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´╗┐Title: A Night in the Snow - or, A Struggle for Life
Author: Carr, Edmund Donald, -1900
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Night in the Snow - or, A Struggle for Life" ***

Transcribed from the eighth edition of James Nisbet & Co., Limited by
David Price and Margaret Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

A Struggle for Life.






In publishing the following account of "A Night in the Snow," which has
already been given as a Lecture before the Society for the Promotion of
Religious and Useful Knowledge at Bridgnorth, I feel that some apology is

My preservation through the night of the 29th of January last was
doubtless most wonderful, and my experience perhaps almost without
precedent, in this country at least; for, though many people have at
different times been lost in the snow, scarcely any one has passed
through the ordeal of such a day and night as that undergone by myself,
and lived to tell the tale.  Still I should never have thought that the
matter was of sufficient importance to justify me in printing an account
of it, had I not discovered that my adventure has created a public
interest, for which I was totally unprepared.  I have been so repeatedly
asked to write a detailed account of all the circumstances connected with
my wanderings on the Long Mynd in the snow during that night and the
following day, and to have it published, that I have at last (though, I
must confess, somewhat reluctantly) consented to do so, and with that
view have drawn up the following account.

In writing my story, I have been obliged to go into many very small
matters of detail, which may perhaps appear trivial; but it seemed to me
that the interest of a story of this kind, if there be any interest
attached to it, generally turns upon minor circumstances.  I have also
been obliged to speak of myself in a very personal manner, but I did not
see how I could put the reader in possession of the geographical points
of the case, without describing the duties I had to perform, and the
country I had to traverse.


_April_ 17, 1865.


The mountains of South-West Shropshire are less known to the lovers of
fine scenery than their great beauty deserves, though they are familiar
to most geologists as the typical region of the lowest fossil-bearing
deposits.  Of this group of hills the highest is the Long Mynd, a
mountain district of very remarkable character, and many miles in extent.
It is about ten miles long, and from three to four miles in breadth.  Its
summit is a wide expanse of table land, the highest part of which is
nearly seventeen hundred feet above the level of the sea.  The whole of
this unenclosed moorland is covered with gorse and heather, making it
extremely gay in the summer time; it is also tolerably abundant in grouse
and black game, and so fruitful in bilberries, that from 400 to 500
pounds worth are said to have been gathered on it in the course of a
single season.  On first hearing it, this sounds an improbable statement;
but any one who has been upon the mountain in a good "whinberry season"
as it is called, will readily understand that this is no exaggeration.  To
the poor people for miles around, the "whinberry picking" is the great
event of the year.  The whole family betake themselves to the hill with
the early morning, carrying with them their provisions for the day; and
not unfrequently a kettle to prepare tea forms part of their load.  I
know no more picturesque sight than that presented by the summit of the
Long Mynd towards four o'clock on an August afternoon, when numerous
fires are lit among the heather, and as many kettles steaming away on the
top of them, while noisy, chattering groups of women and children are
clustered round, glad to rest after a hard day's work.  A family will
pick many quarts of bilberries in the day, and as these are sold at
prices varying from 3d. to 5d. a quart, it will be readily understood
that it is by no means impossible that the large sum of 400 or 500 pounds
should thus be realised in a single season.

The appearance of this Long Mynd mountain on the northern side, looking
towards Shrewsbury, presents no feature of striking interest, and the
ascent is a gradual one, leading chiefly through cultivated ground; but
the aspect of the south-eastern or Stretton side is wild in the extreme,
the whole face of the mountain being broken up into deep ravines, with
precipitous sides, where purple rocks project boldly through the turf,
and in many places even the active sheep and mountain ponies can scarcely
find a footing.  Down each of these ravines runs a small stream of
exquisitely pure water, one of which, near the entrance of the valley,
becomes considerable enough to turn a mill for carding wool.  This stream
falls over rocks at the head of the ravine, in a small cascade of a
considerable height called the Light Spout.

Many people have lost their lives among these hills at different times,
and places here and there bear such suggestive names, as "Dead Man's
Beach," "Dead Man's Hollow," &c.  The last fair, too, which is held at
Church Stretton before Christmas is locally known as "Dead Man's Fair,"
several men have perished whilst attempting to return home after it
across the hill in the dark November night.  No one, however, till this
winter has been lost for many years.  Two drovers were the last persons
who perished here, and they lost their lives near a place called "The
Thresholds," in a deep snow which fell in April thirty-seven years ago.

The western slope of the Long Mynd is less strikingly picturesque and
more desolate, but the view from the top in this direction is the finest
of any.  Almost unseen in a narrow valley at the foot of the mountain,
stand the village and church of Ratlinghope, the centre of a parish
numbering about three hundred souls only, but which stretches over miles
of mountain country, embracing a portion of the wild mining district of
the Stiper Stones.  Beyond these hills the eye passes to the Welsh
mountains, and rests at last on the grand peaks of Cader Idris in one
direction, and Snowdon in the other, which may be seen in clear weather
sharply defined against a sunset sky.

