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Title: On Cambrian and Cumbrian Hills - Pilgrimages to Snowdon and Scafell
Author: Salt, Henry S.
Language: English
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                            ON CAMBRIAN AND
                            CUMBRIAN HILLS

                  _First Edition_              _1908_
                  _Revised Edition, July_      _1922_

     [Illustration: _Frontispiece_]    [_G. P. Abraham, Keswick._

                           THE GREAT GABLE.]

                            ON CAMBRIAN AND
                            CUMBRIAN HILLS

                        PILGRIMAGES TO SNOWDON
                              AND SCAFELL

                                  By

                             HENRY S. SALT

                           (REVISED EDITION)

                      LONDON: C. W. DANIEL, LTD.
                   GRAHAM HOUSE, TUDOR STREET, E.C.4



To C. L. S.


    _I send thee, love, this upland flower I found,
    While wandering lonely with o’erclouded heart,
    Hid in a grey recess of rocky ground
    Among the misty mountains far apart;
    And there I heard the wild wind’s luring sound,
    Which whoso trusts, is healed of earthborn care,
    And watched the lofty ridges loom around,
    Yet yearned in vain their secret faith to share.
    When lo! the sudden sunlight, sparkling keen,
    Poured full upon the vales the glorious day,
    And bared the abiding mountain-tops serene,
    And swept the shifting vapour-wreaths away:--
    Then with the hills’ true heart my heart beat true,
    Heavens opened, cloud-thoughts vanished, and I knew._

    1879.



Preface to First Edition


Books about British mountains are mostly of two kinds, the
popular, written for the tourist, and the technical, written by
the rock-climber. The author of this little study of the hills of
Carnarvonshire and Cumberland is aware that it cannot claim acceptance
under either of those heads, lacking as it does both the usefulness of
the general “guide,” and the thrill of the cragsman’s adventure: he
publishes it, nevertheless, as at least a true expression of the love
which our mountains can inspire, and he will be content if it meets,
here and there, with some friendly “pilgrims” whose sympathies are akin
to his own.

Nor is he without hope that his plea for the preservation of Snowdon
and other mountain “sanctuaries,” before they are utterly disfigured,
may give a much-needed warning while yet there is time.



Contents


                                    PAGE

      I PILGRIMS OF THE MOUNTAIN      11

     II AT THE SHRINE OF SNOWDON      30

    III AT THE SHRINE OF SCAFELL      49

     IV PLEASURES OF THE HEIGHTS      67

      V WILD LIFE                     82

     VI THE BARREN HILLSIDE          100

    VII SLAG-HEAP OR SANCTUARY?      111



ON CAMBRIAN AND CUMBRIAN HILLS



I

Pilgrims of the Mountain


The pilgrimages of which I write are not made in Switzerland; my theme
is a homelier and more humble one. Yet it is a mistake to think that to
see great or at least real mountains it is necessary to go abroad; for
the effect of highland scenery is not a matter of mere height, but is
due far more to shapeliness than to size. There is no lack of British
Alps within our reach, if we know how to regard them; as, for instance,
the gloomily impressive Coolins of Skye, the granite peaks of Arran,
or, to come at once to the subject of this book, the mountains of
Carnarvonshire and Cumberland.

For small and simple as are these Cambrian and Cumbrian hills of ours,
when compared with the exceeding grandeur and vast complexities of
the Swiss Alps or the Pyrenees, they are nevertheless gifted with
the essential features of true mountains--with ridge and precipice,
cloud and mist, wind and storm, tarn and torrent; nor are snow and ice
wanting to complete the picture in winter-time. Why, then, with this
native wealth within our shores, must we all be carried oversea to
climb Alps with guides, when without guides, and at far less cost of
time and money, we may have the same mountain visions, and hear the
same mountain voices at home? A few of us, at least, will refuse to bow
the knee in this fetish-worship of “going abroad”; for the benefit of
going abroad depends mainly on person, temper, and circumstance; and to
some mountain lovers a lifelong intimacy with their own hills is more
fruitful than any foreign excursions can be.

For my part, I like to do my distant mountaineering by means of books.
If I wish, for example, to see the Sierra Nevada of the West, can I
not do so in Muir’s _Mountains of California_, a book scarcely less
real and life-giving than the heights by which it is inspired--far more
so than any superficial visit in the weary rôle of tourist? And then,
if the mood takes me, I know where to find and enjoy a Sierra Nevada
of our own; for is not Snowdon, is not Scafell, too, a Sierra Nevada
during half the months of the year?

My pilgrims, then, are pilgrims to the less lofty, but not less worthy
shrines of Lakeland and Wales; and nowhere do we see more clearly
than in these districts the startling change that has come over the
relations between Mountain and Man. When Gilpin visited Derwentwater in
1786, he quoted with approval the remark of an “ingenious person” who,
on seeing the lake, cried out, “Here is Beauty indeed, Beauty lying in
the lap of Horrour!” and in like spirit Thomas Pennant, in his _Tours
in North Wales_, described the shore of Llyn Idwal as “a fit place to
inspire murderous thoughts, environed with horrible precipices.” Then
gradually the sense of beauty displaced the sense of “horrour,” and
awe was melted into admiration; though still, to a quite recent time,
we see reflected in the literature of our British mountains the belief
that to ascend them was a perilous feat not to be lightly undertaken.
Thus we read of a traveller who, having inquired of his host at
Pen-y-Gwryd whether he might venture to ascend Snowdon without a guide,
was dissuaded from such a headstrong attempt, which “would necessarily
be attended with great risk”[1]; and another writer, in narrating his
ascent by the easy Beddgelert ridge, some fifty years ago, exclaims
with solemnity, “You _felt_ that a false step would be fatal.”

But there were some pioneers, long before climbing became a fine
art, who knew and loved the mountains too well to fear them. Take,
for instance, the story--one of the most interesting in these early
records--of the unknown clergyman who, about the middle of the last
century, used to haunt the Welsh hills, and was “possessed with a most
extraordinary mania for climbing.” It is delightful to read of the
enthusiasm with which he engaged in his pursuit.

    His object was, to use his own expression, “to follow the
    sky-line” of every mountain he visited. For example, he would
    ascend Snowdon from Llanberis, but instead of following the
    beaten track he would take the edge of the mountain along the
    verge of the highest precipices, following what he called the
    “sky-line,” until he reached the summit; he would then descend
    the other side of the mountain toward Beddgelert, in a similar
    manner. He appeared to have no other object in climbing to the
    wild mountain-tops, than merely, as he said, to behold the
    wonderful works of the Almighty. In following the “sky-line,”
    no rocks, however rough, no precipices, unless perfectly
    inaccessible, ever daunted him. This singular mania, or hobby
    horse, he appears to have followed up for years, and continued
    with unabated ardour.[2]

That enthusiast, I am sure, was a true pilgrim, and it is to be
regretted that his name is unrecorded.

People sometimes write as if these mountains were “discovered,” and
first ascended, by English travellers, and as if the native dalesmen
had known nothing of their own country before. Such statements can
hardly be taken with seriousness, for it is evident that, as sheep
were pastured on these hills from the earliest times, the shepherd must
have long preceded the tourist as mountaineer. Thus we find Pennant, in
his description of the “stupendous” ridges that surround Nant Ffrancon,
remarking: “I have, from the depth beneath, seen the shepherds skipping
from peak to peak; but the point of contact was so small that from this
distance they seemed to my uplifted eyes like beings of another order,
floating in the air.” To the shepherds, of course, mountain climbing
was not a sport but a business, and it would not have occurred to them
to climb higher than was necessary; but who can doubt that, in the
course of their daily rounds, the summits as well as the sides of the
hills must have become known to them?

And if the tourist thinks the native cold and unimpressionable, what
does the man who has been born and bred on the hills think of the man
who comes on purpose to scramble there? It is difficult to say, so
friendly yet inscrutable is his attitude; but I remember hearing from a
shepherd in Wastdale, who had tended sheep on the Gable till every crag
was familiar to him, a story which seemed to throw some light on his
sentiments. He had been asked by a rock-climbing visitor, in the dearth
of companions at the hotel, to join him in the ascent of a ridge where
it would have been rash for one to go alone, and he did so; but, as he
said to me, though he was always ready to go on the rocks to rescue
a sheep, it did a bit puzzle him that the gentleman should wish to go
there “for no reason.” That, I suspect, is the underlying problem in
the mind of the hillsman with respect to the amateur; but, of course,
both interest and politeness prevent the free expression of it.[3]

There are cases, however, where the mountain dwellers become themselves
inspired with the love of climbing for climbing’s sake. I was told
of an inhabitant of Snowdonia who had been away in a lowland county
for several years, and when at last he returned, and saw his beloved
hill-tops again, could not satisfy his feelings until he had traversed,
in one walk, the whole circuit of Snowdon, the Glyders, and the
Carnedds, a distance of some thirty miles. Even when there is no such
visible enthusiasm, we may feel assured that the mountains wield a real
though subconscious influence upon their children.

It was not till the early ’eighties that the Alpinists discovered
that there are fine gymnastic “problems” among the rocks of Wales and
Cumberland, and the word went forth that every buttress and gully,
every pinnacle and arête, were to be mastered; from which time onward
the cry of the ambitious climber has been (like the cry of the
religious devotee) _scando quia impossibile est_, with the result that
the “impossible” has mostly become the accomplished. So that whereas,
some twenty-five years ago, an ascent of the more precipitous ridges
and rock-faces was a rare achievement, we now see the very hotel walls
covered with pictures of “pillars” and “needles,” with adventurous
cragsmen perched in alarming postures on the verge, and the frivolities
of visitors’-books interspersed with the grim seriousness of the
climbers’ records, telling in technical language how Messrs. So and So,
“led” by Mr. Dash, surmounted some particular “pitch” (ominous term!)
in Mr. Blank’s gully--for every gully must now be named after its
conqueror.[4]

Let me not be misunderstood as wishing to depreciate in any way the
craft of the climber, which, even apart from its great scientific and
geographical value in the pioneering of Alps, Andes or Himalayas,
and regarded merely as an athletic exercise, is one of the finest of
sports; for which reason those who have long been familiar with the
mountain life, though themselves not rock-climbers, will be the first
to admire, and to envy, the marvellous skill which has carried men
into places where, a quarter-century back, no one dreamed of venturing.
But I would point out that there is another and still more important
function of great mountains--the culture not of the athletic faculty
alone, but of that intellectual sympathy with untamed and primitive
Nature which our civilization threatens to destroy. A mountain is
something more than a thing to climb. To the many who, on a fine summer
day, swarm up Skiddaw or Snowdon by the well-worn pony-paths, it is
pure holiday-making: to the few who (in another sense) swarm up Scafell
Pinnacle or the Napes Needle, it is pure gymnastics; but between or
beyond these two classes there are those--pilgrims I call them--who
find in mountain climbing what only mountains can give, the contact
with unsophisticated Nature, the opportunity to be alone, to be out of
and above the world of ordinary life, to pass from the familiar sights
and surroundings into a cloud-land of new shapes and sounds, where one
feels the fascination of that undiscoverable secret (I do not know how
else to name it) by which every true nature-lover is allured.

Now, judging from the current literature of mountain climbing, one
might suppose that mountains had no such secret at all--that they were
mere fortuitous masses of rock-structure, formidable indeed to those
unskilled in the cragsman’s pastime, but supplying a ready playground
for the expert. In the popular and less ambitious class of guide-book,
written for the “tripper” who is deemed incapable of attaining an easy
summit without instruction, and who is warned of the foolhardiness of
deviating a yard from the appointed track, we do not of course look for
any real appreciation of mountain character; but it is to be regretted
that the same defect is scarcely less observable in the records of the
new school of British rock-climbers, if we except the writings of its
men of genius, such as the late Mr. Owen Glynne Jones, and a few others
who might be mentioned. There are many fine cragsmen, it would seem, to
whom the fells are little more than a gymnasium, and who cannot see the
mountains for the rocks.

A story told me by an artist who is a true lover of the mountains will
illustrate what I mean. Returning to Wastdale Head one evening along
the side of the lake in company with some climbers, while the seamed
front of the Screes across the water was glorified by the setting sun,
he pointed out to one of the party the splendour of the sight. “Yes,”
replied the gymnast, with a glance at the gullies, “you get a good look
at number one and number two, don’t you?” To _him_ the illuminated
mountain-side was just a line of numbered chimneys to scramble in; he
had as much feeling for them as for the numbered bathing-machines on a
seashore.

Still less is there any real understanding of the mountains among the
bulk of the tourists who rush through the districts and throng the
hotels in the “season”: of the motorists, of course, I need not speak.
They will ask, no doubt, the usual well-worn questions--“Which is
Snowdon?” and “Where is Helvellyn?” and “Is that the top of Scafell?”
but you quickly perceive that they are but jesting Pilates who do not
wait for the answer; they may take coach-trips over the passes, and
admire a show waterfall or two, but they see no more in the mountains
than the panorama of the moment, an incident in the day’s amusements of
less import than their lunch.

Who, then, it may be asked, are the “pilgrims” of whom I speak? They
are the small handful of enthusiasts whose concern with the mountains,
as compared with that of the rock-climbers, is of a less venturesome
but not less personal kind--devotees who have made it their pleasure
to become intimately versed in the mountain lore, and to whom the
numberless moods and phases of the hills are more familiarly known than
to many expert cragsmen. To such solitary nature-lovers what name is
more applicable than that of “pilgrims,” a pilgrim, we are told, being
one “who visits with religious intent, some place reputed to possess
especial holiness”; and have we not the authority of a great poet for
so using it?[5]

It is gratifying to me to be able to claim episcopal sanction for my
own share, such as it is, in these mountain pilgrimages; for it was
by a Bishop,[6] as renowned for his physical prowess as for his piety
and learning, that I was first inducted to this work, and ordained
(so to speak) in the high calling which I have followed, more or less
faithfully, for over fifty years. It so chanced that, as a sixth-form
boy in a great public school, I was sent in the summer holidays to act
as tutor to a nephew of the Bishop, and the scene of our studies was
a village on the Carnarvonshire coast, under the great northern spurs
of Carnedd Llewelyn. With shame I must confess that both pupil and
tutor preferred the allurements of the shore to the austerities of the
heights; but the Bishop, muscular Christian and walker that he was,
proud of traversing the length and breadth of his diocese on foot, was
bent on finding his way--and what more troubled us, _our_ way--to the
little tarn, Llyn an Afon, which lies under the steep front of Y Foel
Fras, itself a mountain of 3,000 feet; and in search of this lakelet
we were “commandeered,” much against our wishes, to march with the
Bishop across the hills. Even now I see him, as he waved his stick
encouragingly to us from some far headland, while we two boys lagged
wearily behind, and wondered at the strange climbing propensities of
bishops; and I remember that when an irreverent groan of “Oh, what
a fool the Bishop is!” escaped from my pupil’s lips, I inexcusably
failed to reprove him. Little did I foresee that, though the task was
so unwelcome to me at the moment, I was soon myself to be bitten with
the same mountain madness, and that the image of Llyn an Afon, nestling
under a semicircle of rocks at the head of its long pastoral valley,
was to draw me back many and many a time, in later years, to revisit
that lonely region. The Bishop himself would be flattered, perhaps,
could he know that, as a result of that walk, one of his two laggards
became a confirmed pilgrim, and has since made more ascents than he
cares to confess of those Carnarvonshire mountains, and at all kinds of
seasons.

For the notion, at one time widespread, and still by no means extinct,
that these districts can be properly visited only in July and August is
wholly erroneous. There is no doubt that in May and June the climate is
usually at its best, and then most often occur those halcyon spells of
sunshine which the drenched August holiday-maker is apt to regard as a
myth; for the tourist waits till the wet weather has set in, and then
has some hard things to say of the mountains’ rudeness. The autumn,
too, is often a goodly season for the climber, when the last torrential
rains of August or September have sent the last disillusioned visitors
to their homes; and even the winter-time, or early spring, as Southey,
with other authorities, has pointed out, is far more fruitful than the
late summer in those “goings on in heaven” which give an ever-shifting
glory to the hills.

Eastertide is now a popular week among the mountains, but fifty years
ago the hotels were practically empty at that season. I well remember
how, as an undergraduate at Cambridge, I planned my first Easter
visit to Cumberland, and was gravely warned by a learned Fellow of my
College, the librarian, Henry Bradshaw, that it would be a very rash
undertaking to go at that time, for “the passes,” he said, “would not
be open.” He had in mind, possibly, a sentence in Gray’s account of
his trip to the Lake District in 1769, where it is stated of the gates
of the Styhead Pass, at Seathwaite, that “all farther access is here
barred to prying mortals, only there is a little path winding over the
fells, and for some weeks in the year passable to the dalesmen; but
the mountains know well that these innocent people will not reveal the
mysteries of their ancient kingdom.” If my monitor could now stand on
the Styhead on a fine Easter Monday, he would see a sight to surprise
him!

