfather’s role at Kielder.  He was also able to share some of his family photographs which he had stored on his iPad, showing Lord Robinson at the castle.  Later he was presented with copies of documents and photographs pertaining to occasions when Lord Robinson was present at the first tree planting at Smale in 1926, and then on his return in 1948 to see the first trees cut down for thinning. 

Michael was thrilled to have his photograph taken beside a portrait of his famous relative hanging in the castle exhibition room.  For everyone concerned and especially for Michael, this was a very special and indeed unique occasion, and one which Michael will treasure for ever.

Michael and Marcelle now live in Kensington in London, and together they run a successful business designing and making exclusive jewellery.  They were so grateful for this opportunity to research their ancestor, that they have declared their intention to make a return visit to Northumberland to renew acquaintances with their Northumbrian new-found friends.

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