Poor Ratlinghope was in sore need of some one to look after it when the
living was offered to me in September 1856.  It had at that time been
left for many Sundays together without a service, the late incumbent
residing in Shrewsbury, twelve miles distant, and being frequently
prevented by ill health from coming over.  There is no house in the
parish where a clergyman could live, or even procure tolerable lodgings;
and if there were, there is next to nothing, as one of the parishioners
said to me the other day, "to find coals to warm it with."  It is
scarcely to be wondered at that under these circumstances, when the
living became vacant in the summer of 1856, there was no suitable person
to be found who was willing to accept so desirable a piece of preferment.
The parish of Wolstaston, of which I have the charge, and in which I
reside, is situated on high ground on the eastern slope of the Long Mynd,
_i.e._ exactly on the opposite side of the mountain to Ratlinghope.  Above
Wolstaston the ground rises steadily for about a mile and a half till you
come to the unenclosed moorland, which stretches away for many miles of
open country, covered with heather and gorse.  It was under the
circumstances that I have already mentioned that the living of
Ratlinghope was offered to me.  I was aware that it would be impossible
to attend to the parish as one would wish to do, with four miles of this
wild hill country to cross between the two villages.  Still, as no one
else could be found to take it, and I thought that the Ratlinghope people
might think that "half-a-loaf was better than no bread," I consented to
accept the living, and do the best I could for it; so I altered my second
service at Wolstaston from three o'clock in the afternoon to six, which
enabled me to give an afternoon service at Ratlinghope every Sunday.

I soon found, however, that the task I had undertaken was no very light
one, as the only access from Wolstaston to Ratlinghope was by mountain
tracks, over the highest part of the Long Mynd, unless indeed one drove
round the base of the hill, a distance of at least twelve miles.  The
ride was pleasant enough in fine weather, but less enjoyable when fogs
hung heavy over the hill, when the tracks were slippery with ice, or when
falling snow concealed every landmark.  It not unfrequently happened in
winter, when the snow was very deep, or much drifted, that it was
impossible to ride across the hill, and the expedition then had to be
performed on foot; still I always managed to cross somehow, in spite of
wind or weather, so that during the last eight years and a half the
little mountain church has never been without one Sunday service.  I find
that during that time I have crossed the Long Mynd (in round numbers)
nearly two thousand five hundred times; consequently my knowledge of the
country became so intimate, that I felt equally at home upon the hill in
all weathers, and at all hours of the day and night.  On one occasion, I
had to cross it late on a November night and in a dense fog, when
returning home from Ratlinghope, and met with no accident; and I think
that this and similar experiences made me somewhat over confident.  I
mention this to show how little the most perfect acquaintance with
country will avail any one when overtaken by such a blinding snow storm
as that of the 29th of January last.

During the preceding week the snow fell heavily, and accumulated on the
hills to a greater depth than had been known for fifty-one years.  Public
opinion was unanimous that there had been nothing like it since 1814.  A
strong wind, moreover, had so drifted it that the roads were impassable,
and the communication between neighbouring villages, and even between
houses in the same village, almost ceased.  Letters wont to be received
in the morning arrived late in the day, or not at all; and unhappy folk
who were unprovided with a good store of food and coals had either to
borrow of their neighbours or starve.  The morning service at Wolstaston
on Sunday the 29th was of necessity but thinly attended, and it seemed
probable that I should not even be expected at Ratlinghope.  As, however,
the service there had never been omitted owing to bad weather, I was
anxious to get to my little church if possible; in fact, I considered it
my duty to make the attempt, though I felt very doubtful whether I should

Accordingly, very soon after morning service at Wolstaston was over, I
started on the expedition.  I was in such a hurry to be off that I could
not stay to take my usual luncheon, but swallowed a few mouthfuls of
soup, and put a small flask containing about three ounces of brandy in my
pocket.  My taking anything of the kind with me was a most unprecedented
circumstance.  I only remember one other occasion in which I did so, and
that was also in a very deep snow; but now foreseeing a walk of no common
difficulty, I thought the precaution a wise one, and saw reason
afterwards to be thankful that I had adopted it.

I started on horseback, though I knew that I could only ride a short
distance, but thought it advisable to save myself all unnecessary
fatigue.  I was of course accompanied by a servant to bring back the
horses when they were of no further use.  By leaving the lane and making
our way across the fields over hedge and ditch, we contrived to ride
about half a mile.  The horses then became useless, as the drifts were so
deep against the hedges and gates, that the poor animals became imbedded
in them, and were unable to find any firm footing to leap from.  The
servant therefore had to return with them long before I reached the
unenclosed mountain land, and I proceeded on my way alone.