Nor is it strange that the mountains should attract their worshippers
at all seasons of the year, for the passion, once acquired, is
insatiable; you may tire of the hills for awhile, but if you have once
felt their power you will assuredly return to them; and that perhaps is
why we think of them as holding some inner secret of their own. Who
that has sympathetically studied them will deny it? There are moments
when, as we stand in the presence of a great mountain group, we are
almost overwhelmingly conscious of the brooding watchfulness, the
sphinx-like reserve and expectancy, with which these silent sentinels
confront us. What is the source of the strong yet mysterious attraction
that draws us again and again to these wildernesses of rock and cloud,
this “builded desolation” which might seem so antagonistic to human
sympathies? Why is it that we find even a humanizing influence in
wastes where our grandfathers could see nothing but what repelled them
as “savage” and “ferocious”? The charm that binds us is as inexplicable
as it is real. If human love is “of the valley” and calls us down,
there is another and wilder love that is of the mountain and calls us
upward.

There are unfrequented ranges, such as the Eskdale side of Scafell,
or the Aber side of Carnedd Llewelyn, where one may walk for twelve
hours together without meeting a human being; indeed, the loneliness
of the Welsh hills is now even greater than it used to be, since the
“hafodtai,” or upland farmsteads, where the herdsmen camped out during
the summer months, have been abandoned; and the present concentration
of both tourists and climbers on certain favoured spots makes the
silence all the deeper elsewhere. Thus it is that the pilgrim who
is neither tyro nor expert, and therefore not dependent on the
companionship of others, on account either of his own incapacity or of
the arduous nature of his task, is able on the mountains to profit by
a rare form of intercourse which, in the hurry and bustle of modern
life, has become increasingly difficult; he can exchange ideas (if
he has any) with _himself_. His surroundings are such as to quicken
and foster such self-converse, not by the morbid introspection of the
solitary--for, rightly regarded, there is no such thing as solitude
among the hills--but by the liberating influence which these scenes
exert both on the body and on the mind.

Nor must it be supposed that there is any taint of moroseness or
misanthropy in this mountain seclusion; the contrary, rather, is the
case, and the human sympathies are perhaps all the stronger because
they are not expressed but implied. Tender relationships need space to
grow in, and the self-withdrawal which allows a fuller, because a freer
view of them, does not lessen but rather fosters their tenderness,
even as we may understand the hills themselves the better if we
sometimes watch them from afar; and it is just this gift of space and
freedom that we find in mountains as nowhere else. Therefore it is
true, in Muir’s words, that “the darkest scriptures of the mountains
are illumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make
themselves felt when one is alone.”

Again, if the mountains can teach us to feel more deeply, they can
also help us more effectively to think. I have heard mountaineering
deprecated by a learned scholar as having too much of the “animal” in
it. The mountains certainly are not a thinking-shop; we do not go to
them to follow a train of thought, or to solve a mathematical problem,
but when we return from them we should be able to think the better, for
in their company we have stood face to face with those great natural
forces which are the best and most elemental educators of heart and
mind alike. As Wordsworth’s “Solitary” said of the “two huge peaks,”
that overlooked his hermitage:

    Thoughts are not busier in the mind of man
    Than the mute agents stirring there.

For, rightly spent, what we call “a day upon the mountains” is in
truth an eight or ten hours’ enfranchisement from a mortal obsession.
Our chains fall from us--the small cramping chains of lifelong
habit--and we go free. We awake out of the deadly torpor of our
everyday “occupations,” and we live. And excellent as is the physical
exaltation of climbing--the toil and triumph of the ascent--there is
also an intellectual and spiritual element in the mountain-passion,
which can lift us out of ourselves, and show us, from a higher plane
of feeling, as no mere book-knowledge can do, the true proportions and
relations of things. One cannot walk in such regions, consciously,
without enlargement of thought. There are heights and valleys which,
to those who seek them in a sympathetic spirit, are better “seats of
learning” than any school or university in the land; there are days
when the climber seems to rise into a rarer mental as well as visual
atmosphere, and to leave far below him the crass cares and prejudices
of commonplace life.[7]

In this sense the humanities of thought do not wither, but rather
are fostered and strengthened, in the loneliness of the hills, and
the hills themselves, when approached in a fit spirit, become a
living inspiration, which enables us the better to know and value our
fellow-beings of flesh and blood. “Would that I could give the world
some clue to apprehend these strange weird companions of my life, in
their higher teachings and ideals. Painters give them up in despair, as
impossible, unrenderable; and they have yet to be described in their
subtle powers of thought-giving and helpful teaching.” So wrote to
me a friend who had dwelt for many years under the shadow of a mighty
mountain range.[8]

Here, then, is the function of mountains in relation to human life.
To every one there is opened (if he knows it) his own doorway for
stepping out into space--for detaching himself for a time from the
heavy environment of customary thought. To many it is music that
furnishes this passport; to others poetry; to some few the philosophic
reverie, or deliberate practice of the _yoga_. I have ventured to speak
of mountain climbing in a similar relation, and to suggest that, in
certain aspects, it is indeed a form of _ecstasy_, a standing above,
and out of, oneself. The mind, no less than the body, has its Snowdons
and its Helvellyns--its Crib Gochs and its Striding Edges--and when we
climb them we may rise superior, not only to the visible landscape but
to ourselves, and survey from a new vantage-point the low-lying flats
and pastures, or shall we say the tablelands (too often literally so),
of our own tastes and habits. How many astronomers are busily intent on
surveying the Mountains of the Moon! And shall we not devote at least
equal attention to these Mountains of the Mind, which are far nearer,
clearer, and more real to us? Their secret, maybe, we shall never fully
read; it is at least our privilege to have guessed at it.

Thus it is that these our British highlands are sacred ground to some
of us. We have gone on pilgrimage to them again and again, until the
association has become, in a manner, a personal one; for there are
instinctive sympathies with places as with people, and to many, as
to myself, the connexion with certain mountains has been a deep and
lasting influence. How many days, amounting to months and years of my
life, have I spent in their company; and how often have I been keenly
conscious of their presence, even when living far away from them in the
din and dust of towns! Going back to these mountain shrines, after long
and unwilling absence, we find that in heart we have never left them at
all.



II

At the Shrine of Snowdon


It is commonly said that the approach to Snowdon begins at Capel Curig;
but this is a very shortsighted and unimaginative way of regarding
so rich an experience as a pilgrimage to the heart of Wales. To the
true mountain lover, the approach begins at Euston Square. Yes, there,
in the great busy station, when you have uttered the magic word,
“Bettws-y-Coed,” and have received what looks like a mere railway
ticket, but is, in fact, a passport to the enchanted fastnesses of the
hills--from that moment, and all the day, as you glide swiftly through
the broad fields of the Midlands, you see before you (if you are fitted
to be a pilgrim at all) the distant ridges and cloud-capped peaks of
Snowdonia, and hear the music of the streams.

For let it not be supposed that Capel Curig is, as other mountain
hamlets are, a mere halting-place in the “circular tour” of North
Wales. An old writer has called the place “an excellent inn in a
desert,” but it is much more than that; it is an excellent desert
round an inn. It is the special glory of the Capel that it lies, not
in a sunken hollow, but on an open upland, some 700 feet above the sea,
where the air, even at the hottest noontide, breathes crisp and bracing
from the hills. The distance from Bettws-y-Coed is only five or six
miles by road; in climate the difference is one that no mileage can
express. From the low, moist woodlands you mount gradually up till you
reach the point where the Llugwy river winds in a series of rocky falls
round the base of Moel Siabod; then there is a bend, and yet another
bend, in the valley, and you find yourself at St. Curig’s shrine.
Great mountains are all around you, but there is a sense of space and
freedom, with wild slopes of grass and rock stretching up and back to
the higher ridges that lie behind. One is not oppressed, as so often in
mountain districts, by the nearness of the overhanging heights.

By climbing one of the low hills that border the junction of the
streams, you may learn the general features of the place at a glance.
Facing westward, with your back to Bettws-y-Coed, you look into two
bare, bleak, converging valleys, of which the southern is topped by the
clear-cut peaks of Snowdon, the northern by the bulky range of Carnedd
Llewelyn, while between them is the great mass of the Glyders. You are
face to face with the wildest region of North Wales--a foreground of
broad, marshy moorland, where you see little life but an occasional
herd of black cattle, and a background of mountains that rise above
3,000 feet; yet the dreariness of the scene, so striking in its first
impression, is relieved and varied, on fuller acquaintance, by the
unsuspected tenderness that it enfolds. Simple and severe as the
outlines are, there lies beneath them a wealth of loveliness that no
intimacy can exhaust--lakes and mountain streams, unsurpassed for
purity and freshness; secret nooks and lawns, and green terraces of
turf, interspersed with grey crags and buttresses; and, crowning all,
the great circle of mountains which for ever attracts and holds the eye
without laying a burden on the mind.

Capel Curig, as a glance at the map will show, is the ideal centre
for the exploration of Snowdonia, lying as it does at the junction of
the two chief valleys, from which any of the mountain ranges may be
approached; and there is in Capel Curig (for those who know it) the
ideal cottage in which to spend a memorable fortnight among the hills.
A more welcome resting-place, for one who loves a wild country, than
this little home among the mountains, with the plash of streams and the
cry of curlews all around, it would be difficult to imagine; but it is
less as a resting-place than a starting-place that it is here referred
to. Let it be supposed, therefore, that we have once more spent a
night in the cottage, with the moon looking down on us from over the
ridge of Siabod; that we have paid yet another morning visit to our
bathing-place in the Llugwy, with the dipper and the grey wagtail
flying up and down the stream, and that we are now starting out to make
renewed acquaintance with the grim giants couched around.

The sense of severity and aloofness which haunts these mountains as
compared with the Cumberland “fells,” is due chiefly no doubt to their
sterner physical features, and to the greater depth and bleakness of
the bare valleys which intersect them, each group of peaks rising
apart, like a mountain system of its own; but we Saxon visitors are
also moved, perhaps, by a feeling of racial strangeness in a land
which has no interpreter for us--no literary associations such as
those by which the English lakes are endeared--nothing but a dim
record of earlier inhabitants, with wild tales of battles and feuds,
soldiers and banditti, insurrections and invasions, now alike buried
in the past. We seem to be looking on savage mountains in a foreign
land. For me at least the first impression of “angry grandeur” in the
Welsh mountains[9] has never been wholly obliterated by the intimacy
of years, and has lent an unfailing zest to my walks. I can still
recall the youthful eagerness with which, after my first ascent of
Snowdon with a College friend, we set off, then and there, to toil
from Pen-y-Gwryd up the long ridge of Moel Siabod; and how on a later
occasion, after crossing Snowdon to Beddgelert, I was not satisfied
until I had stood on the opposite crest of Moel Hebog in the afternoon.
There must assuredly be some strong attraction about the mountains that
can draw one, even in the fervour of boyhood, to pay them double homage
such as this.

Next to the fact that they fall into the three great groups of
Snowdon, the Glyders and the Carnedds--with Moel Siabod, and the
heathery moorlands that link it to Cynicht and Moelwyn, forming a
boundary on the south-east--the first point that strikes the watcher
of these stimulating heights is that they offer, for the most part,
a precipitous face on their northern or eastern fronts, while to the
south and west they sink less formidably, though often with great
steepness, to their dividing “bwlchs.” This structure is very marked in
the central range of the Glyders,[10] where for four miles around the
head of Nant Ffrancon the great escarpment looks down on the waters of
Llyn Ogwen; on the south there is but a formless steep of intermingled
heather and rock, so that it would be surprising that strangers should
be instructed to ascend the mountain from that quarter, if the art of
climbing--that is, of selecting the routes that yield the greatest
satisfaction to the climber--were not so entirely overlooked.

To understand the Glyders, therefore, it is from Ogwen that we must
start, that beautiful dark lake which lies, a thousand feet above
sea-level, in the great mountain basin from which Nant Ffrancon
descends--

    Where all is rocks at random thrown,
    Black waves, bare crags, and banks of stone.

There is much truth in the remark made sixty years ago by Mr. C. F.
Cliffe that “there are few parts of these isles in which elemental
effects may be seen, or heard, to such advantage as in this enormous
valley, enclosed on nearly three sides; Aeolus sports here to his
heart’s content”; for owing to the sharp northward bend which the glen
takes at the foot of Llyn Ogwen, the play of wind and cloud in this
boisterous amphitheatre is often a wonderful sight. Looking southward
from this point, we have above us the beetling front of the Glyders,
and by striking up the spur known locally as the Gribin, with Llyn
Idwal on its right and Llyn Bochlwyd on its left, we gain a natural
causeway, at first broad and bulky, then narrowing to a knife-edge,
which leads us through the heart of the mountain, with intoxicating
sights on either side, to the high plateau between the Glyder Fawr and
the Glyder Fach. Across Cwm Bochlwyd, as we ascend, rises the great
mountain tower of Tryfan, which, since the outrage done to the majesty
of Snowdon, is rivalled only by Crib Goch for the supreme honours of
Welsh summits; on the other hand we see, above Llyn Idwal, the famous
black rift in the mural precipice, known as the Devil’s Kitchen, with
its cataract of disgorged boulders streaking the slope below. Having
reached the top of the Gribin, we pass at a step from our narrow
staircase into an upper storey between the two summits of the Glyders,
described in early guide-books as “the chilly mountainous flat”; nor
to this day is there a spot that more often merits the name, though
there are times, too, when it may serve rather as a basking-place in
summer heat. From this pivot we have the whole mountain, with its wide
prospects, at our command, and can either turn to the right toward the
Glyder Fawr, and thence follow the sky-line over Y Garn to the Great
Elidyr, the western buttress of the range, or walk leftward (which is
by far the better course) to the Glyder Fach, from which we can cross
the gap to Tryfan and descend by its precipitous northern ridge to our
starting-place at Llyn Ogwen.

The character of the Glyder itself is that of a wild stony desert,
upbreaking here and there, as notably at its summit, into bristling
“horns” and “pikes”--stacks and shafts of rock piled together in
fantastic disarray--wonderful in all weathers, but most when the spell
of cloud is upon them. Of many journeys across this mountain, I best
remember those which were fought step by step against the storm, when
the wind was so strong that one had to clutch at the crags to avoid
being blown away, and the mist so thick that even the unforgotten rock
figures--grotesque shapes of beasts and fowls and reptiles without
name--were blurred and transformed, so that in the compass alone was
there certainty;[11] but the fair days also are not less treasured in
the mind when one could sit and watch the Ogwen stream, like the river
in Mrs. Browning’s poem, “flowing ever in a shadow greenly onward
to the sea,” or southward the glitter of Portmadoc Bay, hung like a
picture in the sky, or far to the south-east the Berwyn Hills, and
other distant and more distant ranges, covered with snow (I recall the
wonders of one long-past winter afternoon) and gleaming like fire in
the sunset.

But it is to Tryfan, even more than to the Glyder Fach, that the
heart of the pilgrim is drawn--that huge rocky bastion which juts
out from the battlements of the main ridge, and has been the marvel
of generations of travellers on the coach-road which it overhangs.
Well might Pennant, looking across to it from the verge of the Glyder
a hundred years before rock-climbing was thought of, feel dismayed
at its frown! “In the midst of a vale far below,” he wrote, “rises
the singular mountain Trevaen, assuming on this side a pyramidal
form, naked and very rugged. A precipice, from the summit of which I
surveyed the strange scene, forbade my approach to examine the nature
of its composition.” There is no difficulty in approaching Tryfan from
this side, indeed the very precipice of which Pennant spoke is now
recommended by rock-climbers as a good training-place for beginners;
but so formidable is the look of the mountain that until about forty
years ago it was ascended by only one route, nor even now, when it has
lost its former terrors, has it lost one jot of its impressiveness.
After visiting Tryfan some scores of times, I still feel its attraction
as strongly as when I first discovered it (for it comes to every
mountain-lover as a discovery of his own), and I have sometimes thought
that a summer might be well spent in making a thorough study of the
peak, until one became familiar with the many unexplored recesses which
the climber passes by, that labyrinth of cyclopean masonry--terraces
and galleries, slabs and spires, turrets and gargoyles--with which
it uprears itself, like the great cathedral that it is, to the two
standing stones which form its crest.

No hermitage certainly could be more sublime, for him who would dwell
above the pomps and vanities of the world, than a nook in one of the
rocky pent-houses or caverns that yawn along the sides of Tryfan; and
such anchorite would at least enjoy the best natural observatory, and
the finest mountain berries, that Carnarvonshire can produce. Plain
living and high thinking might there be practised _in excelsis_.

