Monthly Meetings

Monthly Meetings


Thursday 23rd September 2021.

It was wonderful to hold our first face-face meeting for over 18 months recently, especially as we heard an exceptionally good talk. Our speaker had travelled from London both for this event and to meet up with her friends in Penrith Ramblers. Jessica Hepburn was previously the successful Managing Director of the Lyric Theatre but her life has taken a new direction and she spoke of her ‘Life Challenges.’

The first challenge she described was a very personal one: admitting her fertility problems. Many rounds of IVF treatment and several miscarriages had not led to the pregnancy she so longed for and Jessica began to realise she must look for fulfilment in a new direction. A successful theatre director, she found publicly admitting her difficulties in conceiving particularly difficult. No easier was deciding how she might find a new purpose. Her solution was quite a dramatic one: to take on the ‘Pond to Peak’ challenge. This involves swimming the English Channel and ascending Everest and if successful she would be the first woman to achieve each of these goals. 

Not a keen or a skilled swimmer, the first stage of this challenge seemed a very unlikely one. However, she overcame her problems one by one, learning to use front crawl instead of her usual breast stroke to increase her speed and training in the sea at Dover under the critical regime of a practised lady channel swimmer. The swim was a terrible feat of endurance with heavy seas, huge swathes of jellyfish, bouts of sickness and facing up the many hours of swimming in very cold water without the comfort of a wetsuit or of any other aid. Jessica had her reward in the end, eventually arriving on Sangatte Beach in France, her challenge achieved. At this point Penrith Ramblers came in to her story.

Jessica felt she must increase her fitness to reach her next goal: the summit of Everest, for which the hills of London were an inadequate training ground. So, she joined the Ramblers’ Association, finding that Penrith Ramblers were offering quite strenuous fell walks and met the group one Wednesday in 2019. Their first memories were of a pleasant, quiet, modest walker who was struggling a little with the pace but greatly enjoyed the scenery and asked if she might join the group again. This she did and the group became part of her training regime. Her lively outgoing character soon showed through on subsequent walks and she was welcomed warmly. 

Unfortunately, Covid-19 thwarted Jessica’s hopes of attempting Everest in 2020 but she applied to join a party in 2021. The beauty of the mountain, the friendliness of the local Sherpa guides and the whole experience of the expedition captivated Jessica though several major problems thwarted their attempts on the mountain: a cyclone, the chest infection Jessica suffered and finally the emergence of Covid-19 among several expedition members. Ultimately theirs and other groups’ hopes of summiting Everest were dashed as the ‘window of opportunity’ for 2021 was over. Jessica aims to return to meet her challenge next year. We wish her every success and will be thrilled to welcome her back to tell us of her success.                                                For further details, see


It is a particular pleasure when a U3A member offers to give a talk at one of our monthly meetings. This month we were privileged to learn a great deal from Mike Head about Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman lawyer, orator, administrator, politician, philosopher and writer who lived between 106 and 43 BC. This was the era of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. Drawing on his own knowledge and further research, Mike provided a detailed and balanced analysis on Cicero’s various roles in this crucial stage of Roman history when its empire was rapidly expanding and the government was under strain from rival groupings espousing the republican or imperialist causes. 

Born into a wealthy family, Cicero had a first class education which gave the young and gifted scholar the chance to develop his considerable prowess and he greatly impressed his teachers. As a young lawyer he won several prominent cases contrary to expectations. These legal speeches were later published, often embellished by Cicero, and they reveal his powerful arguments written inimitably in his clear Latin style Cicero is often regarded as having perfected the form of written Latin and his writings have been studied by countless generations. He was drawn into politics despite not coming from any of the ‘ruling elite’ families and he tried to steer his own line between the rival groupings of his day. First a praetor and then a consul, Cicero’s talents drew him into the leading echelons of power but he drew back from joining Caesar in his triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus. 