The journey proved more difficult even than I had expected.  The snow was
for the most part up to the knees and very soft, and the drifts were so
deep that they could only be crossed by crawling on hands and knees, as
any one will readily understand who has attempted to cross deep snow when
in a soft state.  When I reached the open moorland the day was bright and
fine, and the snow stretched around me for miles in a dazzling expanse
very painful to the eyes, and unbroken by track, landmark, or footprint
of any living creature.  The form of the country, however, was a
sufficient guide to my destination, and after a severe struggle over and
through the drifts, I reached my little church at a quarter-past three
o'clock, just two hours and a quarter from the time I had left
Wolstaston.  A few people were assembled together, though no one had
really expected me, and after a short service I started on my homeward
journey, having refused the invitations of my kind people to stay the
night amongst them, as I was anxious to get back to Wolstaston in time
for my six o'clock evening service, and I did not anticipate that I
should encounter any greater difficulties in my return home than I had
done in coming to Ratlinghope.

During the three quarters of an hour, however, that we had been in
church, the aspect of the weather had completely changed.  A furious gale
had come on from E.S.E., which, as soon as I got on the open moorland, I
found was driving clouds of snow and icy sleet before it.  It was with
considerable difficulty that I made my way up the western ascent of the
hill, as I had to walk in the teeth of this gale.  The force of the wind
was most extraordinary.  I have been in many furious gales, but never in
anything to compare with that, as it took me off my legs, and blew me
flat down upon the ground over and over again.  The sleet too was most
painful, stinging one's face, and causing such injury to the eyes, that
it was impossible to lift up one's head.  I contrived, however, to fight
my way through it, and at length reached the crest of the hill.  Though I
could not see many yards in any direction, I knew at this time exactly
where I was, as I passed the carcase of a mountain pony which I had
previously noticed.  The poor thing had no doubt been famished to death,
and was fast wasting to a skeleton.  Numbers of these hardy little
animals have perished during the severe weather from hunger, having been
previously reduced to the lowest condition through lack of pasturage
during the dry season of 1864.  One man, who owned fourteen of them, has
lost every one.

Leaving this solitary waymark, the half buried skeleton, by which I had
rested for a few minutes and taken a little of my brandy, I started
again, having first made a careful observation of the direction in which
I should go.  After a further struggle across the level summit of the
hill, I reached my second landmark, a pool in a little hollow between the
hills, which is well known to the inhabitants of the district, and
interesting to naturalists, as the resort of curlews and other rare
birds; here again I took a short rest, and then started upon what I
fondly dreamed would be the last difficult stage of my journey.

My way from the pool lay first up a steep ascent for rather less than
half a mile to the top of the hill, and then across a level flat for some
three or four hundred yards, when a fir plantation would be reached at
the edge of the enclosed ground.  Once within the friendly shelter of
those firs, I knew that the remainder of my walk, though still tedious
and fatiguing, would be comparatively easy.  It pleased God, however,
that I should never reach them that night.  Doubtless I had been too
confident in my own powers, and at the very time when I thought the
difficulties and dangers of my task were well nigh accomplished, I was
taught a lesson which I shall remember to the latest hour of my life.  I
ascended the hill to the flat already spoken of, though it was a very
slow process, for owing to the depth of the drifts, which were now
increasing rapidly, and the force of the wind, I was compelled to crawl a
great part of the way.  The storm now came on, if possible, with
increased fury.  It was quite impossible to look up or see for a yard
around, and the snow came down so thick and fast that my servant, who had
come some distance up the lane from Wolstaston in hopes of seeing
something of me, describing it to me afterwards, said, "Sir, it was just
as if they were throwing it on to us out of buckets."  I fought on
through it, however, expecting soon to come to the fir wood.  On and on I
went, but not a glimpse of its friendly shelter could I see, the real
fact being that I had borne away a great deal too much to the right,
almost at right angles to my proper course.  Having been blown down over
and over again, I had probably, in rising to my feet, altered my
direction unconsciously.  The wind too, by which I had been trying to
steer, proved a treacherous compass; for, as I have been told, about this
time it went more round into the south.  It was, moreover, becoming very
dark.  After a while I became aware that the ground under my feet was of
a wrong shape, sloping downwards when it should have been level, and I
then knew that I had missed my way.  This, however, gave me no great
uneasiness, as I imagined that I had only gone a little too much to the
south of the wood, and that I should soon reach an inhabited district at
the bottom of it, known as Bullock's Moor, from which a somewhat
circuitous route would bring me safely home.  Under this impression I
walked cheerfully on, but only for a few steps further.  Suddenly my feet
flew from under me, and I found myself shooting at a fearful pace down
the side of one of the steep ravines which I had imagined lay far away to
my right.  I thought to check myself by putting my stick behind me, and
bearing heavily upon it in the manner usual under such circumstances in
Alpine travelling.  Before, however, I could do so I came in contact with
something which jerked it out of my hand and turned me round, so that I
continued my tremendous glissade head downwards, lying on my back.

