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Blast from the past; Yuri Gagarin's daughter visits North landmark.

Byline: Tony Henderson

IT turned out to be a red letter day when heritage worker Alan Whitworth guided a group around a Northumberland Roman fort.

The party of 10 curators and conservators from the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, on a British Council-organised tour of Scotland, decided that they also had to experience Hadrian's Wall.

As English Heritage site supervisor Alan led the group around Housesteads fort, he heard the name of one of the party, Dr Elena Gagarina.

With the 50th anniversary of the first flight in space by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin still fresh in his mind, Alan asked Dr Gagarina if it was a common name in Russia.

Dr Gagarina, who is director of the world heritage site Kremlin Museum, answered that it wasn't.

"So I asked if she was related," said Alan. The reply stunned Alan, for Dr Gagarina revealed that she is Yuri Gagarin's daughter.

The identity of their guest was also a jaw dropper for Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd, which had organised the group's visit.

Alan said: "I didn't know who she was and when she told me it was quite overwhelming, unexpected and emotional.

"The moment just happened and it blew me away. I was taken aback to be standing one step away from the first person in space.

"I gathered that she doesn't talk about it or trade on it.

"I mentioned that Yuri Gagarin's words when he lifted off were 'here we go', and she laughed and said 'yes, they were'.

"They were a very sociable group and she was very easy and pleasant to talk to." Dr Gagarina asked the party's official photographer to take a picture of her with Alan.

"I am waiting for it to arrive. It will be quite a memento," he said.

Nigel Mills, from Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd who accompanied the group to Housesteads, said: "Alan seemed quite overwhelmed. It was all quite touching because I gather Yuri Gagarin was one of his boyhood heroes.

"It all came as a total surprise and put a whole new perspective on the visit."

The Russian group then walked for an hour along Hadrian's Wall and also visited Vindolanda fort.

Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, told the group about the annual excavations at the fort and the discovery of the Vindolanda writing tablets.

The group finished their tour with a presentation at Corbridge by Hadrian's Wall Heritage on the strategy for the world heritage site.

They then enjoyed a meal at the Angel Inn at Corbridge.

Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian's Wall Heritage, said: "We were absolutely delighted to be able to show the Russian visitors some of the fantastic work going on throughout the world heritage site.

"We explained our vision for the whole of the destination and the Wall landscape and how the museums, forts and items on show were part of bigger, connected stories about life on the frontier and the edge of the Roman empire.

"We also told them about how walkers look at the heritage and how heritage visitors also go walking.

"They were thrilled to see the Wall. They felt they couldn't be so near and not pay a visit.

"The group was overwhelmed by the scale of the archaeology and the remains and they thought that the landscape and the setting were absolutely beautiful."

Ms Tuttiett said that the group also made the links between the fact that the Kremlin Museum is completely walled and that the word Czar is said to derive from Caesar.

She said: "Dr Gagarina was very modest and discreet, and a very impressive person.

"They want to build links and they invited us to visit the Kremlin Museum, while saying that they also wanted to come back to the Wall one day for a longer visit."

Hadrian's Wall Heritage is a not-for-profit company which co-ordinates the management and development of the 150-mile world heritage site and markets Hadrian's Wall Country as a key domestic and international tourism destination.

"There is a lot of international interest especially in the integrated partnership-led approach to managing and presenting the world heritage site and in our emphasis on bringing sustainable social and economic benefit to local and regional communities," said Ms Tuttiett . "The international community sees this as an example of best practice in managing large and complex heritage sites through our role in conservation, bringing investment and development and in marketing and communicating."


IT was on April 12, 1961, aboard his Vostok craft that Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, and the first to orbit the earth.

Union's accomplishment of putting the first human in space. He visited the UK three months after the Vostok 1 mission, visiting London and Manchester.

After the flight, Gagarin became a worldwide celebrity, touring widely abroad. He visited Italy, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Finland to promote the Soviet In 1968, while on a routine training flight he died in a MiG-15UTI crash.

His ashes are buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square.


TAKING IN THE SIGHTS OF THE NORTH EAST From left at Vindolanda, Professor Peter Stone, chair of the Hadrian''s Wall management plan committee; Dr Elena Gagarina, director of the Kremlin Museum; Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, and Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 11, 2011
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