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Title: The English Lakes
Author: Palmer, W. T.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           THE ENGLISH LAKES

                       [Illustration: Lotus Logo]

                           AGENTS IN AMERICA
                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                     64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                     First Edition    _July_, 1905
                   Second Edition    _October_, 1908



                                  CHAPTER I
  INTRODUCTION                                                         1

                                  CHAPTER II
  BY STEAM YACHT ON WINDERMERE                                         9

                                 CHAPTER III
  BY WORDSWORTH’S ROTHAY                                              30

                                  CHAPTER IV
  RYDAL AND GRASMERE                                                  36

                                  CHAPTER V
  ESTHWAITE WATER AND OLD HAWKSHEAD                                   49

                                  CHAPTER VI
  CONISTON WATER                                                      60

                                 CHAPTER VII
  THE MOODS OF WASTWATER                                              79

                                 CHAPTER VIII
  THE GLORY OF ENNERDALE                                              98

                                  CHAPTER IX
  BY SOFT LOWESWATER                                                 106

                                  CHAPTER X
  CRUMMOCK WATER                                                     116

                                  CHAPTER XI
  BUTTERMERE                                                         124

                                 CHAPTER XII
  THE CHARMS OF DERWENTWATER                                         137

                                 CHAPTER XIII
  BASSENTHWAITE                                                      156

                                 CHAPTER XIV
  THIRLMERE FROM THE MAIN ROAD                                       165

                                  CHAPTER XV
  HAWESWATER AND THE BIRDS                                           178

                                 CHAPTER XVI
  ULLSWATER, HOME OF BEAUTY                                          185

                                 CHAPTER XVII
  MOUNTAIN TARNS                                                     203

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  1. A Misty Morning, Newby Bridge, Windermere            _Frontispiece_
                                                             FACING PAGE
  2. Furness Abbey in the Vale of Nightshade                           4
  3. Windermere from Wansfell (sunset)                                 8
  4. Swan Inn, Newby Bridge, Windermere                               12
  5. Near the Ferry, Windermere: Skating by Moonlight                 16
  6. The Old Ferry, Windermere                                        20
  7. Old Laburnums at Newby Bridge, Windermere                        24
  8. Windermere and Langdale Pikes, from Lowwood                      28
  9. A Glimpse of Grasmere (evening sun)                              30
  10. Wild Hyacinths                                                  32
  11. Dungeon Ghyll Force, Langdale                                   34
  12. Dove Cottage, Grasmere                                          36
  13. Skelwith Force, Langdale                                        40
  14. Sunset, Rydal Water                                             42
  15. Grasmere Church                                                 46
  16. Esthwaite Water: Apple Blossom                                  50
  17. An Old Street in Hawkshead                                      52
  18. Sheep-Shearing, Esthwaite Hall Farm                             56
  19. Dawn, Coniston                                                  60
  20. Charcoal-Burners, Coniston Lake                                 62
  21. Brantwood, Coniston Lake: Char-fishing                          64
  22. Coniston Village: the Old Butcher’s shop                        66
  23. Moonlight and Lamplight, Coniston                               68
  24. An Old Inn Kitchen, Coniston                                    70
  25. The Shepherd, Yewdale, Coniston                                 72
  26. Stepping-Stones, Seathwaite                                     74
  27. Winter Sunshine, Coniston                                       76
  28. Daffodils by the Banks of the Silvery Duddon                    78
  29. A Fell Fox-hunt, Head of Eskdale and Scawfell                   80
  30. Wastwater, from Strands                                         82
  31. Wastwater and Scawfell                                          84
  32. Wastdalehead and Great Gable (towards evening in autumn)        86
  33. Wastwater Screes                                                88
  34. Wastdalehead Church                                             90
  35. Nearing the top of Styhead Pass, Wastdale                       92
  36. Wastdalehead, Wastwater                                         94
  37. Ennerdale Lake at Sunset                                        98
  38. The Pillar Rock of Ennerdale                                   100
  39. Loweswater                                                     106
  40. The Old Post Office, Loweswater                                108
  41. Crummock Water, from Scale Hill                                116
  42. Crummock Water and Buttermere                                  120
  43. Head of Buttermere                                             124
  44. Honister Pass and Buttermere                                   128
  45. The Borrowdale Yews (evening)                                  132
  46. Lodore and Derwentwater (a summer’s morn)                      136
  47. Derwentwater, from Castle Head (a bright morning)              138
  48. By the Shores of Derwentwater                                  142
  49. Grange in Borrowdale (early morning)                           144
  50. Crosthwaite Church, Keswick                                    148
  51. Druid Circle, near Keswick (moonlight)                         150
  52. Falcon Crag, Derwentwater                                      152
  53. The Vale of St. John, near Keswick                             154
  54. Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake, from High Lodore          156
  55. Bassenthwaite Lake (a breezy morn)                             160
  56. Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw                                 162
  57. Raven Crag, Thirlmere                                          166
  58. Thirlmere and Helvellyn                                        168
  59. Haweswater                                                     178
  60. Shap Abbey                                                     182
  61. Ullswater, from Gowbarrow Park (a sultry June morn)            186
  62. Ullswater, Silver Bay                                          188
  63. Ullswater: the Silver Strand (afterglow)                       190
  64. Hazy Twilight, Head of Ullswater                               192
  65. A Mountain Path, Sandwick, Ullswater                           194
  66. Brougham Castle, Penrith                                       198
  67. Angle Tarn, Esk Hause                                          204
  68. Dalegarth Force, Eskdale                                       206
  69. Blea Tarn and Langdale Pikes                                   210
  70. A Sudden Shower, Blea Tarn                                     212
  71. Kirkstone Pass and Brothers’ Water                             214
  72. Stepping-stones, Far Easedale, Grasmere                        216
  73. Little Langdale Tarn                                           218
  74. Elterwater and Langdale Pikes                                  220
  75. Seathwaite Tarn, Duddon Valley                                 222

_The Illustrations in this volume have been engraved and printed in England
                   by the Hentschel Colourtype Ltd._

                           THE ENGLISH LAKES

                               CHAPTER I

The present book, it must be understood, treats the English Lakes rather
apart from various other elements comprised in what is known as the Lake
District. There is so much to say of the waters and their immediate
surroundings that no space has remained to describe mountain, pass, and
tarn in the manner their beauties merit. Other limits to the book are
due to the writer’s promiscuity of taste. I am interested in most
things—antiquities, fauna, flora, sports, geology, entomology, and the
like; but in not one of these subjects have I that erudite knowledge
which might render my work of profit. This book is written to interest
those who love out-of-doors without claiming any particular study there.
Of the paintings—I can only commend them to notice. In my humblest
manner I assert that only an artist who feels the beauty of his
environment thoroughly could produce work so stamped with the innate
character of our Lakeland.

Of the history of the English Lakes little need be said. We are in a
backwater, so to speak, of events; only the outer edges of great affairs
have touched us. The mountains have been the last home of the invaded
after their defeat in the field and their banishment from the accessible
level lands. Druidical, and perhaps more ancient, remains are plentiful,
along with relics of Roman, Norseman, and Saxon; but these at best only
evidence sparse occupation. So far as history shows, no really great
campaign has been fought out in our wilds—the battlefield of Dunmail
(and only legend fixes that) is almost the only extensive one within the
heart of the fell country. Great religious changes—the Dissolution of
Monasteries, the Reformation, the rise of Nonconformity—have been far
more striking in their results than ever were the fortunes of war. The
mountains of Lakeland and Scotland stand blue on a common horizon, and
the alarms and reprisals of Border feud were not unknown. But the hardy
warriors from nor’ward did not often risk operations here, where
conditions were so unfavourable to their feverish but unsustained method
of warfare. The Civil War brought strife between the squires, but no
great action was fought, yet in outlying districts the name of Cromwell
is not forgotten in weird tale. Though the land of the Lakes has been
free from war in the sense of great happenings, it has been far from a
peaceful country.

Our lakes are fifteen in number, ranging from the lordly Windermere and
Ullswater, ten and a half and nine miles long respectively, to
Loweswater and Rydalmere, which hardly exceed the larger tarns in area.
Our mountain ranges contain the most elevated ground in England—Scawfell
Pike, Scawfell, Helvellyn, and Skiddaw being over three thousand feet in
height, and several others approaching that level. About thirty minor
waters are scattered over the area known as the Lake District; but I
must not make a guidebook of my volume.

My story of the Lakes will be told in the manner it has discovered
itself to me. I do not claim originality of method, nor will my reader
find much savouring of literary symmetry and style within these covers.
My wanderings cover a long series of years, and my recollections are as
disconnected as they well can be. I have kept no diary of things seen,
and scarcely regret the omission. There is no pile of data to confuse
me; trivial impressions have passed away, leaving a harvest of perfect
pictures to describe. And if I fail in putting these to paper, my
attempt has at least been sincere.

Much has been written of the dalesmen. Some writers deprecate everything
we have, from our mountains, the faces of which they hardly know and the
mysteries of which they have never dreamt of, down to our social
customs, which often they have neither witnessed nor studied. To these
nothing need be said, but to our over-laudatory friends I must say that
“to gild the lily” is not kind. Dalesman though I am, our faults are
quite visible to me, and “don’t pinch us” for them. I meet the dalesman
on equal terms. With him at “dipping” eve I have slept, star-embowered,
on the open fells. Many curious yarns of the uplands are believed only
by the wandering tourist: inner lore of the mountain life is reserved
for the home-sanctum. Where, in my wandering story, I feel myself
competent to introduce the men of the land, the pictures are as faithful
as I can make them. They have a store of stories, yet unprinted, in the
wilder glens: stories of weird things, of splendid heroisms among the
flocks and fells.

We have two classes of tourists: “The Strenuous Life” and “The Lotos
Eaters,” I divide them by their tastes. Others call them “Visitors,”
“Tourists” and “Trippers.” The first they adore—they take a “cottage
furnished” perhaps, and anyway are profitable in a staid, comfortable
manner; the second they tolerate—he is a man of hotels and boarding
houses, here to-day, and to-morrow “away ower t’fell,” but, by reason of
his plenty, worthy attention; the third they despise; many seem to think
that the day-visitor ought to be put down—by violence preferably.

To revert to my own division of our visitors, I feel that my tastes join
me in both types. I like the peaceful vales and lakes where the
“lotos-eaters” idle the summer hours away, and perhaps the detailed
descriptions of so many days of ease may incline the reader to believe
that I care nothing for the fells. But I love the breezy uplands, the
miles of free moor, the peaks and the crags.


A few words about accommodation and routes of travel are unavoidable.
There are huge hotels with fashionable prices, smaller ones that are as
comfortable or more so, at a fifth of the cost, and boarding houses in
large numbers. But sometimes in August there are more tourists than can
be comfortably put up even in our village-towns. However, the Lake
District is small, and, if Ambleside be thought full, there is Grasmere
not far away and Bowness within five miles. All three places are
unlikely to suffer from excess of visitors at the same time. Of the
remoter dales let me tell you a story. Two young men wandered into a
certain dale-head where there are but two homes for tourists. At the
first they asked for a couple of rooms. “We haven’t _one_ to spare.” The
way had dealt hardly with them, and at the second they moderated their
request to “two rooms, but if quite necessary we don’t mind sharing

“Why, bless thee, my lad,” said outspoken old Mother, “ther’s three to
ivvery bed, an’ two to ivvery table awreddy. But mappen I can put you up
in t’ barn with them others.” The barn across the yard had been pressed
into service as a bedroom; but at the prospect these townsmen shivered,
thanked the good lady, and walked wearily towards the dale-foot three
miles off (where the excess of tourists was still great, though not so
marked). The moral is, if you intend to make any place a centre for your
journeys engage a room there, but—I was just preparing for repose when a
knock came to my door. “Hello,” I answered. “Please, sir, there’s
another lady just come in, and will you give up your bedroom for her?” I
slept in less comfortable quarters that night, with half a score others
who, by chivalry or improvidence, were without rooms.

Three railway systems touch the Lake District. The London and
North-Western runs up one side with its main line, and casts a branch
from Oxenholme to Windermere, which is a very popular way to reach the
Lakes. From its terminus regular lines of coaches run to Coniston,
Ullswater, and Keswick, as well as to Bowness, Ambleside, and Grasmere.
A new company is putting on more motor-cars to cope with the traffic
between the terminus and Ambleside and Grasmere. The main London and
North-Western line at Shap is near Haweswater, an area growing in renown
among tourists. At Penrith it is near Ullswater, and regular coaches
connect with the steamers there. A company has exploited motor-traffic
from Penrith to Patterdale, partly for passengers, partly to carry the
output of the Glenridding lead mines.

The Furness Railway is _the_ railway of the Lake District. From
Carnforth, where it connects with the London and North-Western main line
and with the northern arm of the Midland Railway, it sweeps round
Morecambe bay to Ulverston. Here it throws branch the first to connect
the steam-yachts on Windermere with the outer world. By means of these
tourists are poured into Bowness and Ambleside in great numbers. A line
of coaches connect Ulverston with the foot of Coniston Lake. The main
Furness line passes through warrior Barrow to the Duddon, where branch
the second goes off winding through the hills to Coniston. From Coniston
there is coach connection with all parts of the Lake Country. The main
line has not yet, however, finished with the Lakes. It crosses the
Duddon and swerves round the foot of Black Combe to Millom of the
hematite beds, then away through a beautiful district between the fells
and the sea to Ravenglass and to Seascale, where a good road leads up to
Wastwater. At Sellafield another branch is thrown through Egremont,
within a few miles of Ennerdale Lake. The London and North-Western comes
on to the scene again here, a branch bearing southward from Carlisle and
tapping a district rich in iron ore, but fringed with lovely valleys.

The Lake Country is also served by the Cockermouth, Keswick, and Penrith
line, as important for the north as the Furness line is to the south. It
connects the London and North-Western at Penrith with the Furness at
Whitehaven, passing by Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite. At Threlkeld it
is nearest Thirlmere, at Troutbeck it is nearest Ullswater, while from
Cockermouth the tourist may easily reach Loweswater, Crummock, and

The North-Eastern and Midland Railways both come into Penrith, which is
an important junction for the Lakes, and an interesting town in itself.

It is not my intention to give any space to a description of the
internal traffic of the country—it is plentiful and good.

                [Illustration: WINDERMERE FROM WANSFELL

                               CHAPTER II
                     _BY STEAM YACHT ON WINDERMERE_

From its foot at Newby Bridge to the circling beach at Waterhead,
Windermere, the largest of our Lakes, is full of interest. Not a bay on
either bank fails in variety of scene, while from mid-lake the
surroundings are ever changing. The ideal way to see Windermere is from
a small boat; the journey, coasting every bay and yet not losing the
broader views of mid-water, should not take less than two long summer
days. Of course few can spare so much time to the pleasant task. By
steamer in a short afternoon and at a moderate expense it is possible to
make the tour of the lake. The visitor, however, can taste some of the
pleasures of the ideal if he spare an evening for boating. From Bowness
steer past the corner of Belle Isle; then as you near the Furness shore,
turn right or left as fancy directs, coasting under larch-hung bluffs
toward the Ferry, with Belle Isle on the left, or passing alder-fringed
meadows past Rawlinson’s Nab for Wray. The Furness shore is rather the
more diverse, and your rowing there at the close of day does not disturb
the many anglers who frequent Millerground. From Lakeside the boat can
be turned in any direction. Many wish to see the Leven leaving the lake:
it is but a half-mile away. Paddling quietly beneath Gummers Howe is
delightful; but the person with a taste for detail in light and shadow
may decide that the opposite shore, with its view of the fell across the
clear water, has even more charm.

By steamer the great majority see Windermere. The boats are large, and,
though at some hours crowded, fairly often carry quite a few passengers.
At mid-afternoon I have sailed from Bowness to Ambleside, a solitary
passenger,—and that during the height of the touring season. From the
deck of the steamer as it lies berthed at Lakeside there is a glorious
view. The steep side of Gummers Howe, green in summer with bracken,
golden with the young tendrils in spring, and in autumn russet with
fading glory, rises opposite. Like a wide river the lake winds further
and still further as your eyes turn toward the mountains. Yes, there
they are, blue with distance—sharp peaks limning strongly against the
sunlit sky. At present the lake is still as a mirror; drippings from the
oars of passing boats make little glittering ripples. But though the
views are so beauteous, it is well for a contemplative person to sit
near the gangway and watch the throng which the latest train has brought
from the outside world. There are two tall ladies, evidently school
ma’ams, with much luggage and the power of looking after it without
fuss; the stout old gentleman there has come this many years for a
sojourn by the shore of Windermere. I don’t know his name, but his
portly person is frequently seen on board the steamers. ’Cute chap that,
say the lakemen; he has a season ticket and takes out full value. Now
there is a quiet whirring of the screw; the captain, a white-bearded man
with many years’ service on the lake, sounds the whistle for the last
time, and the echo dies away among the hazels and coppices around. The
water, with a quiet churning sound, parts in front of the boat and we
are well away. Don’t look back, unless it be to catch a glimpse of where
lake finally narrows into river.

The boat speeds past one or two wooded islets: in spring the undergrowth
is blue with wild hyacinths. The afternoon sunlight glints upward from
the calm water as from a mirror. By Finsthwaite the woods are rich
green. Of cultivated land we see but little: here a cornfield between
woods and lake; there, evenly hoed patches of turnips and potatoes, or
more often meadows where rich grass is mantled in the white and yellow
of ox-eyes and buttercups. Peeping between green bowers of sycamore and
ash are one or two farmsteadings. Old and weathered, built of blue-grey
stone, they harmonise well with their surroundings. Do our eyes,
accustomed to these from birth, feel in this hoariness of theirs a rare
beauty which is purely imaginary? We almost hate the sight of a
modern-built villa, trim without, healthy and comfortable within. I make
no pretension to the artistic temperament: subordinate the villa to its
surroundings, and I am content; but stick a horror of brick and red
tiles in all its nakedness on a commanding hillside, or right on the
edge of a beautiful mere, and the wanderer is above human whose temper
is not tried at the sight. Pretty bungalows, for occasional occupation,
are springing up on the shores of Windermere; they are welcome, be the
woodlands around them sere or green.

           [Illustration: SWAN INN, NEWBY BRIDGE, WINDERMERE]

When not watching the glorious picture unfolding as the steamer passes
bay and creek, headland and rocky cove, there is to me much interest in
observing other people on the boat. For the deck of a Windermere lake
yacht has often as cosmopolitan a load as a cheap emigrant or “special
tour” steamer. True, there is little distinction of nationality in
dress; but the voices are often without disguise. Frenchmen, Swiss, and
Germans are not unusual, while Americans are frequent. Here let me
defend our friends from across the Atlantic. They are seldom the loud,
almost vulgar critics of our lake scenery they are popularly supposed to
be. Most of our visitors are readers of Wordsworth, of Ruskin, and our
other poets in prose and verse, and know what to expect. A Yale man I
once accompanied from Windermere to Keswick stated: “It is the
breathlessness of Lakeland which surprises me. Here there is a memory of
De Quincey or Coleridge: next moment there is a story of Christopher
North. I lift mine eyes suddenly from the pastoral scenes of Wordsworth
to the blue skies and mountains of Ruskin. Your country-side is
breathless with lore: America has no place to compare it with.” I am not
a “hail-fellow” person, preferring to be seen, not heard, and as the
boat glides along I silently piece together, from external evidence, the
little stories of my co-passengers. To-day there is a young man pacing
the boat amidships. He is no chance visitor, I judge, by the anxious way
he keeps looking ahead. There is some point he evidently does not wish
to miss. Presently I hear a movement of his arm: he has drawn out his
handkerchief and is waving it. Every eye turns to find out where he is
signalling. In a moment we catch an answering flutter: there is a lady
in white blouse and dark skirt on the shingles beneath the wood.
Something in the message heartens our fellow-passenger; a load of
anxiety has left him. Again and again he signals—ever there is an
answer. Then a lithe dark figure springs into a path from the shore, and
runs out of sight among the bushes. A child is hastening to give some
one the news that the desired steamer is passing. Now, from the front of
a bungalow, hardly to be seen for larches, another signal begins to
jerk. Our passenger answers this also till the yacht sweeps out of the

The promontory of Storrs now pushes out, and here the steamer will stop.
The call of the syren, like an enormous flute, rings full and sonorous
over the water, and dies in tuneful cadences, each softer and more
sweet, through the green ghylls and swelling hills. The road to the pier
runs close to the lake: a cyclist is rushing along vieing our boat in
speed. The signaller has seen him, and smiles. In a minute we are past
the narrow stone embankment with its small summer-house, and are purring
alongside the newer wooden pier. The cyclist speeds into sight through
an avenue of trees, and dismounts close by. The gangway is thrown
aboard—the signaller is the first ashore. The cyclist exchanges a word,
and they walk from view together. A story of joy and peace and love is
maybe working itself out before us, and the whole while, seated on the
opposite seat, a lady has been gloating over the theatricalities of
miserable “life” as depicted by Marie Corelli. Better advised is the one
who patrols the deck with a volume of the best carefully tucked under
his arm. That book will be digested presently when lamps are lit and
night like a velvet pall descends over lake and mountain.

Storrs Hall—now an hotel—was occupied a century ago by Mr. Bolton, who,
a man of literary tastes, thought noble friendships a boon. He communed
with Wordsworth, North, Sir Walter Scott, De Quincey, and many others
who were attracted to that great coterie of genius. In these days the
poetry of the Lakes school is often sneered at. The men with their
simple tastes and pleasures are despised, but, leaving their work aside,
never in history has a group of men so able, so high-minded, so far in
advance of their day and generation, been so intimately associated. They
had their weaknesses, their vices, but conducted their worst hours
without impairing the morality of their surroundings. Their influence
was wholly for good, wholly for an upward trend of thought.

As the _Swift_ threads through the reefs above Storrs, we enter a new
reach of the lake. In front Belle Isle’s tree-shaded level seems to
close the water; to our left is the Ferry; on the right green fields and
filmy woods, with, beyond and above, the mountains clustering round the
vale of Troutbeck. A faint blue ruffle travels along the lake toward us,
a catspaw of wind that sends a yacht which, sail-slack, had been
drifting, bowing and dancing through the water. At the landing-stage our
steamer has to wait till the tank-like cable-boat has completed its
journey. Down the hill opposite comes the road from Kendal to Hawkshead,
and about this point, from time immemorial, the lake has been crossed.
Various sorts of craft have been used: in the time of the Lake poets the
conveyance was a large and almost flat-bottomed boat, pulled along by
sweeps. Christopher North was wont, on a Saturday morning, to come down
from Elleray to steer the market-folk across. On one of these occasions
he noticed a flurry in the water, as of a struggling fish. The boat’s
course was diverted, and a landing-net used. Two pike, each of about six
pounds weight, had been fighting. The victor had seized his antagonist
by the head and endeavoured to swallow him whole. But, as an American
has sagely commented, “he had bit off more than he could chew.” When
North’s landing-net lifted the pair, his jaws were still locked round
the victim’s shoulders, though the biter had drowned. Though badly
mauled, the other fish was still feebly alive. In his fishing
reminiscences of the Borders Sir Walter Scott told a similar story. Near
the Tweed one day, seeing a commotion on its banks, he asked a laddie
what the matter was. “I dinna ken exactly,” was the reply, “but there’s
a muckle fush wi’ twa tails i’ t’ watter.” Anglers—and more veracious
folk—have similar stories to tell. The version I have given above of
Christopher North’s experience is not, I am aware, the accepted one: it
was given me, several years ago, by a dales dweller, one of whose
parents had witnessed the incident. There are legends to tell of this
Ferry. The most sinister is of an awful voice which on wild nights began
to peal across the turmoil—“Boat!” Once a bold ferryman answered the
call, put off his boat and rowed into the storm and darkness. Half an
hour later he returned, with boat swamping and without a passenger. The
boatman’s face was ashen with terror; he was dumb. Next day he died.
Stories there were of demons carrying off their spoils of witched souls,
and even the bodies of dead saints, across the lake. No boatman, after
this incident, could be prevailed to put off in darkness, so a priest
was summoned from the Holy Holme. With bell and book he raised the
skulking demon—at midday there was the voice of storm in the air,
though, mindful of the call of the Master on Galilee, the water fell
calm. Voices argued with the priest, whose cross planted firmly by the
edge of the lake was surrounded by terror-struck lakemen. At the end of
a long altercation the demon released from thrall the soul of the
boatman, and craved for mercy. For its peace, the priest laid the evil
thing in the depths of Claife, there to remain until “dryshod men walk
on Winander, and trot their ponies through the solid crags.”


At least once the ferryboat has been wrecked: the records of Hawkshead
Church show that a wedding party was drowned, about a dozen lives in all
being lost. The tank-like servant of the cable now against the shingles
has shown sea-like jauntiness. One Whit Saturday morning, when laden
with strength and beauty going to Kendal hirings, she broke both hawsers
and at a majestic pace drifted down the lake. In half an hour she
touched one of the islands, from which her passengers were shortly taken
off. In these times of watertight compartments, there is little chance
of a disaster occurring.

The hotel in front of which our _Swift_ is floating presents a gay
appearance on yacht-racing days. The lawns are occupied by a
well-dressed throng, and a small but excellent band plays appropriate
music. The line of red-flagged buoys marks start and finish: some of the
races are round the lake, about twenty miles; others are fought out in
the northern or southern basins only. The needs of the racing have
developed a special type of boat. The quest for speed dictates no great
displacement of water, therefore the craft are built shallow; but the
frequent and violent squalls of wind from the mountains make some
stability and weight essential to prevent capsize. Windermere yachts
carry heavier keels than is usual to their sail area, and there are
other minor variations between them and sea-going or conventional river
and lake boats. With a good breeze the yachts are very fast: they are
handy too, frequently “going about” in narrow quarters. At times, when
the air is dead calm, a race may degenerate into a drifting match: the
lakemen say that on one occasion the yachts were over ten hours in
covering as many miles. The locally developed design is eminently suited
to its work. Mr. Fife, the great draughtsman, some years ago built a
yacht on the Clyde for this lake. He came to see it compete, but the
local boats quickly showed their superiority over the new design.

The engines are now re-starting, and our steamer cleaves toward
Curwens’, or Belle Isle, which for long has seemed to close the way.
Now, however, narrow channels open to both right and left. The yacht
bears right away past two small holmes. One of these, a cluster of trees
and a level sward, is ofttimes used for kennels for the puppies of the
Windermere harrier pack. Here they are quite at liberty and yet out of
mischief, a remarkable circumstance in a puppy’s career. Often I have
laid on the oars to watch the little hounds romping and playing, under
the blinking superintendence of an elder. Then their game would stop,
and a pell-mell of puppydom charge to the shingles and bay its infantile
delight. Belle Isle is the only island of Windermere on which a house is
now standing. In the long ago a branch of the Philipsons of Calgarth
held it. During the Civil War this family was Royalist. One, a major in
the king’s Northern army, was shut up in Carlisle by the Roundheads;
another was here beleaguered. For several weeks the men of the
Parliament tried to carry the island by storm, but failed. The major had
been apprised of his brother’s peril, and immediately the siege of the
Border city was raised he came south with a troop and dispersed the
Roundheads. Now to the daring Robert came the hope of reprisals. The
island was fully relieved at Sunday dawn; three hours later Royalist
horsemen were on their way to Kendal. Colonel Briggs, the Cromwellian
commander, attended divine service regularly. Robert accordingly made
straight into Kendal Church. Though the building was crowded, he
galloped through the tall doorway and up the aisle. Sword in hand he
rode to where his antagonist usually sat, but Briggs was not at church.
The townsfolk rose, and Robert was forced to gallop down the other aisle
to prevent being overwhelmed by numbers. The doorway to the right is
lower than the central: Robert’s head struck the arch, and he was
thrown. His steel helmet received most of the concussion, and Robin was
on his feet again in a moment. One townsman caught his horse; the saddle
girth had broken when the rider had been hurled backward. Robert
instantly threw the saddle across his charger’s back and leapt into it.
Suddenly and cruelly spurred, the horse reared up and jerked the rein
from its detainer’s hand, while the intruder clove him to the chin.
Without further interruption, the Cavaliers rode back to their island

The steamer has been bearing us through the narrow channel to Bowness
Bay. The scene here is usually a busy and a pretty one. The public
fore-shore is narrow, and rowboats are crowded toward it. The
steamer-pier and two long jetties make the narrowness still more
emphatic. But Bowness Bay, with the Old England hotel to our left, looks
perfect. Beyond the short promenade, laid out in trees and
terrace-gardens, the ground rises to rocky Biskey Howe, whence is a
glorious view of the lake. Quite close at hand is Windermere parish
church, with some stained glass removed here from Cartmel Priory at the
Dissolution. The walls were at one time decorated with texts, but the
Lutherans rebelled against these and hid them beneath ignoble whitewash.
But what the sixteenth century despised, the twentieth reveres, and the
old Scripture paintings have been carefully restored. The village of
Bowness presents little noteworthy except its attention to visitors: its
reputation in this respect is thoroughly justified.

               [Illustration: THE OLD FERRY, WINDERMERE]

If you take a walk ashore, the various boatmen will embarrass you with
offers of craft. “Fishing tackle? oh, I’ll lend you that with pleasure,
and bait too.” Now this is all very well for the disciple of Walton who
insists on having a competent person on board to select the
fishing-ground. But the average man may be fairly warned by the
following note: “Hired a boat for the day and set out to fish with six
rods, plenty of bait, and a hopeful word of success from the boatman. We
cast our lines right and left, back and front, but not a fish did we
see. Whether the fish or the bait were enchanted we could not say, but
concluded that the lines were lent to make people believe they could
catch fish.” In answer I had to point out (my complainant knew sea and a
quiet variety of river fishing well) that, under a blazing June sun,
perch and trout were not likely to feed. There are times when the
fishing is good—out of the tourist season mainly. Some anglers regularly
come to Windermere for sport; but these swallows do not make a summer,
and Windermere is far from being an angler’s paradise yet. The lapsus
linguæ of the boatmen is perhaps excusable: others delude in less
satisfactory fashion.

Turning again to the bay, with its view of Belle Isle, and the blue
mountains peering over the bluffs of Furness, it strikes every visitor
that the landing-place is exceedingly cramped. Thousands use the boats;
were the rival proprietors less good-natured traffic would be
impossible. Perennially there is a movement afoot to acquire additional
frontage for the public use, but as perennially it fails. In the Diamond
Jubilee year, many thought that an acquirement was coming at last.
Negotiations were opened for land to the south of the bay, but the Vicar
of Windermere could not meet the promoters.

Aboard the _Swift_ again, we are borne into the upper basin. On Lady
Holme was once a chapel, served by the monks of Segden Abbey, one of the
Scotch monasteries. They were in possession so early as 1355, and till
the Dissolution maintained two priests here. There is, in some old
descriptions, a legend that one of these priests, to mortify his flesh,
caused himself to be chained in the crag above Rawlinson’s Nab, and
there he remained for thirty years or so, before death released him.
Sweet in early May are the islets here with lily of the valley: at any
time it is pleasant to land on them, for they are dry, their brakes are
not tangled—an ideal place for a quiet afternoon. As the steamer goes
on, the scene grows in grandeur. Over a vast plain of water the distant
mountains seem to hang. There are misty indications of level meadows and
woodlands next the water, but the charm lies in the craggy, shaggy braes
and the uprising summits. The woods continue—larch! larch! planted in
harsh geometrical lines on the Furness side; the opposite, though really
covered with villas, presents a happy, confused forest of oak and ash,
sycamore, elm, beech, interspersed with hollies and great patches of
underwood. The white foam of hawthorn flecks these hills in early
summer; later, patches of gorse, in wild, unconsidered corners, brighten
up the heavy green. Then come the heather and the heather bell,
empurpling the higher ground; till September’s chilly nights turn the
leafage to glories of gold and crimson, the brackens to red and russet.
We are now opposite Millerground; the lake near shore is shallow and
tempting to the angler.

The hill jutting out above there is Orrest Head—the viewpoint of the
Lake County. I have no wish to disparage other of our views: each has
its merits. From Orrest you look up and down the river-lake,
Winandermere, winding through a long valley. Round the head of its
hollow are rugged masses of mountain, cut into by narrow glens and
ghylls. The basins of Langdale, of Grasmere, with their tarns and lakes,
are hidden in a maze of wildering rocks. Right opposite, the Furness
fells, ridge beyond ridge, till, a grand barrier, Coniston Old Man
heaves skyward, give no indication of two lakes and wide valleys
embosomed beneath. There are two circumstances under which they who
climb Orrest are especially well repaid: on a calm June morning, when
the lake like a mirror reflects every detail of the hills, when the
ruffle of a passing boat or steamer dies away on the dead calm; the
other time is when light clouds are drifting across the sky and you can
see dappled areas floating over water and wood and fell. There is little
to choose between these and when the sun sinks in a bank of vapour
behind the Langdale Pikes. Instantly a crimson light filters across the
upper basin, picking out bay and islet in a halo of brilliance. For half
an hour it becomes more glorious, then to purple and to grey the light
declines. Yet, again, climb Orrest when thick snow covers the earth. The
scene is awe-inspiring: if in moonlight, you see the terror and majesty
of winter; in sunshine the air is filled with chill radiance, and the
scene invites you not to despond but to work or play with a will. But
this is not of the steam yacht and the lakeside.