The pace I was going in this headlong descent must have been very great,
yet it seemed to me to occupy a marvellous space of time, long enough for
the events of my whole previous life to pass in review before me, as I
had often before heard that they did in moments of extreme peril.  I
never lost my consciousness, but had time to think much of those I should
leave behind me, expecting every moment as I did to be dashed over the
rocks at the bottom of the ravine; knew in fact that such must be my
fate, unless I could stop myself by some means.  Owing to the softness of
the snow, I contrived to accomplish this by kicking my foot as deep into
the snow as I could, and at the same time bending my knee with a smart
muscular effort, so as to make a hook of my leg; this brought me to a
stand still, but my position was anything but agreeable even then,
hanging head downwards on a very steep part, and never knowing any moment
but what I might start again.  With much difficulty, however, I at length
succeeded in getting myself the right way up, and then descended with
great care to the bottom of the ravine, intending if possible to walk
along the course of the stream in its hollow till it should lead me to
the enclosed country.  The ravine, however, was so choked up with snow,
that to walk along the valley was utterly impossible.  The drifts were
many feet over my head, in several places they must have been at least
twenty feet in depth; and having once got into them, I had the greatest
difficulty, by scratching and struggling, to extricate myself from them
again.  It was now dark.  I did not know into which of the ravines I had
fallen, for at this part there is a complete network of them intersecting
each other in every direction.  The only way by which I had thought to
escape was hopelessly blocked up, and I had to face the awful fact that I
was lost among the hills, should have to spend the night there, and that,
humanly speaking, it was almost impossible that I could survive it.

The instinct of self-preservation, however, is strong, even when a
fearful death seems close at hand, and there were others for whose sake,
even more than my own, I desired that night that my life might be spared,
if such were God's will.  I knew that, under Providence, all depended on
my own powers of endurance, and that the struggle for life must be a very
severe one.  The depth of the snow made walking a very exhausting effort.
It was always up to my knees, more often up to my waist; but my only
chance, as I was well aware, was to keep moving; and having extricated
myself at last from the drifts in the ravine, I began to climb the
opposite side of the hill, though I had not the least idea in which
direction I ought to go.  As I made my way upwards, I saw just in front
of me what looked like a small shadow flitting about, for owing to the
white ground it was never completely dark.  I was much surprised at this,
especially as when I came close to it, it disappeared into the snow, with
the exception of one round dark spot, which remained motionless.  I put
my hand down upon this dark object to ascertain what it could possibly
be, and found that I had got hold of a hare's head!  I saw many of these
little animals in the course of the night.  They made holes in the snow
for shelter, and sat in them well protected by their warm coats, happier
far than their human fellow-sufferer, who knew that for him there must be
no rest that night if he would see the light of another day.

Having climbed the hill, I walked along its crest for some distance, till
suddenly I again lost my footing, and shot down the hill, as far as I can
judge, on the opposite side into another ravine.  This was, if possible,
a more fearful glissade than my previous one; it was a very precipitous
place, and I was whirled round and round in my descent, sometimes head
first, sometimes feet first, and again sideways, rolling over and over,
till at last, by clutching at the gorse bushes, and digging my feet into
the snow as before, I once more managed to check my wild career, and
bring myself to a stand; but I had lost my hat and a pair of warm fur
gloves, which I had on over a pair of old dogskins.  The loss of these
fur gloves proved very serious to me, as my hands soon began to get so
numbed with the cold, that they were comparatively useless.

At the bottom of the ravine into which I had now fallen, I found myself
again involved in snow drifts, and had still more difficulty than before
in getting out of them.  I had tumbled into a very soft one far over my
head, and had to fight, and scratch, and burrow for a long time before I
could extricate myself, and became more exhausted than at any other time
during the night.  I only ventured to take my brandy very sparingly,
wishing to husband it as much as possible, and there was but a very tiny
drop left.  My hands, as I have said, were so numbed with cold as to be
nearly useless.  I had the greatest difficulty in holding the flask, or
in eating snow for refreshment, and could hardly get my hands to my mouth
for the masses of ice which had formed upon my whiskers, and which were
gradually developed into a long crystal beard, hanging half way to my
waist.  Icicles likewise had formed about my eyes and eyebrows, which I
frequently had to break off, and my hair had frozen into a solid block of
ice.  After the loss of my hat, my hair must, I suppose, have become
filled with snow, while I was overhead in the drifts.  Probably this was
partially melted by the warmth of my head, and subsequently converted
into ice by the intense frost.  Large balls of ice also formed upon my
cuffs, and underneath my knees, which encumbered me very much in walking,
and I had continually to break them off.  I tried to supply the place of
my hat by tying my handkerchief over my head, but found that by no
possible effort could I make a knot, and that I could only keep it on my
head by holding the corners between my teeth.  It was equally impossible
to refasten my overcoat, only a thin tweed (for I had dressed lightly, in
expectation of hard exercise), which had become unbuttoned in my last
fall.  It may seem absurd to mention it, but the cravings of hunger grew
so keen, stimulated as they were by the cold and the great exertion, that
it actually occurred to me whether I could eat one of my old dogskin
gloves.  I was, however, deterred from making the attempt, partly by the
prospect of its toughness, and partly by the fear of greater injury to my
hands from frost bite, if they were deprived of their last covering.  My
exhaustion was so great that I fell down every two or three steps, and
the temptation to give in and lie down in the snow became almost
irresistible, and had to be struggled against with every power of mind
and body.  I endeavoured to keep constantly before me the certain fact,
that if sleep once overcame me I should never wake again in this life.
The night seemed interminably long.  Again and again I tried to calculate
the time, but always came to the same conclusion, that many hours must
elapse before the return of daylight.  The wind had gone down, and the
stillness became so oppressive, that I often spoke aloud for the sake of
hearing my own voice, and to ascertain that the cold, which was intense,
had not deprived me of the power of speech.  The hares still sported and
burrowed on the hill sides, but excepting these there were no signs of
life whatever.