When we turn from the Glyders and Tryfan, still in their primitive
state of utter wildness, to their great neighbour, Snowdon, scarred
and maimed by copper-mine and steam-engine, the change is a striking
one; it is like passing from a perfectly preserved work of art to
some broken monument, the torso of a giant form, in which we have
to reconstruct from the beauty of what remains, the once exceeding
splendour of the whole. Capel Curig, as I have said, is the point from
which “Snowdon and all his sons” (to use Pennant’s quaint expression)
are best seen; to ascend from Llanberis and Beddgelert is to go up by
a back staircase in neglect of the front one, a mistaken course at
any time, and doubly so now that the summit has been spoiled, and the
interest of the mountain in great part shifted to its attendant peaks,
which rise on the Capel Curig side.

But crippled as Snowdon is, we may still find on it one incomparable
excursion, the circuit of the great hollow of Cwm Dyli by the ridges
of Lliwedd and Crib Goch, which, if we can shut our eyes to the
abominations of slag-heap and railroad that must be passed on the way,
will hold its own, even against the Glyder and Tryfan, as the grandest
mountain walk in Wales. Lliwedd itself, which rises so finely from the
shores of Llyn Llydaw, is a beautiful object from every side but the
south, and may be described as a sort of glorified Skiddaw--as if the
Cumbrian hill, while losing none of the graceful lines and curves that
distinguish it, had been cut down, on its front, from a mere steep
of shale and heather into a mighty precipice. Along the edge of this
rock-face, the haunt once of the wild goat, now of the cragsman, and
over the twin peaks, with their bird’s-eye views of Cwm Dyli and its
two lakes on one side, and the lakeless Cwm Llan on the other, we have
an ideal route to Snowdon.

Arrived _there_, what a scene awaits us, especially if the train has
just steamed in with its latest freight of trippers! For consider on
what ground it is that we stand--the very summit of the sacred hill,
the shrine of Snowdon, once the pride and stronghold of the Cymry. Thus
wrote the historian Camden, more than three centuries ago:

    We may very properly call these mountains the British Alps, for
    besides that they are the highest in all the island, they are
    also no less inaccessible by reason of the steepness of their
    rocks than the Alps themselves; and they all encompass one hill
    which, far exceeding the rest in height, does so tower its head
    aloft that it seems not merely to threaten the sky, but to
    thrust its summit into it. It harbours snow continually, being
    throughout the year covered with it, or rather with an aged
    crust of snow; hence the British name of ‘Craig Eryri,’ and
    the English “Snowdon.”

We smile at the hyperbole of these ancient writers, but even now, in
these days of its utmost wrong, the natural sovereignty of Snowdon
stands confessed; so truly imperial is its form, and so symmetrically
do its superb ridges radiate from the parent peak. Its everlasting
snow was a fable; but deep drifts may be seen as late as midsummer in
its northern gullies, and in the winter months, when the zigzag tracks
are deeply covered, it is often no easy matter, for any but trained
climbers, to make the ascent from Capel Curig; there are times when the
high cornice of snow, overlapping the brow of the ridge at the head of
Cwm Dyli, offers a formidable barrier.

It was well that so noble a mountain, rich in legend and tradition,
should continue to stir public sympathies[12] and draw pilgrims to
its shrine; the pity is that the shrine itself should have been
despoiled--not, be it noted, by the _number_ of its votaries, which
was great even before the middle of the last century, when the mischief
was still undone, but by the hideous “accommodation” provided for them.
It would not have been difficult, with a little care and forethought,
to build a mountain hut in a sheltered place a few feet below the
top of the ridge, where it would have been practically unseen;
unfortunately what was done, about seventy years ago, was to erect
some unsightly buildings on the very summit, and these have lately
been enlarged into the present Summit Hotel, of which it need only be
said, as was said of the nose of a certain philosopher, that “language
is not vituperatious enough to describe it.” I never see the place
without thinking longingly of the last scene in Poe’s story, _The Fall
of the House of Usher_, where a certain accursed mansion obligingly
topples over and disappears in a neighbouring tarn; might it not be
hoped, then, that on some wild winter night, when these buildings are
untenanted, they would be blown by a south-west hurricane over the
edge of Clogwyn Garnedd into the waters of Glaslyn below? But such
wishes, however pious, are unavailing; to take a cup of tea in the
refreshment-room, in preparation for the advance to Crib Goch, is the
wiser course.

It is pleasant to exchange the crowded mart on Snowdon for the space
and solitude of Carnedd Ugain, its high northern shoulder which
overlooks the Llanberis side; but though solitude will now be ours,
space must soon begin to fail us, as the broad expanse dwindles and
contracts to a mere rocky curtain. A glorious ridge it is that we enter
on, which under the two names of Crib-y-Ddysgl and Crib Goch, but in
reality one and indivisible, runs with hardly a break for a full mile
eastward, with Cwm Dyli on the right, and the still greater depths of
Cwm Glas and the Pass of Llanberis on the left, until, after dipping
to the grassy saddle known as Bwlch Goch, it rises again to the famous
Pinnacles, and then narrows in once again, and more acutely, to the two
summits, at a height of 3,000 feet. Though the whole “Red Ridge” from
end to end is narrow, and a passage along it is apt to bring to mind
the Gendin Edge in _Peer Gynt_--

    Nigh on four miles long it stretches
    Sharp before you like a scythe--

it is to the eastern section of it, between and adjoining the two
cairns, that the main interest belongs, and hither for years past all
lovers of the Welsh hills have aspired. Yet owing doubtless to the fact
that every one who has written of Crib Goch has written of it in the
terms of his own powers as climber, and these powers vary immensely,
it is by no means easy to obtain a clear and trustworthy idea of it
from the published descriptions. The old writers, for the most part,
spoke of it as a place of terror, where it was foolhardy to venture,
and where the least slip would be fatal; in the literature of the new
school of rock-climbing, on the other hand it is treated like Striding
Edge on Helvellyn, or Sharp Edge on Saddleback, as just a pleasant
scramble, and it is said to be a moot point among cragsmen whether
they could pass along it with their hands tied. So differently does a
mountain present itself, according to the capacity and confidence of
the mountaineer!

I have heard the story of an ardent pilgrim, by no means a cragsman,
who had once braced himself, with some misgivings, to the crossing
of Crib Goch, and was just entering on the most awkward bit of the
journey, when he was met by another traveller coming from the opposite
end. Pleased to think that he was about to receive, in his straitened
circumstances, a word of encouragement from a fellow-climber, he
was startled by the stranger breaking out into an almost passionate
reprobation of the perils of mountain edges in general and in
particular of Crib Goch. “I am now a married man,” he cried, “and it is
not right, it is not proper, for me to be here.” My friend felt that
there was a lack of reason in addressing these remonstrances to _him_;
but his own position, astride of a knife-edge, was not favourable
for argument, and he was indeed so taken aback by the inauspicious
character of the meeting that he sorrowfully renounced Crib Goch and
retired the way he came.

In reality, though this “crib” offers no obstacle whatever to an active
person who is quite free from giddiness, it is much narrower and more
precipitous than any of the Cumberland “edges,” and for the ordinary
climber, as distinct from the expert, needs to be taken with more
care. Imagine yourself, reader, perched on the roof, so to speak, of a
mountain--a colossal roof, some fifteen hundred feet above the valleys
below, where for sparrow on housetop you have raven or buzzard--and,
further, imagine the angle of this roof to be a ridge of spiky and
crumbling rock, averaging a foot in width at the top, and dropping
almost sheer on the north side into the hollow of Cwm Glas, while on
the south it falls away in an extremely steep slope, which the timid
would call a precipice, but which offers an abundance of friendly
ledges and notches as foothold. Such is Crib Goch, and along this ridge
you must travel to reach the higher cairn, whether you approach it,
as I have described, in a descent from Snowdon, or more directly by a
stiff climb up its eastern gable from Pen-y-Pas. In any case it has
the distinction, among Snowdonian summits, of being accessible only to
those pilgrims who are prepared to “climb.”

But if the glory of Snowdon lies in its shapely ridges, and of the
Glyders in their wilderness of rocks, it is for the very different
qualities of breadth and bulk that we admire the great mountain
range of which the centre and crown is Carnedd Llewelyn. Look at a
graded map of Carnarvonshire, and you will note that this conspicuous
group, extending from the steep spur of Carnedd Dafydd, above the
shore of Llyn Ogwen, to the sea-washed promontory of Penmaenmawr,
comprises a much greater _extent_ of high ground--say, of over three
thousand feet--than either Snowdon or the Glyders; and, owing to its
larger area, its hidden recesses are wilder, more desolate, and more
primitive, than any other hill-tract in North Wales. Sharp peaks it has
none; but in places, as at the head of Cwm Eigiau or Cwm Llafar, there
are huge crags and precipices, nor are there wanting grand ridges, such
as the rocky isthmus that unites Pen Helig to Carnedd Llewelyn, or the
high saddle between the two Carnedds themselves; but for the most part
what impresses one in these mountains, as compared with those already
described, is the greater spaciousness of their massive heights, and
the greater openness of their outlook, both skyward and seaward.

For those who love such wilds, nothing is better than a long day’s
wandering in the heart of this secluded district, whether the start be
made from the Capel Curig quarter, or from Nant Ffrancon on the west,
or from the Conway Valley on the east, or from the northern seacoast
at Aber; in any case there is need of strong and steady walking to
surmount the marshy slopes, the haunt of plover and curlew, by which
the great Carnedd is encircled, and to place oneself on the high
plateau above. The compass, too, will have to be brought into play, if
there are clouds on the hills, for nowhere are mists more bewildering
than on these vast moorlands, where there are no natural signposts for
our guidance, and where the bare grassy spaces stretch away for miles
without a distinguishing mark. The best of all these walks is that from
Capel Curig to Aber, which takes us by Llyn Llugwy, the source of the
Llugwy River, to Carnedd Llewelyn, and thence across the great flat
tops to Y Foel Fras, and down past the little Llyn-an-Afon through a
narrow glen to the sea.

For myself these strange lonely mountains, perhaps because I knew them
earliest, have always had a peculiar charm; and I have found their
fascination as strong in winter-time as in summer. Great as are the
delights of Llyn Llugwy on a hot June day, I also think of it with
affection as I have known it in December, lashed into fury by the
winds, and its black waters in sharp contrast with the surrounding
snow. What the temper of the wind can be in these uplands on a gusty
winter afternoon, when it lifts up flakes of snow and ice from the
hillside and flings them broadcast in blinding showers, only those will
understand who have plodded to the top of Carnedd Llewelyn or Carnedd
Dafydd at such season.

Enough has now been said, perhaps, to make plain at least the leading
characteristics of Snowdonia, as viewed from our central starting-point
at Capel Curig. But what the pilgrim to these mountains can never make
plain, for he has only half guessed it himself, is the deeper meaning
which they have for him, the higher vision which he has caught from
their stern companionship during his solitary rambles in their midst.



III

At the Shrine of Scafell


If “angry grandeur,” as has been said, is the feature of the
Carnarvonshire mountains, that of the Cumbrian Fells may be described
as friendly grouping. Unlike the proud oligarchies of Snowdon and
the Glyders, we see here a free and equal democracy, a brood of
giant brothers, linked together with rocky arm in arm, and with no
crowned heads claiming marked predominance over their fellows. It is
collectively, rather than singly, that the Lake mountains impress us.
“In magnitude and grandeur,” says Wordsworth, “they are individually
inferior to the most celebrated of those in some other parts of the
island; but in the combinations which they make, towering above each
other, or lifting themselves in ridges like the waves of a tumultuous
sea, they are surpassed by none.”[13]

The sense of greater friendliness and accessibility of which we are
conscious among these hills may be due partly to this cause, still
more, perhaps, to the influence of the Lake writers, who have so
largely created the sentiment with which the fells are begirt; we
feel “at home” there in a degree not known to us either in Wales or
in Scotland. It has to be remembered, too, that the Lake District, in
contrast to Wales, is a land without a past, the cradle of a fortunate
race which has had no troubled record of wars or rumours of wars, but
an almost unruffled exemption from “history”; and this, again, may tend
to strengthen the feeling of serenity associated with these heights,
even in the minds of those who have undergone many buffetings from
their storms.

But this feeling must be a modern one, for the earliest visitors, as we
have seen, were affected rather by the terrors than the charms of the
mountains, so that the very bridle-paths seemed as precipices to them,
and we find one old traveller sagely remarking that “there is something
unmanly in conceiving a difficulty in traversing a path, which, we were
told, the women of the country would ascend on horseback, with their
panniers of eggs and butter.”[14] Of all writers, the best qualified,
by his love of the mystic and sublime, to give expression to the awe
which the fells once inspired, was De Quincey; and in his _Memorials of
Grasmere_ he has drawn a highly coloured, yet in spirit very faithful
picture of a region rather vaguely apprehended by him, where, as he
says, far beyond the “enormous barrier” of his own Easedale, “tower
the aspiring heads, usually enveloped in cloud and mist, of Glaramara,
Bowfell, and the other fells of Langdale Head and Borrowdale.” And here
it may be remarked that though much poetry, of a far-fetched kind, has
been written about mountains, the mountains are still waiting for their
poet, at close quarters. In Wordsworth’s “Excursion” certain aspects
of the fells are wonderfully portrayed, and in Scott’s “Helvellyn,”
and that canto of his “Lord of the Isles” where the Coolin Hills are
the theme, we have true mountain idylls; but on the whole it has to
be confessed that the poets have written about mountains as if they
had never set foot on them, but had been content to take the panoramic
“views” of them from afar. Even Wordsworth’s prose account of his
ascent from Seathwaite “to the top of the ridge, called Ash Course,”
makes one suspect that his real acquaintance with the hills was very
slight; indeed his corruption of the guide’s pronunciation of “Esk
Hause” (the typical name of the central saddle of the Scafell range, at
the head of Eskdale) into the absurdity of “Ash Course,” shows that he
had but little sympathetic knowledge either of the nomenclature of the
hills or of the dialect of the hillsmen.

There is much insight, however, in Wordsworth’s selection of the Sty
Head as the pivot of the Scafell group. “From a point between Great
Gavel and Scafell,” he says, “a shepherd would not require more than
an hour to descend into any one of the principal vales by which he
would be surrounded. Yet, though clustered together, every valley
has its distinct and separate character.” The truth of this will be
owned by every one who has personally studied the district. If we take
Scafell Pike, with the Gable and Bowfell, as a single mountain, we have
the common centre from which there radiate at least seven important
glens--Borrowdale, with its gorgeous colouring and variegated effects
of rock and turf, leafage and river; the grave and simple beauty of
Buttermere; Ennerdale, wild and primitive, its Pillar Rock rising
like a pulpit in the midst; Wastdale, plain to the verge of ugliness,
even as an unfurnished room is plain, yet full of the sense of the
great heights that wall it round; the solitude of upper Eskdale, with
its mighty waterfalls and mountain pools; the more sociable Duddon,
and the pastoral greenery of Langdale. Surely nowhere else in Great
Britain can we stand on a hill-top with seven such valleys at our feet!
As a single starting-point for scaling each and all of these hills,
the choice would rest either on Wastdale or on Seathwaite, the little
hamlet at the extreme head of Borrowdale, noted as “the rainiest place
in England,” which means only that when it rains there it rains with a
will; they are so placed that there is hardly a summit in the district
that cannot be reached by a strong walker from these points.

Of the four chief groups which the hills of Lakeland assume--Skiddaw
to the north, Helvellyn to the east, Grasmoor to the west, and to the
south the range of Scafell--the last named is by far the most alluring
both to the nature-lover and to the climber, for it is much wilder,
rockier and more precipitous than the rest. Looking at a raised or
tinted map of the district, we might conceive this rough mountain mass
to be a great birdlike figure swooping north-eastward, to dip its beak
in Derwentwater; with Glaramara for its down-stretched head and neck,
with Great End for its elevated shoulder, from which are extended in
sweeping curves to right and left the two superb “wings” of Bowfell and
the Gable; with the Pikes as the ruffled plumes of the mighty back,
and Scafell as the dark high-spread tail. Such, we may imagine, is the
great stone eagle that flies towards the pastures of Borrowdale.