Opposite us, with its big round chimneys, is Calgarth, the mansion of
the Philipsons. There is nothing now to distinguish it from the
Calvegarth it originally was. If the place was ever fortified, all
traces of such, save its thick walls, have disappeared. The house has
the reputation of being haunted, for the misdeeds of a Naboth. Desiring
land in the possession of an old couple, he had them convicted for
theft. The old woman, who had occult power, pronounced seven curses
against the Philipsons. The couple were duly hung at Appleby, but their
skulls came home to Calgarth ere morning light. And at Calgarth they
have remained, though men have calcined them with lime, cast them into
the lake, and buried them on the mountains. Horrible sounds were heard,
groanings and shriekings and wild lament, after any tampering with the
uncanny things; so, to prevent further trouble, they were built into the
wall—and few now believe in their existence. There are other mysteries
hereabout too. When grievous trouble is at hand, a spectral white horse
passes over the lake from shore to shore. And occasionally the
wanderer’s eye is caught by a faint iris on the water, rivalling in its
clear tinges the very rainbow. Both phenomena are said to be well
vouched for, which, I presume, has made it not essential for the present
writer to witness them.


Above Calgarth is the great glen of Troutbeck, where many illustrious
personages, from Hugh Bird, a giant of Henry III.’s time, downward, have
lived. Hogarth, the weird painter of sordid life, was born here, and at
one time the sign of the old Mortal Man inn was held to be his work: a
very free drawing it was, of a burly man with vermilion nose, confronted
by a thin, white-visaged stranger, with the couplets:

  “Oh, Mortal Man, who lives on bread,
  How came thy nose to be so red?”

  “Thou silly ass, that art so pale,
  It is with drinking Birkett’s ale.”

Till within the last half-century Troutbeck was a ’statesman dale, but
few of the yeomen are now left. They were not noted fighters, like the
men to northward, but in self-defence they manned a fort which an
obscure generation had built in Thresthwaite Cove at the head of the
valley. The last time was in 1745, when a small band of Scotch rebels
were sent back “wi’ a flee in ther lugs.” The grey mansion in the park
was built by Bishop Watson, of Llandaff. Westmorland-born, he loved his
homeland, and during a forty years’ reign he ruled his bishopric from
thence. There is but one mention in his Life and Letters of his going to
Wales. Yet he preached strongly to those of his clergy who were absent
too much from their livings!

The most prominent building now in sight is Wray Castle. This is not
old. In one of his interesting colloquies on angling and things in
general, Dr. John Davy, in a book published shortly after the building
was completed, remarks:

“Wray Castle is altogether a modern building, and erected by its present
proprietor and inhabitant, who has too much knowledge of sanitary
conditions to surround himself with stagnant water, making an enemy to
health where there is no fear of neighbouring hostility. As to the
structure itself we need not criticise it; it is well placed, and at a
distance may well pass for what you supposed it to be” (a moated
stronghold), “and have the desired effect on the uninformed mind and the
careless eye.”

Now the steamer approaches Lowwood, and the coppices of Wansfell sheer
up in feathery grandeur as we sail inshore. The view from the hotel
attracted Ruskin on his first visit as a child of ten, and in his
rhyming diary he speaks of his impatience to be at the windows enjoying
the glorious view. The lake is here at its widest and deepest; from
shore to shore the distance is considerably over a mile, with a depth
approaching two hundred feet. The boats out on the water are fishing for
char with the cumbrous implement known as the plumb-line. Char feed at
varying depths; to-day the shoal may be within ten feet of the surface,
to-morrow near a hundred feet lower. The instrument used is made up of a
long central line heavily weighted, to which tiers of smaller lines are
attached at intervals. By this means the fish are tempted at all levels,
but the implement is for the professional rather than the amateur. The
tiers of hooks and baits are sure to foul one another if not dexterously

As the steam yacht gets under way again, Dove Nest, once the abode of
Mrs. Hemans, is seen peering through the woods climbing Wansfell. The
poetess ever fondly remembered her sojourn here, and the friends she
made among the Lakeland poets. Some of the finest contemporary
appreciations, both of personalities and work, came from her pen.

Passing Hen Holme, a spine of rock sticking out into the lake—how the
waves from the screw lash and dash against its ledges!—the yacht carries
us into open lake again. What a panorama of mountains!

Wansfell rises to the right; beyond is the gap of the pass and Kirkstone
fell. Red Screes presents its tamer slope, and looks not half so
commanding as less lofty Scandale Pike. The long ridge of Fairfield, its
ghylls raw with floods and winter storms, comes next, standing above
Rydal park. Along this group, a century ago, wild red deer used to
range; there was a herd on the Ullswater fells, as now, and also in the
wildernesses about Eskdale and Ennerdale. The long slope bending
downward to Nab Scar is Great Rigg. You can see only the head of the
precipitous Scar, for the bracken-covered heights of Loughrigg climb to
the skyline. At square with our course are the Langdale Pikes, their
strange knotty summits showing up finely. Great Gable peeps from beyond
Borrowdale; Great End, Scawfell Pike, and Scawfell glance through gaps
in the rugged chain stretching from Bowfell to Wrynose pass. The country
beneath these is the famous Langdales, land of tarns and ghylls, crags
and screes. From Wetherlam westward is the Coniston range, haunt of the
raven and other wild birds. The head of Windermere is particularly
glorious: fir-crowned Fisher Crag sets off the levels where Brathay and
Rothay sloom into the lake. The sharp spire of St. Katharine’s,
according to Mrs. Hemans, was foundationed for a square tower. Ambleside
creeps in rows and terraces up Wansfell, but the grey stone is
harmonious and the red ridge-tiles at this distance invisible. To the
left Fox Howe stands on its sentry-hill; the views from its lawns are
fine: to northward into the heart of the mountains, and the wild forest
of Rydal; southerly, green lowland and the silvern mass of Windermere
right down to where islands close the view. The level next the
river-mouth was at one time a Roman camp, but nothing to prove its name
has yet been discovered. Medals and coins are sometimes, after heavy
floods, cast up out of the mere. The Rothay was diverted somewhat by the
camp builders, that the rectangle they favoured might be preserved. The
camp was doubtless used as a caravansery for the traffic between
Brougham on the Eamont and the seaport of Ravenglass. Both places are,
if mountain roads have not altered for the worse, a good day’s journey
away: one over the lofty passes of Wrynose and Hard Knott, the other
over the elevated road along High Street. Cultivation has robbed the
earthwork of distinctness, but enough remains to show dimly its angles
and extent.


Now the quiet rumble of the screw stops; the yacht sails smoothly and
accurately to her berth. Outside the pier a concourse of conveyances is
in waiting, and we see our fellow passengers melt away by common ’bus or
lordly pair to their respective destinations. The water here is crowded
with craft, but there is not the terrible congestion we saw at Bowness
bay. A long curve of shingle is open to the public, and forms a
favourite promenade.

                              CHAPTER III
                        _BY WORDSWORTH’S ROTHAY_

Even during the height of summer there are dull days sometimes, when
dense clouds simply stifle the dales in gloom. This is the more
tantalising when one is at Ambleside in the midst of the beauties of

But after two o’clock the day became perceptibly brighter; Loughrigg
discovered itself opposite our window, a kindly precipice of damp grey
crags rearing through a forest of dwarf oaks and clinging ash, green
plumed larches and verdant undergrowth, its long crest crowned with
patches of heather and wide, quivering wastes of bracken. There is
little to interest us in Ambleside: the sun is bursting his cloudy
bonds, and we chafe at streets and houses! Out, then, on the Rydal road,
past the old moss-grown mill and the bridge-house Ruskin sketched in his
youth, past the Knoll where Harriet Martineau lived. Now we rejoice to
see a riven cloud turn to gleaming silver at its edges, and through the
gap a shaft of light strikes down to earth. It is lost! No, there it is
again, kissing the rugged crest of Nab Scar, and hovering along its
flank. The clouds above whirl together, and the welcome gleam is cut
off. But the upper heavens are overpent with sunshine; glance after
glance of glory dances down and melts away on Loughrigg fell. For half
an hour gloom and coming sunshine wage unequal warfare, then the clouds
to westward break up their solid phalanx, and wider and more frequent
are the wheeling spokes of light. Here one blazons a scree-drifted
hillside, there one peers and glances into a rocky ghyll. Broad streams
of radiance flow into unseen abysms beyond the nearer mountain curtain,
a flash of refreshing brilliance lights up acres of rugged scrub.

                  [Illustration: A GLIMPSE OF GRASMERE
                              Evening sun]

By the rivulet we see the usual patient angler. Men there are so
entranced in seeking to lure the trout, that they brave rain or shine
indifferently. Under the hazels, when booming gusts clash walls of rain
against mountain and bosky meadow, they still angle on; under the hazels
you find them when from a sky of staring blue the sun beats down on a
drought-struck land. This brook from happy, lonely Scandale holds many a
small brown trout; its bed is bright and shingly, with clean swirling
pools and glinting, tinkling rapids. The road now enters Rydal park;
miles of rough land stretch toward the lofty ridge from which a cloud is
drifting slowly. The sun has now the victory, pouring a flood of joyous
light on a scene of unparalleled beauty, and this fleecy, crawling
monster is the rearguard of departed gloom.

Near a fir-crowned hillock we see a picturesque group of mountain
ponies. The Le Flemings of the Hall have ever been upholders of these
useful little animals, going to great trouble and expense to improve the
breed. The well-selected Rydal stallions are admired in the dales for
miles around. The farmers are not keen to part with their best stock, so
the standard, though not yet entirely satisfactory, is creeping upward.
Rydal beck hurries beneath the bridge, bank-full, its tiny surges
shaking the plumy water-grass, whipping the too-pendant branches. The
Rothay, close to our left, is a greater volume, but calmer, clear and
shining where the sunlight dapples through the wych-elms, darkling in
deep pools in the dense oak shade. The stream carries flakes of foam,
and from ahead we hear the water purling down a rocky channel.

A few yards on, at Pelter bridge, a cross-road passes under Loughrigg.
Looking up-stream, from the parapet, it is a lovely confusion: the beck,
overhung with tall sycamores, ashes, and oaks, is split into tiny
currents, each babbling its merry way down through a maze of boulders.
Some of these are crowned with grass, over which in due season dangle
the dainty blue harebell, the yellow-irised oxeyes, the crimson-spiked
foxglove, or the blue-orbed sundew. In the margins goldilocks show dark
tufts of leaves; when these are in bloom, the waterside is gay with
brilliant yellow. Some of the river-stones are decked with moss—the
gurgling, dashing streamlet occasionally tosses a tiny jet of spray to
gem the glossy crowns. After a long spell of drought Rothay shrinks
almost from view in this labyrinth of pool, wee cascade, and calmer
channel. The riverside is almost too beautiful to lift the eyes from,
but a sharp crag of Loughrigg sheers against a rosy cloud of eventide to
our left, and on our right the great green mass of Nab Scar almost
overhangs the cottage in front.

                     [Illustration: WILD HYACINTHS]

A cottage by Rothay! Wordsworth’s Rothay! In far-off climes and dusty,
choking cities many pause in their eternal soul-grinding struggle and
think of such sweet retirements, even when the scene is merely a figment
conjured up by the poet’s craft. To such as know Rothay from its source
in the craggy fells to slooming Winander, the feeling of envy is more
acute. It is a glorious stretch of country, alike calm and beautiful,
stormy and forbidding; in spring tinged with delicate green, in summer
wreathed in blossom of pink and white and blue; in autumn shot with
crimson and gold of dying leafage; in winter grey and dank with rain, or
garmented in dazzling snow. But the cottage!—clung with the bines of
creepers and eaved with glossy ivy; the lowly little cot where the
tallest hollyhock peeps in at the chamber window; the old-fashioned
garden laid out in neat beds of showy or sweet-scented flowers, with gay
gladioli spikes of puce and white, and fuchsias red and outbending, with
balsam and balm and the sweetest thyme; the rockery with green caressing
films of parsley fern, the smooth tongues of scolopendrium, and the
broad palmated fronds and upstanding brown “flowers” of the royal fern,
with the wiry, graceful forms of oak and more robust-looking holly
ferns; the wall-garden where white rocket, yellow musk, and a few hardy
plants flourish, with rare mosses garnishing their fountains of bloom,
and the half-wild turmoil of king-cups and “cross-buns” in the miniature
pool of the Rothay. But the cottage!—with twisty oaken beams in the ceil
of the parlour, with dark recesses and low windows, with a wide
fireplace, to which, when winter’s roar and rain and snow run riot
without, the chairs can be drawn and the many-houred evening drift away
in happy talk and song and merriment. “Plain living and high
thinking”—one could almost realise the ideal in such a home, where the
fare is the humble, wholesome product of our mountain land; where thin
haver-bread, tough, sweet cheese, and warm, pure milk might form the
staple food; a home where the spinning-wheel might awaken from silence
and dusty limbo, and give a perfect employment; where linen and wool
might be worked up to thread and yarn in quiet hours. Such a prospect is
fair beyond words, but few of us will ever dwell—save in our roseate
dreams, by day or night—in a cottage by Wordsworth’s Rothay.

After a time spent beneath the trees and by the gushing waters, where
viewpoints ever more fair allure us from one coign to another, we return
to the road, here avenued by giant beeches. The western light touches a
moving cloud, the damp, coppery leaves below catch the glow and throw it
in a myriad little sparkles from twig to branch, and from branch to
smooth bole. What is there in Nature more glorious than a group of
well-grown trees?

             [Illustration: DUNGEON GHYLL FORCE, LANGDALE]

Wordsworth’s connection with the hamlet of Rydal is well known. In his
pretty cottage on the hill he lived a life apart from the dalesfolk,
watching the seasons come and go over the beautiful glen. Through the
little knot of houses, we shortly approach the mere. Right up to Silver
Howe the basin is brimmed with light; mountain and wood and lake are at
“the pride of day.” Evening, sweet and slow, is dropping nearer, its
first sign the grey-blue mist hovering beyond the bordering hills. The
crag on which the Laureate of the Fells often sat commands a good view
of the lake, and of a huge gash in Loughrigg, whence comes the sound of
tinkling slate, where the quarry thunders ring. This of course was not
so prominent in Wordsworth’s day. The cottage at Nab where Hartley
Coleridge lived, loved by the dalesman (as his master was almost
shunned), comes next: here De Quincey afterwards resided some
opium-cursed years. We wander by the reedy mere, noting the islet on
which not so long ago herons used to nest among the tangled trees, then
take the road again for home.

                               CHAPTER IV
                          _RYDAL AND GRASMERE_

It is unfortunate that so many see Lakeland from its main ways only.
They realise its narrow bounds, but cannot justly appreciate its rare
beauties. For a week or two such travel our macadam roads; they climb
the most frequented mountains, visit ghylls and tarns and waterfalls,
wander by the favourite lakes: then away they pass, believing doubtless
that Lakeland offers nothing further. Could they but come again, and
discover our wealth of bypaths! Why I, a native of and dweller upon the
soil, have spent the leisure of a dozen years and more in exploring
without wearying, and know that many corners remain unvisited. To those
who have seen Lakeland in hurried guise, I would say come again, avoid
the sights noted in prose and verse, go elsewhere where you will, and at
the end you may feel, with me, that less-known scenes make the “cream”
look not unlike the watery dregs of the milk-pail.

                 [Illustration: DOVE COTTAGE, GRASMERE]

On a cloudy morning we came to Rydal and turned up the road to
Wordsworth’s home in old age. At Rydal Mount he produced some of his
most characteristic poetry—short pieces such as “The Clouds” and “The
Mountain Echo”; at Dove Cottage “The Excursion” and “The Prelude” were
penned. In Wordsworth’s day the road in the glen did not send up an
almost ceaseless clatter, and seldom did the steam plume by Waterhead
pier meet his sight. The poet had an aversion to the larch-tree, an
exotic then being planted extensively in the dales, and did not care
much for steam and the work of the engineer. The trees in stiff lines
and squares make hideous the mountain slopes to-day; but see them
growing in romantic irregularity, as by Thirlmere, and you will believe
that Wordsworth might have conceded a beauty to the larch. And there are
things more hideous than steam—for instance, the petrol motor. Rydal
Mount is not a museum: its grounds are kept private. It is a simple
dales dwelling in design—round chimneys, lead-glazed windows, grey walls
without, low-ceiled, raftered rooms within: its well-planned gardens are
the only characteristic to mark it from many other abode of “the
bettermer mak” of yeoman folk. Enthusiasts often run up from the road to
peep over its shrubs and gate, but most tourists go heedlessly by this
retreat of the aged poet. From the garden where the poet composed his
verses—“bumming and booing to hissel,” says one who recollects him
clearly: “bum—bum—bum—bum, and at every bum he maid a step forrit, mebbe
six or sebben steps; then roond he wad whirrel and gang back—bum, bum,
bum,—happen just as many times. It didn’t matter to him whether he wor
in his ane garden or on t’ fell or on t’ roo-ad,”—there is a grand view.
Down the glen to the lake, darkling under the massed clouds, over the
woods of Rydal and a corner of the mere, Loughrigg and, dimly seen
through rolling mists, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell. Would that a gleam of
sunshine would kindle the grey and brown and dull red of dale and
fellside to silver and russet, crimson and gold! For it is late
September, and the glory of autumn is about us.

I have read many “interviews” with the aged Wordsworth. Some writers
have seen him in idealism; others in a matter-of-fact light. A third
class, bent on decrying his worth, have conjured up overheated visions
of an uncultivated, unmannered man, calling to question his genius, his
mode of living, his person. But some humble scribe, long before the poet
was removed by death, penned the following. He had no difficulty in
reaching the Laureate; a request at the door of Rydal Mount for a short
interview was answered by the poet himself. “He took me by the hand in a
way that did me good. There was welcome in his words and looks as well
as in the shake of his hand, and in less than five minutes he was taking
me round his fairy dwelling-place and pointing out to me the most
striking objects of the beautiful and glowing scenes around. He was
rather tall and thin, with a countenance somewhat pale, and more
thoughtful than joyous. Simple and courteous in his demeanour, and frank
in his remarks, he made me feel at ease. He was just the man that I had
imagined him to be from reading his ‘Excursion.’” The same writer,
looking into an ivied and moss-grown unused quarry near White Moss,
expressed his pleasure at the sight. “Sir,” was the poet’s response,
“all might find these secluded temples of beauty, but all will not give
themselves the trouble to seek them.” The path which cuts along the
breast of Nab Scar turns to the left just above the poet’s home, between
it and Hart Head, name reminiscent of days when its holder was forester
on Rydal fells to Le Flemings of old. Looking ahead, we see a rough road
climbing up to as wild a piece of fell land as we have. It is another
haunt of the shepherd, a land bleak and wild—the ravines of Rydal Head
and the great crags of Fairfield, fit home for wild red deer. Fit home
too for the half-wild, little Herdwick, that atom of sturdiness fit to
live in a land of storm. Two months hence there will be a day of days in
wild Rydal, when the shepherds clear their heafs of the flocks. The work
begins ere daybreak, and lasts sometimes into the night following. The
sheep dogs, obedient to the calls of their masters, range the whole
fellsides very completely, driving down the sheep as they are detected
in ghyll or by bog. The work is arduous for both men and dogs, the exact
equivalent of the work in miles and altitude ascended being often

Our way, however, is smoother, easier than this. We skirt the grounds of
Rydal Mount: from a higher bank we look over its round chimneys on to
the green glen below, on to Windermere, the river-lake, winding away
between bluffs bronzed with fading foliage, to be lost at last in the
heart of them; we look along the rocky edge of Loughrigg, where the
dying bracken shows the approach of autumn. We are walking in a forest
of stumpy oak-trees, the twisted heads of which speak eloquently of the
power of the winter gales on this exposed fell-end: below us, with its
long, narrow, wooded islet almost dividing it into two portions, is
Rydalmere. From the outlet in Rothay to swampish White Moss it is in
full sight, and of a kindlier hue than was chill Winander, which a
corner of Loughrigg has now shut from sight. The breaking mass of cloud
over Langdale Pikes is letting in the full day. On the road beneath,
even thus early, the mad race of vehicles has begun. No one seems to be
able to go slowly by Rydalmere, save the lumbering carrier’s cart. Once
all the ordinary passenger traffic of the country was carried on these
slow conveyances—I can see a merit in the method now. The coaches sweep
you along at a fast trot; one gasps at new things that are gone ere he
comprehends their beauty. And now we have motor-traffic, a series of
giant ’buses followed by so many pillars of dust as though they held out
the rallying signals for a world of traffic; these excel all in
soul-destroying haste.

                [Illustration: SKELWITH FORCE, LANGDALE]

Our path clears the woodlands; there is now an uninterrupted view of the
lake. Above the farmstead where De Quincey and Hartley Coleridge lived,
the folks are busy making hay. In our glens this, the only harvest, is
of great importance: unless it is well secured the supplies of winter
forage for the flocks are scant and often much suffering is caused. The
flocks are kept on the lowlands till late May, so that the crop is not
sufficiently grown to be cut until late August and sometimes September.
At that period the weather is so apt to be unsettled that, when once the
grass is mown, almost superhuman efforts have to be made to house it. A
few hours lost may mean that the farmer has to watch his crop soaking
and wasting for a fortnight or more. My Southron reader will hardly
believe that not infrequently whole fields of hay cannot be gathered in
and are utterly lost on account of foul weather; in wet 1903, the acres
of Lakeland meadows which yielded no crops for this reason, to the
writer’s knowledge numbered thousands; and instances of carting the hay
on sunny days in November, December, and even January were woefully

A little way ahead the path passes into a wilder scene. The woods close
in from below; above, the brackens sway over a maze of broken,
downthrown stones. The foot of the cliff is not many feet above, a block
of limestone broken into by narrow spits of grass and bleached tongues
of scree. Among the rocks a few sheep are feeding; as we approach they
rush away, picking their way accurately and neatly over the debris at a
great pace. Hereabouts on a winter’s morning you may be fortunate enough
to surprise a fox, blinking and slinking away to some deep hold in the
mountain after a night’s marauding. Every score yards gives a fresh
view, a new angle of vision to the glen, the lake, and Loughrigg
scattered o’er with purple waste of stones. Here we come to White Moss
of the three roads, from which Dr. Arnold took his famous political
allegory. That way twisting up through the boulders, climbing steeply
and ruggedly over the top of the hill, well-nigh impossible to wheeled
traffic, was his Old Corruption. Here another route swings up the hill,
on a level keel certainly, but it climbs a great height and is far from
easy—that was his Bit-by-bit Reform. Along a bold terrace a third road
sweeps; it surveys the knot in front, passes the foot of Old Corruption
with a puzzled glance as to what manner of man prefers such tortuous
ways, comes to Bit-by-bit Reform and has half a mind to go that way,
then remembers its destiny to carry traffic without labour or danger,
and curves into the pass, avoiding the knot altogether—Radical
Reform—scotching the hill of Privilege and Abuse. The cottage on the
hillside is the home of our most noted trail-hound trainer, Steve
Walker. A word as to his craft is not amiss as we near Grasmere, the
home of fell-head sports. True lovers of the hound genus, the dalesmen
are not content to let them slip out of sight in the summer, so have
evolved a mimic fox-chase with a scent of aniseed. The course is laid
round a rough daleside, the hounds loosed. It would be impossible for
the fleetest horse to live long with them over such terrific ground. A
circuit of six miles is often covered in little over the half hour. To
train the hounds to so great pace is a recognised craft, and Steve often
has half a dozen hounds in his hands for different owners. It is not an
unusual sight to see three of his charges running neck and neck for the
blue riband of the sport at Grasmere. The training is severe; pace is
required and also strength and staying power. The food given is plain
and strong; several hours each day are devoted to outdoor exercise. The
trainer with his leash of hounds is a frequent sight on the Lake Country
byways. Twice or thrice a week the hounds are put over a short trial
course and their progress noted with care. The sport has a fascination
for the dalesman-born, and I must not dwell too much upon it.

                  [Illustration: SUNSET, RYDAL WATER]

Grasmere Lake will shortly be visible over the tree-tops, but we seek a
more striking approach. Therefore, sinking the hillside, we cross White
Moss, down to the footbridge spanning the prattling Rothay. It is an
angler’s path we tread; this length of water should be famous, for
white-headed rodsmen tell legends of mighty trout, up to twenty pounds
weight, which used to come from Windermere and Rydalmere to spawn upon
the beaches here. Shortly the wood is cleared, the sunlight is touching
Helm Crag in steady blaze; it comes forward to Silver Howe, and in a few
seconds the rushing rivulet by our side is sending out myriad sparkles
of glory. The sky has cleared, and there is prospect of a fairer day.
The lake of Grasmere lies in a perfect basin, and, though its sweet
retirement is somewhat marred by too many buildings, yet the glen for a
greater part of the year remains a pleasant nook. From the shingle we
stand upon, the head of the Rothay ravine, there is a beautiful view. In
front, Silver Howe, to its right Helm Crag, then Steel fell, the gap of
Dunmail, Seat Sandal and the stony backs of Rydal fells; beneath them
are many lower hills, cut into by tiny level glens and narrow
watercourses. But this sunny autumn morn the eye takes in the atmosphere
of the scene even more than its component features. Thus the peaks
soaring into the gleaming air become less important than the glorious
woods at their feet. Autumn’s gorgeous art is vivid on fell and wood and
meadow. The beauty of the scene lies in Nature’s harmonious blendings,
and one feels that only the poet’s imagery can describe the scene.
Silver Howe is pictured in two-thirds the width of Grasmere; at our feet
a feathery cloudlet sails in a second sky. So clear, so perfect, the
counterfeit that even the charming mystery of height remains. The summit
curving against autumnal blue, the purple crags, the screes, here grey,
there blue, there a finer tinge where rock, grass, and heather meet, the
turgid flood of colour where the bracken is dying, the solid green of
the larch woods, the softer plumes of birch, the fiery oaks, the fading
green meadows, are all in this peaceful mirror.

There is a chunking of oars, and shortly across our range of vision
there swings a small boat; it grounds a few yards away, a boat from the
hotel carrying a visitor to the Loughrigg side. We hail the boatman, and
in a few seconds have hired him to take us out on to the lake awhile.
What a splendid picture the glen makes from the island! The village
church towers above a knot of grey buildings across the meadows; the
hills around all seem to be higher; the feast of colour is even finer
than that seen from the foot of the lake. Above the eastern shore the
woods, a paradise of varied tints, lit up by the bright sun, rise to the
Wishing Gate. Then back again we are rowed. There are plenty of brackens
here to give a flush to the hillside, but we avoid their tangle. Among
the boulders the hardy sheep are grazing; no other animal could nibble
and thrive on the short, slippery grass of the uplands. As we turn, the
lake seems to have narrowed; really more of the level valley is in
sight, and the mountains are discovering themselves in their true
magnitude. When Red Bank is reached, the view is at its widest; over the
gap of Dunmail is seen a blue portion of Skiddaw forest. As a dalesman,
it must be confessed that I am somewhat impatient with our “show”
scenes; they tell me few stories, arouse few reminiscences. It is on a
foxhunt that my memory pauses, when we streamed off over the rough
slopes toward Silver Howe—a grey day of winter, not a morning in full
autumn. One sees but little of the lake in descending to Grasmere
village, just outside which is Pavement End, reminiscent of our
“Sports.” Here for at least thirty years was held our great athletic
festival—the “Derby of the Dales.” Here were seen our fell runners, our
pole leapers, our trail hounds, our wrestlers in the true mountain
style. The course of the old fell race was up the rough hillside, “that
precipice,” as our Southron friends call it. Had I space I would say
much on this topic; the sports are held on another field now, and—shades
of the past, you giant athletes of Cumbria!—the race is now run on less
difficult ground across the glen.

At Grasmere, beneath the yews of the kirk-garth, the poet Wordsworth is
buried. Rothay murmurs near by. The church is not yet “restored,” and
remains simple as in the days of Wordsworth. There is a pretty custom
here (and in other dales) known as “the rush-bearing.” Many years ago
our chapels were not floored with timber, the earth was merely pressed
hard by the use of generations. Damp struck up on wet days, and chill in
winter, which rendered worship uncomfortable. Rushes were therefore
strewn on the floor at the approach of winter. Time went on, the earthen
floor was superseded: instead of the old gathering of rushes for use a
festival has been inaugurated. The children of the glen weave rushes
into crosses and bouquets, go in procession to the church and lay their
offerings by the altar there.

                    [Illustration: GRASMERE CHURCH]

Grasmere is in itself without especial charm to the visitor. It is too
busy to grow beautiful; romance has stayed away, commercialism reigns,
and I for one do not care a fig for the place outside its connection
with the poet, with its great possession, his grave and its grey-towered
church. But Grasmere as a centre for rambles is unparalleled.

My last glimpse of Grasmere was in wintry weather, and from the Wishing
Gate. No snow had fallen; the frost-rime covered the valley with white,
though the southern facets of the uplands, on which the sun had spent
its feeble power, were stiff bronze. The lake was partly frozen, the
westering light gleamed on ice and the dark patches of water here and
there. The woods, last seen glorious with autumn tints, were now sere
and thin. The silence was divine: no rumbling car passed on the road
beneath, no sound of voice broke the spell. And bending over the frosted
bars of the gate I wished Grasmere’s peace and content—and mine own.
Turning away at length to pass over to sweet Rydal Water,—oh! banished
was the dream from my mind, for a house new-built on the moor-edge peeps
curious eyes through the plantations at the sacred corner of the Wishing
Gate. Truly it is a commanding site; perhaps the owner is proud of a
choice which gives him views of Grasmere and Rydal, Loughrigg and the
Wishing Gate—I cannot justly rail at him, but my unreason wishes his
dwelling far hence. From the ridge, with the level sunbeams around you,
leaving the hollows veiled in misty blue, you look down upon Rydalmere.
Skimmed over with ice, except where busy rills keep open a few yards’
space, its levels steely hard, with a few skaters gliding among its
islets, with brown coppice and white fields rising around, with the
towering front of Nab Scar frowning at the softer slacks of Loughrigg,
Rydal was a sight to remember. But its glory was all forgotten as I
noticed the frost flowers in the roadside—are Nature’s largest or her
smallest forms the loveliest? Is the spreading landscape as full of
beauty as the flowers formed by frost rime round a casual sod in the
wayside? I know not, nor care.

                               CHAPTER V

If, after a complete survey of our Lakes, one is asked which could be
spared, there is little doubt that often Esthwaite Water would be the
one selected: so uncharacteristic is it, so unlike the rest of the
country. It is a lowland mere strayed into a district of crag and brae
and foaming rivulet. I don’t wish to agree with such an opinion, for
Esthwaite has its real beauties.

Esthwaite mere certainly possesses no bold scenery; its shores are
regular, its bays sweep in smooth curves among the meadows. No ridges of
rock jut into its waters, its shores are smooth and shingly. Esthwaite
is the weediest, reediest of our Lakes, and at places absolutely the
quietest, though a great main road runs close beside. But the vale of
Esthwaite, with its old village of Hawkshead, is worth of notice. In no
other case is there so much to be said about the locality and so little
about the lake. High Furness has ever been wild and retired. After
Domesday it was given to the Baron of Kendal as a chase for
deer—possibly because the country was uninhabitable at that time. Then
great Furness Abbey arose, and obtained a wide right over this
country-side. The Old Hall at Hawkshead was the home of the monks when
they came to collect their tithes and harvests. With the fall of the
monastery the Sandys family leapt to ascendancy. One Sandys in King
Edward VI.’s time became Archbishop of York, and used his interest to
procure a market, by royal charter, for the town, which thereupon began
to flourish considerably. This Sandys also gave the old grammar school
its foundation. The church on the hillside, standing like a watchtower
above the grey roofs, owes much to the Sandys’s beneficence, but its
interior is to the casual observer somewhat dull. Its register, giving a
list of Burials in Woollen, is very complete, that curious old law
passed to aid the woollen industry being rigidly observed for long in
these parts.

             [Illustration: ESTHWAITE WATER: APPLE BLOSSOM]

To deal with present-day Hawkshead, there is the old church on high, its
God’s acre now spreading from the narrow promontory on to the swelling
hillside behind, the grammar school where Wordsworth was educated, and
many an old house built in a fashion now long abandoned. There are
curious nooks here and there, particularly near the church. One house,
built with its upper story protruding on stone pillars to form a sort of
penthouse, tells that here in happier days the “garn” or yarn was
displayed, within the hum of the busy spinning-wheels, to the intending
purchaser. To picture Hawkshead in its prime of two centuries ago is not
easy. Though land was plentiful and even lay waste, the rigours of
manorial law made it impossible to spread out environs on the sumptuous
scale we are accustomed to to-day, so the little community was herded
into the least possible space. Houses were built as near together as
possible, with narrow entries not two yards wide passing between the
squares; the main street was hardly broad enough to enable a coach to be
driven along without fear of fouling some outstanding wall. Sunlight and
fresh air were strangers, sanitary arrangements were nil, roadways, of
natural earth, had a powerful range of suction assimilating sooner or
later the masses of garbage thrown from door and window. Within the
houses, ceilings were low: a tall man could not stand erect in the
loftiest chamber. Stairways and passages were troublesome things to
build, said our forefathers; so, when building the penthouse over the
shop, many left the upper portion open, to form a ladder-reached balcony
from which the sleeping apartments could be attained. What the huge
rounded chimneys were intended for is almost a puzzle. The open fires,
with that immense draught at work, could hardly throw off much heat, and
firelight was an illuminant not favoured by our forefathers. All cooking
was done in pans hanging over the burning fuel. One real attribute the
spacious chimney had, and has. Across its throat, from bars, could hang
whole sheep to be cured by “smoking.” Hung mutton, from a chamber fed
with smoke of wood or peat, is hardly unknown even now in our wilder
dales. The roofs without were slated with thin slabs of soft stone,
locally quarried, for the hard grey slate was not discovered for the
purpose then. Down the streets and across them at various places babbled
tiny streams which, in their courses from the hills, alighted on the
town. To pass these in time of flood, footbridges were provided for men,
but how the great coaches managed to drive across their deep channels is
a mystery. Looked at from a distance then, even more than now, Hawkshead
would look like a grey blotch in the landscape. Though its population
was more than at present, the old town was hardly half the width of the
present one. One must have walked through streets with huddled houses on
either hand awhile, then at once and completely have emerged into God’s
country. The houses were close, mouldy, filthy erections, and the
ignorance of the people was so great that these were preferred. The idea
that anything could be more healthy than those fœtid rooms, poisonous
smells, and filthy drinking-water!