Never did shipwrecked mariner watch for the morning more anxiously than
did I through that weary, endless night, for I knew that a glimpse of the
distance in any one direction would enable me to steer my course
homewards.  Day dawned at last, but hope and patience were to be yet
further tried, for a dense fog clung to the face of the hill, obscuring
everything but the objects close at hand.  Furthermore, I discovered that
I was rapidly becoming snow blind.  My eyes, which had been considerably
injured already by the sharp sleet of the evening before, were further
affected by the glare of the snow, and I was fast losing all distinctness
of vision.  I first learned the extent of this new calamity when
endeavouring, with the earliest light, to look at my watch.  It was a
work of great difficulty to get it out of my pocket; and when this was
done, I found that I could not tell the face from the back.  The whole
thing was hazy and indistinct, and I can only describe it as looking like
an orange seen through a mist.  Such sight as remained rapidly became all
confusion as regarded the form, colour, and proportion of objects.  Again
and again I thought I saw before me trees and enclosures, but these, when
I came up to them, invariably turned out to be only portions of gorse
bushes projecting through the snow.  My optical delusions as to _colour_
were perhaps the most remarkable; the protruding rocks invariably
appeared of a strange orange yellow, with black lines along them,
producing a short of tortoise-shell effect.  I took these mysterious
appearances at first for dead animals, ponies or sheep, and touched them
to try to ascertain the fact.  My hands, however, were so utterly devoid
of sensation, that they were of no more use than my eyes in identifying
objects.  I was therefore quite in the dark as to their nature, till
experience proved them to be rocks with tufts of heather on them.  Owing
to my failing eyesight, my falls became very frequent, and several of
them were from heights so great that it would scarcely be believed were I
to attempt to describe them.  I may, however, say, that they were such as
perfectly to appal those who, a few days afterwards, visited the spots
where they occurred, and saw the deep impressions in the snow where I had
plunged into it from the rocks above.  One fall especially I well
remember.  I had just crossed the ridge of a hill, and saw, as I
imagined, close below me a pool covered with ice, which seemed free from
snow.  I thought I would walk across this, and, accordingly, made a
slight jump from the rock on which I stood in order to reach it.  In a
moment, however, I discovered that, instead of on to a pool, I had jumped
into empty space.  I must have fallen on this occasion a considerable
distance, but I was caught in a deep snow-drift, so that, although
considerably shaken and bewildered for the moment by what had happened, I
was not seriously hurt.

I have been enabled by various circumstances, and by the help of those
who followed my tracks before the snow melted, to make out with tolerable
accuracy the course of my wanderings.  Those who tracked me say that, "If
there was one part of the hill more difficult and dangerous than another,
that is the line which Mr. Carr took."  When the morning light first
dawned, I could see that I was walking along the side of a ravine of
great depth, and more than usually perpendicular sides; it was so steep
that I could not climb to the top of the ridge and get out of it, and the
snow was in such a very loose, soft state, that I expected every moment
it would give way beneath me, and I should be precipitated into the
depths below.  I had to walk with the greatest care to prevent this; and
I believe that this was a very good thing for me, as it gave my mind
complete occupation, and kept me from flagging.  I could only go straight
on, as I could not ascend, and was afraid to descend.  My method of
progression was more crawling than walking, as I had to drive my hands
deep into the snow, and clutch at tufts of grass or heather, or any thing
I could find beneath it, to hold on by.  I must have gone forward in this
way for an hour or two, when I found the ravine becoming less steep, and
I heard the sound of running water very distinctly.  Accordingly I
thought I would descend and try once more whether I could walk down the
stream, as this by its sound seemed a larger one, and I thought it might
have cut a way through the drifts.  I reached the bottom of the valley
safely.  It appears to have been the valley immediately above the Light
Spout waterfall, and, trying to walk by the stream, I tumbled over the
first upper fall.  Hearing a noise of falling water, and seeing dimly
rocks all round me, I found it would not do to go forward in this
direction, so, having unconsciously gone to the very edge of the lower
cascade, where I must in all probability have been killed had I fallen
over, I turned sharply up the hill again, going over the rocks above, and
coming down again by a very steep place.  Round and round this waterfall
I seemed to have climbed in every possible direction.  A man who had
tracked me, and with whom I visited the place a few weeks ago, said, "You
seem to have had a deal o' work to do here, Sir," pointing to a small
rocky space at the bottom of the fall.  I had imagined, while thus going
round and round as if on a tread mill, that I was walking straight
forward down the stream, and I suppose my efforts to keep near the sound
of the water misled me.  Though perfectly familiar with this part of the
Long Mynd, I was so blind at this time, and everything looked so strange,
that I did not in the least recognise my position.  Finding I did not get
on very well, I determined now to try whether I could walk or crawl down
the actual stream itself where it had hollowed its way underneath the
drifts which overhung it, making a sort of low-arched tunnel, which I
thought worth trying.  I soon found, however, that this was quite
impracticable, and that if I went on I should either be suffocated or
hopelessly imbedded in the snow, and that then my utmost efforts would
fail to extricate me.  It also occurred to me somewhat painfully, that if
I lost my life, as I thought I inevitably must do now, my body would not
be found for days, or it might be weeks, if it were buried deep in the
mountain of snow at the bottom of that valley; and I was anxious that
what remained of me might be found soon, and that the dreadful suspense,
which is worse than the most fearful certainty, might thus be spared to
all those who cared about my fate.