Though devoid, for the most part, of sharp peaks and ridges, and
massive rather than graceful in their general form, these Cumbrian
Pikes, like the Carnarvonshire Glyders to which in general character
they are akin, have the charm of untamed wildness; you may clamber
for weeks together over their desert of crags and coves, yet find
their wonders inexhaustible. Seamed as they are in many places by deep
“ghylls” and gullies, or carved into stark faces of rock, bristling
with projecting “pinnacles” and “pillars,” the grandest sight of all
they have to show is Mickledore Chasm, the great “door” which some
primeval force has flung open between the Pikes and Scafell; and it is
only when the range is approached from the east or the west that this
vast natural fissure, thoroughfare for the winds of heaven, can be
properly seen. The very heart of the mountain is reached when you stand
on the ridge of Mickledore, with the cliffs of Scafell towering over
you on one side and the Pikes on the other, for from this centre you
can look down into Eskdale or Wastdale, or climb to either summit, as
you choose; and here, in this huge hollow, is often a witches’ cauldron
of the clouds, which come drifting up from either valley according to
the whim of the wind, until they meet a contrary current at the top,
and are piled up in swirling masses on one side of the ridge, while
the other side, as if protected by some invisible curtain, remains
cloudless and sunlit.

Next to Mickledore in interest is Piers Gill, the gigantic cleft,
shut in by high walls of rock, which zigzags down the north slope of
the Pikes opposite the Sty Head, rivalling the Welsh “Twll Du” in
savageness and much surpassing it in beauty. Viewing it from the top
of the Great Gable, one is reminded of a monstrous serpent--a stone
serpent in the clutch of the stone eagle--writhing downwards from the
crags of Lingmell; when entered from below, it is found to be the
wildest of the many rock-ravines, veritable cañons in miniature, by
which these mountains are cloven, as witness the fine Crinkle Gill and
Hell Gill on Bowfell, and the famous Dungeon Ghyll, “so foully rent,”
on Langdale Pikes.

Turning now to the northern shoulder of the Pikes, the high promontory
of Great End, we see around us an almost unbroken continent, with a
stony isthmus leading eastward across Esk Pike to Bowfell, so shapely
a peak when seen from the Windermere lowlands; and there are few finer
walks than to follow these heights for their whole length, passing over
Crinkle Crags to the Wrynose Pass, and thence, if time and strength
allow, along the Coniston Fells to the Old Man. On the other hand, the
leftward wing from Great End, after dipping to the Sty Head, rises
steeply again to another chain of summits, the first of which is no
less glorious a goal than the crown of the Great Gable.

For, after all, it is neither to Scafell, nor to Bowfell, nor to any
lesser fell, that the mountain lover looks, when, after long absence,
the well-remembered phalanx of heights--the “tumultuous waste of huge
hill-tops,” as Wordsworth so fitly termed them--again unfolds itself
to his gaze. He looks to the Great Gable. In so far as the Cumbrian
Hills can be singly appraised, the Gable is the summit to which there
clings the strongest sentiment, by virtue both of its noble and
arresting outline, and of the grand rocks and ridges by which it is
so powerfully flanked. Its name is somewhat ill-chosen, perhaps, for
the likeness to a gable is hardly to be discovered except from the
south; from other quarters the impression is rather that of a great
round tower, or dome, a majestic sight when seen from a few miles’
distance, belted with clouds, or looming up in dark relief against an
ominous sky. Nor, when one approaches it more closely, is there any
sense of disappointment. “It’s a strange place, is Gable,” said my
Wastdale shepherd, and such will certainly be the judgment of those who
have roamed in all weathers about its shivered and rock-strewn sides.
Of the ordinary ascents, the least inspiring is that usually chosen,
from the top of the Sty Head Pass; it is far better, if you come from
Seathwaite, to follow the little beck, beloved of the water-ousel,
which joins the stream that flows from the Sty Head Tarn, and having
thus gained the saddle between the Great and the Green Gable, to skirt
the northern verge of the mountain overlooking the Ennerdale precipice,
till you reach the broad top; or, if Wastdale be your starting-point,
you can ascend by a still more fascinating route, up the long grassy
ridge known as Gavel Neese.

Close to the cairn, at the top, is the small rock-cistern in which
there is a “perennial” remnant of rain-water, idealized by several
writers, following Wordsworth, into a pure and celestial lymph. “Even
in the driest summer,” says the _History of Cumberland_ (1883), “the
sparkling liquid gushes forth from the little fount.” In truth the
pool, at its best, is but stagnant and brackish, and owing to the
habits of some tourists is now often polluted with bits of food or
newspapers; so that no worse punishment need be invoked on those who
pen such fictions than that they should themselves be forced to slake
their thirst with its waters. There is the less need to romance about
this “fount” because the three real streams that have their source on
the Gable are peculiarly fresh and sweet; in fact, there is hardly a
more charming little torrent than Gable Beck, which goes singing down
into Wastdale on the left of the Neese as you ascend.

But the chief glory of the Gable lies in the wild crags on its southern
and northern sides. Much as climbers have written of the Great Napes,
the huge outstanding stack of cliffs that seems to overhang the
traveller between Wastdale and the Sty Head, scanty justice has been
done to their strange and terrible beauty, which is enhanced by the
fact that the whole front of the mountain from which they project
is itself a precarious scree-slide of extreme steepness, so that in
looking up to these impending arêtes one surveys them not from a flat
base but from a shifty slope inclining at a sharp angle to the vale,
and they have thus all the appearance of a greater precipice upstarting
fantastically from a lesser one. Their name of “Napes” is aptly
bestowed, for they are united with the Gable by a narrow neck, where
the green turf, streaked with red undersoil, is in bright contrast to
the prevailing grey of the mountain.

Standing at the foot of the Napes, one finds in them a series of
fanlike ridges and gullies, from one of which rises the famous
Needle, subject of countless articles and photographs; and if it
be holiday-season there will probably be one or two parties either
climbing or prepared to climb. The Needle being far too slender to
accommodate many cragsmen at once, the curious sight may sometimes
be witnessed of one set of Needle-men, including more rarely a
Needle-woman, gravely waiting their turn, while their predecessors
are manœuvring in various postures on the rock. The sport of
mountaineering, it may be remarked, differs from certain other sports
in this, that, however exciting it maybe to those personally engaged,
the mere onlooker is apt to find the spectacle rather tedious; nor is
this surprising, when one remembers the large scale of the scene, and
that the progress is slow in proportion to the severity of the ascent,
a climber on the mountain-side occupying much the same position,
relatively, as a fly on the house-wall. Still, there are many of us who
would rather be spectators of such gymnastics than take an active part
in them.

The crags overlooking Ennerdale, if less peculiar than the Great Napes,
are also very impressive, and though long proclaimed “inaccessible”
have now been assiduously explored and mapped out by enterprising
climbers. A romantic interest, too, attaches to them, through the
discovery made by Mr. W. P. Haskett Smith of “a sort of hut of loose
stones, evidently the refuge of some desperate fugitive of half a
century or more ago,” who is presumed, on somewhat imperfect evidence,
to have been a smuggler,[15] but whom we should prefer to regard as a
pilgrim of the mountains, a fugitive only from the cares and worries of
an over-exacting civilization. Whether “Moses’ Sledgate,” the rather
mysterious half-obliterated old track, which may be seen winding round
the west side of the Gable, had any connexion, as Mr. Haskett Smith
surmises, with the hermitage among the crags, must be left to the
reader’s imagination; it seems more likely that the prosaic statement
of another writer, that the path was formerly used for carrying slates
from the Honister Quarries to Wastdale, is the correct one. However
that may be, all climbers will subscribe to Mr. Haskett Smith’s praise
of the Gable as “splendid to look at, splendid to look from, and
splendid to climb.” It is, in truth, a mountain of mountains, and has
the same intimate hold on the affections of the climber in Cumberland
as Tryfan has in Wales.

From the Gable it is but a step--as mountains go--to the Pillar,
of which the famous Pillar Rock is a dependency, and even those who
are not “Pillarites” in the true sense will find a rare pleasure in
scrambling around and about the Rock, which may be reached by the rough
track known as the High Level, leading direct to its foot from the top
of Black Sail Pass across the face of the fine northern front of the
fell, in the course of which “traverse” they will follow the windings
of several bold capes and green shady coves. The Rock itself, though
somewhat dwarfed by the parent mountain when viewed from a distance, is
a grand object from below, when one stands right under the great walls
which form its northern buttress.

Of the many climbers who frequent the new hotel at Wastdale Head,
now spoken of as “the Chamounix of the Lake District,” few probably
remember the place as it used to be when the fine old dalesman, William
Ritson, was the landlord, a bleak bare hostel, where the guests,
whatever their personal inclinations may have been, led emphatically
the simple life. It so happened that, in one of my early visits to
Wastdale, I was staying there with a friend at the time when the
Rev. James Jackson, the octogenarian known as “the Patriarch of the
Pillarites,” was killed on the Pillar Fell, and the last evening of
his life he spent with us at Ritson’s, narrating his own mountain
exploits, and reciting the verses in which he celebrated them. It was
the last day of April, 1878, and on the May morning the brave old man
went forth to repeat his annual pilgrimage to the Pillar Rock; we saw
him, and were probably the last to see him, plodding off with slow
step in the early twilight. Two days later, when we were coming back
to Wastdale from Buttermere, we heard shouts across Ennerdale, and
climbing up the Pillar Fell, close to the east of the Rock, in a dense
mist, we met a search party, and learnt that Mr. Jackson had not been
seen since he started. Joining in the search, we peered and groped
about the recesses of Pillar Cove, now dim and ghostly under a heavy
pall of vapour; but it was not till the next day, when the clouds had
lifted, that the body was found, as a dalesman expressed it, “ligging
under the Pillar,” the fact being that he had met his death not on the
Rock itself, but on a ledge of the steep brow above. It has been said
that his vigour was unimpaired, and that the same accident might have
happened to a boy, but to us, who were strangers to him, he gave the
impression of much physical weakness, and, as the sequel proved, so
far from being in a fit state to scale a dangerous crag, he was not
capable of crossing the easy ridge which gives access to it. So strong
is the fascination of the mountains, which can lure an old pilgrim of
eighty-two years thus to sacrifice himself at their shrine!

Of the other ranges of the Lake District--Helvellyn, Saddleback,
Grasmoor, and their kin--differing widely as they do from the Scafell
group in their smoother contours and less savage rock-scenery, little
need here be said; but there is at least one distinctive feature in
which they excel, and that is the number and keenness of their “edges.”
To a connoisseur in climbing, there is always a great attraction in the
mountain which may be approached by a narrow stair--

    The peak that stormward bares an edge
    Ground sharp in days when Titans warred--

and herein is the unfailing charm of such otherwise formless masses as
Saddleback and Helvellyn. Who, for instance, would ascend Helvellyn by
that ponderous bank above Wythburn, when he might have Striding Edge
for his upward path and Swirrel Edge for his return? And why should
any one climb Saddleback by its toilsome grassy slopes, when an ideal
course is offered him in Sharp Edge, overlooking Scales Tarn, and in
Narrow Edge, which falls away with scarcely less sharpness from the
highest summit? I have named the most famous of these edges, but many
others not greatly inferior will suggest themselves; thus Fairfield may
be delightfully taken by the narrow ridges of Cofa Pike and Hartsop
Dodd, and even the bulky Grasmoor assumes an air of refinement, if
scaled by the slim reef of Whiteside, or by the slender arm that
it holds out to the promontory of Causey Pike. In old days these
knife-edges were reputed difficult and perilous. “The awful curtain
of rock named Striding Edge,” is De Quincey’s description of the
chief ornament of Helvellyn; and Green, in describing his adventurous
crossing of Sharp Edge on Saddleback, speaks of the necessity “either
of bestriding the ridge, or of moving on one of its sides with hands
lying over the top, as a security against falling into the tarn on the
left or into a frightful gully on the right.” What was once a terror
has now become a joy to the climber of ordinary powers, but to this
day one may hear expressions of the old misgivings. A friend who had
come over the edges of Saddleback told me afterwards that he had felt
“sick with fear,” and I have heard a tourist on Snowdon, fresh from the
passage of the Beddgelert “Saddle,” exclaim in solemn accents, “It is a
thing to be done once in a lifetime, and no more.” In winter, however,
all is changed, and these ridges are then made really formidable by
the frozen snow-drifts, which can often transform a steep bank into a
dangerous ice-slope, with a veritable razor-edge for its summit.

And here, though it is to the shrine of Scafell that we are on
pilgrimage, a few words must be said in praise of Borrowdale’s other
guardian height. “What was the great Parnassus’ self to thee?” wrote
Wordsworth, addressing Skiddaw; and the rock-climber smiles at the
question, for Skiddaw, having no rocks, is more attractive to the
tripper than to the cragsman. Yet no true lover of mountains will
fail to delight in Skiddaw, though it must be confessed that the
ordinary way of ascent, leading along the dullest part of the range,
which overlooks the treeless “forest,” does its utmost to make the
mountain seem uninteresting. It is significant of the local apathy and
lack of initiative, in dealing with mountain scenery, that a route
which was originally chosen in the days when such ascents were made
on horseback should still be the only recognized one for pedestrians,
and that the tourist, after following the path up dreary slopes to the
summit, should still retrace his steps by the same way--unless he is so
fortunate as to be lost in the mist, and to gain a new experience of
Skiddaw by some irregular and more exciting descent.

For the real charm of Skiddaw lies in its southern and western
portions, facing Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, and the descent, at
least, should be made in this direction, over the great shoulder known
as Carlside, from which one may turn right or left, along the narrow
ridge of Longside, or down the lovely glen of Millbeck. It is from
this point that one can best appreciate, at close quarters, the beauty
as well as the bulk of Skiddaw. Every one who has been in Borrowdale
is familiar with the clear-cut outline of the mountain, standing out
so simple and shapely against the northern sky, and flanked on either
hand by the wooded promontories of Latrigg and the Dodd--a picture
which is in marked contrast to the notched and jagged battlements of
Scafell--and there is certainly a wonderful symmetry in the massive
buttresses, alternating with the deep-grooved glens, rounded off, like
a piece of sculpture, in flawless lines. But, seen closer, the mountain
reveals itself as a vast slope of varied colour and composition,
smooth everywhere, but patched and streaked with long strips of shale,
or grass, or heather, which hang down the great breast of the hill
for many hundreds of feet with surprising steepness. At the top is
a wilderness of stone, below it a green tract of turf or bilberry,
merging into purple heather or wide fields of fern, and all so subtly
woven and blended as to produce, especially in late summer and autumn,
a rich combination of tints. The Millbeck Valley, in particular,
divided by a pyramid-shaped buttress which juts out from Carlside, is
then most gorgeously clad in a vestment of many textures and hues.

Not less delightful, though for the most part unknown, is the descent
by Longside, a sharp spur, quite unlike the general character of the
mountain, which runs out north-westward from Carlside and culminates in
Ullock Pike; from which point, looking across a wild glen, one has the
most impressive of all near views of Skiddaw, sinking from cope to base
in a colossal steep of bare screes, which by its very monotony baffles
the eye of the spectator and cheats calculation as to its height.

I will say, then, that Skiddaw, albeit despised of climbers, is as
well worth knowing, in its own distinctive character, as Scafell
itself; but those who would know it must seek it not by the beaten
track but by the pathless solitudes where the raven still flies
undisturbed. Approach it in the right spirit, and Skiddaw will open
its heart to you, and you will learn that it is none the less a great
mountain because you cannot break your neck upon its slopes.



IV

Pleasures of the Heights


“What pleasure lives in height? the shepherd sang.” Only a very
lovesick shepherd, who had his own reasons for praising the valley at
the expense of the mountain, could have asked a question so foolish;
for the pleasures of the heights are manifold and beyond count. Let us
consider a few of these pleasures, just those cheap and simple ones
which are in the reach of anybody who, without aspiring to be a skilled
rock-climber or Alpinist, is drawn by his love for our English or Welsh
hills to spend long days among their solitudes, and to cope with the
difficulties, such as they are, of weather and season in planning and
effecting his ascents--the choice of routes, the fording of streams,
the avoidance of precipices, and the keeping of the right course in
dense and blinding mists.

Equipped, then, with a modicum of food, with map, compass, and
field-glasses, we sally forth emancipated from all that usually deadens
us to the direct messages of Nature. For it is one of Nature’s citadels
that we are scaling, and we know not in which of her varying moods
we shall find her; but we know that in these uplands all her moods
are beautiful, and that it is not the fair-weather climber that is
privileged to comprehend them best. Here, at least, is a region where
in all seasons, and in all weathers, not a sight or sound but brings
contentment to the mind.

It has been remarked by Elisée Reclus, in his charming _History of a
Mountain_, that of all forms of travel to travel upwards is the most
instructive, for by climbing a few thousand feet we enjoy more novel
experiences than in a lateral journey of as many miles, and it often
happens that the first experience of the climber, as of the aeronaut,
is to find himself in the country of the clouds.