               [Illustration: AN OLD STREET IN HAWKSHEAD]

In those days, too, hundreds of acres near the lake were swampy and
almost impassable: there are many items in the accounts of the old town
for maintenance of causeways across. The river was spanned by a wooden
bridge, at first for foot passengers only, while the pack-ponies with
merchandise ventured the ford. The vale of Esthwaite sweeps quietly down
from the rugged hillocks behind Outgate in a wide sweep to the water’s
head. The only building of historic merit outside the town is the Old
Hall, now being used as an ignoble barn or granary. The walls remaining
have been part of the gatehouse; tremendously thick are they, with
narrow stairs climbing inside solid columns of stone, and with a fine
fourteenth century fireplace in the upper room. The vale of Esthwaite
has no story of war: the Scottish raiders never penetrated so far aside
into the mountain land, and successive invasions by Romans, Picts,
Norsemen, Saxon, and Norman have been without memorable strife, and
hardly a legend of such actions remains. Near the head of the lake is
the pool known as Priest’s Pot. No streams enter it, none leave, but the
oozy ground around carries into it a sufficiency of water. It might,
from the name, once have been used as a fish stew; though such a thing
is unlikely, for the monks would have more convenient waters. In the
Priest’s Pot was for years a floating islet, but there is now pointed
out a bunch of sallows on a tuft of mossy grass against the edge of the
pool, which has grown part of the mainland. The locals say that the
Priest’s Pot is the measure of a certain dead-and-gone parish priest’s
appetite for strong ale. Not a hundred yards from the Priest’s Pot is
the meeting-house at Colthouse, founded in the early days of Quakerism.
In Claife are one or two notable farmhouses, but nothing possessing a
story. One of the grey farms on the other side of the glen was for
centuries the home of the Sandys.

There are boats available on Esthwaite mere, but the fishing is strictly
preserved. For a shilling fee a day you are permitted to take coarse
fish only. Pike are plentiful enough at some places, and many a trimmer
is set in defiance of regulations. A summer afternoon spent on Esthwaite
is a memory of some charm. We pushed off from the shingle near the
ruined boathouse, and were soon well away. Then we pulled down to where
a streamlet purls into the lake, and at the mouth of this lines were put
over for perch, as bait for pike. But no tackle for sinking the baits
had been provided, and our flighty thoughts turn meanwhile to the wealth
of water-lilies and flowering grasses in a bay just below. So long as
open water remained it was easy enough to put the boat along; but in a
tangle of stems, when every pull at the oars means fouling and pulling
plants up by the roots, it is hard work. The water-lily, with its heart
of bright gold and ivory petals lying just awash the clear peaty water,
is a queen of flowers. Beyond a profusion of these, tall, straight
grasses rise like a brake over the boat, brown flower tufts crowning the
straight green stems, a background of meadow tinged white and red and
blue with flowers, and a coppice wood glorious with fox-gloves and wild
Canterbury bells. The faint sweetness rising from land and water too is
a memory to treasure. As we float idly along there is a variety of bird
life to notice: the king-fisher and the dipper busy on the shingles and
threading the narrow ghylls of the rivulets: further down we pass a
heron, standing poised and still in the shallow. Time was when the heron
was more plentiful in the Lake Country than to-day; the heronry on the
shore of this water, as that of Rydal, has been tenantless for many a
year. A few pairs still resort to the firs near Whitestock Hall for
breeding, but the only great heronry left is at Dallam Tower, some
leagues away. Yet from the hills above Esthwaite you may, during winter,
watch the birds rise when evening is falling, and flight away toward
their great haunt and home. The woods fringing the lower part of the
lake are used for the preserving of the “wild” duck. The sedges are
haunted with these, and also with coot and waterhens. Sit still awhile
and they will come into sight. Truly to the patient man nature is free
with stories and secrets. In ten minutes the shyest brood of ducklings
may paddle fearlessly within fifty feet of you, and often birds are
daring enough to dive under and about your craft. But keep still! The
first movement sends the whole company fluttering into the sedges, and
they will be long in coming out again. The water is split into a hundred
little wakes as the birds dash along, half flying, half swimming, in
terror. In winter perhaps finer things are to be seen. Attracted by the
plenty of their kind, ducks from northward, mallard, wigeon, whistlers,
come circling down to Esthwaite: wild geese whistle about the dark
waters, and the clanging of swans resounds during hard weather from the
air above, where in triangular packs they breast southward, or from the
lake, where in wary little groups they feed near the other birds. But it
is a hard winter that brings swans to Esthwaite. The country about this
lake-foot is the only real haunt of the badger in the Lake Country. A
gamekeeper of my acquaintance says he has often traced the badger’s
prints in snow-time, from his domain at Grisedale to the earth near
Esthwaite Lodge. The badger does not provide regular sport for the
dalesmen, but only a few seasons since a pack of foxhounds ran a hot
scent into a well-known borran here. Terriers were slipped and “found”
within. As the “fox” would not bolt, it was decided to dig him out. The
fight had rapidly shifted far into the ground, so an attack was
delivered on the rear of the piled stones. Ere long a dalesman,
outstretched in the narrow tunnel, espied a moving of earth ahead. “Hold
hard!” he cried, “this is no fox.” Terriers were still at work, and
sounds of their barking with an occasional animal cry came from within.
In five minutes Brother Brock prepared to bolt, but a sack was ready for
his reception, and as he came with a rush he was caught. Not he alone,
but also one of the terriers who still held on to his rear.


Our boat is now pulled up the Sawrey shore: to northward great fells
shoulder the sky, and as the wavelets rumble beneath I think of the
boy-life of Wordsworth. He was educated under the lee of the old church
here, and in this vale began that deep study and appreciation of nature
which shows itself in his poetry. Wordsworth is at home with nature: he
speaks of birds, of animals of the covert-side, of flowers and trees,
and the ever-changing glory of the skies and seasons, in far more
convincing manner than of the people he dwelt long years among. In his
school days it was customary to adjourn school of a Shrove Tuesday that
cock-fighting might be practised. With spurs of sharp steel fastened to
their natural weapons, the selected birds fought in pairs, till one was
cut down and disabled. The sport was cruel, for the pluck and tenacity
of the birds made the contests more often to the death. The winner of
the “main,” or rather its owner, was hailed captain of the school till
another champion gained victory. Wordsworth ever writes with fondness of
his boyish days—of riding across the fells, of skating on this mere, of
nutting and bird-nesting expeditions to the unchanging, yet
ever-changing woods around. There is no story of his school days save
that told in his own work; but he admirably portrays the shy lad he was,
his comrades, and his successive schoolmasters.

Here, floating across the water level with ourselves, is a swan: how
graceful its progress, how white the half-lifted wings as it keeps pace!
Calm idyllic beauty is its charm, and the charm of Esthwaite mere.

One scene characteristic of Lakeland comes before us at the outskirts of
the little town. It is the country carrier, a lusty, embrowned, genial
man, and his large covered cart within which in picturesque (but safe)
confusion are the parcels from a larger town to our vale. Storm or calm,
rain, shine, or snow, so regular that events are timed by his
appearances, passes the carrier along the roads of this land where are
no railways. An old farmer, selling some sheep to a dealer, asked when
he would take away his purchase.

“Will it do if I come about the seventh of next month?”

“Oh aye,” but the old man looked puzzled. After the dealer had taken his
leave, a reflective voice sounded from the ingle-nook.

“T’ seventh o’ next month! That’ll be——” and for awhile the old farmer
counted on his fingers, but without satisfaction to himself.

“That’ll be t’ Tuesday after t’ carrier comes, father,” announced a
matron who was washing dishes at the far end of the room.

“Aye,” responded the old man promptly, “that’ll be three weeks to-morn;
t’ sheep’ll be ready.”

This is not an extraordinary thing to hear in our dales where the list
of “inevitables” is: Rent-day, Candlemas (February 2nd, when all
accounts are rendered), _and_ t’ Carrier.

The carrier’s life is an arduous one, yet we have whole families who
succeed one another in it without a break. Our oldest “carrier” family
is to be traced in manor-rolls far into the pack-horse days. The halting
of the railway on the confines of Lakeland has preserved, and indeed
given impetus to, his craft. He is a necessity to dales-life, but now he
is perhaps doomed to totally disappear. The new traffic companies are
hoping to send their motors, humming and throbbing, with loads of
parcels into the villages and over the passes. As a rule our carrier is
a genial soul—he knows the gossip of a hundred miles of road. “We can
neither stir dish nor spoon,” complain the daleswomen (who are keenest
to hear his news and give notes of their neighbours), “wi’out the
carrier hearin’ on it.”

                               CHAPTER VI
                            _CONISTON WATER_

On a sultry afternoon, the wanderer over High Cross from Hawkshead
suddenly sees a gulf beneath, a delectable vision of waters, the ancient
Thurston mere; a lake of shining silver, chased with darker lines and
patches as faint catspaws play here and there, with calm pools
irradiating the sunlight like clusters of diamonds, the glow fining down
to a distant wisp of blue threading between hills and woods. The setting
is lovely as the gem: fertile, swelling farmlands, with here and there a
white-walled home peering through its curtain of sycamore, the venerable
grey church behind its yews, and the village straggling around its God’s
acre. Often so ethereal seems the beauty and repose that one fears that
tree-shaded bays, white beaches, and spreading reaches dotted with a
shimmering sail or two, will yet dissolve in the disappointment of a
mirage. For the road one walks is a dusty ribbon over a parched moor,
the grouse cluck drowsily in the heather, the rabbits lop lazily into
the furze—the larks alone sing briskly, for they have climbed to fuller
life in the highest heavens, far from the slumbrous world around us; the
mountains afar off swim in haze, their scarry sides uncertain seem, but
down there is the fruitful valley of the lake, with dancing rills,
fields of green corn, and its flowery meadows ready for the mower. Such
is the delightful picture unrolled as a hundred yards are passed, then a
corner of the hills shuts it from view.

                     [Illustration: DAWN, CONISTON]

Coniston, the third longest of our Lakes, is perhaps the one most
intimately associated with our earliest civilisations. On its placid
bosom the Britons plied their coracles; they were keen anglers, and
built their settlements near the lake-shore. Next came the Roman
legions, to whose credit is placed by some the presence in Lakeland of
that toothsome fish, the char. And after them, Norsemen raiding from the
seaboard for harvests denied to their semi-frozen home-land, yet after
awhile remaining permanent settlers on the soil. They built their boats
of timbers from the forests around, and on Peel Island one erected a
house, the foundations of which have recently been determined by an
antiquarian. After the Norseman, the Saxon. And the char were taken up
the fells to dark Gateswater, over which the golden eagle screamed and
round which roved bear and wolf. The Normans after a couple of centuries
of strife found the land comfortable to dwell in, but no baron ousted
the native from his hearth. And the char had been carried further, over
the pass beyond the haunt of the wild eagles to where the seafowl
scream—lonely Seathwaite tarn. With the Norman came the forest laws and
rights to fish the lake. Nets were reserved to the lord of Coningstone,
and the Le Flemings became a mighty power in the dale. The monks of
Furness Abbey, not many miles distant, afterwards obtained great
privileges here—a relic of their times is to be found in the shore
woods. Down among the roots of the trees, deep beneath accumulations of
leaf-soil, are red metal stains and nodules of iron. Trees were
converted into charcoal by the industrious monks, and iron ore brought
here to be smelted. A thriving trade was this long after it had reverted
to the great families, whom it enabled to prosper during dark times. The
ore was conveyed by the lake to the neighbourhood of the “bloomery,” and
again was so carried to the waiting panniered ponies. Great rafts of
forest trees also floated down with the slow current. All this while
Coniston Water had been in unsullied purity. But a century ago copper
was found among the fells and mines opened. Refuse ran down in muddy
streams, tainting the lake from head to foot. Many fish died, for the
shingles on which they had previously spawned were fouled, and, though
ripe with ova, they could not perpetuate their kind. The damage was not
completed in a season, but in thirty years, just as English law began to
protect the finny denizens, the lake had been robbed of a great
proportion of its fish. Twenty years more the mines continued to send
down poisonous offal. Then the copper veins gave out, pollution ceased,
and the fishery gradually improved. A few years ago it was gravely
propounded as a fact that the lack of size in the angler’s spoils here
was due entirely to the overcrowding of the water by the trout and
perch! It is not many places where such an accusation can be brought
forward. A large number of visitors annually come for the angling alone;
and as they are seen year after year, no doubt they find it worth while
from the sporting as well as the scenic point of view.

            [Illustration: CHARCOAL-BURNERS, CONISTON LAKE]

The lake-head is bounded by a mass of mountains of which the Old Man is
the chief. On the east of the water too the hills are lofty, their
lowest slopes a mass of coppice and larches, their upper braes wild and
desolate. It seems odd to look down from these upland farms, where
everything is sterile, on the soft, rich-looking lands of the lake-side.

Coniston Water is hardly less famous for the people who have lived on
its shores than is Windermere or even Grasmere. To the challenge of
Wordsworth and Coleridge and De Quincey, of Christopher North, Hemans
and Arnold, it can reply with Tennyson, Linton, and, greatest and
nearest of all, John Ruskin. If Grasmere reveres the ashes of
Wordsworth, Coniston holds in no less esteem those of Ruskin—and the
memory of the great is so much the more living. Every one almost in
Coniston remembers Professor Ruskin, but few folks can recall
Wordsworth. However, my concern is less with rival celebrities than with
the lake and its natural surroundings.

To know Coniston Water well is to be convinced that one’s pen cannot
describe it. The greatest master of English descriptive prose, John
Ruskin, after years of residence, left the task undone. Duty, however,
dictates that some attempt must be made, and I cannot conceive anything
more likely to give a fair idea of the lake and its surroundings than
notes on a long summer day spent on its waters.

We breakfasted by candlelight—one of our party was a keen angler and had
persuaded us to rising before the midsummer sun. Outside the cottage the
air came cool and fresh, laden with the fragrance of the
morning—honeysuckles over our porch and new mown hay, wild roses of the
hedgerows and sweet flowers of our garden, larch woods and
white-wreathed fields. The faint light just shows a sea of mist
overhanging the lake, shows patches of cloud wandering among delicate
grey-blue crag and mountain. Now we near the lakeside: the deep blue sky
becomes dimmed by trailers of vapour. The boat engaged by the angler
overnight is here; but, as he speaks of remaining hours in his almost
motionless craft, and that is not to our taste, we select another,
opening, after much labour, a link in the mooring chain and setting it
free. The view when first we are afloat is curious: a bank of mist
overhangs the lake; we can see the lower meadows around, but the
mountains are invisible. Soon, however, we find the mist sweeping away
in the dawn-breeze.


Day is at hand, the dark hour of the morning watch is ending. One by one
the stars fade away: a dark shadow passes up the sky from eastward, and
the horizon there is being fringed with kindlier light. A cloud floating
high above flushes from pearly grey to pink at its edges, to purple in
its densest plume, and, as it floats nearer the day, to crimson, to red,
and to glistening gold. And now we rest on the oars to watch the coming
of the sun to the mountain tops. The fuller light has revealed a
glorious scene: the horizon is a rugged sea of summits, lands of rocky
steeps with torrents gushing down—Helvellyn and Seat Sandal, the Pikes
and Fairfield, with, nearer at hand, Wetherlam, the Carrs, and Old Man
himself. Shortly the coming sunshine touches one after another of these
giants: Fairfield’s huge gashes where the foxes dwell secure are picked
out in gloom and light before day bends to awake the Old Man from his
rest. It is interesting to watch the band of sunshine gradually descend
his stony, riven flanks. At first only the cairn has the glow; then
shortly, a hundred feet below, shadow divides from light. So day breaks
among the mountains. Purple shadows still remain in the hollows, the
dark green of woodlands is softly dusked: on Coniston Water it is light,
though the sun’s rays still linger aloft. “Come on,” grunts the angler
at this juncture—the scene to him is beauteous, no doubt, but for his
art most valuable minutes are wasting away. We heed him not, and shortly
his oars rattle as he pulls for the bay in which the trout should be on
the feed. Awhile we feast our eyes on sunlit mountains and shadowy
glens, then our oars are plied to take us further down the lake. Quite
close to the shore is the Old Hall, once the home of the great Le
Fleming family, but now merely a picturesque farmhouse. To Sir Daniel of
that family was due the peaceful succession in the three north-western
counties of Charles II. after the Interregnum. In Oliver’s day his house
at Rydal was almost demolished by soldiers seeking a hidden treasure. To
me Sir Daniel is more interesting as the first man to attempt to solve
the life-history of the char of our lakes. In few particulars only are
we able to improve his observations to-day. The char is the most
mysterious as it is the most beautiful of British fishes. Though for
three hundred years “silver” and “gilt” char have been noted, no close
observer will say there are two varieties of the fish. Sir Daniel
suggested that the two divisions spawn at different periods—November and
February respectively—but the information then and now hardly justified
the idea. During the midsummer months char are bottom feeders; in April
and early May, and again towards the close of the fishing season, they
occasionally come near the surface, and odd captures are made with the
fly. Char average about nine inches in length and three-quarters of a
pound in weight. A two-pound char is a great event among the lakemen.
Potted char is quite a Lakeland delicacy, and commands high prices. In
former times each inn had its stew into which the fish netted or plumbed
were placed till a demand for them came along. West, touring over a
century ago, mentions particularly the stews at Waterhead Inn, Coniston,
and the Ferry, Windermere, as holding great numbers of char. Char pie
was once a favourite dish too; in the Le Fleming house-keeping accounts,
dating back nearly three hundred years, mentions are made of the large
number of fish so used up. Char pie of those days is said to have been
so full of spices that the flavour of the fish was neutralised out of
existence. In the papers preserved at Holker Hall, a noble duke orders
fish for a char pie to be sent to London without loss of time—in
December, when the char would be spawning and far from toothsome!


Now the light is falling in a wider riband; it has touched the top of
Yewdale crags, the scarred Mines valley is brimming with radiance. How
uneven that line where shadow meets sunshine! Still lower bends the
light; it is now only minutes before the lake will be flooded in glory.
The heights round Torver are in the realm of sunshine, but the larches
of Brantwood side are green and unkindled. Not a breath of air disturbs
the flat calm. Over the eastern hills the great round sun rolls into
sight. Everything is transformed. The subdued grey light is expelled by
shimmering gold, green hills and fields alike are suffused with a living
blaze. A boat pulled out from the pier near the Old Hall is followed by
a wake of pale gold, the oars drip diamonds, the curl of parting waters
is like a crystal-crowned sapphire.

To see Coniston Water by broad daylight nothing is better than Felix
Hammel’s handsome craft, though the commander will cheerfully admit that
we, in our pulling boat, had the best of it at dawn. The _Gondola’s_
landing-stage is in the shade of some mighty oaks, an old cottage
astride a shallow waiting-room with a jetty running out a few yards into
the lake. The craft is of strange shape; at the stern, where the engines
are placed, the draught is a yard and a half, but at bow—“There are few
places on Coniston Lake,” says Mr. Hammel, “where I could not put the
prow into the green fields while the stern was in deep water,” which,
incidentally, shows the paucity of shallows. Mr. Hammel is fond of the
engines which drive his taper-keeled craft along. “Fourteen horse-power,
yet they drive the boat through the wildest gales betwixt April and
September. I have sailed here for twenty-five years, and we have lost
time but once. That was the wildest gale that ever smote this water. It
blew from sou’-west, and there was a pretty lively water going. Not big
rollers, but nasty short things that broke and shook themselves out into
a cross-sea that would have made a pulling boat a mighty risky thing to
be in. But the _Gondola_ ran within five minutes of normal—the five and
a half miles from here to Lake Bank we reckon to do in thirty-five
minutes. That wild day it took forty. Only two days in my experience has
the steamer not run. During the wet summer of 1903 the lake was so full
that for two days the landing-stage was under water, and never a
passenger got within two hundred yards of us.”

“I suppose you did a bit of fishing out of your windows those two days,”
I commented. Mr. Hammel is an angler—as keen as ever.

           [Illustration: MOONLIGHT AND LAMPLIGHT, CONISTON]

“Hardly out of the windows, though of course I did do a bit.”

By this time the hands of the clock nearly point to starting-time;
passengers are rapidly coming on board, and to hurry up laggards Mr.
Hammel sends a flute-like note booming and swelling from the syren. Now
there is a quiet rumble as the engines start, a purling of water beneath
the stern, and the _Gondola_ backs out into the lake. Tent Lodge, where
Tennyson once dwelt, is almost opposite—a square sturdy house standing
on a narrow green bank just above the water. The little landing-stage
looks decidedly picturesque now; our craft pauses as though regretting
to leave so happy a scene, then again the thrumming begins and we are
swung round toward the foot of the lake. Far away two green banks
contract till the water seems to end: Fir Island narrows the curving
lake there. Brantwood is a pretty house beneath the fell, the views from
its windows are splendid. Here Ruskin came to spend his latter days, in
a house which had been occupied by Linton, the famous wood-engraver. The
homelikeness of Brantwood is to me its chief charm: once a dweller in
it, no mortal can, I should think, be so dead to natural beauties as not
often to picture it, when far away, in memory’s freshest pigments. The
eyes of all on board are turned to Brantwood—Mr. Hammel is speaking of
it to a bevy of interested young ladies, the other lakemen are pointing
it out to those near them; but, seated on the knife-like ridge of iron
where his stokehole joins the deck, the engineer is looking intently at
the greasy jacket of his boiler! Instantly his posture captures my
attention. What meant that strange position? Were we in danger of an
explosion? The engineer’s back was eloquent of intent inspection, even
of alertness. Nothing happened, however, and as none of the lakemen
seemed apprehensive I did not allow that rapt gaze to spoil my pleasure

“Brantwood?” says Mr. Hammel, “and Ruskin? Well, of course I knew the
Professor well. He wasn’t a man to laugh and talk much, though. For
five-and-twenty years I have done odd repairs to Mr. Severn’s yacht at
Brantwood, and I often met the old gentleman thereabouts. Mr. Ruskin did
not like scrow [upset], I remember, and every year the family used to go
down to Lake Bank Hotel till spring cleaning was over. Mr. Ruskin went
with them, of course. Mr. Severn used to hire the _Gondola_, and we ran
in to the landing-stage to take servants and luggage on board. Now you
know Mr. Ruskin didn’t like our boat at all—I believe he used to write a
bit bitter about it; but I remember once (it was in the seventies) when
we drew it to the stage, that Mr. Ruskin stood there with Mrs. Severn
and the family. I was surprised and some pleased, I can tell you, when
_he_ came on board. He went all over the boat, into every corner while
we were steaming down, looked at the engines a long while and asked a
lot of sharp questions about them—he knew a fair bit about machinery in
spite of his old-fashioned ways and ideas. Then when we were nearing
Lake Bank he came out of the saloon there, and as he passed me, said
with a nice smile, ‘I _may_ like steam after all.’”

              [Illustration: AN OLD INN KITCHEN, CONISTON]

“Do you remember any others of the big men who lived about here,” I ask
my friend.

“Oh yes: there was Mr. Tennyson lived across at Tent Lodge awhile, and
in the seventies we had Carlyle here at the Waterhead Hotel two or three
weeks. He used to have the steamer nearly every morning for a cruise
around. He was a pleasant man to do with, but quiet. They used to say to
me that Carlyle never laughed, and Mr. Ruskin but rarely, but I know
different. One evening when Carlyle was here, I was across at Brantwood
doing some repair to Mr. Severn’s yacht that was drawn up on the slip.
While I was working away, down from the house came Mr. Ruskin and
Carlyle and sat down on a pile of rough stones beside the slip. I didn’t
take much heed of what they were talking about, for I was thrang [busy];
but I remember well that I was surprised to hear a big burst of
laughing. I looked up—it was Mr. Ruskin, and before my eyes were fairly
clapt on him Carlyle roared out quite as long and loud as he. Then they
sat there full a quarter of an hour, talking quite merry, and every now
and then there was a crack of laughing as made your heart feel glad.”

At this Mr. Hammel steps away and takes charge of the wheel of the
steamer. There is little need of fine steering, for the water is deep
and free from reefs.

We move along the crowded promenade deck to get a better view of the
grand mountains clustering around. Like a sheet of blue the water
stretches far away to meet the multi-shaded greens beneath High Cross.
Yewdale crags are prominent, but the soaring ridges culminating in Old
Man’s pointed top fill the eye most. Now the eastern shore is crowded
with regiments of larches, growing where once the old monks burnt
charcoal for their bloomeries by the beckside. On the right is Torver
Common where never a wall is to be seen, and the lake-shore is fringed
with rocks. Fir Island, a mass of Scotch firs or stone pines, anchored
to a narrow rib of rock, has been passed, and now seems like a
promontory of green. The woods on the mainland look delightful in this
pleasant air, but the stiff lines of their planting is rather an
eyesore. The coppice woods next succeed, in wide acres climbing to the
skyline. These are allowed to grow fifteen years, then, when the
saplings are about six inches thick, all are felled. The best wood is
sent down to the mines to use as props; the other portions, after being
peeled (for even in these days of chemical tanning bark of ash and oak
and sycamore is still put on the market), are placed in neat circular
piles in the centre of which a fire is laid. Then by a covering of wet
turf the air is excluded. The fire has been sufficiently kindled not to
be put out by the short supply of air, and it smoulders away for weeks.
Much charcoal burning is done in the winter, and a pleasant scene it is
to find on a snow-clad day lines of smoke rising from the barrenness
where once was woodland, men moving round the conical patches from which
internal heat has melted the white covering, the rough huts, the
incipient flicker which has to be immediately quenched else the whole
oven of charcoal be spoiled, the thinning smoke which threatens a dead
fire there, to which the woodmen hasten to encourage the hidden blaze.

            [Illustration: THE SHEPHERD, YEWDALE, CONISTON]

Peel Island, alluded to before, is the place when in the time of the
Sagas a Norseman dwelt, and a daring man he was to live on so low a rib
of rock. In a wild gale the water, lashing its rocky sides, will throw
spray right over it. In relief the islet is mitred; two rock ledges face
the lake, leaving between a grassy depression some feet in depth. Our
old Norseman built walls across this gap, then with poles and twigs from
the shore-woods made a roof, and thereby obtained a home sufficient in
its humble way to provide shelter in the wildest weather. In spring the
glen of the islet is a mass of blue—with wild hyacinths. The lake is now
becoming riverine in character, its banks are nearing rapidly, a picnic
party seated on the rock-set shore wave and call merrily to the passing
craft. The water is still as a pond, the reflections only broken in the
wake of the passing steamer. And thus we come to Lake Bank, the end of
the lake for steamer purposes, and the point to which coaches drive from
Greenodd and Ulverston. It is a change for a good walker to get ashore
here, and by the Brantwood shore return—a walk of some eight miles.

At first the road leads down by the rushing Crake, then crosses. The
traveller passes through tall-hedged lanes, past old-world farms
nestling against sheering hillsides. Once there is a beautiful glimpse—a
vista of lake, Fir Island in foreground, and far away the rising fells.
Just as the walker feels that Brantwood must be at hand, the woods open
a little; here is a point jutting out into the lake to which he can
easily pass, a shelf of shingle, overgrown with wych elms and sallows,
but from it is a marvellous view. Not too far for detail to be dimmed is
Coniston Hall, the church and the village, Mines valley and Yewdale
crags, Old Man, Wetherlam and a number of giant hills. In autumn
particularly the play of light and shade among the woodlands is
glorious. The road passes within a few yards of Brantwood. If the
wanderer has time to spare let him leave the road by one of the paths he
sees up the hillside. There is little danger of any one complaining of
trespass if you should light upon a worn path that is not public. Rising
some two hundred feet up you are above coppice woods, and come among the
heather, enjoying an excellent view of the lake and its surroundings.
How peaceful such a place at sunset! Once I watched the sun set in a
haze of blood red: the lake turned like frozen gore beneath my eyes, the
hillsides mantled in crimson, the outstanding spurs of rock were
wreathed in fire, a purple shadow gradually gathered in the hollows.
Then, through a ravishing succession of tints, the scene melted away
till I was looking down on a lake with moonlight shimmering on it, edged
by blue, rocky mountains.

              [Illustration: STEPPING-STONES, SEATHWAITE]

One scene more and I have finished. It is of mid-winter—and night. Day
was dying ere we left the village; with a parting glish at the
snow-covered church tower, the sun left the lower glen. Now the hills
were pointed with fire; from the lake a blue vapour rose as the air
chilled, to join the helm of feathery smoke gradually spreading from the
village. The glen was snowbound indeed; from hedges and plantations came
the rustle of slipping snow; a partial thaw after the snowfall passed
gave us the roads fairly clear. There were many slippery places, but to
the careful and robust there was pleasure in the prospect of a walk.
Large flocks of sheep are crowded into the fields lying near the farms
we pass; there a weary shepherd is still at work. On the higher farms
the shelter of the plantations will have been courted; down here a huge
rib of rock lies athwart the wind, and the fields have been but little
swept by the storm. Almost the most arduous of a shepherd’s trials is
after a long snowstorm. His flock have to be mustered; if the snow has
drifted at all a band of ewes are sure to be beneath it, and these have
to be got out. Then comes the problem of hand-feeding perhaps a
thousand. Hay and roots may be brought by sleigh, but the labour of
distribution is great. The soft snow clings so tenaciously to the grass
beneath that to walk a hundred yards in the fields is too hard work for
any pleasure-seeker. The sheep are nosing down to the hidden grass: even
in the hardest weather they forage well for themselves, though the gap
between “feed” and “appetite” is often very wide. The lake looks blue
and cold under its veil of soft vapour; a skin of ice is forming. There
is a loud crack and a rattling echo passes along the frozen surface.
Eerie it is so to hear the ice “stretching”: the frostier the night the
louder and more frequent the reports. (In 1895 I was on Windermere after
dark—it was a moonless night—and the loud and long continued roars which
spread about the ice were almost alarming.) Soon we are in the byroad
for Tarn Hows. The trees meet overhead, and if it were not for the white
flashes of snow between them the way would be bad to find. The road is
slippery, and time and again we have to leave the metalled part for the
snow-banks to get on at all. The sounds heard in the woods on a frosty
night are interesting. A faint rustle in the undergrowth as a small bird
hops from one twig to another, a faint rumble and a sissing of snow as a
rabbit bolts away, the thud of falling pieces of snow from the branches,
the crackling of twigs as the frost nips harder, the blundering rush of
a large bird through the curtain of branches, followed by a mimic
snowstorm of dislodged particles; from darksome glades, the melancholy
hoot of the wood owl and the shriekings of the barn owl, then from far
away floats the chime proclaiming the hour, the cadence dying in sweet
confusion over the tapering larches.

               [Illustration: WINTER SUNSHINE, CONISTON]

So far the way has been steep and the footing uncertain; now, however,
we rise above the woods to the open hillside. The angle of ascent is
less difficult and the snow firm to the tread. Our path forms a terrace
above Yewdale. Beneath is a glen cumbered with snow; above, a sky
liberally dusted with stars large and small, the gentle light from which
is sufficient to kindle the jewels on the frosted snow. The air is
chill, but our blood is too warm for us to be more than barely conscious
of it. From a corner of the track we have an excellent view backward.
The lake is still hidden in its curtain of mist, the dark woods of
Brantwood side climb sharply into the white desolations. Coniston Old
Man over the way—how truly near it looks!—is gilded by a new light; the
moon is rising and the light spreads over summit and upper snowfield,
over crag and bield and lower slack of white, finally touching with
crystal the fields and houses in the deep dingles around. From one point
we look over a wilderness of snow to other dales, but the expected
mountain heads are hidden in pearly cloud. The tarn is covered with ice,
and some time we spend sliding. Then to return, but first of all notice
that grey moving blotch on the shoulder of Wetherlam. The glasses show a
family of wild goats. Villagers of Coniston tell of a herd of over
thirty observed not many seasons ago, while groups of over a dozen
occasionally tempt the keen gunster out on to the chilly wastes.

The goats, I am told, were introduced about a century ago in order to
prevent fell-sheep frequenting dangerous cliffs—for a goat is safe where
a sheep will turn giddy, and, falling, be dashed to pieces. By nature
the sheep is divided from the goat, and will not browse the same
pasture. For long it was a custom of the quarrymen of Tilberthwaite to
assemble on Good Friday morning, and attempt to hunt the goats haunting
the fell near by. But though a kid or so, weaker than the rest, might be
taken, I never heard that much success accompanied these chases. The
goats from Coniston fells wander in search of toothsome grass to beyond
the Duddon, and there is record of an exciting hunt among the rocks of
Wallabarrow for a wandering goat. In winter only do these animals
approach civilisation; their usual haunts are the crags above
sequestered glens. The snow crunches under our feet, and we speedily
come down to where we again catch view of Coniston Water. Now it is
clear of mist, the whitened fields, blotched with woods, limned with
hedges, are in sharp contrast to the grey ice, and to the glittering
unfrozen water in mid-lake. A glory almost approaching that of day
spreads over the scene: the queen of the heavens is indeed “walking in
brightness” here.