I was not, however, quite beat yet; so, retracing my steps, I determined
once more to leave the stream and make for the higher ground.  But a new
misfortune now befell me: I lost my boots.  They were strong laced boots,
without elastic sides, or any such weak points about them.  I had
observed before that one was getting loose, but was unable to do anything
to it from the numbness of my hands; and after struggling out of a deep
drift previous to reascending the hill, I found that I had left this boot
behind.  There was nothing for it but to go on without, and as my feet
were perfectly numbed from the cold, and devoid of feeling, I did not
experience any difficulty or pain on this account.  That boot was
afterwards found on a ledge of rock near the waterfall.  I soon after
lost the other one, or rather, I should say, it came off, and I could not
get it on again, so I carried it in my hand some time, but lost it in one
of my many severe falls.  The fact of the loss of my boots has astonished
all those who have heard of it, and I believe has excited more comment
than any other part of my adventure.  I have even heard of its being a
matter of fierce dispute, on more than one occasion, whether laced boots
_could_ come off in this way.  They do not seem to have become unlaced,
as the laces were firmly knotted, but had burst in the middle, and the
whole front of the boot had been stretched out of shape from the strain
put upon it whilst laboriously dragging my feet out of deep drifts for so
many hours together, which I can only describe as acting upon the boots
like a steam-power boot-jack.

And so for hours I walked on in my stockings without inconvenience.  Even
when I trod upon gorse bushes, I did not feel it, as my feet had become
as insensible as my hands.  It had occurred to me now that I might be in
the Carding Mill valley, and that I would steer my course on that
supposition.  It was fortunate that I did so, for I was beginning to
think that I could not now hold out much longer, and was struggling in a
part where the drifts were up nearly to my neck, when I heard what I had
thought never to hear again--the blessed sound of human voices,
children's voices, talking and laughing, and apparently sliding not very
far off.  I called to them with all my might, but judge of my dismay when
sudden and total silence took the place of the merry voices I had so
lately heard!  I shouted again and again, and said that I was lost, but
there was no reply.  It was a bitter disappointment, something like that
of the sailor shipwrecked on a desert island, who sees a sail approaching
and thinks that he is saved, when as he gazes the vessel shifts her
course and disappears on the horizon, dashing his hopes to the ground.  It
appeared, as I learned afterwards, that these children saw _me_, though I
could not see them, and ran away terrified at my unearthly aspect.
Doubtless the head of a man protruding from a deep snow drift, crowned
and bearded with ice like a ghastly emblem of winter, was a sight to
cause a panic among children, and one cannot wonder that they ran off to
communicate the news that "there was the bogie in the snow."  Happily,
however, for the bogie, he had noticed the direction from which these
voices came, and struggling forward again, I soon found myself
sufficiently near to the Carding Mill to recognise the place, blind as I
was.  A little girl now ventured to approach me, as, true to the
instincts of her nature, the idea dawned upon her that I was no goblin of
the mountains, no disagreeable thing from a world beneath popped up
through the snow, but a real fellow-creature in distress.  I spoke to her
and told her that I was the clergyman of Ratlinghope, and had been lost
in the snow on the hill all night.  As she did not answer at once, I
suppose she was taking a careful observation of me, for after a few
moments she said, "Why, you look like Mr. Carr of Wolstaston."  "I am Mr.
Carr," I replied; whereupon the boys, who had previously run away, and,
as I imagine, taken refuge behind the girl, came forward and helped me on
to the little hamlet, only a few yards distant, where some half dozen
cottages are clustered together round the Carding Mill.