As we start up the valley, perhaps, the “white horses” of last night’s
rain-storms are still racing down the slopes, and our staircase of
mingled grass and rock bears the shadow of the dense cloud overhead--a
scene of unrelieved dreariness to those who are unaware of what glories
it may be the gateway. Toiling upwards, we reach the swirling fringe
of vapour, which closes gradually round us and wraps from us all view
of the familiar landscape below. Still on and up we press, till, as we
set foot on the higher ridges, the magic of cloud-land begins; for lo!
what in the ordinary light of day were mere rocks and buttresses are
changed now and magnified into mysterious shadowy forms, looming dimly
out upon us from the mist, until we half wonder whether the compass
or our own memory has misled us, and we have strayed into some strange
unmapped district where the air is thick with phantoms. Often and often
have I had such thought, when beclouded on the great rocky plateau of
the Glyders or Scafell Pikes, or groping my way along one of the narrow
“cribs” of Carnarvonshire or one of the Cumberland “edges”; and I do
not think that any one imbued with the love of mountains would exchange
these hours of cloudy surmisings for all the crystal skies that give
the “views”, so desired of tourists, from the top. Not that I would
undervalue the exhilarating sensation--unlike anything else in life--of
reaching the summit of a mountain; but to the true mountaineer all
other interests are subordinate to the fact of the mountain-presence
itself, even if that presence be veiled, as it often is, in remorseless
drift of rain-cloud.

For it may be admitted that mountains, like some other objects of
human affection, are apt to subject their lovers to a chilling ordeal,
days and weeks of repeated denials and disappointments, until at times
the most ardent may despond; or if one present himself as a returned
prodigal, seeking instant favour after absence, he may but find, as
Thoreau expressed it, that there has been killed for him “the fatted
cloud.” But to the faithful there will come at last, quite suddenly and
unexpectedly perhaps, a moment which makes such gracious amends that
all past unkindnesses are forgotten. You are standing, it may be, on
some high ridge or summit, drenched with rain, buffeted by winds, and
wondering if perchance any sign is to be vouchsafed to you. The mist
floats by in thick interminable volume. But see! What is that small
dark rift in the grey monotonous curtain? Wider and wider it grows,
until it is framed there, like a magic stage among the clouds, and
through that gap, where a moment before you saw but twenty paces, you
may now see as many miles, a fair expanse of valleys, lakes and rivers,
with the sea gleaming in the background. Another moment, and it is
gone--to be restored again, and withdrawn again, in quick succession--a
shifting scene more glorious than ever eye has witnessed, save in the
region of clouds or dreams.

In a thick mist, such as is apt to enfold with extreme suddenness the
hills of which I speak, perhaps not to release them for days from its
shadowy grip, the careful use of a compass is almost a necessity,
except in places where the landmarks are familiar and beyond mistake;
for the transformation which the mountains undergo is surprising even
to those who know them best; and if once the true sense of direction
be lost, it is most difficult to recover it, especially on broad,
smooth plateaus or hillsides where there are no sharp-featured rocks.
In the ascent there is less likelihood of going astray, for there is
but one summit, and by climbing we shall find it; but in descending
there is always a greater possibility of error, with the chance, if we
get on the wrong side of the watershed, of emerging some twenty miles
away from home. The sensation of thus coming down on the reverse side
of a mountain range is most perplexing, for at first sight, and until
we can readjust our minds to the fact, everything seems confused, the
quarters of the horizon have changed places, north is south, and we
can hardly believe that our left is not our right. A friend of mine
who was lost on Snowdon in a mist, made his way down, as he thought,
towards Llanberis, with the intention of thence walking rightward
to Pen-y-Gwryd; he reached a road which he took to be the pass of
Llanberis, and duly turned to the right. Not until after he had
walked some miles did he discover that he was well on the way towards
Carnarvon, having descended, without knowing it, on the wrong side of
Snowdon and into a different part of Wales.

To be lost in a fog is of course no uncommon experience among strangers
who cross the fells. On one occasion (not strictly to be classed among
“pleasures” of the heights), when descending from Scafell Pike to
Langdale in furious storm and cloud, I met near Angle Tarn a wandering,
one-eyed tramp, who presented about as miserable an appearance as human
being could attain. The proverbial “drowned rat” would have scorned to
exchange plight with him. He had been discharged, he told me, a few
days before, from a hospital in a northern town, where they had taken
out one of his eyes without consulting him, and with the remaining eye
he was seeking his way to a relative at Keswick by the Stake Pass,
from which he had hopelessly wandered. As we descended Rossett Gill
together, for I took him back to Langdale, he confided to me that this
was his first experience of a mountain, and he thought it would suffice
till his death--an event which, but for his happening to meet our
party, would probably not have been long delayed.

A strange effect is produced, when one is descending, if the clouds are
descending too; for the deepening mist then makes the delay in reaching
sunlight seem endless. Down and down we go, and the gloom is still
beneath us, until we begin to wonder, like the first voyagers on the
Atlantic, whether we are sinking into some bottomless abyss from which
it may be impossible to re-arise; it becomes a burden and nightmare to
the mind; then at last there is a darkening of the vapour in one spot,
and far below we see the jet-black water of a tarn, or a bit of brown
mountain-side across the glen.

More inspiriting is the effect of climbing through and above the
clouds, as one sometimes can do, until one looks down from an upper
land of sunshine on a sea of mist below, from which the rocky peaks and
promontories emerge like islands. It occasionally happens, when some
high ridge is bathed in cloud on one side and in sun on the other, that
a climber, standing on the edge of the gulf, will see a small circular
rainbow projected on the mist, with his own head forming the centre of
it--a rare and curious experience for the wayworn pilgrim, thus to find
his image, like that of a saint, with a halo round his head, emblazoned
on the mountain vapours! Who shall say that the modern pilgrim is not
blessed, as his forerunners were, with celestial apparitions? The first
time I saw this phenomenon was on the ridge of Ben Nevis. I have also
seen it from Blaven, in Skye, and from the top of Scafell, looking down
into the cloud-filled chasm of Mickledore.

Not less marvellous are the transformations of the clouds themselves,
when, after a spell of storm, they break up under triumphant sunshine
and drift disbanded along the slopes. I remember how once, descending
from Tryfan after a wet and dismal day, and returning across the low
grassy moorlands to Capel Curig, I witnessed that strange form of
mountain mirage recorded by Wordsworth in “The Excursion.” The corner
of the valley above Llyn Ogwen was filled with dense mists, which came
seething and boiling out of the hollow like steam from a cauldron, and
as they broke up into small wisps and wreaths, under combined wind and
sunshine, gave an extraordinary appearance to the northern front of
Carnedd Dafydd, which was enveloped in a maze of billowy vapour, until
it was impossible to distinguish rock from cloud or cloud from rock,
and the illusion was exactly that which the poet has described:

    Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf,
    Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky,
    Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed
                   …
    In fleecy folds voluminous enwrapped.

It is nearly fifty years since I saw that sight, but we do not forget
what we see among mountains as what we read in books.

There dwell in the memory too (for I must not give the impression that
the mountains are always scourged with storm) the days and sometimes
weeks in succession when the weather is without a flaw--trance-like
spells when the hills stand calm and pensive in every vicissitude
of loveliness, now clear and imminent, with ridges sharply outlined
against the sky, now dim and ghostly, half shrouded in a mild and
breathless haze. But even the loveliest day is seldom perfected without
the ministry of cloud, for clouds are the Genii of the mountains,
concealing much, but revealing more, by their presence, and bringing
to view the manifold depths and distances that would otherwise be
unobserved. You cannot learn the moods and character of a mountain
until you have studied its attendant clouds.

Nor must the pleasures of winter be overlooked, for, as Southey wrote
of the mountains:

    Who sees them only in their summer hour,
    Sees but their beauties half, and knows not half their power.

It was pointed out by the same writer that snow, instead of making the
view of the fells monotonous, has a contrary effect, “it brings out all
their recesses, and differentiates all their inequalities.” Even clouds
are scarcely more efficacious in revealing the hitherto unnoticed
distances; for the snow, when not too deep, is a mask which does not
conceal, but takes a delicate impression of the hillside, so that
every crack and crinkle, every unsuspected groove, ravine, terrace, or
even sheep-path, is made to stand out in clear relief. To rocks, in
particular, a thin powdering of snow will give a strange, chequered,
almost ethereal look, reminding one of Scott’s lines about Melrose
Abbey seen under moonlight:

    When buttress and buttress, alternately,
    Seem framed of ebon and ivory.

In the joy felt by the experienced climber on arriving at his
mountain-top the view, perhaps, plays but a subordinate part, though
there is always a fascination in a very distant prospect across sea
or plain, such as one may get in the early morning, or when the air
is clear after a rain shower or a snow squall, as when, from Wales or
Cumberland, as the case may be, one sees the Isle of Man resting like a
dream on the water, with a pillow of fleecy cloud around it. In this
respect the views from the two districts are very similar, for on every
side except the east their horizons extend to the sea, and both possess
the same great charm, lacking in the Alps and other continental ranges,
of overlooking a coast-line broken by shallow estuaries, where at low
tide there is an expanse of gleaming red sands, with the plain of dim
blue water in the rear. To have seen Snowdon from Scafell, or Scafell
from Snowdon, across the hundred miles that lie between them, is a rare
privilege which few climbers have enjoyed, and of which, in spite of
many visits to either mountain, I cannot personally speak; far more
often it is the great northern headland of Carnedd Llewelyn which is
discerned from the Cumbrian hills and bars the further view. Apart from
such remarkable sights as these, the pleasure of the summit, I think,
arises chiefly from that sense of _power_ to which a wide outlook
contributes--you feel how vast a territory you “command” from your airy
fortress; you are for the moment an overseer of men, a super-man, with
all the kingdoms of the world stretched at your feet.

Having spoken of the sights, let me speak of the sounds of the
mountain, for the ear is not less fascinated than the eye in these
echoing temples, where the upper cloughs and chambers are as huge
whispering galleries, and sounds are often carried from immense
distances, yet in so modulated and subtle a tone as to leave a
haunting impression on the mind. There is a solemnity about these
mountain voices which is only comparable, on a larger scale, to
the effects produced in the hollow space of a cathedral; hence the
perfect appropriateness, as has been pointed out, of Wordsworth’s much
criticized reference to the “solemn voice” of the mountain lamb. The
singing of the stream below, the deep croak of the raven as he sails on
his straight course overhead, the shrill cry of the wheeling buzzard,
the bleat of a sheep and even the noise of a detached stone falling
from the cliff to the screes, come to us with a significance which
would hardly be intelligible elsewhere. The wind, too, has some strange
things to tell us, as it tears itself into shreds on the rocks, or
lifts the water from the tarns and streams and dashes it in spray to
the sky, or startles us with muffled subterranean sobbings as we cross
some exposed ridge. Listening among the higher mountains in rough or
cloudy weather, we may hear sounds so wild and mysterious that their
origin wholly baffles us. There is also felt, at times, a strange
apprehension--or should we say premonition?--of the presence of human
beings, which may be due to the ear having become unconsciously aware
of their approach, if not to some other sense more poignant and occult.

One sometimes sees strange companionships on mountains. Once, when
I was on the Glyder Fach with some friends, we heard the steps of a
party ascending by the steep northern screes from Cwm Tryfan, and
presently two men came into sight, the leader with a cloak thrown over
his shoulder in cavalier-like style, the follower in the garb of a
serving man. In this manner they crossed the summit-plateau, and when
they neared the edge of the southern escarpment, the valet (for that
he was valet, not guide, we inferred both from his demeanour and the
order of their procession) dropped respectfully to the rear, while
his master stood for some time as if wrapped in thought, and gazing
out over the wide scene that had Cardigan Bay as its limit. Then, the
reverie ended, he turned back towards Cwm Tryfan, and followed by
his demure attendant, descended as he had come. Was he a prince or a
poet, we wondered; and if a poet, how could his sensitiveness bear the
near presence of a servant--a servant!--in that great freedom of the
mountain, where one would expect the distinctions of rank to disappear?

The voices of the mountain streams become, of course, less powerful in
proportion to the height to which the traveller attains, until from the
distant summits he hears them only in fitful intervals, now clear, now
hushed, according to the force and direction of the wind; but alike in
the valley and on the hillside there is that singular aerial quality
in the sound which makes it different to all other voices in Nature.
This is the music which De Quincey described as like that “of pealing
anthems, as if streaming from the open portals of some illimitable
cathedral,” and he adds, with special reference to the river Brathay,
in Langdale, that “such a sound does actually arise, in many states
of the weather, from the peculiar action of the river upon its rocky
bed; and many times I have heard it, of a quiet night, when no stranger
could have been persuaded to believe it other than the sound of choral
chanting, distant, solemn, saintly.” The same illusion, if it be an
illusion, may be felt by one who rests with closed eyes on the bank of
any of the small steep becks, which go purling down the slopes, to feed
the larger rivers below.

And now for the joys of the descent. The regret with which the mountain
lover turns his back on the summits and leaves

    The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill
    Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke,

is tempered with the pleasure of choosing some well-pounded scree-slope
or soft grassy stair, down which he may race, with the skill and
sureness of foot which long practice has given him, towards the abodes
of men, and, like a miser turned spendthrift, may squander in one wild
fling the thousands of upward steps so laboriously amassed. It is
extraordinary with what speed, given suitable foothold, you may run
from top to bottom of a mountain which it took you hours to climb; the
Alpine glissade is hardly more glorious. Then, if the day be hot, there
awaits you that supreme reward and crown of your labours--the bath.

Can bliss be greater than that of coming down sun-scorched and
footsore, to the divine cool streams which fall from hill to valley
through a series of rock-pools, each a fit bath-place for an emperor,
or to the lakes which tempt the swimmer below, or to the sea itself,
never far distant from these mountains? To bathe after a stern day on
the heights is the elysium of the climber; no ordinary mortals can
understand the passion with which he betakes himself to the healing
waters. After coming off the Glyders in a burning sun, I have known the
traveller leap into Llyn Idwal, to the consternation of its motionless
fishermen; I have seen wonder, too, in the faces of wood-cutters by
Buttermere, at the sight of a fellow-being rushing down crazed, as they
thought, from the banks of High Stile, and plunging into the lake even
while a thunderstorm burst overhead. Assuredly the Delectable Mountains
themselves can contain nothing more delectable than their streams.

There is a reckless joy, too, in the descent on a wet and stormy
afternoon, when, after facing rain and wind for hours on the ridges,
we return home drenched and weather-beaten, with the exhilaration
that arises in the mind which has nothing to hope or to fear. Indeed,
the foul day has its proper place, no less than the fair day, in the
economy of the hills, when the rain-curtain is drawn visibly across the
valley, and scores of white runnels are coursing down the slopes, and
the voice of the swollen river sounds hoarser every hour, while it
rises as only a mountain river can rise.

Such are some of the pleasures which the mountaineer is heir to. But
whether we leave the heights in calm or storm, in sunshine or shadow,
we leave them only for the moment; we descend, but with an inner
prompting to return. However prosperous our ascent may have been, there
is always the something left undone, the ridge unclimbed or valley
unexplored, which is the spur to further effort. Here, if nowhere else
in the land, the sense of satiety is unknown; and it is to this mental
tonic, even more than to the bracing air of the heights, that we owe
the unwearied spirit which nerves us to walk more leagues upon the
mountains than we could walk miles upon the plain. For in the lowlands
we walk with the body only; in the highlands we walk also with the
mind.



V

Wild Life


To the rambler upon these hills few things are so attractive, next to
the hills themselves, as the glimpses which he gains into the ways
of the non-human people that have their homes there. It thrills us
to remember that the mountains, lonely though we call them, have for
centuries on centuries had their own populous dramas of life and death,
and that their rocky tenements were inhabited, in some cases down
to comparatively modern times, by the bear, the wolf, the boar, the
wild cat, and other hardy outlaws that now exist but in a name or a
tradition; but while we must lament the loss of such peaceful animals
as the beaver, spoken of by Giraldus Cambrensis as still resident
on one Welsh stream in the twelfth century,[16] and the stag, now
surviving only in a corner of the Lake District, we need not affect
to regret the disappearance of the more savage beasts of prey, for
banditti, whether human or non-human, must be subdued.