                              CHAPTER VII
                        _THE MOODS OF WASTWATER_

I never think of Wastwater without recalling some exciting
hours—Wastwater surrounded by crag-set mountains and wide bouldery
moorlands where foxes rule wild and strong. Under Tommie Dobson, that
genius among fell-land huntsmen, a pack of wiry hounds has been raised
in the bordering dales. In pursuit ruthless, untiring, determined; a
chase from dawn to night, over country bristling with difficulties, is
no unusual thing to them. Screes, miles of frittering mountain rampart,
Yewbarrow, ridged like a Napoleon’s hat, Scawfells, impending over great
piles of fragments, Gable; about these are benks and earths and borrans
innumerable. Never a season do they fail the hunt; never do they fail
for redskins to plunder flock and poultry roost. Then the wilds to
Ennerdale—I had climbed the slope of Gable before the meet at dawn on a
spring day, the crisp air became full of music—what finer sounds than
those from a foxhound’s throat!—the turf was springy and dry, the sky
flecked with high-sailing clouds. To climb the rocky terraces was
delightful; to hunt—the exhilaration needs experience, it is beyond my
words to describe. No pink coat was in the knot of men below; and a
follower on horseback is seldom seen at a meet by Wastwater. Hounds
unkennelled as they left the short lane from the inn, and soon above the
babble of eager questers rose the clear peal of a true find. To one line
gathered the pack, and away! Not often does Reynard give so good a
chance. Over the tall drystone walls surged the hounds, at first in a
compact bunch, then, as pace began to tell, dribbling out into a line.
Out of the fields, and into the intakes of Mosedale; and ever higher
rose the note of the chase, ever smarter the gliding forward of the
clan. A check! From Gable’s lofty flank I saw hounds halt at a dark grey
patch of stones, circle it almost in silence. Reynard has gone aground;
the huntsmen and the fleeter followers come up. The scent drew the pack
in and out, over wall and beck, through dead bracken and crackling
heather, three or four good miles, but the huntsman, judging the true
route, reached the borran in less than a mile. The hounds called away,
terriers are put “in” and possibly will have Reynard out ere long.
Nowhere but in the fells are terriers really used after foxes—nowhere
else, the dalesmen proudly say, are dogs capable of doing such work.
After a considerable delay two white dots stray out on to the dark grey
stones—Reynard has been killed in the dark recesses.


The sun is now high, the cloud flecks are gone, the air has become warm.
Long ago foxes ceased to be afoot, and hours of careful work by huntsman
and hounds may be necessary to find another fair scent. But even the
pattern of all wiliness, like the human votaries at his shrine,
sometimes overreaches himself. After a tedious march it is refreshing to
hear hounds speak to a piping line. Reynard, lying out in a pile of
boulders, has heard the coming pack. He steals away—too late, for a
keen-sighted dalesman has viewed him away. Ten minutes of frenzied
rushing, and the fox is reached. Ruby in the van seizes him, and over go
both at the impact. The hound, aged but plucky, loses his grip and
Reynard is free again; down the scree, in the very access of terror, the
redskin flies, but with a couple of bounds Chorister has him fast. The
iron jaws crunch into the fox’s spine, and though together they roll
near twenty yards the grip never falters. There is no “worry” at the
death; the hounds, now that their enemy is dead, take little further
notice of him. Ofttimes the death is compassed a mile away from the
nearest follower, but occasionally a fair number view the finish. And to
do this you may have to come pell mell down some rotten “rake.” We saw
hounds stream over a patch of snow on a near-by hill: a dalesman pointed
out Reynard dead beat a hundred yards in front. “The Gate,” called some
one, “who’s going down?” Six of us rushed for the head of that
precipitous scree-shoot. The angle of descent was terrible, but, hunting
mad, we leapt and slid, stumbled and jolted down. A thousand feet plumb
drop, with a hail of loose stones roaring behind us. The rake-foot was
narrow, between perpendicular rocks, and in single file we raced down.
No one tried to halt; if it were thought of, the gathering pelt of
stones decided in favour of forward. Shades of Silver Howe! In the
madness of the guide-race you never saw the like of this. But after five
minutes of real, tearing life—oh! it’s good to have lived through such a
time!—we were running down the smoother grass. The hounds were probably
quite close by—running mute for the death—and across the roaring,
flooded beck within a score yards came the fox. We halted in
silence—back up, tongue lolling, moving stiffly and with evident pain,
he was the scourge of the fells, but a respected foe at that. Thrice had
he been chased far, now came for him the end. Two outstripping hounds
shot across a cove which was bank-high in snow, leapt at him, and all
was over.

Wastwater, its bed hewn and filled by Almighty power in the beginning to
contrast the silvern temporalities of a level mere with the solid,
silent, rugged eternities of rock around. There is always some pleasure
to the hale of body and mind in climbing from Wastwater, whether by
pony-track, mountain-path, or dangerous puzzle route up the cliffs. In
early October I had to cross to Wastwater from Keswick. In the golden
glory of afternoon we passed up Borrowdale. One side the glen sloomed in
dying bronze of bracken, the other was grey with nude birches below,
chocolate with heather above. We left the main road and passed into the
desolate mountain land. As the sun declined, clouds, at first mackerel
but now dull and heavy with rain and night, floated majestically from
behind the western mountains. Shortly in a low cloud cornice Gable’s
head was buried, and billow after billow of mist possessed the higher
ground: at Rosthwaite the glow of day, here the portents of night and
foul weather. “Fraternal Three” and the old wad-mine took but a moment’s
attention, then away, up the narrow dell.

                [Illustration: WASTWATER, FROM STRANDS]

Night fast closed round. Our last look back barely showed the curve of
Borrowdale. Gillercombe, scored by tremendous ravines, presided over a
scene of almost indescribable wildness. The wind roared and boomed
above, the steady drift of fine rain was in our faces. Hoarsely down its
rugged bed the beck sang in accord. Grey light and dashing water, with
gloom intense above and a rain-sodden world below, our path uncertain,
picked out by boulders. Bogs of sphagnum, sponged a foot high with
water, runnels where in summer are hollows filled with wee splinters,
the rills all shouting becks, and the becks flooding torrents. Our boots
full of water, wet to the thigh, we still squelched on. In a while we
came to a narrow footbridge, and crossed the chief torrent. “Where is
the path?” I knew not, nor cared. Swinging bogs were all about; a grisly
light crept through the clouds in front: that showed the pass-head, and
was my guide. Now, we stood within twenty yards of Stye Head Tarn—what a
scene! Half invisible, a patch of wind-spurned waters, dark mountains
sweeping upward, cloven by black ghylls, whitish beards of cloud
stealthily moving along and hiding the higher ground in ghostly embrace.
The sounds—the tongues of many waters, and the night wind weirding among
crags and crannies. Ten minutes more, our path in a long curve swept
down the rock-shelves toward the dale. What a gulf of gloom, the
waterfalls roaring and possessing the night! Take care, take care, the
way is full of stumbling-blocks, of pitfalls; to the right is steep
rock, to the left a precipice. Over it—crane your neck and see if
foothold is visible beneath. Such is Stye Head Pass at night.

                 [Illustration: WASTWATER AND SCAWFELL]

We reach the scree where the route is safer, but at the zig-zags more
than once overshoot the path. The clouds apparently are densest near the
mountains, for beyond the rock-girt valley some brighter clouds render
darkness almost visible. There is a dream of a grey Wastwater, a mirage
of something not chaos beyond. A spark of light shows where the hotel
lies, but it is far away. Some twenty minutes from the pass-head we find
grass beneath our feet. Looking backward, there is a walpurgis of grey
shadow and black night. Now the path is easier and we walk more rapidly,
though frequently stumbles remind us that the path is far from smooth.
The light—from hospitable windows—is nearing perceptibly. Now, in front,
is a darker mass—the yew-trees crowding round a tiny House of God,
shielding it by their tough green limbs from the storms. We were walking
quietly in the narrow lane thinking of the gloom on all things made,
when a white shadow beyond that of the dale-church arrested us. What is
it? Memory hasted back a week to that most terrible disaster in the
annals of Lakeland rock-climbing—the accident on the Scawfell Pillar.
Four fine young men were killed, and three are laid here. A heap of
white flowers, like a pall of mountain snow, masks the grave. Sadly
impressive is the scene; the white wilting flowers represent fitly the
brief human span of life—to-day we are, to-morrow we are not, thus is
the will of God: the dense green yew-trees symbolise death, the
time-long end of man. But look higher, I felt—around. “O death, where is
thy sting?” for, though the mists of night bewilder, great rock-ribs are
rising upward, higher, ever higher, till earth and heaven meet. And the
yew of death will moulder by the kirkgarth, but the mountains must stand
fast to prove eternity—immeasurable, infinite.

Wastwater, its shores treeless and forlorn, its waters rippling against
their shingly bays, with mountains beyond and around, curtains of rock
and ribbons of scree. In the cool days of spring the mountains are
delightful, but sometimes there is a sudden revulsion to winter. A shade
sweeps from nor’east, and behold a squall plastering all with snow, a
gale shrieking around, and the temperature tumbling to zero. Such
mischances apart, the bracing air makes a new creature of one after the
fogs of winter, and you simply stroll up the ascents. So much has been
written of the mountain-climbing around Wastwater that to infuse
romance, to say any new thing, is difficult. Steep ghylls there are to
ascend, loose bands of scree to pass, bogs varying in depth according to
weather. Here a rushing rivulet to ford, there, winding beneath crazy
rock fragments, the path hangs on the brink of a deep ravine; collar
work up five hundred feet of slippery grass, and splendid poising
exercise over beds of boulders. When winter holds sway and a white garb
hides the bloom of meadows and hillsides, Wastwater is a very home of
loneliness. Its surface is no home for the wildfowl from northward: a
wastewater it is to them and not worth a minute of the foody, oozy sands
of Irt and Esk, seven miles away. Loneliness and silence. When the babel
of the flock in the intakes ceases to the ear, the absence of all sound
will depress the liveliest soul. The air, chill and cutting, goes
soundlessly by; the lake broods in leaden, stirless gloom. There is no
sound of tinkling rivulets; the raven’s croak, the curlew’s wild shriek,
are no longer heard; the plover, the heron, and the birds of the
hedgerow have flown to less sombre regions. When the stars are mirrored
in the steely blue water and the moon throws shafts of glory across the
mountain barrier, the silence is more crushing. One side the dale is in
shadow; frost spangles give to the other an ethereal, unreal illume.
Gable and the Scawfells are snowbound where on ledge and scree snow can
lie; the rocks, through which, from the mountain’s heart, hidden springs
are driven, are sheathed with ice. Day after day, the deadness of living
nature seems to increase; day after day, the unknowable mysteries of the
mountains seem to deepen. The loudest voice seems hushed; the most
fervid imagination is consciously dwarfed. Then the weather changes; the
air turns raw and damp, and day seemingly forgets Wastwater. Silent,
implacable, falls the rain. Down almost to the water trail the ragged
cloud-beards—they choke day from the low land. Up the mountains—he is a
hardy wight who dares to be there. Half-molten snowdrifts, torrents
roaring, cascading from unseen above to invisible below, gouts of water
cleaving through the mistwreaths. But seldom does such a wanderer brave
the elements long. Turgid torrents and close-enwrapping fogs charm no
one. Indoors the fires burn bright; save for a brief space about noon,
when a sickly lightening proclaims day’s climax and glory, the lamps are
hardly out. To the gloom of the clouded sky is added the great shadows
of close-hemming mountains; there are houses among the fells on which
for three months of the year the sun never shines.

              [Illustration: WASTDALEHEAD AND GREAT GABLE
                       Towards evening in autumn]

Wastwater, and the Screes. Three miles of buttresses crumbling down in
fan-shaped beds of ruin. It is grand to pace the opposite shore and
watch the play of light and shade on the rugged mountainside. Streaked
with rich brown are some of the yawning gullies: up there are stores of
ruddle or native iron. Soft and soluble as mud, the substance once had a
value as providing an indelible mark for sheep. The shepherd lads from
distant dales came here to collect it—for a premium of sixpence per
pound from their masters. On the brink and halfway down the face of the
shivery rocks are the little veins of ruddle found. A steady step and a
firm nerve had the lads who dared such labour, for a misstep might split
their foothold to pieces and throw them far down the ravines. We are
told that many lives were lost in the pursuit of ruddle: compared with
it, modern rock-climbing, with the skilfully used safeguards, is safe,
though of course far more arduous. The climber of to-day chooses a sound
crag for his work: the ruddle-gatherer could only work among the
loosest, craziest ground.

The best way to see the Screes is to take a boat and row close to them.
High above your head, a great rampart of rock, scored since the world
began with the cabalistic record of frost and storm, hides the sky.
Somewhere betwixt the crags and lake, following the smoothest route, is
a rough path. In and out of parks of huge boulders (many, geologists
say, still sliding downwards at speeds varying from slothful inches to a
bustling six feet per annum), the track threads, affording a grand
though tiring walk. After frost there is danger in approaching some of
the crags. Huge breasts of stone are so finely hung that the ice wedging
their crannies rends them as surely as gunpowder. There have been some
tremendous rockfalls in the Screes. A century ago one of the sights of
Wastwater was a lofty fragment to which an uncouth imagination gave the
name of Wilson’s Horse. For long the vicinity had been shunned: pieces
of rock were for ever disintegrating from the mass. Then, after a winter
grim with frost and snow, came the final catastrophe. At dead of night
was heard the roar of falling rock, and at daybreak the Horse had
disappeared. Judging from the splintery gulf whence the Horse fell,
“What a splash it must have made!” interjected one as we scrambled about
the place. It is said that a twenty-foot wave passed north and south
after the rock struck the water.

                    [Illustration: WASTWATER SCREES]

Wastwater, the home of many shepherds. As you scramble their flocks are
ever around you. And from among desolate-looking rocks, between beds of
lichened boulders, they obtain sustenance. There is a tuft of grass just
by that patch of parsley fern; a little fringe of soft green nestles
beneath that boulder; a skin of living verdure finds root where the
scree lies fine as dust. For these wisps of grass the hardy Herdwicks
assiduously search, and on such meagre fare they thrive. Our sheep are
small in size compared with those of the lowlands but more robust, and
so intelligent that no dweller in the mountain-land can understand that
cant phrase “a silly sheep.” There are other animals with far less
resource or real initiative when faced by danger. The life of the
mountain shepherd possesses little of Arcadian joy and pastoral romance.
The stress of winter when storm sweeps down from the Gable and the air
is riotous with snow, the terrible “clash” at lambing-time when the
weather turns wet for weeks, militate against such idylls as are fancied
in brighter lands. So ruthless is fact in its war with poetic vapourings
that even the glories of the shepherd’s summer do not remain. Instead of
the shepherd piping and watching the sheep with lambs by their sides
streaming over green swelling hills, in the English mountain-land it is
the season of the detested maggot. This cruel pest burrows through wool
and skin into the living flesh beneath and devours that. It is almost
too sickening to recall the piteous scenes of visible spines and ribs
from which the flesh has been denuded; of sheep still living in the most
awful agony. Nearly the worst characteristic of this terrible visitation
is that a sheep when attacked generally turns recluse and wanders as far
as possible from its fellows. Thus, when the shepherd should
theoretically be at ease, he is really, ointment pot in hand, climbing
about the roughest parts of his holding. Once, when wandering near
Wastwater, I met a shepherd.

“Been salving?” I queried.

“Nay, been trying to find some to salve. I’ve a mind they’re somewhere
in these ghylls, but I can’t come at ’em.”

“How many do you reckon there’ll be?”

“Mappen sebben or eight. I’m going to try this beck course.”

“Yes, do,” I said: “I think there’s a few up above.”

                   [Illustration: WASTDALEHEAD CHURCH
            The smallest in the district—perhaps in England]

Then I explained that from across the mere I had noticed a few white
dots, and had entered into remarks thereon with one who through field
glasses was scanning the great hillside. He could scarce believe that
the small grey masses cluthering in the ghyll were sheep. “They’re far
too still.” I admitted the mournful fact, also that they were much above
the zone of grass, but added that they were “smitten by wicks.” The
shepherd assured that this was the very ghyll, up we went. It was not
long before we came to the lowest—I dare not say animal. So weak and
emaciated was the living organism from ravages of the terrible maggot
that the shepherd immediately kicked out its brain. “Can’t save it,” he
muttered through set teeth. The next was not so far gone. The shepherd,
with deft hands, cut away the clotted wool and speedily the cleansing
ointment was at work. The plunging and baa-ing of the sheep showed that
the cure was a “smarty” one. One by one the other sheep were found and
remedies applied, so that the shepherd went back to the farm at rest.

Wastwater, haunt of the char and the botling, the latter a mysterious
fish. Now and again he turned up, and his appearance spread dread
through the country-side—what had not happened when last this hermit
fish came ashore? Fever and agues were by some said to follow his
occurrence, or trouble about heafage rights. But progressive science
scared him from existence (the botling was ever a male) with his little
hoard of lore. The fish was taken at the fall of the year in the little
becks and among spawning trout. He was a powerful fellow, differing
chiefly from his associates in greater size and thickness, and in the
manner in which his under jaw turned up and was hooked. In weight the
botling ranged from four to twelve pounds. One killed by leister, or
fish spear, was so thick that its girth was in excess of its length by
four inches. In colour and marking the botling resembled the ordinary
lake trout, the brown spots on its back being only proportionately
larger. Probably it was only a local variation of _Salmo ferox_ (the
great lake trout); it might possibly have been a hybrid fish. At any
rate, here the argument must be left: for half a century the botling has
not been heard of—his train of woe, however, has not been so


Like our other lakes, Wastwater is most fishable when a faint breeze
ruffles its waters—for the benefit of the visitor-angler, the coch y
bondhu and Broughton Point are the best general flies, with red hackle
during the summer. There is little sport with the char: the lake-bed
does not permit netting, and the fish are not present in sufficient
numbers to encourage the use of the plumb-line. One of my old
acquaintance was wont to walk from Langdale over the mountains to fish
here, in the days of the now proscribed lath. Poor old Tom, it needs a
vivid imagination to picture thy age-wrung frame climbing steep Rossett
Ghyll, to think of thy dim old eyes as alert enough to seek out the path
as in semi-darkness thou wandered among bogs and benks, screes and
boulders. Still more difficult is it to see thee bending over the
lead-weighted board with its twin lines and their droppers of gut, fly,
and barb, keen to get the instrument on its journey. In one of the coves
where purls down a rivulet, the lath is launched; the faint current
carries it outward till the breeze ruffling the lake catches its
upturned edge. Twenty yards out, where the lake sheers down to its great
depth, fish are lying, taking what food air and stream drift to them.
Slowly the lath sails outward, Tom unwinding further line as required.
The board is now, thinks Tom, beyond the shoal, and the droppers should
be presenting their temptations to the fish. Its movement is therefore
checked, and the linesman waits for the fish to bite. Tom’s right hand
after a while draws one end of the lath nearer, the breeze catches it
and it floats sidewise. To the right is a few yards of water from which
Tom has previously taken good fish. In an hour he rises from the
shadows, and draws the board slowly to land. At first the lines come
steadily enough, and are coiled neatly; then there is greater
resistance. The right line jerks about in all directions: here comes a
big trout. A faint ruffle breaks from a back fin just beneath the
surface, there is a little wimple as the fish sinks down again. Gently,
gently Tom draws in line. Now there is a brisk curl quite close to his
feet near the rocks, a few splashes, and Tom is handling a half-pounder.
So strong was the tackle used for lath-fishing that no delicate
precision, little fine “play,” was requisite. Poor old Tom! Hadst thou
then a taste for the picturesque, what lovely memories thou must be
revelling in now when in age thine eye to outward things grows dim!
Nights by lovely mountain tarns, when the northward light made the water
glow like steel, when the great ribs of the mountains seemed in their
nakedness to support the dome of night. Star-spangled skies, and the
soft mists of summer by the lake-shore when everything droned to rest.
The adventure Tom remembers best is of Wastwater. A keeper had suspected
lathing on the western shore, and secreted himself to watch. Tom came
over from Langdale, and near Yewbarrow made ready his lines. The board
floating out attracted the keeper’s attention. He was mounted, and rode
as fast as he could to cut off the poacher. Tom heard the thud of hooves
on the soft grass, threw his lines into the mere, and made up the
hillside as fast as he could run. A few score yards the horseman
pursued, but the poacher managed to cross a deep but narrow gully which
the keeper’s pony could not leap. Then, as Tom quaintly remarks, “He
thought he hed hed enew on’t, and turned back to the lake. But I got my
lines and board in spite of all. Aye, and there was about twenty pounds
of fish on ’em.”

                [Illustration: WASTDALEHEAD, WASTWATER]

Wastwater—its memories are quite innumerable. On cycle the western shore
is not difficult. The road undulates, but its surface is fair. It was a
warm afternoon; rain had fallen during the previous night, but bright
sunshine and sweeping breeze had dried up the exposed portions of the
road, though under the trees it was still muddy. We started from Santon
Bridge, a sweet hamlet in the gorge of the Irt, not usually found by
those whose faces are toward Wastwater. For a couple of miles the road
was up, up, and the hills were long; then down, down, down, and the
descents were merry. And the Screes rose loftier in front, and looked
more and more broken. Soon the level blue of Wastwater comes in sight
over larch-tops. Then, as we pedal into a beech avenue, the full view is
lost, but we see a succession of entrancing vistas: narrow shafts of
meadow and woodland, of water and upspringing screes, framed in by
dainty sprays of copper foliage. Through the tunnel of overhanging
boughs is a glimpse of open moor and of distant fell. The road declines
and our speed increases. To northward we see almost the full length of
the mere; the faint breeze is urging the water to gayest laughter. The
Screes, with their rainbow hues of native coal and iron, of green slate
and brown conglomerate, are opposite. The afternoon sun is playing about
their gullies: in some we see long, thin cascades, but between the
cliffs fringing other ravines is a straight, heavy shadow. In there,
unseen by the sun, the water jets and sprays in leaden glories; no
rainbow dances in the soft white veils; dank, slimy cave-ferns grow in

Our road now passes into the wild moorland—terrace after terrace of
hillocks we wind through, keeping near the lake’s level. The feature in
this approach to Wastwater head is Yewbarrow. Seen from other points
this seems rather tame, but from here it is impressive, commanding the
whole view. The lake is still waving under the influence of the breeze;
green, green and gold are the hillsides with grass and bracken. Among
the stones the staghorn moss threads, sending up club-like spikes in
profusion; every boulder is fringed with parsley fern. Yewbarrow, always
changing shape, now appears as if cloven by a chasm from the great mass
of mountains, and the name of the chasm is Bowderdale. There is heather
by the roadside now, its tufts perfect masses of bloom, and the broom’s
yellow glory is not wanting. In half a mile we leave the desolation of
rock and grass—here are trees and even a few pieces of hedges, rowan and
hawthorn, with a few scrubby oaks. The level plain of Wastdale head
appears in front; we coast round guardian Yewbarrow, pass cottage and
farm as far as the road serves, then push our machines to the church of
the dale. Now the weather changes. The brilliant sunshine suddenly
glooms and dies away. I look up to Great Gable, weather oracle of the
glen—and am surprised. Half an hour ago a fluffy cloud seemed resting on
it, but now a dark mass of vapour, distended with wind and bearded with
unshed rain, has taken its place. And over the pass from Ennerdale on
the left, and through the gully from Borrowdale on the right, the hosts
of storm cloud are boiling. A contrary gust whispers a shrill warning;
we seek shelter at once, but with a seething and a roar the storm is
upon us, lashing rain-lines in our faces. Fifty yards away the vicar’s
house offers shelter—we are not acquaintances, but—— In three minutes we
are in his kitchen, looking out toward the glen of Mosedale. At first
nothing more is visible than a grey mass of whirling rain, then, for a
summer storm is but brief, again the flanks of the nearer fells come in
sight. The pall passes rapidly, and the sunshine is pouring over the
spine of Yewbarrow before the last rush of rain has streamed down the
hospitable window. Ere long, the glen is again rejoicing in sunshine;
the grass sparkles with fairy gems, the streaming crags are touched into
shields of silver, the hoary crown of Gable seems to brighten as though
the new spirit of life below made even it, the monarch, rejoice.

                              CHAPTER VIII
                        _THE GLORY OF ENNERDALE_

Lying beyond the pale of great mountains, and only connected by rugged
passes with other sights of Lakeland, the lake of Ennerdale does not
attract many tourists. The approach to it, otherwise than by mountain
road, is circuitous; the traveller, coming by ordinary routes from the
outside world, is carried across a great ironworking district, where
every stream runs red mud, and where black smeltery smoke hangs low. Yet
Ennerdale in its own peculiar fashion is beautiful.

In my early days the lake seemed connected, in my mind, with stories of
pirates and privateers—Paul Jones hovered on the coast near by till a
gale drove him and his cursing hordes out to sea—and as more intimate
knowledge came to me I still found Ennerdale connected with illicit
seafaring. Smugglers—and my ancestors are reputed to have been among the
most active of these—landed cargoes in the coves about St. Bees Head.
From there goods were sent northward by the coast to Carlisle and the
Border, and eastward over the fells to Penrith, Kendal, and distant
towns and villages of the Pennine. The first route was early closed, but
that over the passes baffled the revenue officers for years. The head of
Ennerdale was quite out of the world then. The smugglers built rough
_caches_ to store their loads in wild weather, and even engineered with
skill a path over Great Gable in the direction of Borrowdale. To-day
this green band is known as Moses’s Sledgate. Moses, however, was not a
smuggler, but an illicit distiller who, after the decline of the finer
art, reared his “worm” in the wilderness.

                [Illustration: ENNERDALE LAKE AT SUNSET]

A long climb over grassy open common brings the cyclist from Egremont to
Ennerdale bridge: that irregular knot of houses, with its moss-veiled
church, was in the past a mountain metropolis. Wordsworth’s poem, “The
Brothers,” centres in this churchyard of the dale. As the poet thought
out his theme, through his mind there must have passed memories of that
grand, encircling chain of mountains, rugged Revelin, precipiced Pillar,
and scree-strewn Iron Crag, with many more. Only in one real particular
was the licence poetic indulged, for there were gravestones here, modest
indeed, flat among smothering grasses or fringing the boundary walls.

Perhaps not at Ennerdale, but in equally remote districts, the church
was used by smugglers. Under the rush-laid floor, cellars were dug to
contain kegs of liquor, the miserably paid parsons conniving, often
acting as selling agents. Church attendance would doubtless arouse more
enthusiasm among grown men in days when the spent bottle could be
exchanged after service for a full one, and there were “lashings” to
drink beside. In one place where the parson could not be brought to see
his “duty,” the kirkgarth was often tenanted by most eerie “corpse
lights,” and had to be shunned accordingly by all honest folks and
preventive men. Those “in the know,” however—and they were many—knew
that brandy and rum would be plentiful next day, for a new supply of
liquor had been hid in a raised vault, from which the parish clerk drew
it as need arose.

From Ennerdale bridge the road climbs a couple of miles to the lake: in
fact it somewhat overclimbs, for when at last the mere is viewed the
wanderer is about three hundred feet too high, and has to descend by a
very steep route to the Anglers Inn. That first glimpse is splendid: for
half a mile back the hedgerows have prevented the eyes from wandering
far, then suddenly bursts the glory. The waters deep beneath follow the
mood of the day; laugh and sparkle when the sun shines and a warm breeze
whispers; well gloomy and leaden when a host of clouds presses the
mountains and shadows the lake-basin; swoon tender and soft when
evening’s purple vapour drifts through passes and over summits, to
collect in a pool in the valley beneath; surge and heave in breakers
when a gale sweeps through the air; brood silent and sombre and still as
a slab of jet when winter clothes the sky with deepest blue and the
steeps with majesty of white.

              [Illustration: THE PILLAR ROCK OF ENNERDALE]

I prefer a boat for exploring the beauties of Ennerdale Water within and
without, for the road to Gillerthwaite is rough, and the path by Anglers
Crag not without some difficulty. Ennerdale within is represented by
some fine trout and by an occasional char. On this lake the char in
early autumn will come to the lure of a red ant. These insects at this
season develop feeble wings; they haunt the sandy soil near the lake and
are for ever essaying flights. A slight breeze is enough to sweep whole
crowds of them over the water; they fly to the end of their strength,
fall into the lake and are snapped up by the fish which lie in wait near
the surface. In winter the char resort to the main stream entering the
lake, for the purpose of spawning. For many years a certain part of the
beck was known as the Char Dub, for in it, in numbers sufficient to
render the bottom invisible, the shoals of fish lay. At the present day,
however, the diminished char elect to spawn on a shingle further up the

For its trout-fishing Ennerdale is justly noted: there can be little
finer sport than trolling here, the boat moving slowly on, the waves
lap-a-lap against its timbers. When the attention is taken from the
water, what a fine panorama of steep and rocky mountains!

Maytime among the mountains—a day of soft creeping shadows and warm
sunlight, the firmament white with lofty clouds, though here and there a
wide rag of blue shows between. The boat welts away from the pier;
clack, clack, fall the oars on to their pins, a moment later, to a
rumble and a churn of water, the rower falls to work. Local men do not
use the rowlock and the feathering oar; a rigid pin is fitted on the
side of the boat upon which a perforation in the oarshaft slots. The
contrivance has undoubted advantages to anglers, as the oars do not need
to be lifted inboard when not in use; secure on their pins they can
trail through the water. But why all lake boats should be so fitted is
beyond comprehension, for the superiority of the rowlock and the
feathering oar is palpable: a boat can be pulled faster and more easily,
and in moments of danger—which on a day of sudden squalls are
frequent—are not less reliable.

As our boat slips away, the upper lake, a field of splendid blue, comes
in sight. In mid-lake a tuft of rock claims attention—the boat glides to
it over the faint ripples. It proves indeed to be a cluster of loose
fragments, pushed up from the lake-floor to be a resting-place for the
birds of land and water. So piled are the stones that it seems
impossible human hands have not been busy in the midst of this waste of
waters. Anglers and others have proved by crude methods that the
protrusion is the crest of a sheer column of rock, or rocks as the case
may be. If the figures confidently given are approximately correct,
when, if ever, Ennerdale runs dry, an inaccessible pinnacle will be
found to puzzle our rock gymnasts. Herons alight here to meditate and
digest their toll of troutlets; and swift warriors of the air, buzzard,
peregrine, and more humble sparrow-hawk, hover down to the islet-rock to
rest and plan anew their forays. When afloat on Ennerdale the mountains,
with infinite variety of shadow and gleam, rock and grass and
downpouring water, demand most of my attention. I seldom look to the
lake’s outlet: it is a comparatively flat scene if your boat is past the
rugged slopes of Revelin. A long larch-wood fringes the shore—its
monotonous blob of green in strong contrast to the livelier fellside
dabbed with creamy, blooming hawthorns. Next to it, over a knot of
buildings, rises an unsightly shaft of brick, belonging to a
long-disused thread mill. The effect of rectangular wood and cylindrical
chimney is dreary, stupid; it apes a modernity which here, in God’s
wilderness, is at least unpicturesque.

Our vigorous friend at the oars has meanwhile brought us close to
Anglers Crag. The bottom of the lake remains invisible, though the
boat’s nose grates against the sheering rock; looking over the side,
through the clear water, the slabs drop lower and lower till gathering
gloom hides them from sight. The “crag” above, though steep, is quite
climbable; it is worth while going ashore to scramble for ten minutes.
The boat accordingly turns into a narrow bay where we may land on a
beach of shelving shingle. The bank above is plenteously strewed with
slabs of rock, though the “crag” is to our right. Up the hillside we
find our view rapidly extending to westward, though the mountains still
hem us in on all other sides. Shortly the sea is visible beyond smoky
West Cumberland. The forms of shipping can be made out, sailing the
channels through the shoals of Solway. And farther away still, if the
day be clear, the hills of Scotland rise in an undulating line of blue.
St. Bees Head is the only feature in a comparatively regular shore: a
mass of sandstone, it sheers up four hundred feet above the strand.
Here, on its very crest, once was a monastery, the lands of which were
won by a miracle. St. Bega and her zealots landed hereabouts and found
the people worshippers of strange Norse gods, unwilling to hear the new
gospel and impatient for the visitors to be gone.

“Your God is almighty!” sneered the chief, “I will give you all the land
in my domain that to-morrow bears snow. Your God is almighty; and you
need nothing from humans—ask Him, then, for snow.”

The morrow was Midsummer Day; at early morn the folks of the country
rose to find a mantle of cold, glistering white covering nearly all the
land betwixt mountain and sea. The chief’s jest was, so runs the tale,
carried out in full, and through war and peace the monks held to their
inheritance till smooth King Henry divided their lands to others.

Down we come to the lake edge again, to raid the haunt of coot and
heron—both birds not rare on Ennerdale Lake, the quietude of which is
just perfect. Our boat floats in as wild and savage a scene as is to be
made by mere and fell. The Char Dub is visited, the huge mass of Pillar
Crag noted at as near a point as possible. Now, coasting barren fields
above which the skylarks are trilling, and by shores decked with
star-primroses, we return from the wilderness to the forest lands of oak
and ash and alder.

Ennerdale Lake, though less visited than the other waters, is in its way
as beauteous as they.

                               CHAPTER IX
                          _BY SOFT LOWESWATER_

Close enfolded in the lap of mountains, Loweswater is seldom seen by the
casual tourist. At Scale Hill, a rugged ravine with a white river
dashing down, is pointed as the direction in which it lies. At the sight
of that crag-set hillside the cyclist turns regretfully and, down the
good Lorton road, speeds away for Cockermouth or Keswick. Yet if the
writer were compelled to seek another home among the Lakes, after
Rothay’s magic glen he would select Loweswater. And there are others who
would do likewise, who year after year come to the little secluded lake
for holiday. For tell it not loudly, its trouting is the best in the
Lake Country. The angling is not public, but it is possible to obtain
permission for a week’s pleasure. The trout rule large for our northern
waters, fish of over three pounds being landed every season.