I was saved, at any rate, from immediate peril, though I fully expected
that serious illness must follow from my violent exertions and long
exposure.  I was saved at all events from the death of lonely horror
against which I had wrestled so many hours in mortal conflict, and
scarcely knew how to believe that I was once more among my fellow-men,
under a kindly, hospitable roof.  God's hand had led me thither.  No
wisdom or power of my own could have availed for my deliverance, when
once my sight was so much gone.  The Good Shepherd had literally, in very
deed, led the blind by a way that he knew not to a refuge of safety and

The good kind people at the Carding Mill, you may be sure, soon gathered
round me in sympathising wonder, and I was quickly supplied with such
comforts as they could give.  I told them that I had had scarcely
anything to eat since breakfast the day before (as I had been too much
hurried to eat my luncheon before starting to Ratlinghope), and so tea
and bread and butter were at once provided.  The former was very
grateful, but I could hardly eat the latter, as all feeling of hunger had
left me.  The good people were much shocked to find that I could not pick
up a piece of bread and butter for myself, as I could neither feel it nor
see it; I believe they thought my sight was hopelessly gone.  I was,
however, under no uneasiness myself on this score, as I was perfectly
familiar with snow blindness, having seen cases of it in Switzerland, and
knew that in all probability my eyes would get quite right again in a
week's time, as it turned out that they did.  They also discovered that
the middle finger of my right hand was terribly lacerated, and that the
skin was completely stripped off the back of it.  This I knew to be a
much more serious affair, as the frost had evidently got fast hold of it,
and I thought it very likely that I should lose it.  This, however,
seemed a very trifling matter to me then.  Had it been my right arm I
should have thought nothing of it, after so marvellous an escape.  I was
provided at the Carding Mill with a hat, boots, and dry stockings; and
having rested about a quarter of an hour, set out again to Church
Stretton, about a mile distant.  A man from the cottage came with me, and
gave me his arm, and with this assistance I accomplished the walk with
comparative ease.  I was so anxious to get home, that I almost felt as if
I could have walked the whole way, though I do not suppose that I could
really have done so, my home being rather more than five miles off.
Arrived at the town, I sent my companion for medical assistance, and
myself made my way to the Crown Inn.  I could discern large objects
sufficiently to find my way along the street, though all was blurred and
indistinct, and the admission of light to my eyes was beginning to cause
me extreme pain.  I ordered a fly immediately to take me as far as
possible on my road home.  No vehicle of any description had been along
the turnpike road that day, and it was very doubtful how far a fly could
go, so it was arranged that we should be accompanied by a man on a saddle
horse, that I might ride when the fly could go no further, as I knew
that, under the most favourable circumstances, the last mile and a half
of the road to Wolstaston would be inaccessible to wheels.

Of course my adventure excited great interest at the Crown Hotel, when it
was fully understood what had happened to me.  It was just two o'clock in
the afternoon when I reached that place, and as I had left Ratlinghope at
four o'clock on the previous afternoon, I had been walking
uninterruptedly for twenty-two hours, excepting the quarter of an hour I
had rested at the Carding Mill.  My good friends at the hotel discovered
that my clothes were very wet, for they had been frozen before and were
now thawed, so I was dressed up in the landlord's garments.  The effect
must have been very ludicrous, for he was a much stouter man than I was
at any time, and now I had shrunk away to nothing.  It will not therefore
be wondered at that people when they saw me declared they should not have
known who I was.

The surgeon having come and dressed my finger, and warned me to keep away
from the fire and hot water, and having prescribed some hot brandy and
water, I started in my fly on my homeward journey.  Very slow was our
progress.  We had taken spades with us, and many times the driver and the
man who accompanied him had to dig a way for the fly to get through.  Most
trying was the long delay thus caused to a man who knew that in his own
home he must probably be reckoned among the dead; but there was no help
for it, and at last Leebotwood was reached, the place where the lane to
Wolstaston turned off from the main road, and where I was to leave the
fly, and, as I hoped, ride home.

The Post Office is at Leebotwood, and having given orders there that any
letters coming from my house should be stopped, I was helped on my horse,
and, accompanied by the man, began to ascend the hill.  I had not gone a
hundred yards, when it became evident that it would be impossible to ride
far, and that I should be obliged to walk again, so the horse was sent
back to Leebotwood by a man whom we met, and I started again on my own
feet.  Just at this time we met another man coming down over the fields
from Wolstaston.  He had letters with him to post; those letters were
from my home.  They were to say that I had been lost in the snow storm,
that every effort had been made to find me, that they had proved
fruitless, and that there was no hope left.  I sent this messenger back
again pretty quickly, and told him to go home as fast as he could and say
I was coming.  This news reached the village about half an hour before I
could get up there myself, and as may be supposed there was great
rejoicing.  So completely had all hope of my safety been given up, that
to my people it seemed almost like a resurrection from the dead.

They had made the greatest efforts to find me.  Twice a party had gone up
the hill on the Sunday night to the limit of the enclosed ground, and
stayed there calling and shouting, till, as one of them said to me, they
felt that if they had stayed there another ten minutes, they would have
been frozen to death.  The second time they went up that night, they
actually got on to the open moorland some two or three hundred yards, but
here they were in imminent danger of being lost themselves.  One of them
indeed declared that he could not return, and would have been lost had
not his companions insisted on his struggling back with them.  Human
effort could do no more, and they made their toilsome way home prostrated
with fatigue.