And it is one of the compensating advantages of the destruction of
the greater “game” that the mountains are no longer a hunting-place.
You may walk where you will, round Snowdon or round Scafell, without
the fear of being turned back, as so often happens in the Scotch
highlands, by the nuisance of game-preserving; nor will your own
feelings be harassed by the spectacle of a troop of deer-stalkers,
or other blood-sportsmen intent on “killing something.” There is, of
course, fishing in plenty, but that, as far as I have watched it in
these upland places, is an exercise rather of faith and imagination
than of the red right hand; at any rate one seldom _sees_ the fisherman
catch anything, and the “fool with a gun” is now as rare a sight
as the rare birds whom his forerunners have “dropped”--to use that
telling expression of the game-keepers. Fox-hunting on foot goes on
to some extent in the winter months; but the need of killing these
mischievous pilferers is here a reality, and not, as in fashionable
hunting-counties, a sham, and we may rightly wish to see the fox
exterminated as the wolf has been--a far humaner and more rational
course than that of “preserving” him to be tortured by huntsmen. The
otter-worry, that very mean form of cruelty, is carried on in the lower
valleys of a few mountain districts, where the pools are large and
deep, but climbers on the hills are in little danger of meeting with
the motley rabble who partake in it.

Here, then, is another goodly feature of mountaineering, that, as
one of its accomplished masters, Mr. Owen Glynne Jones, observed, it
“does not claim the sacrifice of beasts and fishes.” The craft of
climbing is a fine physical training which, as a school of manliness
and self-reliance, immeasurably transcends the wretched amateur
butchery that masquerades as “sport.” “The mountaineer,” says Reclus,
“experiences, like the huntsman, the delight of conquest after toil,
yet he enjoys the pleasure all the more, in that he has risked none but
his own life; he has kept his hands unstained.”

In the absence of the larger kinds of wild animals that have gone down
under the stress of what we call civilization, it is to the mountain
birds that we first turn with interest. We think at once of the golden
eagle, in regions where the names of so many cliffs recall his former
sovereignty; and those who have seen the great bird, as I have, flying
in freedom among the mountains of Skye, and, as happened on one
occasion I recall, mobbed by dwarfish-looking ravens, as a kestrel is
mobbed by sparrows, on the shores of Loch Coruisk, until he sailed off
on wide wings across the corrie, cannot but regret that he is no longer
known in his traditional haunts on Snowdon, or on his famous crag in
Borrowdale. But when we read in old books of travel, such as West’s
_Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland_ (1781), that “the devastation made
on the fold in the breeding-season, by one eyrie, was computed at a
lamb a day,” we understand why the doom of the eagle was even then
unavoidable and why it became “a common species of traffic,” as another
author described it, “to supply the curious with young eagles, in the
taking of which the inhabitants were very expert.”[17]

I was told by a sheep-farmer in Scotland, who had trapped or shot over
a score of these feathered freebooters, that for an eagle to carry off
a plump lamb from the pastures there is need of a freshening breeze
to lift the mighty wings; he had seen cases when, in dull listless
weather, the bird was unable to rise with its quarry, and on the
approach of the shepherd was obliged to abandon it and flap reluctantly
away.

A lady who had been pained to see a golden eagle “for sale,” once
asked me whether, in the event of her ransoming the captive, it would
be possible to set him at liberty on some mountain height, and for a
time I was rather dazzled by the idea of releasing the imperial bird
from the top of Snowdon or Scafell, or, if the companionship of other
eagles was desired, from some far northern peak; but on my consulting
a well-known ornithologist he assured me that the eagle, cramped by
long imprisonment, would probably be unable to fly, and that if he did
fly he would almost certainly fall a victim to some local “sportsman,”
or be pecked to death by his wild congeners, if there were any in the
neighbourhood; so in the face of these discouraging predictions the
project was given up.

Eagles, then, we have none in our Welsh and English mountains, and the
kite having now been reduced to so poor a remnant as to be numbered
with the lost British birds, we turn perforce to the buzzard and the
peregrine as the two most noteworthy representatives of the family of
the Falcons. The fiery-hearted peregrine, or “falcon-hawk,” as the
dalesmen call him, still breeds on certain rocky ramparts, whence he
can overlook the valleys and dart forth unerringly on any passing prey.
An eye-witness once described to me how a falcon, having struck down
one of two pigeons in a field at the head of Langdale, and being scared
from his victim by some harvesters who saw the chase, rose instantly
and was off at lightning speed after the other pigeon over the ridge of
Bowfell!

We look in vain to the buzzard for such indomitable energies; yet it
is a grand sight to watch him sailing aloft in leisurely circles, or
hanging poised, as he sometimes does, off the edge of some broken
escarpment, so near that you can see his barred feathers and quickly
glancing eye. On a misty day in rounding a sharp headland, I have
sometimes come suddenly upon a perched buzzard at only a few yards’
distance, and have seen him flutter up in a panic, to lose himself in
the clouds; in the nesting season the bird will occasionally “shadow”
an intruding climber almost as the curlew does, and follow him at close
distance along the ridge of the mountain until he has conducted him off
his estate. I have frequently seen buzzards and ravens sparring at each
other in the sky, in that desultory and ineffective manner of warfare
which many birds seem to adopt.

The raven, who, in default of the eagle, divides with the buzzard
the empire of the crags is, perhaps, the most interesting bird that
now claims our attention; and robber though he is, we are always
glad to hear his deep “_kronk_,” or his wild dog-like bark, before
the black form is seen skirting the edge of the precipice or winging
straight across the glen. It is somewhat strange that in spite of
the persecution of shepherds, the cupidity of collectors, and the
inroads of rock-climbers, so large a bird can still find undisturbed
breeding-places, and maintain his numbers as well as he does among
our British hills; but I think the case of the raven, as far as these
districts are concerned, is hardly so desperate as ornithologists give
us to understand. To walk for several hours among the Carnarvonshire
or the Cumberland mountains without evidence of ravens, is in my
experience rather unusual, and at times one may see them there in
great strength; a few years ago, for example, I watched nine birds one
August afternoon soaring and skimming with playful antics along the
edge of Grasmoor, and so intent on their game that they allowed me to
come within quite close range; on another occasion I saw more than a
score of them rise together from the side of Skiddaw, doubtless from a
carrion feast.

It is astonishing how near this wary outlaw will approach to
dwelling-houses in the early summer mornings before mankind is on the
stir. It so happened that from the cottage at Capel Curig where I used
to stay, I could see a section of the hillside above as I lay in bed,
and on two successive mornings I was puzzled by what seemed to be a
concourse of large fowls hopping and squabbling, a few hundred yards
from my window, round some object on the bank. On further investigation
I found this object to be the carcase of a sheep, and the combatants to
be hungry ravens “on the grab.”

But there are other and more cheery singers in the mountain choir. In
the early summer, when the bird-life of these upland valleys is at
its prime, two voices above all others are resonant along the Welsh
hillsides, those of the cuckoo and the curlew, who fill the clear
air with their clear melody the whole of the long June day, and not
a little of the night. There are, perhaps, few sounds in wild nature
more fascinating than the curlew’s call, starting, as it does, with its
strange single note, and gradually rising and breaking into what seems
like rings and bubbles of exquisitely liquid song, which fall here and
there on the grey moorland while the singer is often unseen. As for
the cuckoo, that _improbus anser_ of the hills, there are seasons when
he seems to be ubiquitous; you pass him shouting in the valley as you
start out; you meet him again and again about the middle region of
heathery boulders and grass slopes; and when you emerge on the sky-line
and think you have left him far below, his voice comes after you, as
jubilant as ever, and pursues you to the very cairn on the top.

Familiar friends, also, are the ring-ousel, or, as some call him, the
rock-ousel, and the wheatear; the one as fussy and loquacious as his
lowland cousin, the blackbird (thanks to his outcry, I have sometimes
found his nest on a ledge of steep heather-covered rock, as under the
northern front of Tryfan); the other flitting silent and watchful, with
quick jerky movements, from stone to stone, or along the grey wall on
the mountain. These with the ever-welcome meadow-pipit, are rarely
absent from the hillside. Of the river birds there is none that has so
strong a hold on the affections of the mountaineer as the water-ousel,
delightful little sprite of the tumbling becks and eddies, from which
his very being seems inseparable. No writer with whom I am acquainted
has paid a juster tribute to the many charms of the water-ousel than
the author of _The Mountains of California_, whose chapter on the
American variety of the bird (_Cinclus Mexicanus_) recalls many of
the traits of our English “dipper” as we have known him, none too
plentifully, beside his native streams and pools. The grey wagtail and
the sandpiper will be found in similar haunts.

The beasts of the mountain, as viewed by the passing observer are, with
one exception, less interesting, because less wild, than the birds;
for the fox and the “mart” are seldom seen by the climber, who, in his
eagerness to reach his goal, has no time to devote, as the naturalist
would, to a patient watching of their haunts. The exception is the
wild goat, which, strange to say, is not known as a British species
by the majority of naturalists, though it has much more right to that
distinction than the “wild” Chillingham cattle; for it is a fact that
on some of the Welsh mountains as on some Scottish islands, there are
still herds of goats which, if not indigenous (that claim, it seems,
is disproved by their mixed colours and the shape of their horns), are
yet living in a state of absolute freedom and wildness, full of courage
and resource, and able to hold their own under hardships of climate
which no domestic animal could endure, and there is little doubt that
these herds, though descended from escaped animals, and reinforced
from time to time by “strays” that have taken to the hills, are of
very great antiquity. They used to be common, a century or less ago,
in a number of craggy spots, such as the Pass of Aberglaslyn, from
which they have now been driven; but a remnant may still be seen on the
Rhinog Fawr, and a few other lonely ranges, by those who approach them
with due care.[18] It was lately stated in a London paper that “wild
goat stalking among the Hebrides can fairly stand comparison with ibex
shooting”; and I can remember, some forty-five years ago, hearing some
talk at Pen-y-Gwryd about an expedition to Snowdon to shoot goats.
There are as few goats as eagles on Snowdon now; but I can testify that
the sport is an excellent one when the field-glass is substituted for
the rifle, for in this way I have stalked some fine goats on the Rhinog
and elsewhere, and have rejoiced to see them go bounding across the
cliffs in style that would do credit to the Swiss chamois or the white
goat of the Rockies. I was told that there was a similar herd on the
Yewdale Fells, near Coniston; but the only wild goat that I have seen
in the Lake District was a solitary one whom I surprised, in a steep
and secluded hollow, on the rocky side of Glaramara.

These wild Welsh goats must not be confused with the half-domesticated
herds which it was the custom until about fifty years ago to keep on
the hills as sheep are now kept. We are told by Cliffe in his _Book of
North Wales_ (1851) that “but few of the national animal, the goat,
are now kept, in consequence of the injury which they have done to
the young plantations”; and the same writer gives a vivid account of
a goat-hunt--apparently of the wild animal--which he witnessed on the
Rhinog.

    While ascending we heard much shouting, and barking of dogs,
    intermingled with piercing shrieks. Then we passed a gigantic
    snow-white billy-goat, with his legs tied, struggling at
    intervals convulsively, and uttering very shrill cries.
    Presently we came in sight of several men in a narrower part
    of the Pass, striving to capture another white billy-goat
    of greater size and even longer horns. The animal had taken
    refuge, after a long chase, on a very narrow ledge in a
    precipice, and apparently bid defiance to his pursuers. At last
    he bounded suddenly from a great height, and ran rapidly over
    broken rocks and heath for about six hundred yards, with the
    pack of dogs close at his heels, who ultimately brought him up,
    but were kept at bay by his horns.

From the mountain goats we pass naturally to the mountain sheep,
who, though nominally domesticated, are so little subject to human
interference and live so great a portion of their lives at large upon
the hills, that as compared with our dull southern breeds they may
almost be regarded as wild animals. Very familiar to every one who has
spent much time on the mountains is the sharp “sneeze” of the sheep as
he gives warning to his fellows that a stranger is approaching. Writing
of the Welsh sheep, half a century ago, Cliffe tells us that they
differed entirely in their habits from those of an enclosed country.
“Roaming wherever inclination leads them, confined by few or no fences,
they are obliged for mutual defence against foxes, ravens, and other
birds of prey, to form parties of ten or twelve, of which number, if
one perceives anything advancing towards the little flock, he turns
and faces the object, when, if its appearance be hostile, he warns his
companions by a shrill whistling noise, and the whole scamper off to
the more inaccessible wilds.”

Since this was written, the extent of many pasture-lands has been
lessened; but there are still places where the sheep have a whole
mountain, or several mountains, to roam over, and live in a state of
considerable freedom and liveliness. An old man who used to spend the
summer months at the top of a high pass in the Lake District, where
he sold refreshments to tourists, and slept in a little hut built
right into the steep hillside, told me that his only discomfort arose
from the noisy gambols of the sheep, who kept him awake by disporting
themselves on his grassy roof after nightfall. Thus, like the lady in
_Locksley Hall_, he must lie and ponder--

    In the dead unhappy night, and when the _ram_ is on the roof.

Imagine any one suffering in this manner from the frolics of our
south-country _muttons_!

The mountain lambs, especially, have a rare sprightliness and beauty,
and there is scarcely a more lovely picture to be seen among the
hills than one of these superb little creatures poised intrepid on
a high rock or wall as the traveller passes below, and looking down
on him with an innocent and wistful curiosity. Such a sight makes it
pitiful to remember to what base uses man has turned the sheep, and
how degraded is the domestic breed, as we commonly see it, from the
glorious wild animals described in the _Mountains of California_. “The
domestic sheep,” says Muir, “is expressionless, like a dull bundle of
something only half alive, while the wild is as elegant and graceful as
a deer, every movement manifesting admirable strength and character.
The tame is timid; the wild is bold. The tame is always more or less
ruffled and dirty; while the wild is as smooth and clean as flowers of
his mountain pastures.”

The sheep of the Welsh hills and the Cumbrian fells is a sort of
connecting-link between Muir’s _ovis montana_ and the silly creature
of our meadows; but it must be admitted that he sadly lacks the
marvellous climbing powers of his wilder relative, for when he ventures
on the tempting ledges of turf that intersect the sheer precipices
he sometimes shares the fate of the “meek mountain lamb” in Scott’s
“Helvellyn.”

I once saw an unfortunate “cragbound” sheep on a narrow and very
dangerous terrace that overhangs the great eastern verge of Tryfan,
where, having eaten all the grass on the ledge, she was peering
nervously about, trying to summon up the courage to make a backward
leap to safety. After descending from the mountain, I called at the
farm below, and got a promise that the sheep should somehow be saved
from its plight; but on the following day I found the same tragedy
proceeding. Again I sought and received assurances from the shepherds
that they would go with ropes to the rescue, but as I had to leave
Wales the next morning I never learnt the sequel, which I fear may have
yielded more satisfaction to the ravens than to the sheep.

If the mountain sheep must be deemed half wild, can less be said of
that lean, gaunt, hungry, savage, but highly intelligent animal, the
sheep-dog of Cumberland or Wales? It is one thing to see these “friends
of man” in their educated capacity, collecting or dispersing the sheep
under their owner’s vociferous bidding; it is quite another thing to
see them gorging ravenously on a carrion sheep, and slinking off with
wolfish demeanour when disturbed. Historians may tell us that “the
last wolf” was killed among these mountains some centuries back; but
we make bold to doubt that assertion when surrounded by half a dozen
bristling “Gelerts” in the wilds of Wales, for it would then seem
that not a little of the character of _canis lupus_ has survived in
domestication. For my part, I would rather meet a Welsh bull on an
open grass-slope than a pack of these snarling sheep-dogs when their
master is out of call, for I can bear witness that at such a moment
Mr. Jack London’s choicest wolf-stories are brought too forcibly to
mind, and that “the call of the wild” has an unpleasant reality of its
own. The traveller who has been followed halfway up Carnedd Llewelyn
by a troop of these “white-fangs,” in an interval of their duties at
the sheep-washing in Llyn Llugwy, will be able to form at least an
“intelligent anticipation” of how it feels to be pursued by real wolves
in the forests of the north-west. The mountain sheep-dog is still half
a wolf, and not without reason has Mr. Thompson Seton made sheep-dogs
the heroes of two of the chapters of his _Wild Animals I have Known_.

I have incidentally mentioned the bull; and who that has walked much in
Carnarvonshire or Merioneth will be so pedantic as to deny the bull his
place among the _fauna_ of these districts? Theoretically, no doubt, he
must be classed with the domestic; but in practice there are times when
his domesticity is apt to be doubted by the wayfarer, and when even
the cheery assurances of the Welsh herdsman (if within hail) that “she
will do nothing to you,” leave much to be desired. Turned out in early
summer on the roadways and hill-slopes, with that national disregard
for Saxon weaknesses which has characterized the Cymry from of old,
the black bulls of these hilly regions are an element that has to be
taken into account, together with winds and waters, in the traveller’s
plan of campaign. I have known a party of tourists compelled to elect
between meeting the angry animal or relinquishing the direct ascent--a
choice between bull and “bwlch”--and unanimously agreed in favour of
a rearward move. I once camped with a friend for a fortnight in an
artist’s van, pitched on an open plot in an upland valley where a big
bull was pastured; and when we heard him in the darkness playfully
scratching back or sharpening horns on our door-step, we bethought
us of those weird stories of wild life in the backwoods, where the
dwellers in the lonely log-hut hear the long-drawn sniff of the
strolling bear, as he “samples” them under their bolted door at night.