                       [Illustration: LOWESWATER]

As mentioned already, the lake is hidden in the flank of Mellbreak, the
front of which sheds scree and occasional boulders into Crummock. For
ages the dell was a stronghold of the ’statesmen who lived on their own
holdings, but as hard times came the mischievous jointure system caused
one small estate after another to come into the market. Lucky the monied
in that dark era: the farmers grew despondent as their obligations
increased. After centuries of abstemity rum and whisky began to be
relished, with dire results. Wool which for long had stood at a good
price fell rapidly to almost a nominal figure. Desperate farmers did not
market their “clips” for several seasons in the hope that times would
mend. But old stock was finally sold at whatever price offered. The vast
imports from the new Australian colonies in the middle of last century
thus completed the destruction which the Repeal of the Corn Laws began.
Some who do not wish to see a return to Protectionism point out patches
cumbered with heather where wheat was cultivated in those days of
inflated prices. To force up prices that such wastes might become
profitable, they say, would not benefit the farmer, the shepherd, or the
dalesman now, as it did not in the past. The opponents to this view
point with equal confidence to the days when the ’statesman was firm on
his own soil, living and working at profit enough to pay out the
jointures placed on him in his father’s anxiety to “do fair by his own.”
A change, they sigh, might bring back those happy days. I take no side,
save to say that the highest tariff imaginable cannot bring back the
worthy, faulty ’statesman families. They are gone for ever. Strangers
dwell within their gates, and till their fields.

There are no great houses round Loweswater, no castle was ever built in
this domain of peace. The ancient farms, with their guardian yews, speak
of gone days. I never see the twin trees by a farmstead with the
inevitable box edge from gate to door without thinking of the old custom
of setting a bowl of box in the porch of the house where a corpse was
lying. Every one who visited was expected to take a sprig. Box grows
slowly—the hedge planted by a man is hardly seen at maturity by his
great-grandson; the Cumbrian peasant custom must have been an effectual
reminder to all of man’s narrow span on earth.

To me Loweswater is a great reminder of olden days. No glaring hotel, no
road traversed by hooting motor-cars or rattling coaches. A man can sit
far up the slope of Mellbreak, look down on placid water and quiet vale,
and allow his mind to ramble back fifty or a hundred years. He can
re-picture the old glen and its society. First the priest. His church
was small, his stipend ditto. As he was the head of society, christening
babies, marrying the grown, and burying the dead, so the schoolmaster
was generally the opposite. He was ordinarily despised, whereas the
parson sometimes was revered. During the week the vicar was a farmer
among farmers; he had a tithe of wool, could have sheep free on the
heafs above the enclosures, which his parishioners had to look after. He
took tithe of the sheaves at harvest, and of every kind of produce. The
greater part of the schoolmaster’s remuneration was in the shape of
victuals: he went “whittle-gate” by turns to the home of his pupils,
living a week here, a week there. He was scrivener and will-maker to the
parish where the priest did not take that office. He taught but few
subjects: reading, writing, little arithmetic. But sometimes there was
Latin and Greek and Hebrew for the really studious, as behind ale-soaked
clothes, and in a fuddled brain, a schoolmaster might possess real
classical knowledge. On the other hand, men who had had accidents at
other callings, or were too worthless for manual labour, drifted into
the teaching profession. Knowing only the merest rudiments and careless
of learning more, they could not benefit the children, and were often a
fearful example for them.

            [Illustration: THE OLD POST OFFICE, LOWESWATER]

One of the main amusements of old dales-life in winter was dancing,
either at merry nights, or at what were called “dancing classes.” To
provide the music for these lived a class of wandering minstrels. What
lives they led! I well remember poor old Tim, the last of these to come
within my sight. He came to our knot of houses just as dusk was falling.
He carried his fiddle in a green bag, and as he neared, took out the
instrument and tuned a single string. Then his old voice trolled out,
“Home, sweet home,” in faltering accents as he walked back and forward.
Ages ago minstrels played by the hearths of the great, and sang the
legends of golden renown: here Tim, tottering, his fiddle almost in
ruins, his voice quavering over the well-known words, trying to get from
poor cottagers enough to buy drink, or a night’s lodging. Poor Tim! His
story was sad. He had money left him when he was a hard-working
shoemaker nearly thirty years of age. To that time his only solace had
been in music. The legacy turned his head, and in a short six months he
was ruined. The little shop where he had mended boots was in the hands
of the bailiffs, his wife and children were on the road with him. For
awhile they travelled together, then the children were rescued by
relatives—the poor wife dragged along alone in the wake of the drunken
fiddler. At last too she faded away, died by a snow-covered roadside,
and Tim went down to the bed-rock of despair. “I want no money, give me
ale.” Fiddling here, and singing there till his voice gave way, he
wandered a score years. Many tried to rescue him; once his little shop
was restored him and for a whole summer he stuck to his “last.” But with
dark nights, music was required at the inn, and he was tempted again. He
trailed himself across from one merrymaking to another. He lived as he
might; he slept as he could. And the morning before I saw him a farmer
walking on the top of his hay-mow stepped on something that cracked.
“Dash thee! thoo’s brokken my fiddle, and I’ll hae to play at t’ Ploo
to-neet.” As he felt old age and death creeping on him, he wandered away
from the country-side which was his home, and put miles of flat country
between him and the mountains before the final call.

Another person who knew much of the dale in the old time would be the
dumb fortune-teller. Persons without the power of speech were always
credited in Cumbria with divination. The fortune-tellers were the most
respectable of vagabonds: they worked satisfactorily and were well paid.
No gloomy forecast was ever to my knowledge delivered. I have seen many
of their hieroglyphs, some in picture-writing, promising untold good to
the person who had consulted them. But the gipsies were, and are,
another matter. The pedlar, too, was a well-known figure; with his pack
on back he would go from farm to farm, selling all sorts of little
tempting things.

To come to the lake at last. It is one of our smaller meres, and the
quietest. It lies in a land of meadows, but lofty hillsides rise above
its glen. No boats are kept for public use, but a visitor can usually
arrange a loan with some farmer. Loweswater is not a lake to exhaust in
one afternoon: the cunning ones lodge by the week at the clean,
comfortable farms, enjoying the plain fare of rural Cumberland with a
delight bred of open air and keen exercise. The rod is hardly ever from
the waters, except for a siesta at midday—and not then if the day be
overcast, with a warm breeze kissing the water and enticing broods of
new insects from the depths. There are no char in Loweswater, though
attempts have been made at introduction: probably the water is hardly
deep enough to suit it.

To row out on a warm summer night and to fish here from midnight to dawn
is a splendid experience. Though along the northern ridges a pale
night-glow glimmers and fades, and the stars like diamonds glitter in
the light blue above, down on the level waters everything is gloom. The
man resting on his oars is a dark shadow: your companion’s “kent” face,
though he has turned toward the light, is a patch of featureless grey.
To see your fly it must be held high enough to come between your eyes
and the narrow swathe of light on the horizon. Your boat drifts through
the prattling wavelets slowly, slowly. Then along the line comes the
expected tremor: a fish at last. No use trying to play him—get him to
the surface: your tackle is strong enough to take some risks. Your rod
responds to its struggles, yet you cannot guess where the trout is.
Perhaps it may rush to the top and set up a faint wimple that catches
the night light. In a few minutes, however, the fish is tired out and
you draw it alongside. The largest of trout are nocturnal feeders, and
the angler is occasionally delighted by very heavy fish. Persons
unaccustomed to night on the water assert that the silence is almost
appalling: save for the ripples against the timbers there is no sound.
To me, however, there is pleasure in that far-off whistle of an otter;
in the churrs and twitters, hoots and shrieks, of night birds. There is
a romance in gloom of which garish day knows nothing. The fairy world
visits you again, and you witness gay revels in the starlight.

The lake to the angler, the hillside and the meadows to the wanderer,
are the charms of the vale. He who is not satisfied with the softly
trawling boat, the midge-worried hour of non-success, can ramble in the
woods and fields, with their glories of sedge and iris and cloying
meadow-sweet, and up the rivulets dancing down shadowy ghylls. Climb the
shoulder of Mellbreak, sit down every five minutes and look around. By
this method a full enjoyment of the peaceful vale will be obtained.
Notice the nearest things—the rose beetles: your friend down below in
the green old boat will be sighing for such a one as that just turned
over; and that crushing mass of parsley fern which, though the whole
hillside is open to it, sticks close by that grey, weathered stone. The
lake is now quite small below, a mere dot shows you the lazily floating
boat: think scornfully now of the angler and his petty work. Look
beyond, the great moors rolling toward St. Bees, the hills fining down
to the North Cumberland plain, the Derwent here and there gleaming
between banks of living green. Criffel and the Dumfries-shire hills,
across the Solway. A patch of smoke shows the cathedral city of
Carlisle, and you feel a pity for the workers under that pall. They
think they see the sun shine, but you in a purer air rejoice in a more
life-giving light than that pale gleam they praise. The bracken too is
here, unfolding its last tendrils, and away goes a single red grouse
with a mighty whirr and a squauking “Go back!”

A sound of human and canine voices comes now to the ear; and turning an
outstanding rock, we come immediately to a busy scene. It is a
sheep-washing; to the clamour of dogs, and the whistling and shouting of
shepherds, are added the bleatings of two thousand sheep. One drove is
on the hillside above marshalled by a pair of collies, another is below,
threading an almost unseen track toward some distant holding. A shepherd
is in charge of these, his dogs scouting to right and left. No straggler
can bolt into the confusion of sheep in the little glen. Here a dam has
been built just below a rudely piled fold. The sheep are driven into an
outer court, then drafted into a small inner space. From this they are
thrown into the water, which has been collecting since yesterday (so
meagre is the stream), where men standing waist deep catch them. Holding
the sheep’s head above water these quickly pass hands back and forward
over the fleece, raising it so that water penetrates to the under-wool.
This done to satisfaction the sheep are allowed to swim out. When one
flock has been washed, it is sent to the portion of unfenced hillside
from which it came. The scene is one of bustle; the work is arduous too,
some of the men have been collecting and driving down their flocks since
early dawn. Shortly after the washing, comes the day of “clipping,” when
the fleece is removed, but the days of great “clippings” are past. Wool
becomes ripe at different periods; and instead of treating the flock on
a certain day only, the shepherd now shears as fast as fleeces are

Standing above the washing pool we look down on the little animated
patch—the struggling ewes, the water turgid with “dip,” the skilful men
in water and on land, the ’cute collies watching their master’s flock
and allowing no stranger to enter it. Beyond the dry stones of the
river-bed, in a vista bounded by the steep sides of the gully, we see
the lake in all its beauty. Woods, fields, diminished with distance, yet
seem but over the brink of the chasm there.

Now from heather and bracken we return to green pastures and to the
little ivied farmhouse, with old-fashioned doorway and chimney, which is
our temporary home. All is peace around: the rookery is hardly heard
across the intervening fields; the raven, in the blue above, scarce in
all its wheels and hovers sends down one menacing croak. The day is
spent, and up the western sky spreads a suffuse of crimson, flecked with
wisps of cloud; at last night draws on, softly, bluely, creeping into
the hollows of the hills and into the deeper shadows; the radiant lake
dies from crimson to grey, and then, to the clatter of rowlocks, our
boat comes home to the grassy pier.

                               CHAPTER X
                            _CRUMMOCK WATER_

Two chief routes bring you easily to Crummock Water—the first to Scale
Hill at its foot, the other to its head, over Newlands Hause. From
northward, as you approach, the hills on either side the vale of Lorton
rise to higher flights, to greater ruggedness. At Scale Hill there is a
sudden glimpse up the lake, a silvery level stretching far into the
mountain land. Your way has wound round a great tumulus of rock and
larch and oak which chokes the vale, to bring you so quickly to this
lovely view.

            [Illustration: CRUMMOCK WATER, FROM SCALE HILL]

Wild and stern is Crummock. All is particularly gloomy and forlorn on an
afternoon threatening snow. The hillsides start up grey and stark and
desolate. The only sounds you hear are the occasional yelp of a sheep
dog in the fields near by and the sulky croak of a raven, a black spot
up there where a grim cloud is hovering, shutting out the life of day,
and sending the weather-wise sheep cluthering to sheltered spots by
ghyll and fence. Suddenly the grey firmament above drops on to the
hilltops and smothers them. Then snow begins to flutter, first in single
flakes, then in a small shower which grimes the nearer fields and paths.
Finally the storm giant asserts himself and a continuous shadow of white
falls around. That far-off mist-wall which showed the head of the vale
is shut off; only a few yards of grey lake trembling and tossing into
little waves as the north wind harries it. At such a time it is well to
seek shelter, for the gale may be wild and strong as day dies, and the
snow fall in winding sheets. Rather, then, turn indoors and listen to
stories of stress—the shepherd can tell you of peril faced for the sake
of his flock; the postman, of danger in his daily round: men as wild and
strong and devoted in their way as pioneer-heroes in a cannibal land,
and as deserving to furnish matter for stories of renown. Through rain
and shine, when torrents brawl havoc, rending bridges like straws, when
drifts hide even the tall tree tops,—

  “The service admits not a ‘but’ or an ‘if’”

and the gritty postman, by one device or another, wins through with his
mails to solitary farm or wild moorland hamlet. And they live long,
despite their hardships, as witness one who, after a day’s wrestle with
the unbanded elements, was asked how he fared.

“Why, man, it’s wild on t’ top. I tried to git ower t’ moor, but I
couldn’t. I gat to that lile [little] black planting, hooivver, aboot
halfway, and I rested a bit. Then I said to mesel, I said, ‘Noo, Wat,
thoo’s faced it four and fifty year, thoo sureli isn’t gaen to gie in
noo.’ And at that I set tull again, and I gat ower; but it was hard
wark, mindst ta.”

By calm hearth the dalesmen tell their stories; the gale rumbles against
the house, and the windows tinkle to the driving of snowflakes. By
morning the storm has passed, the ground is deep in snow, sky and
hilltops are clear, stars still shine down on a scene of quietness and
savage peace. Soon dawn-beams fire the east, and the summits are touched
with rose. With full day the greyness clinging to the mountain flanks
disappears, revealing riven glens and beetling crags. A boat is being
launched for an expedition to seek what wild fowl may during the storm
have taken refuge on the lake, and on it we go. On the open water the
cold is terrible; pulling with might and main would hardly relieve the
numbness of hands and feet, but our game is wary and any incautious
rattle of oars would send them beyond reach. For half an hour we put up
with the discomfort, then find that the boat is leaking badly and that a
baler has to be used freely to keep the floors from floating. We ask to
be put ashore!

On the road, walking is less difficult than we had imagined. At one
place is quite a hundred yards of wind-swept path, but at a gateway the
soft snow is piled deep. It is hard work passing even occasional drifts
where you wade waist-deep for yards. At places the road between cliff
and lake is so blocked that we climb along the open hillside. Now from
an outstanding crag above the road we have a view of the lake and its
surroundings. The water lies in a huge trough, bounded by immense walls
of mountain, hardly ever falling far enough back to allow an alluvial
meadow to slip between. Mellbreak! What a mighty mass! White are the
wide fans of scree, but black and frowning the tiers of precipice. Above
in a grand sweep comes the head of the mighty monarch, from which the
sunshine is striking a thousand frost spangles. The sky is deep blue
overhead. Hark to the croaking of the ravens; they seem to have found
some carrion—perhaps a dead sheep—in yonder ghyll, and down they come,
one, two, three, in all six, a crowd for these unsociable birds. Some of
the ghylls are choked with snow, but others show black, rocky rents in
the snowfields. Particularly I look for the great ravine down which
comes Scale Force, the highest of our waterfalls. Once I climbed that
gorge on a moonlit night in winter. Never to be forgotten that scene! An
opal sky streaming with faint beams of aurora, tall crags closing the
chasms, the fern-like alders limned against the starry glow above, the
water rolling in pearly waves over the rock-edge toward me, then falling
through an unseen zone to trouble the darkling pool at my feet.

Part of our homeward route lies through woodlands, where we watch a busy
squirrel visiting its _cache_ of nuts, and where, among the snow-laden
branches, scores of little birds flit and twitter. Once we hear a
buzzard mewing high above, and a sparrow-hawk’s raucous voice, but
neither bird is seen.

Crummock in midsummer is a dream of delight. Once lately, on a warm
summer evening, I cycled up its shore from Scale Hill. The road is
rather gritty and loose of surface, but quite ridable. The sun was
dipping toward the mountain ridges, pouring a flood of glorious light
into the valley. From the lake came the chunk-unk of oars; two
heavy-laden boats were being pulled toward the foot of the lake, and
soon a clear young voice rippled across the water to us the charming
strains of “Killarney.” What a sublime scene! Lofty Mellbreak sheering
from the water’s edge, Grassmoor and many another craggy giant sweeping
up to invisible heights above us, the golden green of new bracken, the
purple bloom of heather, here and there an emerald patch of larches. To
me there is infinite change in a view over a wide lake. Those huge,
irregular phantoms are the shadows of a cloud above: they sweep across
the lake, then dull the mountainside; drop away into some deep glen,
pass on to dim far-away summits ere they slide over the horizon. The
emotions of the heavens are reflected in God’s mirror beneath. Should a
thunderstorm gather, then the lake is cast in gloom, sable ripples heave
and fall. To the roaring of heaven’s artillery and the blinding flare of
lightning, the fury approaches, passes, and the water wimples and
rejoices in the falling curtains of rain. After storm, how noble and
sweet that restful bosom! With fresh sunlight the land renews life and
hope. The down-bent harebell rises again to dance in the gentle airs
that play about; the heather casts off its gleaming pearls—down the
sinewy fronds of bracken runs a tribute to the thin soil. Birds burst
forth in wild chorus: the throstle and the blackbird make the rowaned
ghylls resound; wagtails, wrens, linnets, each pipe their tuneful parts.
To these from on high joins in the ringing of the skylark—a wild song of
defiance to the storm, of thanks for coming calm to the Most High. And
the lake, ruffled with passing breezes, seems to rejoice as well. There
is a fragrance of earth and air and land after a summer storm on
Crummock Water.

             [Illustration: CRUMMOCK WATER AND BUTTERMERE]

Away across the lake, by the bouldery ness the torrent of Scale has
driven into the mere, are two islets, and from one a smudge of smoke is
travelling lazily. What more delightful than to have a foretaste of the
joy of picnicing there? The road now inclines from the water, and we
climb toward the village of Buttermere where a new series of views

Perhaps fewer people live by Crummock than by any other lake: the fells
hem it in too closely for farms to be settled. There is much shepherding
on the commons, where flocks wander unchecked over wide areas. It was in
a scene similar to this that a touring Devonian ventured to tell his
Cumberland host that he did not think much of this sort of country, for,
he explained:

“Down in Devonshire we have land, we can grow apples, and we have green

“Div ye mean ther’s nae land here?” said the Cumbrian, sweeping his hand
toward jagged crag, sleeping lake, and boulder-strewn field. “Why, man,
ther’s that mich land here that it hes to be piled togither, one farm on
top o’ t’other. Why, man, ther’s eneu’ land to mak’ fifty farms i’
Benkle Crag theer.”

“Aye,” assented the Devonian grimly, “and enough waste water to till the
lot there,” pointing to the shimmering lake.

The wild moorland above the lake is one of the few remaining English
breeding-places of the dotterel. This is a migrant of the plover type
from high latitudes; odd pairs are apt to stay all summer, and to rear
broods. The nest is increasingly rare: for collectors will give long
prices for a complete clutch of eggs, and the native shoots the bird on
sight, for no more successful lure for trout exists than a fly made from
the underwing of a dotterel. I have declined £5 offered to disclose the
whereabouts of a nest. Once I undertook to show a naturalist a nest, but
though I had marked the place ever so carefully I failed to give him
“the sight of a lifetime.” There are great difficulties in the way of a
non-resident again finding, in a maze of benks and boulders, ghylls and
riggings, so small an object as a dotterel’s nest. Other summer birds of
the mountains are the ring-ouzel, a white-throated blackbird, the
peregrine, the kestrel, and the sparrow-hawk. The bittern no longer
booms in the upper glens or by the lake; hen-harriers and their kindred
are also gone. But the wailing of the curlew still rings in our ears,
the plover is never at rest, and the sinister “dowk” or carrion crow
gorges on every dead carcase on the uplands. Of lesser birds, by every
rill you see the pretty dipper in his uniform of brown and white, and
less often the bright metallic sheen of the kingfisher. Winter brings
the fieldfare and redwing to the mountain valleys, with now and then a
flock of snow buntings. On the lake too come the pochard and the golden
eyed ducks from the frozen North, with rarer species such as the
sheldrake, the wigeon, and the shoveller.

                               CHAPTER XI

Buttermere is Crummock’s sister-lake, divided only by half a mile of
level, swampish meadows. Doubtless, in early ages, the twain formed one
long water, reaching from the foot of Fleetwith eight miles to the hill
at Scale. In size the upper lake is much the smaller: even more than
Crummock it is a mountain mere. The fells rising from its shores are
among the lofty ones of the Lake Country: Red Pike and High Stile with
their back views into Ennerdale, Robinson and Hindscarth facing the vale
of Derwent and far-away Skiddaw, and Brandreth hiding behind Fleetwith.
Buttermere is a solitary place: the presence of the hamlet, the
sheep-farms, the small, dark woodlands, and the one mansion on a head
driven out by the activities of a fell beck, almost accentuate its
loneliness, for the bare pikes of mountain dwarf them almost away. It is
the coach-road which brings the idea of modern life and relationships
here. It runs close to the lake, and every day in summer and autumn a
procession of vehicles passes along just before the luncheon hour. From
Keswick they have started—coach, char-a-banc, wagonette, or more lordly
landau, wheeled into lovely Borrowdale to the merry crack of the whip
and gleesome blast of horn; with a long pull, they have been hauled up
steep Honister Hause, with a brake-wrenching plunge they have safely
negotiated the narrow shingle-shelf called a road. Timorous passengers
have shrunk in terror as they gazed at awful depths below, but now all
nerves compose themselves as the hooves rattle on the hard, undulating
road by the lake-side. After a suitable rest the horses will draw the
crowd away over Newlands Hause, where out of the green hillsides a road
has been delved, to Keswick, and our dale and lake will forget
disturbance till to-morrow. The eternal silence of a mountain-land will
fall around and render rapturous evening and night and blithesome
morning. To drive from Keswick to Buttermere and return is no mean item
in a tourist’s day; it is a noble day’s work for horses, and only good
ones can endure frequent journeys over these rugged passes. Even the
“easier” slope of Honister is sufficient to “break many a horse’s

                   [Illustration: HEAD OF BUTTERMERE]

The villaget of Buttermere was apparently unknown to Roman, Saxon, and
the building tribes of old; its only historic building is the lowly
public-house where the Maid of Buttermere dwelt. Mary was the belle of
the glen in good King George’s day—a blithesome Cumberland lass, bonny
enough to charm a yeoman’s eye, wealthy enough in a modest way to bring
his love and hand. But she was not for the dalesmen or the shepherds of
the mountains. Her fate was ripe when one day a post-chaise brought to
the little inn a grand gentleman from Keswick. His dress was fine, his
looks noble, he had plenty of money. He gave himself out to be Colonel
Hopetown, son of a peer and otherwise highly connected. Soon the guest
condescended to woo the Beauty, and ere a short summer passed they were
married. A few weeks later the “colonel” was arrested on a charge of
forgery—“franking” letters with his “relative’s” name to pass the Post
Office—and was proved to be the son of menial parents. Many other and
viler frauds had he practised after leaving the South Country, but these
he was never called to book for on this earth. Forgery was a crime
involving death under the merciless penal code of those days, and the
impostor duly suffered at Carlisle. Mary of Buttermere, so forcibly
parted from her husband, did not repine him long, but married a
neighbouring farmer and lived to a good old age. The small chapelry of
Buttermere was, some time previous to the happenings mentioned, held by
one of Wordsworth’s heroes, “Wonderful Walker,” the curate of Duddonside
Seathwaite, whose life-story of labour and frugality was once so well
known and esteemed. How he lived several years in his office here is
almost a “wonder” in itself, for Buttermere allowed its priest no more
than “whittle-gate” and twenty shillings yearly. (Some accounts aver
that the remuneration was “clog-shoes, harden-sark, whittle-gate, and
guse-gate”—that is, a pair of shoes clogged or iron-shod, a coarse shirt
once a year, free living at each parishioner’s house for a certain
number of days, and the right to pasture a goose or geese on the
common.) Either scale would not be too luxurious for even a successor of
the Apostles, bound to forswear the lusts of the flesh and the pride of
life. The person who held Newlands chapel in the time of George II. was
a tailor, a clogger and butterpat maker, and the Mungrisdale priest had
£6 0_s._ 9_d._ a year. Such cures were often held by unordained
persons—hedge-parsons with a vengeance.

The day I first came to Buttermere forms one of my fairest memories.
Starting before midnight on the opposite edge of Lakeland, at daybreak I
stood on Dunmail raise; by breakfast-time I reached Keswick; then I went
up Skiddaw by way of Latrigg, descending by the same route—the only one
I then knew of on that shoulder of the mountain; at noon I was on
Newlands Hause, plodding on cheerily. Hot and grimed with dust, my eyes
bleared with sweat and the glare, I wonder if I looked so disreputable,
so much of a tramp, as I felt. A stripling of seventeen, not stoutly
built, poor in dress and pocket (I left home with 1_s._ 9½_d._ and
returned with but 3_d._ less), carrying on my back a satchel with food
for my day, to be eaten in the open air and washed down with water;
there would be little jauntiness of face or body or stride, I trow,
after that forty-eight miles’ tramp. And this was not the end of the
journey. Buttermere was only the Mecca, the turning-point, of my walk;
after passing it I turned up rugged Honister for Borrowdale, and then by
the Stake pass to Langdale, and so home. Perhaps it were unmannerly to
boast, but eighty-five miles of road, mountain, glen, and pass, in
twenty-five and a half hours, is not a feat of my every-day. As I
entered the valley that day the clouds closed down, shutting off the
beating sunrays and throwing a light, refreshing shower. Like the
mountain daisies, the wanderer for a full minute raised a rejoicing face
to the cooling raindrops. Then, like the sky, he felt a trouble. “Nay,
nay, it’s nobbut cestin’ a shooer,” said an aged shepherd, and my heart
was comforted. Not long before I had walked thirty miles through pouring
rain, and found it no light matter. Like a soft slab of slate the lake
stretched from the fringe of treetops before to the stony, scrubby
hillside opposite. Save where coots and water-hens played by the sedges
and rooty river-mouths, the surface was calm, the light rain merged into
the water without splash or circle. The hillsides round Buttermere are
furrowed into ravines, dark and gaping they split the festive green
swathes of summer-tide. And down these hollows dash lively rivulets
playing hide-and-seek, mazily threading through shadow of alder and
rowan, by groves of flowering hawthorns, now lost in the depths of a
ghyll, now spouting in lively haste over a ledge curtained with fern and

              [Illustration: HONISTER PASS AND BUTTERMERE]

It is a rare pleasure to be at Buttermere after a series of rain-storms.
From the rockrib wherefrom the church commands its little flock, you
look into a great amphitheatre of crag-set mountains. Beneath the eye is
the water; it seems to be palpitating with movement from the rich riot
its tributaries are hurling down the steeps. See how it wimples beneath
the farther shore—through a wide rent in the lake-bed untold gallons of
water are being forced upward from the heart of the earth; that flat
circle in mid-lake against which the creeping catspaw of wind in vain
forces its feeble ripples shows another fountain swelling up in quiet
power. The steep hillsides are seamed with threads of white; Sour Milk
ghyll, in a shimmering veil, sways from skyline to lake-shore. Where
often a hermit stream hides and glides behind crest of rock, beneath
screen of bracken, now is all tearing, jumping, spreading fosse. Every
fold in the hillside casts down its bounding cascade; there is nothing
in the air so loud as this turmoil of waters, this joy-song of deeps
bursting from dark prisons in bog and crag. Already, we are warned, the
paths to Wastdale and Ennerdale are impassable; the floods are out at
Gatescarth. Climbing would be a questionable pleasure to-day;
“beck-dodging” is far more suitable. At first our road is dry, washed
free from dust by the heavy rain; through wide culverts the floods
rumble beneath. The wider becks are bridged: look up this tree-hung
gullet and see how the waters wilder down. Not in waves do they come,
but in great gush after great gush, green and white. How they crash
against unseen rocks, throwing feathers of spray at every shock, till
the stream shooting beneath the arch seems but a flying mass of airy,
tortured foam! There comes the sprite, the winged spirit of the day,
robed in brown and white—the dipper, our mountain water-crow. How it
chirrups and revels in the tumult! how it flirts its tiny wings and
dives through some curling gout of spray! how it scolds the volume
roaring through the darkened tunnel beneath the road, causing it, O
highly important fairy, to flight up like a mere blackbird, among the
dripping plumes of larch!

“Boat ahoy!” we shout anon, and our friend afloat a field’s breadth away
waves answer; in a minute the boat is grinding the gravel, and we are
almost down the soaking field to reach it.

“What, tired of fishing?” we ask. He is a desperate keen one with the
rod as a rule, yet his tackle is packed up.

“No,” he grumbles, “can’t catch anything.”

“Now I did think to-day would suit you. Good spates in the becks, a
light breeze, and plenty of cool clouds,” I marvel.

“Now look here,” protested the angler wearily, “it’s no good talking
like that. The floor of this lake is leaking upwards as though the steam
was escaping by a thousand cracks in the ceiling of the nether regions
and being condensed into Buttermere. Why, man, the lake bottom’s that
lively that the trout and the char, the big pike down to the tiny
minnow, are all having a job to hold the water at all. I bet every
minute they’re expecting a geyser that’ll blow the whole lot of ’em over
Red Pike to Ennerdale.”

When an angler relapses into this mood he is hopeless to cheer, so we
silently respect his sorrows. Perhaps into that vigorous pulling he will
throw some of his despondency. Now Fleetwith, flanked by the precipice
of Honister, is frowning at us over the low fields. To the right,
against a background of watery clouds, is limned rugged Scarf Gap; the
path to it is white with rushing waters. The rocks everywhere glimmer
with oozing springs: down Honister pass a wide torrent is foaming,
attracting to it many a milky force from Robinson and Fleetwith-side.
The scraggy stone-pines by the lake-head give a characteristic finish to
this scene of sodden brae and spouting rill. Save for the sycamores
round the farm of Gatesgarth, there is hardly a tree for shelter; the
aspect is bleak and storm-riven. The boat is run on to the shingles
beneath the Scotch firs that we may land. Not far away is the main road;
we pass up the hillside beyond it. In the recess beneath Fleetwith we
are conscious of a flood indeed. Much of the stony level is swamped;
with difficulty the sheep have been brought from danger, and are flocked
near the farmstead. The torrents rushing in at the head of the mere can
be traced, first by white horses, then by dark, level-flowing currents,
far down the lake. From this height we again feel that the great water
is rocking in its cradle of mountains. The furrows of incoming rills
give the peculiar idea of ever-changing level to the water. I have never
yet seen the whole level to Scale under water—one lake of eight miles
instead of two smaller ones—but viewed from these heights it must be a
noble sight indeed. Our boat pushed into the in-dashing beck, rapidly
rides to halfway down the lake, thence by carefully avoiding
unfavourable currents we easily make our landing-place.

To my mind, the valley is hardly less interesting when a thick winter
mist glooms it, when, for all you can see, there is no difference
between Honister top, the crest of Robinson, and the stony fields round
Gatescarth. Under such circumstances it is well to be afloat an hour,
and allow impressions to establish themselves in your mind. Twenty yards
out you lose the land: the boat glides along in a grey circle of moving
fogbeards and rippling waters. Save for the sounds from bow and rowlock
you are in a dead silence. Shortly, however, the ear catches faint
echoes: the croak of the raven, the skirl of the curlew, ranging in
clear upper air, with now and then the attenuated bleat or low or crow
from the farmlands. In mid-lake there are few sounds of water-birds,
though at an odd time a coot, traversing the width, may show, a scared
patch of brown and white, inside your zone of vision. The lake-birds are
cuttering softly close inshore, finding the curtain of cloud an
effective cloak for feeding. An hour of boating thus, in gloom and rowk,
will form an experience not to be forgotten.

                   [Illustration: THE BORROWDALE YEWS

The fishing of Buttermere is now in a few hands: sportsmen have leased
the mere and devoted much attention to its re-stocking. The result is
that few anglers outside this coterie come here, though on an occasional
day the mountain becks are worthy attention. Most visitors here are
active enough to relish rambles over the fells, and there are many
routes to select from. Away from the narrow band of meadow-land touching
the lake, there are few obstacles to free-and-easy wanderings. Sheep
walks are divided by wire fences, but these are fairly negotiable, by
climbing over at the “posts” or squeezing between the running strands
where slackest. Stout folks find the latter the preferable method. To
make the circuit of the glen of the lake is a fairly big task, but it
can be divided into three moderate courses. You start by crossing the
meadows and climbing Scale Force brow, then, left-handed, along Red Pike
and High Stile (over bog and bracken, across ghyll and up steep, with a
glimpse into Ennerdale here, a peep through Newlands at Derwentdale
there, and always the moor in sight, with a clean, sweet breeze and, if
the day be clear, a wedge of blue sea on the horizon), finally
descending into Scarf Gap, the home of mists, where an easy return path
ends course one. From Scarf Gap, into the back-o’-beyont country behind
Haystacks, and to Brandreth with its legs into Buttermere, Ennerdale and
Borrowdale, always keeping to the right, and ending the course over
Fleetwith to Honister Hause. From Brandreth it is easy to pass over
Green Gable to Great Gable, and so to gain Wastwater. Honister pass-head
is the scene of a legendary battle between Britons and Picts, or between
Angles and Scots—history hardly decides which. One party had been
a-foraying in Borrowdale and hoped to withdraw over this pass with their
spoil; their pursuers, however, cut them off and, after a wild
resistance, recovered the cattle. From Honister Hause—it is a wild place
of rocks and screes and untamable streams—the final stage carries the
wanderer over Dale Head to Hindscarth, whence he descends by Robinson to
Buttermere or to Newlands Hause.