It was a fearful moment, they tell me, when the Rectory house was closed
up for the night, the shutters fastened, and curtains drawn, with the
fate of its master unknown.  The helpless watchers could only wait and
count the weary hours, keeping food hot for the wanderer, who they feared
would never return, and unable till the morning to plan any further
efforts for his rescue.  The awful wind raged on, sometimes assuming to
the ears of the excited listeners the sound of rolling wheels and horses'
feet, startling them into expectation, though they knew that the tramp of
an army would have fallen noiseless on that depth of snow.  Then again,
it rose like shrieks and wild calls of distress, and every now and then
would smite the house with a buffet, as though it would level it with the

The storm lulled at length, as the hours went slowly by.  Morning came
and the men prepared to resume their almost hopeless search once more.
They started, about twenty strong, armed with spades and shovels, and
determined first of all to cut their way to Ratlinghope, thinking that
perhaps I had remained there all night.  They worked with all their
might, but the snow was deeper than ever, and their progress was
laborious and very slow.  Though they had started as soon as it was light
in the morning, they did not reach Ratlinghope till noon, and then their
last hope was dashed to the ground, for they heard that I _had_ started
the previous afternoon, though pressed to remain in the village for the
night.  Great was the consternation of the Ratlinghope people when they
heard the news.  They knew the hill well, and said with one consent, "If
Mr. Carr was on the Long Mynd last night, he is a dead man."  This
conviction too was strengthened by the sad fact, that that very morning
the dead body of a man, whom we all knew well, had been found in the road
frozen to death, not more than one hundred and fifty yards from a small
hamlet in the parish of Ratlinghope, known as "The Bridges."  Poor
Easthope, for such was his name, was a journeyman shoemaker by trade.  He
owned a few ponies which were on the hill, and he had been looking after
these on the Sunday.  I suppose he was much exhausted by this, but he had
safely reached his daughter's house in the evening, which he subsequently
left to go to the place where he worked, no great distance off.  He was
found, as I have said, the next morning frozen to death on the turnpike
road.  It is conjectured that he either sat down to rest or fell down,
and that he speedily became insensible.  I think this fact in itself is
sufficient to prove that, had I given way to the temptation to rest, I
too should have lost my life.

The searching party, reinforced by most of the able-bodied men in
Ratlinghope, beat that part of the hill lying between Ratlinghope and
Wolstaston thoroughly, thinking that I must be somewhere in the tract
between the two places, never supposing that I could have wandered as far
away as I actually had done.  The fog was so thick that it was only by
keeping near to each other and shouting constantly that this party was
able to keep together.  I need not say that they failed to discover any
trace of me, and about three o'clock in the afternoon, worn out and
exhausted, they returned to the Rectory with the worst tidings.  "He must
be dead," they said, "he must _be_ dead; it is not possible that any
human creature could have lived through such a night."  And it was upon
the receipt of these tidings that the letters were sent off which I so
fortunately succeeded in stopping.  Half-an-hour after, the news came
that I was returning, and in another half-hour I was at home.  This was
between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, rather more than twenty-
seven hours from the time I had left Wolstaston.

My friends tell me that had they not known who it was, they would
scarcely have recognised me.  Dressed in another man's clothes,
exceedingly thin, with eyes fearfully bloodshot, and fingers stiff and
shrunken, the middle finger more resembling a dead stick, they say, with
the gray and wrinkled bark on, than the living member of a human body,
this is scarcely to be wondered at.  I was glad to go to bed at once, and
to have my feet and hands well rubbed with snow.  This, it should be well
known, is the only thing to be done in cases of frost bite.  Had I put
them in hot water, I should in all probability have lost my fingers and
toes; they would have sloughed off.  I know of several cases where this
has happened; indeed, I heard of one quite lately, for the gardener of a
friend of mine in Warwickshire had his hands frost-bitten while throwing
the snow off the roof of a house during this last winter, and
injudiciously putting them into hot water, the result has been that he
has lost the ends of all his fingers, to the first joint.  In my case, I
am thankful to say I knew better than to do this, and by the use of cold
water and continued friction have succeeded in restoring my hands in a
great measure.  They have still not nearly as much sensation in them as
before, but this will return with time.  During the last few weeks, gorse
pricks have been working out of my hands and feet and legs by hundreds,
though at first, from the numbness of the skin, I was quite unconscious
of them.  It is not to be wondered at that I should have picked these up
in great numbers whilst walking through the gorse bushes without my
boots, and clutching at them as I fell in hopes of saving myself.

Such are the details of my "Night in the Snow," and my most wonderful
preservation through it and the following day.  I trust that no one who
may chance to read these pages will ever be placed in a similar position;
but should it so happen, I hope that the remembrance of my adventure will
occur to them; for surely it teaches, as plainly as anything can, that
even in the most adverse circumstances no one need ever despair; and
shows how an individual of no unusual physical powers may, by God's help,
resist the overwhelming temptation to sleep which is usually so fatal to
those who are lost in the snow.


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Night in the Snow - or, A Struggle for Life" ***

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