In some of the valleys round Snowdon there is a strange-looking breed
of black and white Scandinavian cattle, whose appearance at close
quarters on a dark night is rather eerie, because only the white part
of each animal is easily visible, and the traveller has the spectacle
of a detached head, or shoulder, or hind-quarter, as the case may be,
confronting him through the gloom.

As a rule, it is only in spells of great heat, such as occasionally
descend upon the mountains, that the bulls are really dangerous, and
then they are seldom approached, even by the herdsman, without the
aid of dogs. It is said that the most ominous symptom on the bull’s
part is when, instead of the usual shrill bellow, he gives vent to
a low querulous grumbling sound, which seems to imply a deeply felt
long-cherished grievance; at such times it is wise to give him a wide
berth. After all, can we men complain, if the bull sometimes shows
himself dissatisfied with our treatment of his fellows? Who knows
but that his splenetic outbursts have some reference to the massacre
of his kith and kin at the hands of the “family butcher,” or to the
savage dietetic habits of the very people who denounce _him_ as “the
savage brute”? What I have thought a little hard, however, is that no
discrimination is made by the bull between beef-eater and vegetarian,
and that the peaceful pilgrim who has not tasted sirloin for over forty
years is compelled to skulk up the hill under cover of a stone wall
as guiltily as the shameless intruder who has a beef-sandwich in his
pocket. Some vegetarians, I believe, advocate the wearing of a badge;
there would be more to be said in favour of the distinction, if the
black bulls of Snowdonia would consent to recognize such flag of truce.

We see, then, that the Cambrian and Cumbrian hills, though far less
richly populated than they were some centuries back, have yet no
little interest to offer us in the races of non-human peoples, wild or
half-wild, that inhabit them--races whose life is much more closely
intertwined with the life of the mountain itself, and more responsive
to its varying moods and seasons, than that of the shepherd born and
bred on its slopes, not to speak of the summer visitor who comes there
for mere pastime or recreation.



VI

The Barren Hillside


We talk of the barrenness of the mountains, and barren in a sense
they are, when contrasted with the teeming wealth of the plain, yet
the bleakest of them, if studied with sympathy and insight, will be
found to have a living and life-giving freshness of its own. Now and
then, perhaps, when face to face with some scene of more than common
severity, we are tempted to exclaim, with Scott:

    The wildest glen, but this, can show
    Some touch of nature’s genial glow:
    On high Benmore green mosses grow,
    And heath-bells bud in deep Glencoe,
      And copse on Cruchan-Ben;
    But here, above, around, below,
      On mountain or in glen,
    Nor tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower,
    Nor aught of vegetative power,
      The weary eye may ken.

But austereness, too, has its place, and often is to the mountains what
fertility is to the fields, not a blemish, but a glory; and if grey
crag[19] and wild hillside bear no visible fruitage, yet many are the
spiritual crops which may be gathered from them by the understanding
eye and mind.

Some centuries ago the Lake District, as Wordsworth has remarked, “must
have been covered with wood to a great height up the mountains, where
native Scotch firs must have grown in great profusion, as they do in
the northern part of Scotland to this day”; and he quotes a traditional
saying that a squirrel might have travelled from Wythburn to Keswick
without touching earth. In Wales the same conditions once existed,
and Pennant, in 1773, referred to the earlier destruction of the oak
forests which had clothed the upper dales. “Avarice,” he wrote, “or
dissipation, and its constant follower, poverty, have despoiled much
of our Principality of its leafy beauties.” We can no longer say of
Snowdon or of Helvellyn, as of Mont Blanc, that “around his waist are
forests braced”--even miniature forests--but a closer knowledge will
teach us that the hillside, even when barren of vegetation, is never
barren of charm, and it may be that these mountains have gained as much
as they have lost by the change. Certainly there is a keen pleasure to
the climber in standing free of all entanglement of trunk or thicket on
the bare and open fells.

Not that the mountain is often a mere treeless and shrubless
waste, for in some places, on the lower slopes, there is a thick
ground-growth--carefully shunned by the traveller, but rich and
beautiful in itself--of heather, bracken, and bilberry, and there are
not a few spots where the flanks of the hills are a very wilderness of
intermingled crags and brushwood, ancient lurking-place of “mart” or
fox, but rarely if ever trodden by foot of man. When these fail, there
may often be seen a line of stunted yews, or hollies, or junipers,
straggling up the slope, or a mountain-ash jutting out slantwise from
the side of some narrow ravine and almost bridging the watercourse. The
bilberry, like the heather, is at times found growing at great heights,
especially in the rockier and less accessible places, such as the
sides of Tryfan or Scafell Pike, where it flourishes amazingly in some
seasons and produces berries of giant size.[20]

Not less delightful is that close-fitting vestment of the hills, which
follows so faithfully each ripe curve and contour, and so trimly
encircles the projecting bosses of rock--the short crisp sward, on
which the mountain sheep have their pasture. Even the stoniest tracts
are softened, here and there, by these verdant interspaces, and it is
refreshing to see a steep saddle of turf flung across a craggy ridge,
or a streak of greenery running far down, like a path, among the grey
and pathless screes. These grass banks are in parts notched and graded
into a kind of natural stair, easy to climb and luxurious to descend;
elsewhere they have a smooth and glassy surface which in dry weather
becomes highly polished and rather treacherous to the feet.

Very inviting, too, are the narrow winding tracks, models of skilful
engineering, which sheep and shepherds between them have worn along
the slopes--slender thoroughfares which often skirt the fells for
some distance at the same level, and offer a less toilsome footing to
those whose course is round some projecting bluff or hollow combe. A
terrace-road, where one has a steep rise on one side and a steep drop
on the other, is always a delight, even when one’s terrace is but a
tiny sheep-path of a few inches’ width; nor is there any need to go
to show places, such as the so-called “Precipice Walk” at Dolgelly,
for a sensation which can be enjoyed in abundance on any unfrequented
hillside.

But let it be supposed that verdure of any kind is lacking, and that
we stand face to face with an expanse of bare cliff and scree--such
as the south face of the Great Gable--the solid cliffs rising above,
and the broken screes streaming downward and outward from their base.
Here is barrenness indeed, yet a barrenness which, to the lover of such
solitudes, is more fruitful than the choicest vineyard or cornfield.
For how weird and suggestive is this stationary rock-fall of screes,
this stony glacier arrested in its flow, yet retaining in its stillness
something of the undulant shape! Viewed from across the glen, it
looks like a great “tongue” of rocks lolling out from the mouth of
the gorge many hundreds of feet above, and gradually widening in its
fall; at closer quarters, it presents itself as a tolerably compact
mass of individual boulders, none of any great size, across which
it is necessary to pick one’s way with some deftness, because, like
Wordsworth’s cloud, it “moveth altogether if it move at all,” and a
floundering step may set half the hillside creeping daleward.

It is centuries, no doubt, since these detached stones fell from their
holdings, and they are themselves for the most part weather-worn and
sun-stained like the parent crags, but they are still occasionally
reinforced by new outcasts, when some exposed layer of rock has become
disintegrated by winter frosts and rains; and then the story of the
latest landslip is written visibly for several years in the paler hue
of the screes and in the discordant rift in the escarpment. As a rule,
falling stones, so great a danger in the Alps, are rare among our
mountains; once or twice in a season, perhaps, you may see, or hear,
a big stone go thundering down the hillside when no human agency has
been at work.

I refer to human agency, because the mention of falling stones reminds
me of the now disused sport of crag-bowling. The rolling of stones
down mountain sides, still a recognized method of warfare among
hillsmen, has rightly been anathematized in this peaceful country since
rock-climbing became popular; but in the old days, when no one went on
the crags, it was a harmless and diverting practice. Thus Gilpin, in
his travels among the mountains of Cumberland, a hundred and thirty
years back, remarked how the native children amused themselves in this
manner; and Bingley, describing his ascent of Tryfan some half-century
later, observes: “We stood on a mere point, and on each side of us
was a precipice more deep than any I had before seen; we united our
strength, and rolled down it several huge pieces of rock.” Forty years
ago it was common to see guides and tourists assiduously engaged in
the sport, the process of which was somewhat as follows. Having first
selected a steep “scar,” or a grass slope, with a pool if possible at
the foot of it, and having made sure that neither man nor sheep was
in the line of fire, the party turned their attention to some “huge
stone,” as Wordsworth has it,

    Couched on the bald top of an eminence,

and expended such energy as they had to spare in detaching this rock
from its station, until it slowly toppled over, gathered fierce speed,
went smoking and crashing down the hillside, and buried itself with a
wild plunge in the waters. Such was the pastime, a sort of vicarious
glissade, and from my own bygone enjoyment of it I have been led to
hope that the famous “labours” of Sisyphus, who, according to the old
Greek legend, was condemned in Hades to roll a large block up a hill
only--only!--to see it roll down again, were not quite so cheerless a
form of punishment as poets have feigned. The self-imposed labours of
the tobogganist seem to belong to the same class.

But if any reader thinks that so dangerous a game as crag-bowling ought
not to receive even this faint retrospective approval, let me add, as a
warning, that I know one pilgrim who, for his former indulgence in it,
sometimes pays the penalty in dreams. He has loosened, maybe, from its
high parapet some monster of a rock, in weight and girth far exceeding
any upon which he ever laid waking hands, and no sooner has he launched
it on its mad career than he remembers with horror unspeakable that
there is a cottage in the glen below--even now he sees its chimneys as
the crag goes thundering towards it, and he awakes in remorseful agony
at the sickening thud upon the roof.

From the loose screes we turn naturally to the stone walls, where
some at least of the scattered blocks have found lodgment and
reconstruction. So familiar are these walls to us, and so closely
associated with the hillside itself, that they seem to be a natural
part of it, as the bridges of the valleys, and one would not willingly
miss them from the bare landscape. It is rather surprising, indeed,
to find De Quincey speaking of the “sad injury” done to the beauty
of a mountainous country by its stone walls; for to some of us the
stone wall has a more native charm in such districts than any quickset
hedgerow could have: it has often furnished us with a shelter in storm,
a shade in heat, a lunching and a siesta-place; we love it, too, as the
haunt of our mountain companions, the wheatear and the rock-ousel. The
scaling of a seven-foot wall, when the top stones have become insecure,
may present some difficulty to the novice, and it is then that he is
glad to find one of those convenient loop-holes or rather sheep-holes,
through which, after temporarily removing the door-stone, he may
insinuatingly worm himself. On some of the lower slopes, especially
among the foot-hills near the seacoast, these walls are often of
huge girth and solidity, and, being overgrown and intertwined with
numberless ivies, mosses, and lichens, have a rare and peculiar beauty;
but the increasing use of barbed wire, as an adjunct or substitute for
the walls, is yet another sign of the vandalism which in so many ways
is working havoc among the hills.

But of all the treasures of the hillside the brightest and purest are
its water springs, sources of those many Welsh “afons,” and English
“gills” and “becks,” whose beauty might convince the most hardened and
sceptical of town-dwellers that the Naiads were something more than a
dream. Follow one of these swift mountain rivers, such as the Cumbrian
Esk or the Cambrian Llugwy, or better still, perhaps, one of the lesser
and more headlong freshets, from its deep pools and rock-basins in the
lower valley to its birthplace under the heights, and you will marvel
at the prodigality of its charms--so deliciously do the waves come
dancing and singing down the slopes in a succession of hidden falls, no
two of which are alike, or in an open cascade of white foam, such as
often wins for such streams in the Lake District the name of “Sour Milk
Gill”; and at last, as the current dwindles, you will trace it to some
brimming tarn, or to its high fount in green mosses among the rocks, or
will possibly lose it underground, where it may be heard bubbling and
gurgling below the stones in its invisible cradle.

These becks, it must be remembered, unlike the turbid snow-fed torrents
of Switzerland, are as clear as crystal, so that in calm weather you
may see every pebble at the bottom of the pools, and the trout poised
with waving fins; but after a heavy rainfall, when the streams are in
“spate,” it is often no easy matter to ford them, for then the merest
runnels, across which you step to-day without hindrance, may to-morrow
be a raging flood. On the other hand, there are times, though much
less frequent, when the smaller streamlets are withered up under a
spell of summer heat, and their dry channels are useful only as a stone
staircase for the climber, who in such seasons may become acquainted,
as never before, with the feeling of thirst. I think the sorest
temptation I ever underwent, without succumbing to it, was when, on
my first visit to Scafell Pike with two fellow undergraduates, on a
burning August day, we found a jug of claret-cup left to keep cool, in
the spring above Esk Hause, by a party which had trustfully preceded
us to the summit. It must have been owing to some morally bracing
influence in the high mountain air that that cup was untouched by us:
had we been subjected to the same ordeal on the banks of the Cam, it
seems but too certain that not one drop could have been spared.

The mountain tarns, in which many of the becks have their origin, lie
for the most part in hidden recesses, unsuspected from below, under
the crowning heights, and mark the beginning of the last stage in the
ascent. It is rather curious that the older school of nature-lovers
should have felt themselves disposed to melancholy rather than
to joyfulness amid such scenes; even Wordsworth speaks of a “not
unpleasing sadness” as naturally induced by the sight of these pools,
and surmises that “the prospect of a body of pure water, unattended
with groves and other cheerful rural images by which fresh water is
usually accompanied, and unable to give furtherance to the meagre
vegetation around it, excites a sense of some repulsive power strongly
put forth.”[21] Here is a strange relic, in the mind of a great modern
poet, of the medieval sense of antagonism between man and nature: we
now think rather of these remote tarns as wells of life and healing, to
be repaired to by the pilgrim who needs refreshment and comfort in the
jostling conflict of mankind.

With the features which I have mentioned, the barren hillside is not
likely to lose its attractiveness for nature-lovers. A wilderness it
may be, but of a sort which brings to mind the rapt words of the poet--

    Oh, wilderness were paradise enow.



VII

Slag-Heap or Sanctuary?


Mountains have in all ages given asylum to free races. Has the time
come when a free race must give asylum to its mountains? If we are
to have any voice in the answer, the question is one which, in this
country at least, cannot much longer be set aside; for though the
encroachments of “civilization” on wild Nature have been more or less
discussed since the famous “Tours” of Thomas Pennant created the modern
tourist, and sent him roaming through the hills, the problem of how to
preserve our mountain scenery--if we wish to preserve it--has become
much more pressing with the great industrial development of the past
hundred years, and it is no exaggeration to say that if it is not
solved within the next half-century there may be no mountain scenery to
preserve.

It is not to be doubted that, as civilization advances, mountain
districts, like all other wild districts, must be gradually “opened
out,” and made to minister more fully to human wants; but, then, what
_are_ those wants, and how can they best be gratified? The man who
owned the goose that laid the golden eggs wanted golden eggs, but his
too hasty method of opening out the goose defeated the purpose he
had in view. In like manner, if we want to make our mountains more
serviceable to the people, we must think whether the methods which we
are at present adopting will conduce to that end. Look at the working
of these methods among the Cambrian and Cumbrian hills.

Snowdonia has long been a sufferer from foreign and native aggression.
It is said that Edward I, to celebrate his conquest of Wales, held “a
triumphal fair” on Snowdon, in open defiance of the national sentiment
by which this peak was held as holy as was Parnassus by the Greeks.
What is more surprising is that the Welsh themselves have in later
times so fully acquiesced in the defilement of their sacred mountain,
and that the present plight of Snowdon would seem to be a pride rather
than a shame to them; for all earlier outrages sink into nothingness
when compared with the work of the past fifty years. The copper-mines
in Cwm Dyli, which have been worked, and neglected, and worked again,
have greatly defaced the mountain, have poisoned the waters, and
submerged the islands of Llyn Llydaw, once the haunt of the sea-gull;
but it was not until the railway was built from Llanberis, and an hotel
placed on the summit, that irreparable harm was done by deforming the
natural shape of Y Wyddfa, the topmost peak, into a dull, blunted cone.

Take the case of the River Glaslyn, which flows from the heart of
Snowdon through Cwm Dyli and Nant Gwynant, till it finds its way by
the Pass of Aberglaslyn to the sea. Visitors are often invited to
admire the “power works,” erected a few years ago at the head of Nant
Gwynant, and other signs of enterprise; but from the nature-lover’s
point of view, there is a different tale to tell, for the glorious
waterfall, through which the stream dashed headlong from Cwm Dyli, has
been replaced by a line of hideous metal pipes, by which the whole
hillside is scarred. As for the far-famed Pass of Aberglaslyn, defaced
as it is by railway works and tunnellings, remorselessly begun and
then temporarily abandoned, its state can only be described as one of
stagnant devastation.