For a period, Cicero governed Cilicia, a province east of Rome in Anatolia, winning praise for his judicious control, but on his return to Rome the power struggles were continuing. He did not give his full backing to either Pompey (whom he usually favoured) or Caesar but neither was he one of the latter’s assassins. However, Cicero, a republican, fell foul of the next triumvirate of Mark Anthony, Octavian (later Augustus) and Lepidus who were regarded as imperialists. This rift ultimately led to his execution in 43BC and the Roman republic gave way to the Roman empire. The manner of Cicero’s death shows his courage in offering his head for execution and then, with unnecessary brutality, his hands were also severed and displayed alongside his head as a warning against criticising Mark Anthony.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, detail of a marble bust; in the Capitoline Museums, Rome. © AISA—Everett/

Whilst he was undoubtedly a very intelligent, ambitious and able person, Cicero tended to avoid the foremost political roles. His reputation is based on his clever legal reasoning, his oratory and political skill and for his superbly stylish writing. He was one of the greatest proponents of Greek philosophy. One quarter of all of the Latin which survives is from Cicero’s pen and for many centuries it is Ciceronian Latin which has been regarded as the best model of Latin prose of the golden era. 

Mike’s talk was praised by his audience for its breadth and depth of knowledge and he offered much to think about. Cicero may have lived over 2000 years ago but he has left a great legacy on which we may still draw.  

June 2021, Sue Tomlinson


Central Afghanistan at the onset of winter offers a stunning landscape and a place of surprising tranquility. Jim Holmes is a professional photographer who  has worked all over the world for several aid organisations including Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Fiji, Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia. He has worked extensively on environmental and humanitarian projects for international agencies such as the United Nations, World Bank, Oxfam, Save the Children, and many others.    His assignments have taken him to disaster zones as well as to observe the long term development work undertaken by charities. 

In Afghanistan he followed rural solar engineers as they supplied sustainable power systems to remote, peaceful Hazara villages. With no mains power but plenty of sun in this mountainous desert landscape, solar power offers an opportunity for small-scale industry and easier communications. This talk follows local specialists as they train the villagers to manage their own power sources giving them independence and an income opportunity. It should offer an interesting and uplifting afternoon with beautiful photography and fascinating insights.


Editor of the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, Emily first worked for the paper in the late 1980s as its farming editor. After a career break she returned as a news reporter and took up her present role in 2015. She is just the eighth editor in the Herald’s history and its first female editor. On the announcement of her role, she said, ‘The paper has a long history and I intend to make sure that continues into the future. These are challenging times for print journalism, but I believe a local paper has a vital and irreplaceable part to play as a voice and a watchdog for the community it serves.’ The past year has thrown up many unexpected challenges, however. The possible demise of the paper brought an outcry from the diverse readership of this much-loved local newspaper until a Cumbrian,

Andrew Barr, came to its rescue. Next came the addition of the Keswick Reminder to his portfolio and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in further stresses and strains. Nevertheless, the paper has ridden these storms. It is a real, local institution and many a Cumbrian continues to read the Herald each week, whether they are living in the far south of England or have even located abroad. Emily will be focusing her talk on the recent period of change and transition.


This photo is how many people picture Revd David Sargent, Team Rector of Penrith and Rural Dean. He is, though, a person of many parts with a wide variety of interests. As well as being a very good fell-runner and keen walker, devoted to his wife and family and very keen on his dogs, he is a great reader, having pursued English Literature as his first degree. His talk will be entitled, ‘Times & seasons, people & places’ in poems & pictures.’ One poem David discovered is by a local poet, John Rice:

Running at Briggflatts on Christmas Morning

A firm frost defines the field’s hoof hollows;
the glass sun, drained of strength, blushes.
The Howgills are ice-gold and pummelled, like baker’s dough. Roads are soundless, footpaths hushed.
Crows squawk just occasionally.
A Cumbrian Christmas morning is a wordless world.
A farmer strides a quad bike, sheepdog on the trailer.
Its ruddy tongue trembling, its hazy breath bulging
like ghostly grey balloons in the day’s true air.
A runner pads past, streak of yellow, gloved but hatless.
His steady pace matches his measured, easy breathing.
His single cough frightens a heron into flight.
Farmer, dog, runner – alive and active on Christmas day;
no other but those among us who demand to be
forever gripped by earth, grasped by sky.
And I nearly forgot: two lambs were born this Christmas morn.