Every one walks up Honister as a matter of course. What is it like on a
bright July day, when the beating heat is tempered by a smart breeze?
Every rambler should live with eyes open to nature; to-day will repay
him his interest. Up in the brilliant blue ravens and hawks are
hovering, crows and rooks are ever passing over the glen. From one wood
to another the wild pigeon wings rapidly, the blackbirds in the hedges
are busy at their nestage duties. Take note of the flowers, O man with
seeing eyes. In the pastures are great purple spikes of loose-strife,
amid the white waves of ox-eyes; round by the lake are belts of blue
lobelia. The air is full of the scent of meadow-sweet, the honey-suckle
here and there throws trailers, adorned with creamy bloom, along the
hedges, and in great clusters blow the wild roses. Up the shady
beck-courses you might find the blue forget-me-not and the still bluer
birdlime, and in the mossy springs the violet-shaped butterwort.
Butterflies and dragon-flies, softer moths and gaudy beetles, are
attracted by the multi-flavoured feast spread about.

Now we come to Gatescarth, the largest sheep-farm within many a mile. A
noted breeder of mountain sheep lives here, one who has done much to
improve our semi-wild Herdwicks—much honour to him. The farmlands, even
in the glorious to-day, look harsh and bare, though the soft, short
sward is of the greenest. In winter there is often severe stress here;
at times the shepherds are called upon to collect, in a day of storm,
the flocks from far-off crags and ghylls. Long hours are spent battling
the elements, collecting the unwilling sheep, and bringing them down.
The wanderer here on a stormy winter night is not unlikely to see a
light patrolling far up the hillsides—one of the belated shepherds
patiently driving his sheep down from the danger of flood and drift and
gale. The white cross which is attracting the eye, O inquirer, is
erected to the memory of a young lady accidentally killed at that spot:
“In the midst of life we are in death,” is carved on it. The incident is
one to make every mountaineer pause and think. It was an everyday risk,
alas! The lady descending a steep slope held her alpenstock straight in
front of her; the point struck the ground, but the lady slipped, her
chin caught on the butt of the stick and, such was the force of the
fall, her neck was dislocated, causing immediate death. Such an accident
is possible a score times in every day’s walk here. Now the great crag
of Honister is frowning by our very side. Around its base the rambler
will find broad tracts of alpine ladies’ mantle, while forked spleenwort
and many a rare plant besides are among the screes and shelving rocks.
Among the grass and boulders near our path are long fantastic growths of
stagshorn moss, with more alpine ladies’ mantle, with wild thyme, the
precious eyebright and yellow tormentil lifting their lovely heads in
the desolate wilderness. Now we reach the passhead: Honister is the
wildest of our passes, the place where the great thews of Nature are
least hid. But the slate quarries make Honister less desirable to some
eyes; great confusions of debris, railroads sweeping up into the bowels
of the great crags; for nowadays men do not work here, as they did in
Wordsworth’s time, hanging down the cliff in frail basket-chairs tapping
and blasting the surface rock, nor do they carry down the slate on
handsledges as they did two score years or so ago. The mining is more
scientific—more reliance is placed on machinery than on men. The new
railroad, carrying slates to Seatollar has improved one thing at any
rate—there is far less of that penetrating screaming of brakes than when
the loaded carts descended the pass-road. On a calm day the racket could
be heard for miles.

                 [Illustration: LODORE AND DERWENTWATER
                            A summer’s morn]

                              CHAPTER XII
                      _THE CHARMS OF DERWENTWATER_

Proud Cumberland ranks Derwentwater as queen of the English Lakes; but I
was born south of Dunmail raise, and feel at liberty to worship at other
altars. To see the lake at its best one needs be afoot long before the
coaches and motors appear. A road smothered in dust clouds, an
atmosphere quivering with clatter, the fumes of petrol and the general
unpleasantness of heavy traffic, detract from the most imperious beauty.
At daybreak the town is almost silent: sweet mountain air has descended
to dissipate the closeness of midnight; the songs of larks and throstles
are wafted into the medley of houses and streets from the fields and
woods; the murmur of flowing Greta is pleasant indeed. On Friars Crag
you may meet an early visitor, and at the landings a boatman is cleaning
up. As you stand there, in a pleasant but undeniable way the waters
call. “A boat, sir? Certainly. Will you wait till I’ve finished here?”
And you watch the man haste on his scrubbing and polishing. In two
minutes he scrambles on to the pier, selects oars and cushions, sees you
safe in your place, and gives a push off.

As yet no other boat is astir: you have the wide expanse to yourself.
From Friars Crag scores of people in the summer watch the sun set. And
at the close of a clear day the scene is glorious, even sublime. Around
a hundred peaks, ranging from noble Skiddaw to humble Swineside and
Catbells, the shafts of light fall and ebb. Here in the rift between two
summits is a stretch of purple, there a patch of rosy light fades on a
scree-seamed brae. If the sun sets in a flurry of crimson cloud the
spectators will hardly take their eyes from the lake: the reflections of
the sky are so charming, so magnificent. No painter could match the
evanescent changes, the kindlings of the sky, the soft portrayal of each
living flame on the shimmering water, the green gloom of overhanging
mountains. What boots it if the fiery splendour is a presage of rain
when so splendid a pageant is the forecast? To your left is rocky
Derwent Isle. Fountains Abbey held it, before the Dissolution of
Monasteries, as Vicars Isle; it has had half a dozen names since.
Secluded, a fringe of trees hiding its narrow lawn, a house stands here
which for sheer romantic situation would be hard to beat in the Lake
Country or wide England. I would sit in an upper room there, on a day of
April squalls. First in the grey nor’-east I would see the storm clouds
gather darkly behind the cone of Skiddaw.

             [Illustration: DERWENTWATER, FROM CASTLE HEAD
                           A bright morning]

Derwentwater is lap-lapping merrily against the stony beaches beyond the
green sward, every wave wearing a sunlit crown. The great hollows of the
mountain range are now filled with battling vapour; from right and left
round lower summits they move to desperate attack—dun curls of
skirmishers in front, heavy phalanxes of infantry grey behind. Down the
air comes a whisper of riot and war, and with soundless impact we see
the two hordes meet, shock, and mingle. Jagged as with unseen artillery,
the battle sways from end to end; then, like a bolt of Jove, over brawny
Skiddaw hurls a deluge of rain-sodden grey, the strife ceases, a sharp,
steady line of mists cuts off the seen from the unseen. Now a grey
shadow steals over the land, the bubbling life is chilled from the
waters, and they rattle black and harsh against the cobble-stones. But
on Grange fell the russet bracken is bathed in ephemeral sunshine. The
shadow in the air grows darker, the distance is obscured with the grime
of rain. The nearer hills, the fields, the town, are blotted out ere the
full fury of the squall shakes our window and shrieks among the island
trees. Like crest of cruelly spurred horse, the waves toss high, the mad
gusts catch the rising gouts, wrench them clear into the air and hustle
them along to crash in resounding sheets far up the shore. No boat was,
we recollect with pleasure, visible before the squall descended: it
would go hard with such a one just now. One experience of a squall on a
mountain lake is enough for the most daring. I remember my baptism in
such manner vividly. The yacht had but one sail spread to the breeze,
but maniac Boreas caught it, pinned us down while water poured into the
well, wrenched and screamed and worried at the mast and gear till that
went overboard with a crash, then, with a final paroxysm, spun the hulk
round and passed away over a waste of churning, creaming waters. More
comfortable to face the gale with thin glass in front than to fare like
that. The trees bend like switches, but the gloom is now rising from
north-east. In a minute a flood of sunlight is pouring down, waking to
brilliance the flooded lawn, and making sparkle the drop-decked boughs.
Look into the wake of the retiring storm. The lake is still leaping
white and racing along; a dim film hides the crags above Grange: now it
passes, so quickly as almost to make one start at the rapid change. It
would be dowly living at Derwent Isle when fog dark and drear hid lake
and town: one might feel lonesome when the blizzards whistled and
fumbled against window and door, and the waves crashed without the snug
retreat. But how joyous this morning, when the sun is aloft and day has
risen refreshed from the bath of night and is newly beginning a pageant
of song and life and changing colour!

Further up the lake is Lord’s Isle, where once lived the Earls of
Derwentwater. On the attainder and execution of the last of the title
the mansion fell into ruins: some of its stone was used in building
Keswick market-hall. The last earl was much loved in Cumberland; he was
staunch to the Stuarts, as were most Northern gentry, and intrigued
widely to bring about their return. When the first Pretender landed,
bringing such sorry allies and little promise beyond, the earl foresaw
that insurrection would be useless and dangerous to the participants. He
argued that, although the Stuart was in Scotland, no rebellion need be
attempted in the North of England until the party there were better
prepared. In the secret council the earl was held little better than a
traitor; at home his wife accused him of cowardice, demanding his sword
and horse that a Derwentwater, though a woman, might take the accustomed
place in the battle for King James. The earl was no coward: he took the
mocked sword from his wife, and cast himself into the turmoil of
rebellion. It is history that the rising was crushed with ease, and that
as a ringleader the earl was beheaded on Tower Hill. Powerful men at
court sued unavailingly for the young noble’s pardon. Money was lavished
on the king’s favourites in vain. To raise funds the countess came north
to the island-home; the Cumbrians, incensed at her forcing the Earl into
the plot to save his honour at her hands, gave her a chilly reception.
Legend luridly asserts that her horses were stolen while she was on the
island, and that she and her servants were threatened. At dead of night
a boat was rowed to near Lodore, where the lady landed and escaped by
way of the fells to Penrith and the south. With her she carried a large
quantity of jewels, which were offered to save the young husband’s head.
The ravine by which the countess climbed to the open moors is pointed
out as Lady’s Rake. If it were my province here to examine the story in
detail, I would find that it was hardly to escape the Derwentwater
tenants that the lady left in such haste. She was, for her share in the
late rebellion, marked for arrest, or at least observation, by the
Hanoverian authorities.

Seven islands dot Derwentwater: on no other mere are islands the feature
we see here. Instead of snags of rock sticking up from deep water, with
trees keeping precarious hold in clefts and crannies, these are level,
well-wooded places, standing behind ample shallows.

Having passed Lord’s Island, with its sorrowful story of a life risked
and lost for a banished prince, Lodore is the next point. Every one
knows by repute Southey’s _poem-de-force_ describing the terrific rush
of its waters. After heavy rain the old poet’s description can be
tested—at the expense of a wetting. Down a wide stair from the moorland,
bristling with crags and boulders and outstanding seams, come the
waters—their frolic can often be heard at Keswick, though Greta is
charging, headlong, noisily down its rugged course. The moment you enter
the gully—should you desire to see the heart of its beauty—you are
swathed in spray; never in flood-time can you see more than a few yards
ahead; your eyes film with moisture; the air to your lungs is choky with
mist; the day is gloomed with spindrift. You see a white front of water
hurtling down from invisibility: it eddies at your side, then drops away
in gathering water-smoke. Nothing can you hear at such a time but
continuous liquid thunder. Say the luxurious, there is then but little
to see except the watery path you are climbing? Once I climbed this
ravine at flood-time. As I passed into the zone of water-smoke, there
were blurred visions of tumbling cascades, shadows of huge rocks dimly
seen across the ravine, dripping branches of shrubs and plants among the
streaming rocks. Then, what a transformation! A flash of sunlight swept
into the hollow way. An atmosphere of shifting jewels of rainbow hue
above, around; strings and clusters of pearls and diamonds dripping down
reddish crags veined and barred with gold and silver; grasses poising
delicate racemes of turquoise; mosses adorned with tiaras of ethereal
beauty, ruffles of ivory spray caressing the currents of rich emerald.
The brief glow faded, and all became grey and black and dull green
again. For a glimpse of another such fairyland I would face stress much
wilder than greets one in the gap of Lodore.

             [Illustration: BY THE SHORES OF DERWENTWATER]

Another ravine in the cliff near by possesses a beautiful waterfall, but
Barrow Cascade is on private ground and the free rambler can hardly be
brought to see it. The head of Derwentwater is so grown with weed that a
path has to be cut to allow boats to reach Lodore landings. Near here
the once wonderful Floating Island anchors. A mat of vegetable fibre
lying on the lake-bed at times becomes inflated with natural gas and
rises to the surface. In 1864 a second floating isle put in an
appearance, and during that dry summer it seemed likely that many acres
of adjoining lake-floor would follow suit. Floating Island shares fell
to tremendous discount and have never recovered. The Derwent here enters
the lake by two channels through ooze and tangled water-grass. Few lakes
have so extensive shoals as Derwentwater: for acres hereabout you may
look over the boat’s side through some feet of clear, amber water at the
growing reeds, white spathes piercing the mud, green stems, and hasty
leaves unfolding ere they reach the upper air, or thin waving threads
linking a tuft of foliage on the surface with unseen roots beneath; all
kinds of pond-life creeping and swimming about. Where the lake-bed lies
fallow the eye rests on soft levels of mud, with a passing host of
minnows, a red-necked perch, or even a trout or pike. Here and there
rock-spines pierce the level floor, or perchance a bank of pebbles,
large and small, set in smooth mosaic, blood-red of granite picked out
with sea-blue slate, grey pebbles of volcanic ash intermingled with
knobs of salmon sandstone, and conglomerate of every colour and shape.
Watch the sunlines creeping and chasing and quivering as little ripples
undulate the lake’s surface.

                  [Illustration: GRANGE IN BORROWDALE
                             Early morning]

The narrow glen ahead is Borrowdale: its entrance guarded by heathery
Grange fell to left and by Gate Crag to right, with Castle Crag uprising
in the centre as though jealous of an opening secret. A century ago the
world ended at Grange: hardy he who toured into the sunset land beyond.
The dalesmen were simpletons—“men of Gotham,” who hardly knew the use of
wheels or saddlery. Castle Crag presents a precipitous front; unknown
hands have fashioned earthworks on its crest. As the lake is not low,
the boat comes some way upstream towards Grange. Here, when Borrowdale
was its possession, Furness Abbey had a barn for its harvests. Nothing
remains of it, however—possibly it was a mere skeleton of wood which,
when the Dissolution prevented the harvesting of the monks, fell into
ruin and was annexed piecemeal by neighbours as required. Casual
observers have remarked, anent this penchant of our forefathers in the
Fell Country, that they took much trouble to steal, carrying great
distances timber they might have felled at hand, stones which in
bewildering profusion lay upon their farmlands. Our forefathers knew the
toughness of the mountain oak and ash; to fell the trees was simple, but
no tools for shaping planks and baulks were obtainable, while worked
stone is still worth carting far in the dales. Not every boulder is fit
for building stone, my kindly critic, and it is hard northern sense
which prevents the products of labour lying fallow in grassy mounds.

Grange stands in one of the sweetest recesses of Cumberland: the wide
bed of Derwent furrows the tiny level; in front and behind rise, pile on
pile, the rocky fells, dotted above with grey fleeces, below with red
and white and scanty black of milch cattle. I take it a fine sight to
sit by the bridge here and watch the sun’s last rays spread golden
raiment on rugged Eel crags and Maiden moor; down below a shadow of blue
is sweeping over intakes and screes, night hastening on ere day has
thought farewell. The boat now drifts back to the lake, and passes along
the Catbells shore. The bays, with steep woods or brackened slopes
rising out of them, are all sweet and pretty, fit places for an
afternoon’s quiet thought. This is the tip of an old lead mine; the
whole country-side is rich in unworked minerals, from once-precious wad
or plumbago (from Borrowdale for years the chief supply of the world was
drawn) down to tin and copper. In the days of Elizabeth a colony of
German miners was imported to improve the craft; several leading lake
families are descended in part from them. The foreigners were not loved
by the fell-landers, and for generations scarce mingled with them. The
success of a new process has opened the mines at Church Coniston—will
the same occur here? In days when theological argument was common, a
Lake Country Quaker frequently encountered, and sometimes worsted, a
dignitary of the Church.

“You may best me,” said the cleric, “but you do not convince me yet.”

“Friend,” rejoined the other calmly, “if but the man was to convince, I
could convince thee at once; but what man’s talk can pierce through that
armour of gold thou renewest yearly? Forget thy church money, friend,
for an hour, and I’ll convince thee.”

If the mines are opened and our lakes and rivers made pools and streams
of mud, the glory of our hillsides wasted with metal-fumes, the pen of
the writer will avail little against the chant of profit. The large
island now at hand is St. Herbert’s—the most renowned of all. In the
early days of Christianity, an acolyte of Holy Isle, off Northumbria,
came here to spend his life in divine contemplation and communion.

The story of Herbert’s death forms our prettiest unassailed legend. Once
a year the hermit left his island-cell and made a journey to his beloved
Cuthbert, who remained on Holy Isle. Age did not prevent their tryst;
and when eternal rest was nigh, the venerable Christians each prayed
that his departure should not cause his friend to grieve. That petition,
says Bede, was granted.

One afternoon Cuthbert, surrounded by students of God’s Word, suddenly
ceased the lesson he was expounding; his aged face took on a joyous
smile, and in a moment he was dead. A messenger set out to carry the
mournful news to Derwentdale, but on the way he met one hurrying to tell
Cuthbert that on a certain day his beloved friend had passed away. At
the same hour they both had entered the portals of death. Centuries
after Herbert’s death his memory drew pilgrims here from distant parts:
at Portinscale dwelt a smith who sold the image of the saint in
silver-alloy and lead. Some years ago his mould and fragments of his
wares were dug up near an old landing convenient to the island.

There is no recognised ruin on St. Herbert’s Isle; the few worked stones
scattered about may be remains of the chapel built during the
pilgrimages. It was for long the custom of the good folks of Keswick to
celebrate St. Herbert’s day by a procession of boats up to the island
and a service in the open air to his memory. Opposite St. Herbert’s Isle
is a belt of land touching the lake beneath and the open commons of
Catbells above, now secured as a public pleasure-ground for ever. In
this is Keswick blessed above all Lakeland towns. The striking of eight
o’clock from some campanile in the town brings back the mind to prosaic
human necessity. My back bends to the oars and quickly the boat comes to
rest in the reflections of Friar’s Crag. For a modest fee indeed I have
had three hours of Derwentwater at its best.

Another good way to see the beauties of the valley is to walk or cycle
round. The road takes you to Crosthwaite church and over the meadows to
Portinscale, then winds into the glen of Newlands. But just within, the
way turns sharply, climbing up a corner of Catbells, running in a long
slope down to Grange, Lodore, and so to the town again. Skiddaw, rather
than Derwentwater, is the most prominent object as we leave Keswick
northward. Just at present that mountain is empurpled with heather, its
great flanks vivid with bloom and with the lighter green of bracken
fronds. Latrigg, the fell nearest at hand, has been planted with
larches; not so many years ago it was treeless as Skiddaw and as
beautiful. Not far from the road is the home of Southey, poet and

              [Illustration: CROSTHWAITE CHURCH, KESWICK]

Crosthwaite church has been subject of many pens. The history of the
present building goes back beyond the great Reformation. Somewhere near
this point St. Kentigern of Strathclyde raised the cross when banished
from his native court. The present building is doubtless the last of
several which have successively weathered the storms of fourteen hundred
years. Probably the first were built of willow wands and clay, like the
daub huts still to be found in remoter Cumbria. With the Saxon still
stronger in the land a house of timber would be raised. Foundations
under the present building show an earlier stone edifice probably built
just before the Norman Conquest, which in this stubborn region was not
accomplished till almost two centuries after the fight at Senlac. The
church stands out among the meadows, and in times of flood is sometimes
cut off from its congregation. More than once within the recent past
service has had to be suspended on account of rising waters. Present-day
congregations may possibly be easily daunted, but I wonder how the
friars of old used to manage when Derwent swelled across the meadows!
The monks’ road was some feet below dale-level, and probably ran like a
millrace. Did the old monks hold service in the belfry? Did they in a
body shirk attendance at church, or was a boat hired to take down the
votary whose turn it was to conduct worship, and the rest remain at
home? We cannot tell now; but had the ancient records mentioned these
things instead of others much less interesting to us, their study would
attract more attention. Inside the church at Crosthwaite, apart from
points of architecture valuable to those who understand, most striking
is the effigy of Southey, done in white marble by Lough, the self-taught
sculptor from Northumbria. The lines on it are by William Wordsworth.
After the monument was in its place, the poet felt this tribute not
sufficient for his dead friend’s merits: accordingly he rewrote some of
the lines in loftier terms and had part of the tablet newly engraved.
This too, remember, by that poet whom his contemporaries asserted to be
without sympathy for the feelings of others!

Outside the church in the graveyard looking towards Skiddaw’s triple
crown, is the grave of Southey: a plain stone tomb, with no highsounding
phrases—fit memorial of him who found the name of poet linked with that
of drunkard and libertine, and who exalted it in himself and his school
of thought to glorious equality with that of gentleman. There is a font
of great age in the church, and effigies and memorials of the Ratcliffe
family, extinct with the last Earl of Derwentwater. Beyond the church
the road passes between flowery meadows, across slow-flowing Derwent,
and on through Portinscale the magnificent, with a glimpse of
Derwentwater across its levels, and of course a succession of views of
Skiddaw’s everchanging breast. Once there is a vision of Bassenthwaite,
but greenery hides it almost as soon as seen. A turning here might carry
one miles from sight and sound of twentieth-century life.

               [Illustration: DRUID CIRCLE, NEAR KESWICK

For a mile Swineside is fringed—a common whereon not long ago half-wild
pigs were pastured; then we hover by the vale of Newlands with its
splendid background of mountains. The road sways undecidedly on the
watershed: through a tangle of treetops we see farms below; along a
far-off hillside are the ruins of a long flume down which water was
conducted to drive that tall waterwheel. The skeleton remains, a blur on
the pastoral beauty, though watercourse and mine buildings are in
indistinguishable ruin. At last, the road throws a branch between banks
of meadow-sweet down to rattling Newlands beck; our way sweeps toward
cone-fronted Catbells. Shortly we descend into a narrow glen, then
zigzag up the flank of the fell. After a hard pull (the day is hot; the
distant hills are swinging in vapour) we come to easier angles. The road
is delved out of the hillside, the home of bracken and creeping
stagshorn, with, by rills almost silent with drought, trees of hawthorn,
alder and rowan. Below us—over spears of larch, over _chevaux-de-frise_
of oak and ash and birch, over green and bronze cupolas of sycamore and
beech, is the vale of Derwent, from Lodore to the furthest Man of
Skiddaw. How sweet and dreamy the blue stretch of water, dappled with
shades of high-floating clouds, with emerald islets scattered in bay and
reach, with the swift launches and the slow march of oared craft
glinting back the sunlight at the dip of every blade! To northward lush
fields and verdant woodlands border the mere, with hillsides, soft green
and swelling among the levels, but, opposite, sheer and bristling with
crags they rise from the water, crowded in by the heathy moors. Then the
town on a tousled plain between Derwent and Greta, and beyond, the hills
giving place to mountains, Blencathra and Helvellyn, shadows wavering in
August’s blue sky. From this corner of Catbells you curve slowly down to
Grange; the road is ever fair, but he is an ardent cyclist who prefers
to ride all along this incline of beauty.

From Grange it is easy to pass up to the jaws of Borrowdale, in autumn
one of the best pictures of Lakeland, when the birches’ silvern bark is
half seen, half hid in the thinning leafage; the river is flooding down
too, not hiding in pools and filtering under long stretches of white
pebbles. Of course you see the Bowder Stone if it is your first visit.
It is by a quarry quite close to the foot of Castle Crag.

One can reach Watendlath by a mountain track from Rosthwaite. This is a
shallow dip in the moorland, containing a pretty tarn and one or two
small farms. Not many years ago a Cumbrian visitor put the following
note in his diary: “I came to a village called Watendlath, the most
primitive place I ever saw in Cumberland. I entered one of the houses.
There was no fireplace, but only logs of wood and turf burning on the
floor.” Not here, but still within the Lake Country, I stumbled upon a
similar thing. My queries aroused the ancient dame’s curiosity. “You
divvent mean to tell me you’ve nivver seen a hearth fire afore? Well,
well.” I was eager to know how, minus an oven, she baked bread. The old
eyes sparkled with amusement. “Why, I make it in t’ pan ower t’ fire.” I
didn’t see the process, but I tested the quality of the product, which
was excellent. A century ago ovens were rare in the dales; on baking day
the dough was placed in a covered pan, which was laid on the hearth.
Fuel was then heaped around and on top of the pan. When sufficient time
had elapsed the housewife raked aside the burning embers, opened the pan
and took out the baked batch. Had it been possible for any wandering
reader to witness the bakery, I would have told the place; but five
years after my discovery, wishing to see again the old-time oven, I
visited the dale. Alas! the cottage was empty, falling into ruins, and a
green mound in the church garth covered my aged dame. The tarn of
Watendlath is fed mainly by a stream which comes down the desolate back
of Armboth fells, passing through Blea tarn on its way. This beck it is
that goes down the thunder-chasm of Lodore. It is an interesting ramble,
giving some splendid views of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, down to
the Keswick road, by Ashness bridge.

               [Illustration: FALCON CRAG, DERWENTWATER]

But we are for Keswick, to recall briefly three scenes in its
market-place beneath the old tower. Imagine, if you can, crowds of
soberly dressed people passing in and out of this space—Convention week!
How the dark clothes appal you as day after day passes! The streets have
the air of devotion, but behind the houses the lanes teem with business.
Another scene: the same streets are crowded, but the throng is of a wild
gaiety—motley are the hues that press in and out. Not the steady,
respectable murmur of conversation, but a wild medley of sounds,
snatches of song, bursts of sound from uncouth unmusical instruments,
shouts and laughter and much merrymaking. It is a bank holiday crowd,
come to be entertained at all hazards. Five hours ago the town was
peaceful as that morning when I rowed out on Derwentwater; shortly the
crowd will have diminished, till by curfew-time many of the weary folks
of Keswick will cast down their tasks to breathe something of evening’s

           [Illustration: THE VALE OF ST. JOHN, NEAR KESWICK]

My last scene is the dalesman’s Keswick, as I first saw it many a year
ago. The square is filled with moving sheep: it is the great October
fair day and a long flock is now passing toward the narrow Borrowdale
road. How the air quivers to their plaints! and the grey walls echo the
tumult—the sharp barkings of busy dogs, and the loud shoutings of the
shepherds. We descend to where the farm-wives sit with eggs and butter,
and one offers us barley-bread, that luxury now so seldom seen and
appreciated outside rural Cumbria. Or is it home-made cheese we would
buy? Tough as leather and white as milk, ’tis true Willimer. Strong jaws
and patience enough has the man who can enjoy this. Outside the narrow
market are cartloads of potatoes and turnips; further down a couple of
loads of wheat are for public auction. The congregation of buyers and
sellers is interesting: hard-featured dalesmen, their ruddy wives and
daughters, neater-dressed town-dwellers bargaining with them. Here comes
another drove of sheep—judged by Southron standards they are small, but
their mutton is the sweetest to be had. There is little “silly sheep”
about them. Intelligent faces, alert limbs, they have already learnt to
sup on heather-tops when the grass is buried in snow, silently to endure
the wild blizzards and the rainstorms, to avoid swamp and torrent and
crumbling edge of cliff. In their train comes friend Jacob, from the
Bassenthwaite side of Skiddaw. All through this series of descriptions I
have wished to introduce one lake as seen by those who dwell close to
it. Bassenthwaite, being out of the tourist route, offers excellently
for the experiment. Jacob’s rich dialect would, however, be difficult
for those who know not the North Country, and to give the literal
English would be to destroy the extreme raciness of the speech.
Therefore, a middle way is attempted, retaining where possible the
Cumbrian construction of phrase, and idiom.

                              CHAPTER XIII

Jacob is wary and needs some management. First we chat about the
exceeding fine autumn passing. “Aye, it’s fine, hooivver.” Jacob is slow
of idea and of speech: no duty in his varied life ever needs lightning
thought or action; he is decisive enough, but never precipitate. A
typical dalesman—tall and broad-shouldered, stooping somewhat. Until you
have walked a few miles by his side, you think he is a slow plodder, but
experience teaches much. Without the slightest exertion he makes his
four miles in the hour, over smooth road, soft meadow, or rocky hillside
alike. As you see him face an ascent, you marvel how a man so accustomed
to the work should have such an awkward style. But, defiant of all rules
of the climbing and walking cults, he works his way up, down, or across
the slopes with ease. Three hours of his work on the mountain is enough
to tire most casual ramblers who know him. Once I worked a long day
collecting sheep with him, but the sense of exhaustion was too severe to
make me wish to proffer help again.

“If ye’d a summer on t’ fell ye’d do varra weel,” was his comment as I
wearied through supper afterwards.


“Ye want me to tell ye’r frend aboot Bassenthet?” he queries. “Nay, nay,
ther’s nowt to tell. In summer it’s aw wark on t’ land, and in winter
aw’s ter’bl’ dree. Nay, ther’s nowt at aw, man, as I can tell ye on. I’m
net yan as talks mich. I’s leev’d aw me life aboot Bassenthet, as did me
father an’ gran’-father afoor me. It’s nobbut a lile farm, but ther’s a
fair bit o’ heaf-gang on Skiddaw. It gives us a lock o’ wark in summer,
like at clippin’ an’ weshin’. What’s that, lad? Du I ivver gang tu laik?
[My friend has asked if Jacob ever goes to the lake, but has been
misheard.] Well, I’s no bairn, I’s leev’d in t’ reigns o’ three kings
an’ a queen, but I deu like a bit o’ spooart. You should come and hev a
hunt wi’ us. We hev grand runs noo an’ then. Mr. Crozier’s hoonds are
rare uns. They’ll chase a fox five er sex times roond Skiddaw rayther ’n
it sud git away. John Crozier’s dead noo; he was a grand un for t’ daels
[dales]—a good gentleman. Then ther’s a few hares [the Cumbrian
pronunciation of this word evades the science of print] in t’ boddems.
But they’re nobbut babby-wark at best, fit for a day wi’ t’ sna on t’
tops. We used to hev a bit o’ cockfeightin’ yance ower, but t’ police er
doon on it noo. But, hooivver, we mannish [manage] a main noo an’ then
in spite on ’em a’, eh?”

“Ever do any fishing, Jacob?” I asked—my friend cannot get the old man
from the fells to the lake.

“Nay, nut mich. T’ lads gropple us a fry when t’ beck’s lah [low], and
on a wet day ther’s a few to gitten wi’ t’ worm. But I nivver caerd
[cared] for booats, and hevn’t been across t’ lake in yan mair en a
duzzen times i’ me life.”

“What do you think of the lake in spring?” asks my companion. Jacob is
not deaf, but the tongue of a Southerner is as difficult to him as the
accent of a Frenchman might be. Again he mistakes.

“Ther’s a gradely many, ower many springs,” he grumbles. “I think ef
they’d nobbut get to wark an’ drain it ther’d be some fairish land
underneath it. Mappen we woddent need to send oor sheep away t’
winterin’. It wod mak some bonny nice pastur’, eh? Mair like sensible
than throwing [Cumbrian, thrahin’] brass away to mek gomerals o’ t’
bairns an’ fine gentlemen o’ t’ skulemaisters.”

“It’s gay bonny under Skiddaw in lambing-time, isn’t it, Jacob?” I
interpose. The ancient is puzzling himself as to what my friend has
meant; he is aware that he has again misunderstood, and is, I am afraid,
becoming irritable.

“I don’t see mich to blaw aboot; there’s wark enow on t’ fell, an’
precious lile leet [light] for owt else. Then yan hardly knas [knows]
when it is spring. Some days it’s like midsummer, an’ then next day it’s
cald enough to flay yan alive. Auld Michael Fletcher, as leev’d up at t’
Yeds, ewst [used] to say, I mind him varra weel, when yan happened to
eks [ask] him aboot t’ wedder: ‘Nay, bairn, I don’t kna. Yance ower we
used to hae it mak’ o’ decent, rain an’ droot just as t’ land needed
’em. That was when God A’mighty hed t’ job o’ mannishin’ [managing], but
noo that them dashed Americans hae gitten hod on’t yan hardly knas what
mak o’ wedder we’re gaen to hae t’ next.’ But t’ years er better an’
warse wi’ us; this year t’ wedder was middlin’ nicish, but I mind lots
o’ times when it’s been aboot as bad as it weel could be. Ther was yan
year i’ particular. We hed aboon six hundred yows [ewes] to leuk after,
and when it com a girt sna-storm ther was some dewins. We hed put a vast
on ’em on t’ heaf, an’ we hed to gang roond wi’ hay to ’em, for t’ sna
wur varra nar a yerd deep; t’ sheep hed gitten into varra nar ivvery
okard spot on t’ yall fell. T’ sna was that thick as we hed to sled t’
hay, an’ t’ drifts wer that deep as we couldn’t hae t’ horses at aw ower
many a yakker [acre]. Ther was yan ginnel where we hed some wark to git
at t’ sheep at aw. T’ top was blockt wi’ a fair wall o’ sna, an’ t’ top
o’ that hung ower like t’ thack on a stack. You couldn’t git doon at aw,
an’ baeth sides wer as bad, what wi’ girt steep crags an’ mair sna. We
tried to git intull ’t fra bela’, but that was war then baeth o’ t’
othern. Yan girt drift piled on t’ top on anudder. I began to think it
wur gaen to be a bad job till lile Tommy Moffat, as hed leev’d amang t’
fells, com up.