It is a curious fact, too, that this greed for exploiting the natural
scenery of Wales goes hand in hand with a complete neglect of such
legitimate and really useful means of utilizing the tourist-season as
the erection of signposts, and the maintenance of bridle-paths and
mountain-tracks, which, without disfiguring the scenery, are of great
service to walkers.

Such is the latter state of this Welsh mountain, of which it used
to be said that “whoever slept upon Snowdon would wake inspired.”
The inspiration which to-day awaits those who wake upon Y Wyddfa
is the sight of a hostel “standing where it ought not,” with the
usual appurtenances of civilization--post-office, railway-station,
refreshment-rooms, cigar-ends, urinals, hordes of trippers, to whom
the mountain means no more than the pier at Margate or the terrace at
Windsor--almost everything that is civilized except a police-station,
and who knows but even that may come? If there is still any “beauty
born of murmuring sound” among the dwellers on Snowdon, it must be born
of the slow-panting locomotive, or of the gurgling of whiskies in the
hotel. And the view? In clear weather, we are told, it embraces the
coast of Ireland. I have seen it embrace a line of “washing,” hung out
to dry on the edge of the Glaslyn precipice.

In Cumberland, thanks to the efforts of a few faithful defenders and
the powerful sentiment aroused by the Lake poets, there has been
much less desecration, and the recent attempts of vandalism on these
remaining strongholds of Nature have been mostly repulsed; indeed, it
might be thought that the immediate danger in this quarter comes in
part from overzealous friends, and that it is time a limit were put to
the well-meant but mischievous practice of building memorial tablets
in record either of personal associations or of fatal accidents. That
the guide-books should tell us how Scott’s “pilgrim of Nature” lost his
life on Helvellyn, and how Matthew Arnold took a meditative walk there,
is well enough; but to erect stones in memory of these events, and
marble crosses on the various spots where rash cragsmen have fallen,
seems rather indiscreet; for it is not fitting that a wild mountain
should be plastered, like a lecture-hall or a cemetery, with epitaphs
and inscriptions.

But it must not be supposed that Lakeland has not suffered even
as Wales has done, though in a less degree, from the ravages of
commercialism. Coniston is a sad proof of the contrary, where that once
beautiful mountain, the Old Man, has been so ruined by the copper-mines
that, as has been said of the gold-fields of Colorado, “the hills
have been flayed of all their grass and scalped of all their timber;
they are scarred and gashed and ulcerated all over from past mining
operations--so ferociously does little man scratch at the breasts of
his great calm mother when he thinks that jewels are there hidden.” I
was told by Ruskin, whose windows at Brantwood looked westward across
Coniston Water to the Old Man, that he thought the very sky above the
mountain-top was poisoned and clouded by the mines.

Take the case of Thirlmere, too, that once wild and winding tarn,
so narrow at the middle that it was spanned by a rustic bridge, but
now enlarged into a Manchester water-tank. It is true that in this
case--unlike the majority--a useful purpose was attained; but are we
to believe that the _general_ interests of the country are promoted by
such feats of engineering, by which Thirlmere was “improved” into what
we now see it--a formless sheet of water, with a large dam at its lower
end, some ornamental water-works on its banks, and a few submerged
homesteads below its waves? No wonder that the coachmen who ply between
Keswick and Grasmere are never weary of pointing out to the passengers
these triumphs of human skill. And now Haweswater is to suffer a like
fate.

The desecration of our mountains is but part of the widespread contempt
for natural scenery which may be seen from end to end of the land; but
it is among mountains, where Nature is at her wildest, that it strikes
us the most. From what filthy-mindedness comes the strange conviction
that a clear, swift stream is the right and proper receptacle for the
rubbish of human homes?[22] I know a Welsh village, the type, alas! of
many villages in Wales, and elsewhere, in which from the houses built
on the steep bank of a pure mountain torrent there dribbles down into
the river a tributary river of filth--dust, broken bottles, paper, old
boots, decaying vegetables, and all kinds of refuse--for thus it is
that the country-folk muse on the gifts of Nature,

    And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

Nor is it only on the natives of these districts that such reproach
must fall; for, unhappily the state of some of the well-known peaks and
gullies, both in Wales and Cumberland, proves that many visitors also
forget their duties to the hills. I have seen the famous Needle Gully,
on the south flank of the Gable, literally lined with sandwich-papers
and other mementos of climbing parties, whose members would be ashamed
to treat St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey with the like disrespect; and
if the skilled cragsman can be guilty of such sacrilege, can we hope
that the ordinary tripper will be more reverent in his ways?

Such acts are at least indications of a barbaric mood in the public
mind, which, when expressed in the form of commercial enterprise, is
capable of wreaking more damage on the mountains than a waterspout or
an earthquake; and the question presents itself: Will this mood pass or
be abated before a fatal mischief is done? For bad as things are now,
there may be worse to follow. “Thank God,” said Thoreau, “they cannot
cut down the clouds.” But can they not? With aeroplanes once perfected,
will not the cloud, that “mountain o’er a mountain,” share the fate of
the hills? No mountain, assuredly, will escape. “As to the loftiest
peaks of the Andes and Himalayas,” said Reclus, “too high in the
regions of cold for man to go to their summits, the day will come when
he shall be able to reach them. Balloons have already carried him two
or three thousand yards high; other aeronauts will bear and deposit
him on Gaourisankar, as far as the ‘great diadem of the dazzling
heaven.’”

The danger lies not so much in the accessibility of cloud or mountain
as in the reckless and irreverent spirit of the man who attains them.
To soar to “the great diadem” is no harm; but if we turn the great
diadem into a great muck-heap, shall we be the gainers by our flight?

Nor is it only the mountains that are being ruined by man’s
brutishness; the extinction of the wild life of the mountains is also
threatened. It has to be remembered that these remote ranges are
almost the only haunt where certain rare animals can still, to some
extent, hold their own. Scarcely more than a hundred years ago the
eagle was breeding in Borrowdale, as it still breeds in parts of the
Scottish Highlands; and whether the present century shall witness the
extermination of the buzzard, the kite, the peregrine, the raven, and
other rare species, must depend partly on the protection afforded
them by law against the sporting naturalist or “collector,” mainly on
the preservation of the mountains themselves from the commercialists’
greed. Shall we ever have the wisdom to make each such district into
an asylum for bird and mountain alike? At present the lover of wild
Nature, himself somewhat of a _rara avis_, must be thankful for what is
spared in his time; but it is his duty to think of the future also, and
to avert, if he may do so, the ruin which he clearly foresees.

We come back, therefore, to the question whether we wish to hand on
these mountains to our descendants as mountains or as something else.
For if we allow our company-promoters to carve and tunnel the crags,
to enlarge and discolour the lakes, to poison the streams, and to
drive away the wild life from the hills, are we not once more killing
the goose that laid the golden eggs? These hills of ours are small as
compared with the great mountains of Europe, but they are as beautiful,
and they are unique, and once ruined they cannot by any ingenuity be
restored. It is true that Switzerland is employed in the same manner
in spoiling the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc, but it must be remembered
that Switzerland has a practically unlimited reserve of Alps, while
we have but few mountains to spoil.[23] At present they are still
something more than a playground for gymnasts, or a picnic-ground for
tourists; they are mountains, a piece of unsophisticated wild Nature in
our midst, and as such, their value, to those who know it, is beyond
words. Let them still be a playground and a picnic-ground by all means,
but under such conditions as will preserve their native features and
their higher character. One would think that a nation which can spend
thousands of millions on a foreign war might afford to become the owner
of its own mountains at home!

The pretence that there is something selfish and anti-democratic in
the desire to save our mountain scenery from destruction is absurd;
on the contrary, it is entirely owing to its devotion to the fetish
of “property” that the public has so long allowed these places to
be exploited for private gain, and has stood by in utter apathy and
indifference while a handful of speculators and traders have benefited
at the expense of the community. Nor do we give to our mountains even
that protection which other antiquities enjoy. What would be said if a
Bill were submitted and passed in Parliament to authorize some private
company to pull Westminster Abbey or Stonehenge to pieces and make a
profit out of the ruins? It is no exaggeration to say that the Society
for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments would have the whole nation
at its back in its resistance to such vandalism; yet a mountain such as
Snowdon is a far more ancient monument than Stonehenge or the Abbey,
and the vandalism which is now being successfully accomplished is of a
still more insensate kind.

It is a hollow fallacy, too, to suppose that it is “democratic” to
fill up and destroy the rare silences and solitary spaces that a land
may still possess, on the plea that they cannot be enjoyed by all.
They _can_ be enjoyed by all who are fitted to enjoy them, and the
benefits that result from such enjoyment are in the long-run shared by
all the nation alike. To make a railway to the top of a mountain such
as Snowdon, and then to argue that it is a blessing to the weakly folk
who could not otherwise get there, is to overlook the fact that it is
not to the cripples, but to the community, that the mountain belongs.
“Whatsoever,” says the communist Reclus, “may be the future of man, or
the aspect of the world which he may create for himself, solitude, in
that portion of Nature which is left free, will become more and more
necessary to those men who wish to obtain renewed vigour of thought,
far from the conflict of opinions and voices. If the beautiful spots
of the world should one day become a mere rendezvous for the worn and
weary, they who love to live in the open air will have nothing left
them but to take refuge in a bark on the midst of the waves.… Happily
the mountain will always contain the sweetest places of retreat for him
who flies from the beaten paths of fashion.”

Wherein, then, lies the remedy for the dangers which I have described?
Within recent years there has been much rejoicing over the rescue
of two or three estates in the Lake District, such as Catbells and
Gowbarrow, from the clutch of the speculator, and all honour is
certainly due to those by whom these victories were won; but it is
evident that large sums of money cannot for ever be raised by private
subscription to buy off the day of doom, and that while one favoured
tract is being thus protected, another less fortunate one is being
lost. We cannot save our mountains by these piecemeal purchases from
the harpies who threaten them; such methods are too troublesome, too
costly, too purely local to be successful in the main. There is only
one thorough solution of the problem, and that is to nationalize
such districts as Snowdonia, Lakeland, the Peak of Derbyshire, and
other public holiday-haunts, and so to preserve them for the use and
enjoyment of the people for all time. If parks, open spaces, railways,
tramways, water, and other public needs can be municipalized, why not
mountains? It is impossible to over-estimate the value of mountains
as a recreation-ground for soul and body, yet, while we are awaking
to the need of maintaining public rights in other directions, we are
allowing our mountains--in North Wales and elsewhere--to be sacrificed
to commercial selfishness. If Snowdon, for instance, had been purchased
by the public twenty years ago, the investment would have been a great
deal more profitable than those in which we usually engage; but while
we are willing to spend vast sums on grabbing other people’s territory,
we have not, of course, a penny to spare for the preservation of our
own.

What we need, in short, is the appointment of mountain
sanctuaries--highland parks, where the hills themselves, with the wild
animals and plants whose life is of the hills, shall be preserved in
their wildness as the cherished property of the people--consecrated
places, where every one shall be entitled to walk, to climb, to rest,
to meditate, to study Nature, to disport himself as he will, but
_not_ to injure or destroy. When we truly care for these hills of
ours, we shall remove them from the tender mercies of the mine-owners
and railway lords, who now seek profit in their disfigurement, and
shall place them under a council of mountaineers and naturalists and
nature lovers who understand and reverence them, with the instruction
that they shall so administer their charge as to add to the present
happiness and the permanent wealth of the nation. How long will it take
us, hag-ridden as we are by the nightmare of private ownership, to
awake to the necessity of such a change?

Pending that blessed time, I would point out to those public-spirited
rich men (and we know there are such) who are ever looking for some
useful outlet for their wealth, that here, in the shadow of this
storm-cloud that overhangs our mountain scenery, they have a golden
chance of ennobling themselves; for it is simple truth that the
millionaire who should buy a Snowdon, and make free gift of it to the
people, would be a benefactor for all time, and would far outstrip in
lasting philanthropy any donor of churches or charities, hospitals
or libraries, scholarships or seats of learning. For mountains are
the holiest ground that the heart of man has consecrated, and their
educating influence is even more potent than that of books; they are
the true authors, the standard works, printed in the most enduring
type, that cheer and brace, as no written words can do, the minds of
those who study them.

In what state, then, shall we hand on to those who follow us these
sacred temples of Nature, which, as even so old-fashioned a writer as
Wordsworth asserted, are “a sort of national property, in which every
man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to
enjoy”? The day cannot be far distant when our choice must be made, and
it is between a sanctuary and a slag-heap that we must choose.

   _Printed in Great Britain by_ Butler & Tanner, _Frome and London_



FOOTNOTES


[1] _The Cambrian Sketch Book_, by R. R. Davies.

[2] _Rambles among the Mountains, Valleys, and Solitudes of Wales_, by
J. H. Cliffe, 1860.

[3] “The simple people who till the soil of Westmorland and Cumberland
cannot view in any other light than that of childish ‘laking’ the
migrating propensities of all the great people of the south who
annually come up like shoals of herrings from their own fertile
pastures to the rocky grounds of the north.”--_De Quincey._

[4] The very word “to climb” is beginning to be appropriated by
the gymnasts, in whose records we find mention of meetings with
“non-climbing parties” at the summits. Scott’s verse, “I climbed the
dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,” will evidently have to be rewritten.

[5] See the well-known lines in Scott’s “Helvellyn”:

    “Dark green was that spot mid the brown mountain-heather,
    Where the Pilgrim of Nature lay stretched in decay.”

[6] Dr. G. A. Selwyn, then Bishop of Lichfield.

[7] “I suppose that I feel the same awe when on their summits that many
do on entering a church. To see what kind of earth that is on which you
have a house and garden somewhere, perchance! It is equal to a lapse
of many years. If you have been to the top of Mount Washington, let
me ask, what did you find there? Going up there and being blown on is
nothing. We never do much climbing while we are there, but we eat our
luncheon, etc., very much as at home. It is after we get home that we
really go over the mountain, if ever. What did the mountain say? What
did the mountain do?”--_Thoreau._

[8] Captain Cameron, of Glen Brittle House, Isle of Skye.

[9] The expression was used in E. D. Clarke’s _Tour through Wales_,
1791.

[10] The word “glidder” is given in the _English Dialect Dictionary_
as meaning a loose stone. Cf. the line in Scott’s “Shepherd’s Tale”:
“Among the glidders grey.”

[11] “I ken the place, as mony does, in fair daylight, but how to find
it by moonshine, amang sae mony crags and stanes, as like to each
other as the collier to the deil, is mair than I can tell.”--_Heart of
Midlothian._

[12] A proof of the sentiment attaching to Snowdon may be found in the
number of counties which claim to have a distant view of it from their
own highest points; we are told, for example, that it can be seen from
the Worcestershire Beacon, at Malvern, across nearly a hundred miles
of hill and plain. From what I have been able to discern of the Welsh
heights as viewed from the hills of Shropshire, at a range of about
fifty or sixty miles, I suspect that “Snowdon” must often be understood
as a generic term, and that outlying summits such as the Arenig Fawr,
near Bala, sometimes do duty for their chief.

[13] _Description of the Scenery of the Lakes_, 1823.

[14] W. Gilpin, 1786.

[15] See _Climbing in the British Isles_, by W. P. Haskett Smith, i. 86.

[16] Cf. the name of the well-known Nant Ffrancon, meaning “the Valley
of the Beavers.”

[17] W. Gilpin’s _Observations on the Mountains of Cumberland_, 1786.

[18] See an interesting article on “Wild Goats in Wales,” in _Country
Life Illustrated_, March 2, 1901. Also Mr. J. G. Millais’ _British
Mammals_, iii. 213.

[19] “Probably these crests of the earth are for the most part of
one colour in all lands, that grey colour of antiquity which Nature
loves; colour of unpainted wood, weather-stain, time-stain; not
glaring nor gaudy; the colour of all roofs, the colour of things that
endure.”--Thoreau, _Journal_, x. 452.

[20] For a description of the flowers of the fells, I may be permitted,
to refer the reader to my book _The Call of the Wildflower_, which
contains chapters on the flora of Snowdonia and Helvellyn.

[21] _Description of the Scenery of the Lakes._

[22] In the good old days it must have been a practice to build privies
actually _over_ small streams, as may be seen from ruins near disused
cottages in Wales and Cumberland.

[23] There is an English branch of the League for the Preservation of
Swiss Scenery, which has powerful support. Does not charity in this, as
in other matters, begin at home?





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