JIM HOLMES, 15 APRIL, 2021. Landscapes of Afghanistan

Central Afghanistan at the onset of winter offers a stunning landscape and a place of surprising tranquillity. Jim Holmes is a professional photographer who has worked all over the world for several aid organisations. His assignments have taken him to disaster zones as well as to observe the long term development work undertaken by charities.

In Afghanistan he followed rural solar engineers as they supplied sustainable power systems to remote, peaceful Hazara villages. With no mains power but plenty of sun in this mountainous desert landscape, solar power offers an opportunity for small-scale industry and easier communications. This talk follows local specialists as they train the villagers to manage their own power sources giving them independence and an income opportunity. As Jim Holmes himself says, ‘It’s good to have a positive story emerging from Afghanistan.’


Dr. Theo Weston MBE is very well-known in our locality, with his variety of roles in rescue services, having previously built a reputation as a greatly respected GP with the Birbeck practice in Penrith between 1992 and 2015.

He has contributed significantly to the Patterdale Mountain Rescue team, the BEEP scheme, a training programme, BASICS (standing for pre- hospital emergency medical care), and to the Great Northern Air Ambulance Service’s emergency work as a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) doctor.


In his talk to our U3A group he will focus on his work as a doctor with the Air Ambulance, Mountain Rescue and Beep services. This last is a Cumbrian based charity bringing skilled emergency doctors to the scene of the accident.


Katharine May and John Sanderson of Eden Baroque moved into our area, attracted by the landscape in which they enjoy fell-walking and cycling, and have become a significant part of the local musical scene very rapidly, establishing their own ‘Music Barn’ at Salkeld Dykes where John Upson’s Music Appreciation group enjoyed their wonderful recital last year. Delighted by this introduction, they seemed to be an ideal choice for our Christmas music this year, expecting that we would be enjoying their performance face to face. However, thanks to the efforts of several people, notably Andrea Willett and Katharine and Michael themselves, we were treated to a concert of beautiful music in our own homes. (READ MORE)

Impact of Glaciation and Local Landscapes, a talk by Zoom to be given by Dr Richard Waller. 


 5th November at 2.15 pm  2020

Richard Waller’s initial interest in physical Geography was sparked off by his enjoyment of fell-walking. During his degree course he had the opportunity to spend two months in Alaska, which graphically illustrated the power of ice and led to his current specialisation in cold environments.  He is now a senior lecturer in Geography at Keele University. He runs annual student visits to observe glacial features in Norway but he also greatly values the opportunities at weekends to experience and study our local Cumbrian post-glacial environments.  As an expert speaker we can expect Richard to be both informative and lively.



Roger Leech has kindly offered to give his talk on Rocks and Minerals, originally scheduled for April this year, on THURSDAY, 15 OCTOBER AT 2.15 PM, BY ZOOM. 2020

With a father who was an engineer, Roger’s early family experiences in Africa and elsewhere sparked his interest in rocks and minerals. His own career was as a scientist, initially focusing on micro-biology, but he has always maintained a serious fascination for geology and he has a most extensive collection and knowledge of a wide range of rocks, minerals and mining. Living in our local area has enabled Roger to develop his interest further. This promises to be an excellent, lively and well-illustrated talk with an exploration of rocks and minerals both above and below ground.



Zoom Conferencing Calendar Link

Zoom Video Conferencing Calendar. This is a 3 month rolling calendar showing dates and times that are available to groups to hold remote online meetings / sessions. Members can use this to check when their group has a conference session. Conveners wishing to use Zoom, please contact :-

Josie Dunlop.

Andrea Willett.  

Alan Beale.


There is usually a monthly meeting every month of the year except July and August. These meetings take place at the Penrith Playhouse from 2.15 pm. There are also occasional study days on Saturdays at St. Andrew’s parish rooms. In the current circumstances of Covid-19 these meetings have been suspended until further notice.