“‘Why Jacob,’ he says, ‘tou mun git a raep tull ’em.’

“‘And what gud will a raep be tull ’em, tou Daft Watty? They’re nut
likely to want any skippin’. Mappen a streaw raep wod dew, but it ud tak
a bit ta wind enough for t’ lot on ’em’—ther was forty if ther was yan
doon in t’ ghyll—’an’ then I woddent be reet weel sewer they wod kna as
it was for ’em to it [eat].’

“‘Noo, Jacob, it’s thee as is Daft Watty. Send for as menny cart raeps
as tou hes, an’ I’ll show thee hoo to git doon. We hae warse sna drifts
an’ rougher ghylls ner these i’ Ennerdale.’

“Well, when we gat aw t’ raeps he set three on t’ farm lads to hod t’
end, efter he hed tied ’em aw togidder, an then he stuck a gavelock in
t’ drift as far as it would gang.

“‘Noo, Jacob, I’s gaen ower t’ edge o’ t’ drift.’

“An sewer enough ower he went, an’ I clam along t’ crags as far as I
could to watch. I tell ye it wor queer, he wor far enough frae me, to
see him hingin’ away by that bit o’ threead-like. But efter a bit he gat
on tull a foothod, and began to walk aboot t’ ghyll. What he was efter I
didn’t see, but in a bit he come up again.

“‘It’s aw reet, Jacob, aw tou hes ta dew wi’ them yows is to thra plenty
o’ hay doon t’ ghyll tull em. But tou mun thra it fra here’—an’ he
marked a spot—‘else it ull catch on t’ crags, an’ the yows ’ll nivver
git up tull it.’

“Well, that ud niwer dew, an’ for a week we fed them yows ivvery day be
thrahin’ t’ hay doon t’ drift tull em. When things hed thowed a bit nowt
wod suit Tommy but gangen doon wi’ his dog. ‘I’s gaen to drive ’em oot
afoor this drift starts faa’ing to bits. Some on ’em mout git laemt.’

                   [Illustration: BASSENTHWAITE LAKE
                             A breezy morn]

“Noo, I didn’t caw him Daft Watty, but hooivver cud he git them sheep up
that brant o’ sna’ whar he couldn’t climm hissel? Hooivver ower he went
as I said, an’ I went ower t’ crags to watch. He hed his dog in his arms
as they lowered him doon, an’ he let it off that minute he gat doon to
t’ bottom—it was like lukkin intull a well frae whar I was at. Tommy hed
gone reet doon to t’ end o’ t’ hooal, an’ began hoonden t’ sheep up
intull yan corner. Ther was a bit on a slack theyer, an’ what wi’ him
shooten an’ t’ dog hoonden it wasn’t lang afoor he hed ’em climmin’ up
t’ sna like as if they wur sae manny flees. It maed me feel white dizzy
to see t’ lile dog drivin’ away at ’em; an’ as fur Tommy, why he was
climmin’ away up t’ drift whar it wor like a hoose end, shooten an’
whistlen as if he wur as saef as on t’ main rooad. It wasn’t many
minutes afoor I sah as t’ sheep hed getten up t’ warst part o’ t’ ginnel
side, an’ I went roond to meet ’em. They com up like fleein’ things, wi’
that yella-an’-tan dog worryin’ ahint. An’ aboot t’ saem time Tommy com
up t’ raep, an’ shooted ‘Noo, Jacob, wha’s t’ Daft Watty?’ It wornt
Tommy at enny raet.

“Tommy went back to Ennerdale t’ followen summer, an’ I’s nivver seen
him sen. Hae you? I mind you said yance that you hed seen him in
Ennerdale last back-end.”

Yes, I had seen him, and found him overjoyed to hear of his one-time
chum on Bassenthwaite side. These old-timers of the fell-heads are
essentially men of their own localities. A journey of ten miles would
bring them often into a terra incognita. The two old men mentioned above
had a sincere regard for one another, yet it never occurred to them to
traverse the fifteen miles of mountain which lay between their homes,
nor to expend the three or four shillings which by rail would have
carried them almost to the doorstep of each other. Perhaps such an
incident as the following deters them. One old man of my acquaintance
held a strong regard for another who for half a century he had not
seen—and the while their domiciles were hardly ten miles apart. One day
after much consideration old John decided that the time was ripe for a
visit to old Billy, and off he set by the low moor road, with a pocket
full of provisions to eat on the way. Two hours after he had got away, a
hale old chap entered the hamlet inquiring for him. “Old John?” said I
to the stranger. “Why, he’s just gone over the fell to see a friend in

“Was it to see Billy Longmire?”


“Then Jack’s just as daft as ivver. Here I’ve com be railyway to see
him, an’ what mun he dew but set off be rooad to see me.”

The two veterans did not meet, for Billy would not sacrifice the return
half of his “railyway” ticket, and Jack was so disgusted at the
occurrence that he would not await his friend’s return. Though the pair
lived at least ten years longer, they never made another attempt to

             [Illustration: BASSENTHWAITE LAKE AND SKIDDAW]

But it is of Jacob that I should be speaking, and of the day when in
Keswick market-place I tried to lure him on to description.

“I think a man like you will have met a few great men in your time,”
suggested my friend in a halfhearted manner. “I mean did you ever see
Southey, or Wordsworth?”

“No, I can’t say I ivver did. I hae often heard of Mr. Southey, but he
was often away in t’ Sooth. But ther was yan chap I mind varra weel—t’
Skidda Hermit we used to caw him. Whar he com fra we nivver knew, but
yan summer we began to find ther was some body leeven in t’ huts on t’
fell as hed nowt to do wi’ shipherds. But for many a day we nivver cam
across him. We fand him at last in a ghyll penten’ a picter of a
waterfa’—an’ a fine picter it was hooivver. But he woddent speak tull
us. We thowt he was dumb and wanted him to tell our fortens, but he was
as sulky as could be. He went off aw at yance leaven his painten and
things just as they wor, and for a week or two we didn’t see him again.
He was a tall chap, nut varra dirty seein’ how he leeved on t’ fell, and
allus was fairly put on. But though he gat as he wod talk tull sum on
us, he wod nivver say nowt about his name nor whar he com frae—you hed
just to mention that and he was off like a deer and ye didn’t see seet
on him agaen for many a day. He didn’t stop on Skidda always, but he was
oftenest there—it is aboot t’ whietest [quietest] place in England on t’
moor there. Then yan back-end he went off; he gev me a bit of blue
cobble pented wi’ a grey sheep just afoor, but I lost it on t’ fell—it
was weel done——”

“Coming, Jacob?” through the bleats and barks and whistles and shouts a
voice interrupts; it is one of our friend’s neighbours prepared to go

“Aye. Good-day,” this last to us, and he steps into the trap.

Such is a Cumbrian’s description of Bassenthwaite. We went to hear about
the lake, but alas! Jacob hardly had a word to say about it. Next time I
will ask him about shepherd-life on Skiddaw and he will probably reel
off stories innumerable of the water in summer and winter, and of the
men who give to the lake the attention due. Jacob is typical of his
class, and his reticence was not due to any wish to keep information
from us.

                              CHAPTER XIV
                     _THIRLMERE FROM THE MAIN ROAD_

The fact that Thirlmere is the reservoir for the drinking water of
Manchester renders it somewhat unapproachable. Main roads encircle the
lake at no great distance, but the whole watershed—Dunmail,
Helvellyn-side, and Armboth—has been purchased on behalf of the city,
and at hardly any point can one reach the lake-shore without breaking
some bylaw. There is, I believe, only one boat allowed on its surface,
strictly for the surveyors responsible for the embankment, etc. Though
the lake was restocked after its conversion and large trout are now
fairly plentiful, angling is hardly permitted.

The city of course has a perfect right to seclude the lake if by so
doing they prevent impurity in its waters, and after all it is somewhat
of a satisfaction to feel that a few square miles of Lakeland are
tolerably certain of escaping the builder and the miner. The mines of
Helvellyn are now likely to remain closed for our generation.

Old Thirlmere, like a winding river, connected a series of wider pools;
at its narrowest point, near Armboth, it was spanned by stone bridges.
Now, by judicious embankment, its area has been doubled, yet there still
remains a very definite river-lake. I think Thirlmere a place of beauty,
though I do not forget viewing, from mid-lake (this pleasure was
illicit, of course), those harsh lines through the trees and along the
hillsides behind which the new roads are cunningly contrived. However,
when you are on Armboth road the disagreeable “line” does not trouble;
instead you admire a beautifully engineered way through the mountains,
giving entrancing glimpses up narrow ghylls, vertical peeps into pretty
bays, with the grand contours of Helvellyn ever present either through a
film of leafage or more clearly between the groups of trees.

Most of us see Thirlmere from the coach or from our cycles. Though the
scenery is so fair, there is no escape from the wheeled procession. The
quiet retirement of the old bridle-road is vanished. From Grasmere the
head of the lake is about half a dozen miles distant, to Keswick it is
not much more than four from its foot. From the former the approach is
up the pass of Dunmail.

                 [Illustration: RAVEN CRAG, THIRLMERE]

And this is the scene which meets the eye after you have toiled up the
long slope. Behind is the bold and curious-shaped summit of Helm Crag,
sage Asphodel, the Witch crooning over her hell-kail. Far off is
Loughrigg fell with larch woods clustering up its sides, and the lake of
Grasmere so dull with green reflections that a quick eye is necessary to
distinguish it from its surroundings. Rising from your side is Seat
Sandal, a host of carrion crows wheeling round its rugged knots; Steel
Fell rises opposite, flecked with wandering sheep. The sky is bright
blue, with soft white clouds lazily drawing their way across the narrow
gulf. In wide patches the sunshine seems to drift about the landscape,
picking out a green benk here, throwing a shadow over the crags there
into some deep ravine. The scene at the head of the pass is of extreme
wildness. The hillsides are scattered with scree, the uneven bottoms
with boulders of every shape and size. The cairn of Dunmail, last king
of Pictish Cumbria slain in battle with Edgar the Saxon, is here, a
formless pile of stones. There is a legend concerning this spot.

The crown of Dunmail was charmed, giving to its wearer a succession in
his kingdom. Therefore King Edgar of the Saxons coveted it above all
things. When Dunmail came to the throne of the mountain-lands a wizard
in Gilsland Forest held a master-charm to defeat the purpose of his
crown. He Dunmail slew. The magician was able to make himself invisible
save at cock crow, and to destroy him the hero braved a cordon of wild
wolves at night. At the first peep o’ dawn he entered the cave where the
wizard was lying. Leaping to his feet the magician called out, “Where
river runs north or south with the storm” ere Dunmail’s sword silenced
him for ever. The story came to the ear of the Saxon, who after much
inquiry of his priests found that an incomplete curse, though powerful
against Dunmail, could scarcely harm another holder of the crown. Spies
were accordingly sent into Cumbria to find where a battle could be
fought on land favourable to the magician’s words. On Dunmail raise, in
times of storm even in unromantic to-day, the torrent sets north or
south in capricious fashion. The spies found the place, found also
fell-land chiefs who were persuaded to become secret allies of the
Saxon. The campaign began. Dunmail moved his army south to meet the
invader, and they joined battle on this pass. For long hours the fight
was with the Cumbrians; the Saxons were driven down the hill again and
again. As his foremost tribes became exhausted, Dunmail retired and
called on his reserves—they were mainly the ones favouring the Southern
king. On they came, spreading in well-armed lines from side to side of
the hollow way, but instead of opening to let the weary warriors through
they delivered an attack on them. Surprised, the army reeled back, and
their rear was attacked with redoubled violence by the Saxons. The loyal
ranks were forced to stand back-to-back round their king; assailed by
superior masses they fell rapidly, and ere long the brave chief was shot
down by a traitor of his own bodyguard.

“My crown,” cried he, “bear it away; never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

                [Illustration: THIRLMERE AND HELVELLYN]

A few stalwarts took the charmed treasure from his hands, and with a
furious onslaught made the attackers give way. Step by step they fought
their way up the ghyll of Dunmail’s beck—broke through all resistance on
the open fell, and aided by a dense cloud evaded their pursuers. Two
hours later the faithful few met by Grisedale tarn, and consigned the
crown to its depths—“till Dunmail come again to lead us.” And every year
the warriors come back, draw up the charmed circlet from the depths of
the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over Seat Sandal to where
their king is sleeping his age-long sleep. They knock with his spear on
the topmost stone of the cairn, and from its heart comes a voice, “Not
yet; not yet; wait awhile, my warriors.”

The road now turns down the pass, a long, swinging slope where the
steadying brake is necessary. To northward show the storm-washed sides
of Helvellyn, with new rents staring like fresh-turned loam in the
sunshine. A blue peak of Skiddaw is holding, as though unwilling to part
with, a fleecy cloud, and here sweep into sight Raven Crag with its
precipitous front, and the laughing summits of Armboth, one by one. Our
cycles are gaining speed; we reach a corner, the top of a steep
pitch,—there before us is a sudden view of Thirlmere, with Saddleback
rising in rugged majesty behind. The open water is ruffled with
breezelets, but every sheltered cove shines level blue. The pace becomes
faster; the long curves are turned at ever-increasing speed. On either
side are wide grass slopes, cut up by stony gullies. We are still above
the zone of trees, if we except the fringes of rowan, the solitary
hawthorns. Now across a bridge, spanning a wilderness of rubble where
after heavy rain a flood roars and even throws veils of spray on to the
road. A straight descent, and below we view the gardens and trees,
white-walled inn, and grey church at Wythburn. Now, instead of allowing
the machines full way to race in fifty seconds down the half-mile
incline, we approach more leisurely, for halfway down the steep the road
we are to take turns off at a tangent. Out of a clump of tall sycamores
an old farm emerges; this is the Post Office, far removed from
neighbouring houses! To the right Helvellyn is now in fuller sight,
furrowed with watercourses, jagged with scaurs, with the sunshine
dancing on the brackens and warming up the sober green stretches of
grass. The dale is desolate and barren, yet a portion is known as the
City, in memory possibly of a settlement of Britons in its stony waste.

The great gap of Wythburn Head will afford a pleasant ramble to any one
who has the time. There is no towering crag, no huge cataract, no
narrow, yawning ravine, but an infinite variety of the sweetest brook
scenery. Only a few hundred yards from the road is a small basin of
water, entirely hedged by slabs of stone, ten feet deep, and so clear
that the least pebble on the floor can be seen—a place scoured by floods
as clean of sand and soil as though Nature were the most expert of
housemaids. On the bottom, in their season, the chrysalides of the
Mayfly crawl—how wonderfully protected they are by their stick-like
shape and their coats of sand! most realistically they imitate a piece
of rotting twig as they lie in a chink of the pool-bed.

Another sweet corner I remember well. It is a dream of beauties in
miniature. The down-pouring rivulet divides round a boulder, throwing
two pearly cascades into the gloomy pool a fathom below. Round this pool
the rocks rise sharply, crowned with foxgloves, heath and bog-violet,
with a single stem of fly-orchis, with ivy and a cluster of the grass of
Parnassus; more ivy wreathes around the roots of the trees, and long
beards of moss drip with the outpourings of secret springs. Overhead,
the alder, the rowan, and a few spindly self-grown ashes flourish, with
a bush of glorious wild roses wilting loose petals into the slow-moving,
bubbling circle. Ferns cluster among the tree-stems and on haphazard
ledges, parsley and oak, the broad buckler and others, together with
hardy bracken and other ubiquitous plants of the uplands. In a hole
there a wren has built her nest, a thrush homes in the thickest holly,
while the hawthorns are inhabited by a colony of hedge-sparrows and
titmice. It is an active corner in bird-life if you have time to see it
and your patience exceeds that of the busy midges.

The road has a slight incline which carries the cycle along with small
exertion. The fences, as is customary in tourist Lake Country, are
partly wall, topped with wire rail—a plan which allows the journeyer by
road fully to enjoy the scenery. Tall, moss-grown walls and dense hedges
are a feature of unfashionable Lakeland, but, pretty as they undoubtedly
are, they sadly narrow the wanderer’s vision. The lake is now close by,
stretching into the reedy level meadows. One curious feature is a now
useless bridge, raising its hog-back in the mere. Wee looks the
white-walled inn across the glen, with the great mountain range almost
overhanging it. The fellside above us is bristling with crags, some
splintered and hanging as though a breath of wind would hurl a shower of
stone down upon us; others rise in flawless tiers, grandly immovable,
impervious to the forces of Nature. And beneath them is the dainty,
dancing harebell, the jocund foxglove, the sweet blooming heather, and
many a starry mountain flower. Few trees are in sight; round an
abandoned farm is a lonely cluster of sycamores; gulls are screaming and
paddling in what was once pasture-land. Bare and stern is the last
back-glance ere our way curves into a passage cut through the rocks.
Then, suddenly—is this a new land, a new Thirlmere? The transformation
is sudden and complete. To northward, many a mile, stretches a narrow
lake, basking in the afternoon sun. Dense coppice and green larches
clothe the slopes rising from the water; there is no indication of
farms, of humanity.

The lake is quite close, we gaze down a terrace of rock at its shining
mass. A knoll crowned with tough, short oaks is almost cut out from the
land; a faint swell breaks entirely round a rock on which heather is in
bloom. In the bay some wild ducks are feeding; Thirlmere in the quiet of
winter is a grand haunt of migrants from ice-covered Northern seas. The
lake is at its widest here; right opposite is the sham castle which
Manchester erected over the pipe which draws, through ninety miles of
mountain and meadow, the waters of Thirlmere. It is a pretentious
battlemented horror of red sandstone at present, an insult to the shade
of dour and grey Helvellyn. But perhaps time, and ivy, will soften the
harshness, dull the too vivid colours, and the ugliness of to-day may be
the beauty of a not-far-off to-morrow. On the road swings, ever softly
on the incline, making the cycle run easier, and we pass through aisles
of tall larch, beneath the shadow of sheering crags.

For a mile or so we pass through avenues of larch woods with broken
crags ever shouldering against the roadside; then we come to Launchy
Ghyll, the most extensive break in the mountain wall this side the lake.
Not far from the ghyll, yet some little climb above the road, is the
flat-topped boulder called the Justice Stone. It has been a famous
landmark. It is suggested that its first use was in the plague years
when the folks of Keswick laid money here to exchange with pedlars for
goods from the outside world. Up to a century ago the shepherds of the
neighbouring valleys used to meet at this place and exchange straying
sheep. The climb up to the Stone gives splendid views of the lake and
its surroundings, of Helvellyn range from Seat Sandal to Clough Head, of
three-piked Saddleback, and of Skiddaw.

Armboth House is the next feature: the haunt of the grisliest set of
phantoms the Lake Country holds. For once a year, on All Hallowe’en, it
is said, the ghosts of the Lake Country, the fugitive spirits whose
bodies were destroyed in unavenged crime, come here. I would not like to
be present at their banquet, for they are, according to Harriet
Martineau, an unpleasant lot. Bodies without heads, the skulls of
Calgarth with no bodies, a phantom arm which possesses no other member,
and many a weird shape beside. But they are a moral lot—victims and not
sinners. Does the wild shriek in which ere dawning ends their banquet
mean that to the spirit eyes has come a revelation of their wrongers in
torment? But I forget: no man can hear that cry and live. Yet people
will not believe the straight-forward story of the Armboth ghosts, of
windows lit up with corpse-lights, of clankings of chains in corridors,
of eternal shriekings which cannot be traced, as though murder was being
done in some secret chamber. But why has this house been compelled to be
a ghosts’ haunt? I have never heard a word against its reputation,
ancient or modern. Perhaps it is most central for the guests to the
ghost supper.

From Armboth a road turns over the moors for Watendlath and Borrowdale.
It is a breezy moorland walk ending in a beautiful glen.

The road leaves the woodlands, and we cycle for some distance in full
view of the water. The land is fertile meadow; a welcome change from the
sterile wastes. A wood clothes the further shore; the hillside in front
is known as the Benn, its summit stands well out from the fellside to
which, if you trouble to climb so high, you find it is attached by a
narrow spine of rock. Up here the Britons of old had a fort impregnable
to assault. Now we reach the embankment, which has enlarged the bounds
of the mere. It rises to a great height above the waters at present, but
the engineers say that by a trifling amount of work the lake would rise
sufficiently for a man, leaning over the parapet, to wash his hands in
it. A road runs the width of the bank, giving a view up the sheening
waters to far-off Dunmail. It is a pretty picture this—a succession of
bluffs, some bare and stern, others clothed in clinging scrub of oak and
ash, clustering with larch.

The return road winds round the hill into Legburthwaite, faces Helvellyn
as though seeking a passage to its stone-strewn head, then turns sharply
over a rise, and we are by Thirlmere again. The first view is
exceedingly pretty. Neither sham castle nor embankment is visible, and
you need not remember that the mere is semi-artificial. The fells of
Armboth face one like a wall, broken here and there by a narrow ravine.
On the fell you find the dip where Harrop tarn, beloved of wild fowl, is
lying; you trace its rivulet threading down toward its long home in the
lake. For a long mile we cycle along a terrace road high above the
water, with Helvellyn rising to invisible heights to the left.

The next point of interest is Wythburn, its little church and inn across
the way known over the wide world. Wordsworth describes his “Waggoner”
making a journey past here at midnight, and halting at the Cherry-tree
(now a farm), a public-house on the disused lower road where a
merrynight was in progress. Coleridge has given his tribute to the
little house of God, and other equally famous names occur to one, who
have not disdained to ponder on the simplicity here. Wythburn was once
among the smallest of English churches, but an addition has been made to
the chancel since those days. In a batch of notes collected from aged
dalesmen many years ago I have the following story concerning Wythburn.

The rector, after forty-six years’ constant and punctual work, caught a
chill which, as the week wore on, prostrated him. On Sunday morning his
wife persuaded him to send word to the clerk to take service as far as
possible and then dismiss the congregation. Ten o’clock came and a
quarter past, when the single bell should have tolled to assemble the
congregation. But to the concern of the invalid its welcoming clatter
did not ring out. To appease him his wife hurried to the church, half a
mile away, to ascertain the cause. She found the clerk scrambling up the
moss-grown roof with a newly twisted straw rope which had to be fixed
ere the bell could be rung. A wild goat (there were wild goats on
Helvellyn then as on the Coniston fells now) had during the week
descended from the fell where keep was scant, had leapt on to the low
roof, and, nimbly stepping along the ridge tiles, had found something
eatable in the bell rope.

In another fellside the thatch of the church was once eaten by sheep.
Services were not held in the building during winter; that was a
particularly hard season, and a snowstorm had scattered the flocks ere
they could be brought down. At still another fellside church a sudden
jerk of the rope was apt to cause the bell to vacate the steeple, and
with a rumble and a thud it would land in the adjacent field. Something
was wrong with the swivel, but the yeoman who acted as bell-ringer did
not know how to repair it. When the bell had finished its journey he
would carry it back to its old position, and trust to luck for its
remaining there awhile. But the parish clerk was a character, a class of
himself in the dales, and on theological topics his voice carried little
less weight than that of the parson. He was an independent fellow as a
rule, and even the visit, once in a lifetime, of a bishop could not
induce him to vary the methods which had descended to him through half a
dozen generations.

                               CHAPTER XV
                       _HAWESWATER AND THE BIRDS_

In touring, extremes in conveyances and men meet—or perhaps, in these
days of petrol, avoid one another. As the motor begins to monopolise the
main roads, the true pedestrian is driven to the byways and field-paths.
Gone for us seems the pleasure of swinging steadily, easily, over the
hard turnpike; instead, we trudge in narrow, rutted lanes. Where, ten
years ago, we watched the great events of the dale—the funerals, the
weddings, the infants carried to church—now we must acquire a love for
the everyday repose of Nature, else the Cult of the Hobnail knows us no
more. Green hedges, grass-pitted roadways, ferns and flowers, birds and
beasts of the wilder sort, must afford us food for observation and
contemplation. Deeper and still deeper into the unknown countrysides
have we to pierce, to taste again the keen delights of old.

                       [Illustration: HAWESWATER]

It is a summer evening; the sky is packed with loose clouds; the sun’s
rays, pouring through an archway left between two grey masses, merely
touch the mountain-tops and are reflected down into the hollow glen
about us. Not a sigh rustles the dense foliage; everything is dead calm
save for the tinkle of water in yonder dingle—and the birds! The lark,
the thrush, the whitethroat from its tuft of bosky grass; the sweet
trills of the hedge-sparrow and linnet in the hedges, the yellow-hammer
and the wagtail among the weatherbeaten outcrops. The stonechat too is
here in his sober livery—but the harsh “natching” calls we hear are not
all from its throat. There are three migrants hereabouts with almost
identical characteristics—the whinchat, the wheatear, and the stonechat;
but the last-named alone gives the call to perfection. There he stands
on a notch of mossy rock on the roadside, his body seesawing as he gives
forth the crisp, clear notes. That tuft of crimson feathers on his alert
head distinguishes him from the others. Extending from the eye backward,
they give the appearance of wearing a closely fitting skull-cap.

The hillsides around are steep, small crags jut out of their sides.
Naddle Forest’s northern flank is clothed with a garth of small oak,
through which in rides and patches the lovelier, livelier sward is seen.
As we top a short rise, our view opens further, and into the distance
stretches another narrow glen, its utmost limits invisible in a sea of
filmy blue mist. In front, against a patch of bright blue sky, Walla
Crag seems to mount to a tremendous height, its bare rocky facets
catching the wandering gleams. The chorus of evening rises to rhapsody;
then, as the light fades, the feathered choirs droop to silence and
repose. Like a sheet of dull steel, between banks of darkening green
Haweswater now appears. Its outlet is through the plain of rushes, tall
grass, and tangled underwood to the left. What an ideal spot for a
heron! and seldom will you visit Haweswater without seeing one, more
often a pair, here. The true wanderer will not deem half an hour ill
spent in watching this interesting bird. As we ramble on, the glassy
surface of the lake is ruffled by the rising evening breeze. The green
and black-grey shadow of Walla Crag—the clear water had carried it so
faithfully that I thought of Tennyson’s undersea isle—

            “Where the water is clearer than air:
  Down we looked: what a garden! O bliss, what a Paradise there!
  Bowers of a happier time, low down in a rainbow deep
  Silent palaces, quiet fields of eternal sleep.”

But now “the Paradise trembles away,” the vivid detail is blurred, its
beauty marred.

To Measand we walk in silence. Ever darker, yet lovely in its gloom, is
the lake beside us. Against the grey skyline the Force, coming in
irregular foamy streaks down the crags, stands out finely. Where tall
hedgerows overhung the roadway, we met a lad carrying a rod. His fresh,
honest face, as fine in its lines as that of many a woman, attracted my
companion, and, as a fellow in Walton’s craft, he asked what sport the
youngster had had. His pannier showed nine trout, two of fair size. The
lad had climbed over the fellsides to Cordale glen: after rain the
upland streams become torrents and the trout feed voraciously. With
these small brown fish life must indeed consist of a few feasts and
long, weary fasts. When asked what lure he had been using, the lad
replied that, though he had carried a bundle of worms, the sleugh was
more valuable. This, also called by the dalesmen the docking-grub, is a
small white maggot chiefly to be found under flat stones in wet places.
From angling, the chat turned to the native red deer. Yes, they were
often seen, two or three generally haunting the ridges just above. Last
winter one died there of starvation, and to-day, in Cordale glen, the
boy had found the skeleton of another.

The beck we have just crossed comes from Fordendale, a gully prized by
geologists as showing perfectly the course and action of a past British
glacier. A wood-owl now begins its long-drawn “hoot-hoo,” from some glen
across the water. A ring-ouzel, the mountain blackbird of the natives,
though it wears a white crescent on its breast, next flies past. This is
one of the later migrants to arrive, and does not leave us so long as
berries remain on the rowan-trees by the ghylls. Now we are on the
lakeside again: a trout leaps and returns to the water with a heavy
“plunk.” A swallow flits along the dark expanse, hawking the last of the
dayflies, and at the same time, with soft cuttering song, winging home.
The last light is almost dead over the western ridges, and the detail of
things by the roadside is uncertain. See, on that patch of dripping
moss, five flat yellowish leaves from the centre of which, on a slender
bending stem, rises a flower not unlike the woodland violet in shape. It
is the butterwort, most inaptly named, one of the three British
insectivorous plants. Unroll that curling leaf and you will find a store
of partly-digested flies. With us in Lakeland the butterwort is usually
found far from cultivation. A plant of the wilds it is, trusting to the
free air rather than to the thin, poor soil for sustenance. The owl in
Naddle Forest has now roused up a mate: their combined voices come
across distinctly. A faint whistle sounds up the mere: an otter is out
for its nightly raid. As I have observed him this creature is not an
arch-enemy of trout. In wanton sport he may mutilate numbers of fish,
but his chief diet is the freshwater crayfish. A casual examination of
an otter’s hole will prove so much from the appearance of the excreta;
and, while you are at such close quarters, note the plenty of fish-life
in the pools near by. No further evidence is needed to correct much
misjudgment. In the water the otter is graceful; in the meadows he lopes
along at great speed when such is necessary. Overland he occasionally
crosses even mountain ranges: lying on Kentmere High Street one midnight
I heard the unmistakable calls of a pair close by, but the night was too
dark for me to see the creatures.

                       [Illustration: SHAP ABBEY]

Now the road leaves the waterside, and we soon come to the fell where,
in a recess of the rocks, Hugh Holme hid from his enemies in the days of
King John. Hugh was the first “King” of Mardale, and through a long line
his name held that peaceful post. The last direct male descendant died
less than twenty years ago—he held the ancestral home to the end, while
the Mounseys, “Kings” of warlike Patterdale, parted with their
birthright long ago. A curious faint whistling has been gradually
drawing my attention. With a wild cry, like “whisp” long drawn out, a
woodcock “flights” in the jerky manner peculiar to its kind at eventide.
The dale is now enveloped in midsummer darkness; the meadows, but for
their wreaths of white flowerets, would be invisible; the lake is hardly
to be seen for shadows.

The inn is now little over a mile away. Tramp, tramp,—there is a cheery
something to be felt rather than expressed in such an excursion. Moths
in quaker grey and white flicker close past; beneath the sycamores
night-beetles hum in busy flight. Now, on our right, a darker clump: the
famous yews of Mardale almost burying the tiny church in their green
sweep. Tramp, tramp. The yew-tree was favourite with our fighting
fathers: from it they tore staves for the longbow. The yeomen of Lord
Dacre, recruited from these dales, stood stern and immovable at Flodden,
and by their well-aimed shafts turned back the Scots in dire defeat.
Tradition says that Rudolphus Holme founded an oratory here in the
fourteenth century. The present little church dates back some two
hundred years; its graveyard was not consecrated till many years
afterward. Even yet old dalesfolk will point out where the corpse-road
crossed the fells to Bampton. According to such, there were two roads
into Mardale: the assize road, by which, almost as the crow flies,
juries went to the county town; and the road we have mentioned, used
almost exclusively for funerals. There were no bridges in the dale then,
and during winter, and even summer, the torrents were at times quite

Just as we pass into the short lane to the inn, there is a chorus of
loud “cronks” above, and against the grey night pack we see six dots: a
family of carrion crows hastening home, belated, from some dingle where
perchance a dead sheep is lying. The carrion crow is larger and more
powerful than the rook (which in the dales is misnamed the crow); its
note is harsher and more jarring. It lacks the majesty of the raven’s
croak, and stands apart from the not unmusical garrulity of the rook.
Now, within doors, lights are gleaming. The hotel looks a home in a land
which, in darkness, to jaded limbs would soon become weary. Our hostess,
with a quiet laugh, says:

“‘Birds o’ passage’ ye call yerselves; ‘here to-day and gone to-morrow.’
The hedges and woods are comfortable to the wee things that come with
the hawthorn—we’ll try to make our inn as welcome for ye.”

                              CHAPTER XVI
                      _ULLSWATER, HOME OF BEAUTY_

To see Ullswater is to love it, and to love a scene is to often travel
that way. I often travelled there even when so to do meant an eighteen
miles’ tramp there and an eighteen miles’ tramp back again. I have
walked there to go fox-hunting, and some rare chases I have
enjoyed—crags of Fairfield and Helvellyn, yes! (I have tramped back,
too, with shins bumped and skinned through scrambling among the rocks,
and oh, so weary and footsore.) But we are not fox-hunters always in the
land of the fells, whatever our detractors say. We do not see beauty in
the same places as they. The “splendidly rugged” hillside of the rambler
is only “bad ground” to the shepherd kind; and the waterfall thundering
in the gloomy dell, so admired by the emotional, arouses little interest
with those who in wild winter have to wrestle with torrents as foamy and
rock-tortured as the finest peep of Aira or Lodore. We see beauty in the
small things of our everyday life—in our wee birds and springing flowers
(when the flock does not make us too busy to notice them). I have seen—I
almost said I know, but that is too big a boast for even those who dwell
there—Ullswater under almost all conditions. My first view was from
far-off Kentmere High Street. Only a small portion was visible, still
that much _was_ Ullswater. The next time I saw its long stream from
Helvellyn, but the time was not ripe for going down. My feet were toward
Thirlmere, and the other lake had to wait awhile.

Shortly, however, I had opportunity—I started ere sunrise, and met the
light on the top of High Street. I was still a novice at fellscraft, and
knew but little of the lay of the land. Still, with face set so sure
toward Ullswater, neither map nor guide-book was required to keep
direction. It is wonderfully deceptive, that descent of Fusedale. From
the ridge it seems that ten easy minutes down the slope would bring one
there, but an hour passed and I had not reached Howtown bay. On the way
I had a distant glimpse of some deer. On the fells hereabouts a herd of
native red deer roam in a wild state. Sometimes outlyers go far south,
and more than once they have been chased miles by hounds. A forester
looks after the herd—no light matter when there is no keep on the
uplands and the half-starved animals break into the turnip fields, or
drive the sheep away from the hay thrown out for their benefit. The
forester also regulates the constitution of the herd: occasionally there
is a day of thinning out redundant stags or hinds. The red deer was till
comparatively recent times known on several of our wilder fells. At
Ennerdale a piece of rugged fell known as the Side was a rallying point
for them, and from this they ranged the mountains to Buttermere and
Wastdale, where some few homed about craggy Scawfell. There was a wild
herd on the Rydal fells for long, and within the memory of persons not
long dead deer used to wander occasionally on the moorland between
Duddon and Esk. Stories of how their fathers fought the deer in winter
from the stackyards are often told by the dwellers on Ullswater farms.
Hereabouts, too, nested the golden eagle long after it was extinct in
less stern parts. The last was recorded as shot on the Martindale fells
by a local named Sisson, about seventy years ago. The bird had been
unknown since 1790, when a mature specimen was shot or trapped in the
wilds near Buttermere. The birds and beasts of Ullswater at that period
would make an interesting list indeed: kites, eagles, bittern; martens,
badgers, wild cats, and the like. I don’t believe there are any wild
cats now, but the sweetmart is not yet extinct, and latterly there has
been a recrudescence of the badger. The foumart is a noisome beast, and
capable of doing great damage in a poultry roost. Dogs will hunt it with
glee, but are content to corner it, not to bowl it over.

             [Illustration: ULLSWATER, FROM GOWBARROW PARK
                          A sultry June morn]

I was disappointed this first time I reached Howtown to find that the
road did not follow the lake shore. Instead it curves backward over the
ridge between Hallin fell and wall-like High Street. This is a bit of
bleak road when the Helm wind is tearing up the lake, but the meadows
around the wyke are so snug that tents are not seldom there until
November. Hardy campers these! Martindale is a really odd corner—I think
it got its distinctive atmosphere under the forest laws of Rufus; for
except a new bridge and maybe half a dozen red-painted carts, everything
has the indefiniteness of hoary age. Perhaps it is a knowledge of its
old-world fauna which makes me place Martindale so far remote in the
ages. The road passes the church; the growing greyness of this makes its
exact year of erection difficult to fix. The clergyman in charge for
long had the smallest direct revenue in the diocese of Carlisle, and the
benefice was often awaiting acceptance. Nowadays, however, the three
pounds yearly is greatly improved upon.

                 [Illustration: ULLSWATER: SILVER BAY]

Past Sandwick there is a return to the mountain track winding in bracken
and cevin. Then for miles, now a hundred feet up the hillside, now at
its level, the lake is skirted. There is a succession of fine views,
near and distant: of the steamer slipping through the deep blue water
within stone’s throw of the crags, for the lake-bed falls in a precipice
here; of sheep climbing and grazing on the shelving hillside, and
timorously rushing off at our approach; of the swell when a breeze lifts
it along, bursting green on the boulders and throwing shimmering spray
into the air; of birches in their summer radiance; of thin green shadows
of ghylls where rivulets are slipping down to the lake through piles of
moss; of the bramble, and the fox-glove and the heather; of the juniper,
the rowan, and the bilberry; of green Glencoin, and mine-torn
Glenridding; of thorny Gowbarrow; of the hilltops embosoming Matterdale
and its quaint old church, where the sacramental wine was long kept in a
wooden keg, and where many a dalesman was baptized “of riper years,”
opportunity not serving to traverse the weary miles from home when he
was an infant. One dweller at least in remote Martindale (whose chapel
was then unused for want of a cleric), can tell of his “kursennin’”
here. He was a big lad when the family party were rowed across Ullswater
and clomb the brow by Aira Force. The little church he remembers well,
especially he noted a big bass fiddle hung on the wall near the font.
Fifty years or so later he revisited the place and pointed out where the
fiddle had hung on that memorable day. One of the fiddlers left his
instrument here between services, out of the way of the lads. The
village orchestra was a feature in old dales churches—we were far behind
other parts in adopting the harmonium or the organ. At one place the
parson’s wife used to lead the singing on a concertina—not very many
years ago.

Rounding the fell corner, there is a glorious view of Helvellyn and
Fairfield, empurpled with scree, rifted with ravines, solid, smooth
crags sheering skyward, often aloof from the bulk of the mountain. A
ragged line etched against the sunny green fell shows the Striding
Edge’s top, that other ruggedness ending with a sharp peak is Swirrel
Edge with Catchedecam. Between these two, and beneath the wide breast of
Helvellyn is that romantic rock-basin where lies Red Tarn, the most
notable and highly elevated of our mountain waters. Trout caught here
are remarkably thick in the shoulder. Our ancient writers make the char
also occupant, but no one living has, so far as I know, ever seen one
there. As the water is deep, attempts were made half a century ago to
introduce that fish; but whether ova, fry, or fullgrown fish were turned
in, their enemies accounted for them so well that not one was observed
again. An ancient friend of mine—an angler and poacher of wide repute in
the old lath-fishing days—once told me a wonderful story—“aye, an’ I’ve
caught ’em mesel’, up to a poond weight”—of a unique race of fish
dwelling in the fringe of the mist at Red tarn. He called them the
silver trout. Their scales were silvery, their fins small, their flesh
dainty. Only in the deepest pools beyond the reach of a shore rod were
they found; to the lath with its trailing baits alone they fell. I have
from other sources heard a similar story, but no one lights upon the
silver trout in these days. Old Tom was quite unlettered; it is unlikely
that he ever heard that old books asserted that the skelly or gwyniad,
as well as the char, was to be found here.

In peak and frowning crag, in shadowy slack and deep cove, Helvellyn
extends far to westward, finally breaking away at the sun-filled hollow
of Grisedale. Westward again, the debacle, an amazing tangle of
mountains, some throwing a mossy green shoulder into view, others jagged
precipices or walls of scree—Fairfield and Cofa Pike, St. Sunday’s Crag
and Hartsop Dodd, Red Screes, Kirkstone, and many another. But to
describe yard by yard the opening view were tedious indeed; when one has
climbed almost every moor and mountain within sight, and walked in many
of the coves and valleys, one is apt to have much to say which must be
familiar to all who know the Lake Country by repute.

              [Illustration: ULLSWATER: THE SILVER STRAND

There is little of history in the Patterdale of to-day; the inrush of
tourists has caused the old-style cottages and farms to be renovated
almost out of existence. Bay windows and upper floors take the place of
bottle-glass casements and the old camp bedsteads which stood in
recesses of the one long room, and, by their great size, formed really
chambers within a chamber. To see Ullswater fully we must be upon it. A
boat is secured and we float down the Goldrill, river of pretty name and
raging furies of floods, under the bridge. Hereabouts another rivulet
joins us, to-day in quiescent a mood as ours; but it has trilled down
steep Seat Sandal, eddied in dark Grisedale tarn over the crown of
Dunmail, burst in mad career down the dale of the Wild Swine
(Grisedale), losing pace in the level meadows, and now in a murmur it
glides through the laced alder shade to fall in here. The united
currents send us out on to the lake itself, carrying us clear of the
wide tangle of grasses growing in the silt the floods carried from
Kirkstone and Helvellyn. This upper basin of Ullswater is where the
great lake trout was last to be found. Though it is several years since
an undeniable example, with hooked underjaw, was caught, the existence
of the fish was no myth. Legend makes too much of its size, asserting
that fish sixty pounds in weight were landed. At flood time the great
trout, states Clarke, writing about a century and a half ago, ascend the
Goldrill, as also in autumn at the time for spawning. This in his day
gave rise to the sport of spearing, to join in which, he observes that
gentlemen came from great distances. The redds, a series of
sand-bottomed pools, were visited at night; a torch showed where the
fish lay, and the sportsman, armed with a three-pronged spear, kept
striking as long as a big trout was within his reach. The ordinary lake
trout to-day hasten into the river when a flood is due, after there has
been heavy rain on the fells. As our boat is pulled from the shore, the
grand panorama of mountains begins to show; the bluffs behind the
village dotted with white hawthorn, and the flat lands by the river are
not yet dwarfed by more mighty forms. Place fell is the most commanding
sight, two thousand feet of rock rising in unbroken slope from the
water’s edge. A level tongue of land is now quite close by. The whitened
current pouring through acres of silt is silent testimony of mining
activity. This stream has its little tragedy. Once the char inhabited
Ullswater, and spawned in Glenridding beck. When the mines began to be
worked many breeding char were poisoned by pollution. Others to save
themselves did not shed their spawn, but returned to the lake. A few
afterwards left their ova on the shallows and among the water grasses,
but the following seasons the females held back their spawn altogether.
The stock of char became rapidly depleted, and for years there has been
no trace of the kind in the lake.

            [Illustration: HAZY TWILIGHT, HEAD OF ULLSWATER]

My taste is not for big hotels, but I will admit that the Ullswater,
with its back to wooded Glenridding, has a splendid site. It faces
across the lake the bloomy sweep of Place fell, and Helvellyn, with a
tumult of hills around it, is also visible from its grounds. At the foot
of its garden is the steamer pier. To me there seems little of
anachronism about the Ullswater boats—I wonder why? At Windermere the
yachts always seem out of sympathy; at Coniston this is glaringly so
(such opinion does not prevent my using them when convenient);
Derwentwater’s toy fleet plies between Portinscale and Lodore, from one
palatial hotel to its neighbour. The boats here are more business-like.
The sharp, near fells, the deep blue of the water, make one think of
beauteous Norwegian fiords, of arms of the sea where the rise and fall
of tide is scarcely marked on the upspringing rocks, rather than a lake
of quiet England.

Our boat is turned inshore, and we feel the coolness of nearing
woodlands. Above our heads oaks are clinging in thin profusion to every
ledge of a lofty crag—this is Stybarrow, the rocky hill dividing
Glenridding from its eastern neighbour. Nowadays a main road has been
cut through the foot of the fell, just above the level of the water, but
a disused zigzag track shows the way dalesmen of the past travelled to
market. Difficult was the track for friends, with many a rut and spongy
mire, sharp curves and slippery ascents; but for foes from northward it
was for centuries impassable. Little has history to tell of the head of
Ullswater; the customs of the country-side, the lack of fortified
places, of even a Border tower or of a cattle keep, tell plainly of
uninvaded peace. But though their lands were free from harrying, the
yeomen of Patterdale were ever willing to fight under the banners of
Greystoke and Yanwath. And for thus leading the foray the wild Scots of
Liddelsdale once almost dealt them retribution. A strong band stole
across the Esk, and during the night rode hard up the Eden valley and
across the grassy fells towards the lake. Marching unsignalled, from an
unusual direction, their presence was first noted by the shepherds as
they rose from sleeping in the folds on Helvellyn. One ran to rouse the
glen, the others made a rush down the mountain wall between Glencoin and
their home, hoping to hold the road, the key of the situation, long
enough for their friends to rally and beat back the invasion. Mounsey
was a stout yeoman, had seen service long and hard in Border campaigns,
and he it was who took command. He placed his few where the road
narrowed between two crags and was steepest, where the rocky ground
prevented the dreaded charge of the enemy’s horse. The Scots came riding
on, unaware that their presence had been discovered till a flight of
arrows whizzed from rock and bush. Thrown into disorder by these, a
second volley sent the raiders hot-trod to the foot of the hill. Here
they formed an attack, leaving their ponies, taking what cover they
could find. They reached the belt of timber, and carefully crept through
it without finding an enemy, for the men of the dale had after their
ambush retired, so that the shock with the full weight of the Scottish
force could not be brought to bear on them at a disadvantage.

          [Illustration: A MOUNTAIN PATH, SANDWICK, ULLSWATER]

The leader halted at the upper edge of the forest to survey the
situation. To his eye, there was no way of winning up that lofty hill
while the bows were plied from shelter secure. Accordingly he halted,
sending scouts to right and left. The chief had certain knowledge of the
number of men-at-arms in Patterdale; he had brought a party strong
enough to crush their utmost resistance, and had cut off their chance of
alarming their allies of the low country. One scout told that away to
the left the fell became a terrific precipice, along the wooded ledges
of which a party might move to attack the dalesmen’s rear. Fifty were
accordingly detached to force the way of the cliff. Safely they passed
through the wood of Glencoin, then swarmed cautiously from ledge to
ledge of the dizzy crag; the blue lake beneath received the stones they
dislodged. Of a sudden the leader of the forlorn hope reeled, threw up
his arms, fell back and down—down—down. Undaunted by his wild cry and
the splash which after a pause showed that his body had fallen from
ledge to ledge into the lake, from their path in mid-air the Scots
sought the archer in vain. Another man, with a strange gurgle, swung
round, grasping at the cloth-yard that had transfixed him. He too fell
into the abyss. When the tenth had been struck, one of the Scots espied
the enemy. So far away, and deep below, that he looked merely a doll, an
archer stood on a rock by the shimmering water. Mounsey had divined
their plan, and with his strong arm and sure aim saved Patterdale from

The Scottish leader waited hour after hour for the wild slogan which
should proclaim that his men had attacked the ridge, then a few
stragglers returned from the face of the cliff and told him of the
disaster which had befallen. The word was given at once “to horse,” and
the raiders sped back to the Border. For his service the men of
Patterdale claimed the Mounsey as their king. He was given the best
house and land, on condition that he, and his heirs for ever, should be
able and willing to lead the dalesmen to victory. For centuries the
family held their post with distinction. The first Scottish rabble to
break into the glen were the men of the Forty-Five. And they did not get
far beyond, for the men of Troutbeck manned the narrow head of their
dale and, unaided by the Royal army, beat back the invasion. For which
the courage of Patterdale is still slighted across the fell. The last
King of Patterdale flourished a century ago; his estates were afterwards
sold to the Marshall family. The name and lineage of Mounsey still
exists in the dale.

I find legend a too-fascinating topic; get the boat pushed forward if we
have to see Aira Force this golden afternoon. The wavelets rattle gay
under the bow as we sweep past soft Glencoin, with a solitary house
glimmering through the trees—Seldom Seen, once, it is said, the
jewel-house of the Howards in time of serious war. But the greatest
beauty is on Place fell. In bands of green and brown and golden yellow,
in purple streak and white, it rises rock on rock, slope on slope, more
the presiding genius of Ullswater than vaunted but distant Helvellyn.
The rugged Gowbarrow we are approaching is tame and smooth compared with
the giant across the water. Tree-fringed, with brake of bramble and low
bushes, the road runs along the northern shore; beyond bay after bay we
find it keeping pace with us apparently. It is a level run for the
cyclist, and happy is he who first at sunset approaches by it. On a
curve of white shingle we land; the field is glorious with water
buttercups, and the last wild roses star the brakes around. The gorge of
Aira is quite half a mile from the lake. Leaving the road Lyulph’s tower
cannot be evaded by the observing eye. Who Lyulph was is a disputed
point among the Doctors; his name was given to this place after he was
long dead: he wasn’t foolish enough to design or build this erection.
Relief comes to the soul when, rising up the hill, you see the meadows
where the daffodils blow, the place where Dorothy Wordsworth pointed out
to her gifted brother the flowers dancing in the breeze and struck the
chord which gave us the fine poem known as “The Daffodils.” Aira Force
too has its story of love and romance, which is briefly stated thus: A
lady dwelling beneath knotty Gowbarrow loved a knight of Cumbria, and
they were wont to tryst by the waterfall. The lover, to prove his love
and gain honour, joined a crusade. No news of him came from Syria for
years—he was a prisoner there—and the lady, lonely and much troubled,
began to fear that he had fallen. At length the knight broke prison and
hastened home. At night he approached the trysting place of old, and
through the trees saw a lady in white moving. He sprang forward to meet
her—it was his own true love for whom he had jeopardised his life—just
as she came to the crag which overhangs the torrent’s leap. In his arms
he held her a moment, then she started back, back, and out of sight—down
that terrible rock, into the gloom of the spout. After her leapt the
brave knight—he found her in the whirlpool, caught her, and reached the
shore. And there, as he bent over her, she opened her eyes a moment and
recognised him; with his name on her lips she died. The sudden shock,
the fall, the deep waters, had beaten out the frail life of the
somnambulist. By the waterfall the knight built him a cell, and, a
hermit, dwelt in the solitude.

The hollow of Aira is a gloomy place: moist-loving ferns spread over the
rocks, there is wet moss everywhere, spray ever hangs dank in the air.
In height Aira is great among our waterfalls. In flood-time it is a
glorious medley: flying waters, shiny fangs of rock, dripping trees and
grass and weed and fern.

                [Illustration: BROUGHAM CASTLE, PENRITH]

Although the lower portions of the lake, toward Pooley, do not come into
this brief survey, they are far from unlovely, though to most the
beauties do not begin till Hallin fell is abreast and wild Gowbarrow.
The eastern reaches are more domesticate—green swelling hills and wide
woodlands, with many-acred spaces of smooth pasture. To the south of the
lake’s outlet is Swarth fell, a haunt of straight-necked foxes (I have
been at their chase from far-off Kentmere), and to the north is
Dunmallet, another of those curious “teeth” found among our lake

My finest experience of Ullswater was on a summer evening. Our boat, to
quiet pulling, stole out into the upper lake. The sun was nearly down to
Fairfield. When about opposite Silver Bay oars were taken in—their
solemn steady chunking sound seemed to mar the harmony of even. A few
men and women were wandering the paths by the mouth of Glenridding, but
no one was afloat. Away over the horizon, behind the fells, thunder is
still echoing. An hour ago raindrops dimpled the lake’s surface; the air
was dark and brooding, every few seconds a vivid flash of lightning rent
the gloom, and blast after blast of heaven’s trumpet seemed to shake the
mountains to their deep-set foundations. After storm, calm—and
refreshment and peace at eventide. From westward pour the generous,
kindly beams of light, pouring out new life to rain-dashed fields and
woodlands, giving new songs and glorious to the birds. What a glory of
colouring mantles field and fell and forest. Though a wide gate is
cleared for the sun in its latest hour, dense clouds are still overhead,
and the north-east is ink-black. The sun touches the topmost ridge of
Fairfield with living fire, and just beneath is a deep fold of violet
vapour. Place fell is glorious with purple light, its riven ghylls
mysterious with a deeper tinge. Along the craggy face of Helvellyn a
soft veil of mist is rolling: from hollow Grisedale come cloudy wreaths
and streams which bathe the mountain-top ere they dissolve in the amber
even. Around us Ullswater spreads, blue as the bluest of our summer
skies; its ripples, like frolicking children, rejoice in careless mirth.
Now the sun hides behind the turmoil of mountain-tops, and we are in a
vale of glorious shadow. The faint lake-current and the soft-moving
breeze drift us ever down the mere: we are past Glenridding, the
climbing shadow has risen far up Place fell. Above, all is clear and
golden; a sharp line passing along the hillside marks off the zone of
light. The sheep are wandering upward as the day retires; from the
summits they will greet the first gleams of to-morrow. The dusk gathers
in every hollow; night is softly, reluctantly, drawing in. Still the
drama of sunset ebbs tardily on the rocky heights; a wee wafer of cloud,
the last of its tribe it seems, is drawing away from the flaming west.
As it curls and rolls its course up the sky, its brilliance fades to
crimson, to thin purple, and, as a grey lock, it fades out of sight at
the zenith. Boats are now astir on our Ullswater: hardly can there live
a man, or woman, so dead to the beauties of Nature as to willingly stay
indoors on such an eventide. So time passes: we drift beneath the bulk
of Place fell, then the oars are put out and in the shade we steal
along. Grey-blue are the heights behind Glencoin, all the glory has gone
from the western sky. The clouds have crept out of the north, and
streaks of pulsing night-glow come up in their stead. Brown the woods on
the hillside above us, and a silence of sleep reigns supreme. A rill
falling into the lake rattles pleasantly; the soft whistle of an otter,
the wing-beat of a bird hawking the night moths, the sudden splash as a
trout falls from its leap into mid-air, break pleasantly on the ear.

Look above: the mountains shoulder to great frowning heights, but the
marvel of all is the sky. There seems no firmament, no bound to the
ranging eye. Only the gate of heaven itself seems withdrawn from vision.
Star-drift, in soft luminous puffs, besprinkles the great violet dome:
planet and fixed star, great and small, dust over the immeasurable width
with ten million sparkling lights. On most nights it is the stars that
seem so far away, but to-night, by quiet Ullswater, they discover
themselves as milestones near us on the way to that distant blue curtain
which is the nearer boundary of heaven itself. More comprehensible is
the element beneath us, where over plunging depths are mirrored the
twinkling stars. There again the light is a veil to a mystery, but not a
boundless one. For we know what manner of things lie beneath the waters:
their pits have been plumbed and their secrets discovered. There is a
flush of pale primrose in the east: the moonrise. How the the frail
light glows! We turn the corner of Hallin fell toward Howtown ere the
full orb at last rolls into sight. In a few minutes the fells are
radiant with the peaceful beams, and a broad track of silver leaps down
the bay.

                              CHAPTER XVII
                            _MOUNTAIN TARNS_

Perhaps it were more correct to say “minor waters,” for some are hardly
within the pale of the mountains. There are, on fell and in dale, above
thirty of these tarns, and, as the lakes vary in type of charm, so do
these. Their variety, moreover, is even more bewildering than that of
the lakes. In the latter’s wide landscapes, no matter what the
circumstances of weather or season, one cannot mistake Windermere for
Ullswater, Derwentwater for Wastwater. The tarns are, however, entirely
different. I think particularly of three views of Angle tarn, under
Bowfell, so distinct in what a poet would call their emotions, that
memory will hardly recognise the three as having but one geographical
position. Scarcely daybreak, we had passed the summit of Bowfell into
Ewer Gap. We could see hardly five yards in front, and ere long our
leader, though well accustomed to the fell under most circumstances,
confessed that he was astray. But on we plodded: “We’ll get somewhere,”
though that might be over the crags into Eskdale or headlong down the
precipices into Langstrath. At last, when the others began to descend a
dangerous slope, the bottom of which could not be seen for boiling mist,
I commanded a halt. In a minute or two the mist was torn aside by the
morning breeze,—chill, raw, and damp it was even after the fold of
night-cloud,—and there “blae as wad,” as we of the dales say, was Angle
tarn sheer beneath. Solitary, within a weirdly uptossed land, its shoals
seen through a veil of blue water, its depths showing in greater quality
of cobalt. We were perched on the front of a lofty rock: a dozen yards
forward might have ended in an accident. I am not likely to forget that
scene: grey dawn, the brisk breeze, the mist scurrying out of the riven
crags around, the eerie feeling of desolation—we were in touch with the
soul of Nature at her moment of uprising. Again I saw the tarn at
daybreak. We had climbed in the velvety July darkness up the rough
penance of Rossett ghyll. The small expanse of water looked violet cool
in the growing light; it was calm, and austere with the austerity of a
virgin Alpine pool it seemed to me. A soft greyness which the most
marvellous steel engraving cannot picture draped all things made, till
the great sun leapt over Helvellyn and hurled day on to a land of dreamy
repose. Again I came that way when the August sun beat down, and the
great barrier of mountains seemed to tremble and to swim in heat-haze.
The waters laving the harsh crags were a deep pitiless blue. One felt
that the hard blaze had driven all sense of coolness from them. The
grass drooped on the fellsides, parsley fern and mountain moss suspended
life and made patches of dusty brown, the crags were grey with drought.
Not a tree in sight, not a line of shadow save right up there, almost at
the mountain-top, a refreshing triangle of darkness, “the shadow of a
great rock in a weary land.” One’s inmost soul felt the harshness of
that day, and that by it the land was robbed of much fairness.

                 [Illustration: ANGLE TARN, ESK HAUSE]

And what romantic situations are occupied by some of our tarns. There is
Red tarn, above which towers the upper rampart of Helvellyn. To right is
Striding Edge, to left the narrow ridge of Catchedecam. How fine a gloom
does the old mountain throw at sunset over this beauteous spot! There is
Stye Head tarn, abode of horror, the gloom and beauty of which so
impressed Ruskin. The romance of this tarn is heightened when one is
privileged to visit it by moonlight. How the great rock-billows, greyly
seen, overtower the tiny gully! How man with all his petty conceits
falters in the presence of the greatness of Nature’s majesty! One side
the pass is impenetrable darkness; across, the light accentuates every
ruggedness; streaks from the skyline show where the rivers fall from
parent heights. “I felt that I could take out a half-penny and crawl out
of sight under it,” said a very unimpressionable person to me after such
an experience. “The loneliness crushed my voice, my mind, and, as it
seemed to me, my stature. I would have hidden from the scorn of all
things made.”

Our minor waters cannot claim much history: most of them are too far
into the wilds to be mentioned in ancient story, except in a hazy and
collective fashion. Several of our lakes have been served likewise. But
that humanity knew of them in far-off ages is sure. By Whinfell tarn
Britons of old lived; a canoe was some years ago dug out of the oozy
peat there. And on the opposite side of the Country there are extensive
ruins of a city within a mile of Devoke Water. Who built Barn Scar
cannot be told with surety; for long legend put it down to Danes who
peopled it with lads of Drigg and lasses of Beckermet.

But if legitimate history has failed, there is amplitude of legend. Most
will have heard of the deathless fish who are said to live in the depths
of Bowscale tarn; of the fairy chasm in the sunless deeps of Scales tarn
under the frowning Edges of Saddleback. On the fells about them have
been seen mysterious armies, coming, coming. Brothers Water has its
story of gloom and death: how two pairs of brothers were drowned in it.
Of Grisedale tarn, storehouse of King Dunmail’s crown, I have told the
story. Gates Water, by Coniston Old Man, has a few weird stories, but
they are entwined hopelessly almost. There are stories of pigmies and
giants who lived in the wildernesses, of fairies and evil spirits who
wail over shapeless mounds of rock, ruins of cities of uncouth days for
aught we know.

                [Illustration: DALEGARTH FORCE, ESKDALE]

To see the heart of Lakeland, one should make the pilgrimage of the
Mountain Tarns. It will not be an easy task: the highest fells will have
to be crossed—it will need perseverance and strong boots. And even in
these days of motor and cycle some humans can and will walk. Many a mile
of breezy moorland will be found on such a pilgrimage; not weary when
the heather’s purple bells are at their widest, when green grass clothes
the ghylls, when the rowan flowers, and the white foam of hawthorn
dapples the fellsides,—many a mile of rock and crag, rain-washed,
frost-scored, scree-strewn, lichen-covered, many a mile of smooth upland
where curlew and plover whistle and wail, where raven and hawk flight
for carrion and live prey, where fox and otter, and even red deer, are
to be discovered by the alert, nooks where grow our rarest ferns and
mosses, waterfalls and rattling cascading becks.

Such a pilgrimage would commence outside the range of the fells. The
pedestrian would strike north from the town of Kendal—a grey “burgh of
ancient charter proud”—for Whinfell tarn. This is a tarn of the
renascence, think the fell-wanderers; Nature having shed her grandest
pearls in the gorges and on the rock-shelves to westward, came to bestow
her final blessing in the low country. She sat beneath whin-patched
Beacon and wept over the sweet scene she could not really decorate. But
of all her plenishings she still had a trace, and well she bestowed
them: the roach, forgotten when char were placed in Winander; a knot of
curious weeds which soft currents sway in the peat-bottomed pools, and—a
boat. This old punt so often went to the bottom that it was as muddy as
a street on a wet day. Nature, those countless æons ago, endowed
Whinfell tarn with it—it was long before emulous Britons fashioned that
moss-buried canoe—and what better craft was there, said the contented
folk who lived thereabout. But Nature has been superseded in these days,
and a boat made by man floats near the reed beds where the angler seeks
the pike.

Thence up “Robert Elsmere’s” dale to Greycrag tarn—a lonesome sheet of
water under a towering fell-end. It has, say some, a store of amphibious
fish; nine months of the year they rejoice in water, the remainder they
spend in the depths of the moss. During hot weather the tarn is often
quite invisible. I have never seen trace of a fish in Greycrag’s mere,
but Old Bob, a veteran rodman of the glens, assures me that they exist.

“But,” I once protested, “they can’t.”

“Noo, luk sta here: when t’ watter’s lah, thoo can hear ’em as weel as
see ’em. Yan warm day ah was walkin’ on t’ bog be t’ tarn edge, an’ aw
on a sudden ah hard ’em. Yan said, ‘Say, Billy, it’s rare an’ warm
to-day?’ ‘Aye, an’ ther’s less watter an’ aw. T’ lile crag’s a yerd
oot.’ ‘Thoo nivver says sae! Well, well, hooivver. We’ll hae to git to
wark an’ dig doon.’ T’ watter just afoor me turnt aw mucky, an’ ah
couldn’t see t’ fish.” That’s corroboration with a vengeance.

Old Bob it was also who first gave me the story of the overland pike and
eels which reside in Skeggles Water, a peaty pool on the waste between
Longsleddale and Kentmere, visible as you climb up the steeps to
Greycrag. These marvellous fish have the power o’ wet nights of leaving
the tarn, and slithering their way across the grass patches to where the
water runs down into Longsleddale. I have found a dozen men willing to
swear they have seen the fish on their journey, but not one who has
actually captured a specimen.

From the realms of fancy to the domain of beauty and to Kentmere tarn.
This laves the lower screes of Hillbell and Froswick, but Nature’s
Kentmere was four miles down the glen. Thirty years or so ago the
landlords organised draining operations, and found that they had
exchanged two hundred acres of beautiful water for as much useless
marsh. Nature, interfered with, had retaliated. The upper reservoir is
more strikingly situated. Great mountains leap upward from its shores,
scores of brawling streamlets force their way down the sides into it.
There are two favourite times for fishing this mere—when a gentle
sou’wester ruffles the surface and you get out your fine river tackle,
and when after rain the fish scent a feast. It is a case of knowing
where the shoals lie thickest for making a pannier.

As we stroll by the water, we have in front the tallest buttress of High
Street, about the flanks of which are studded four beautiful
waters—Small Water, Blea Water, Hayes Water, and Angle tarn. The nearest
of these is reached over Nan Bield pass by which a fair amount of
inter-dale traffic passes. One day a flock of sheep will make the grey
rocks ring with their plaints, another they may resound to the mellower
lowings of driven cattle. My first glimpse of Small Water was at sunset.
Afternoon was far spent when we faced the mountain ways. Along the
hilltops the sun flashed golden fire, the fells to eastward were haloed
in bright mist, cool shadows fell and spread around. Then after an (it
seemed an interminable) hour, we came here. Not a spark of direct light
fell into the hollow of the hills, but the waters shook off responsive
glows to day’s aftermath reigning in the skies. The air was hushed, the
wagtails flittering about the grey stones were soothed to cuttering
monotones. Oh, to stay were glorious indeed, to watch the now radiant
vault fade through most subtle hues to grey and then to clear blue of
night and starry rest. But on we had to go—often the most ravishing
scene has to be inexorably hurried through, for man has many interests,
and the most peaceful, the most soul-filling, are not in the way of the
world the most important. Would that more of us could, like the poets
whose dreamings inspired the mighty deeds of old, and of to-day as well,
sit by the hour in these realms of beauty and delight, and calmly let
their spirit sink into us. We would write better, live better; but what
we call duty intervenes and the inner pulsations of living nature remain
unknowable. Nature as seen indoors with the microscope is unfolded to us
every day by our great leaders of thought; but few of these great minds
care for or have the leisure to instil into themselves, and thence
transmit to us, the broader splendours of field and fell and mere.

              [Illustration: BLEA TARN AND LANGDALE PIKES]

Small Water fills a tiny depression in the mountain; it is well stocked
with trout, many of which have a curiously large number of vermilion
spots on them. The angler who comes here on an evening in late July may
find recompense for his trouble, but a rodman’s panoply is no light
weight to bring those three miles from Mardale, or six from Kentmere.

From the upper crags of High Street one looks into a deep well, bounded
by rock and scree, to see lonely Blea Water. Its shores are fringed with
great fragments rent from the rugged heights which almost overhang. The
raven nests in inaccessible gullies above the rippling waters, and one
associates their solemn croakings with the shadow-filled basin of crag.
A few stunted perch exist in the sterile mere: what hope of rich life
can there be from rain-flooded ghylls and mist-moistened crags? Only at
sunrise does the scene become joyous. From beyond the Pennines the day’s
first warming beams kiss life into seams and rents, signs of wild winter
nights and gloomed, frosty days. One great rock-sentinel has a story of
the dalesman sport of fox-hunting to tell. Its front is split up by a
score ravines, where the stone is rotten and weather-worn. Ledges where
a fox can lie at peace from the baying pack are there in scores: Reynard
can climb up and down where the agilest hound dare not approach. During
one long chase the fox, sorely pushed, attempted to “benk” in this crag.
The pack, to prevent accidents, were “whipped off.” The followers
essayed to examine the rock-face to discover the redskin and, if
possible, to oust him from his refuge. In his eagerness one Dixon,
scrambling in a rotten ghyll-head, slipped and fell headlong to a great
depth. His body rebounded thrice from the rocks—hence the shattered
watercourse is known as “Dixon’s Three Loups.” With both legs broken,
the fallen sportsman came to rest, jammed behind a pinnacle of rock.
Espying the fox making cautiously over the vertical rock he called to
his friends, who were with the hounds, “It’s cummen oot be t’ hee end;
lig t’ dogs on.” Reynard’s ruse was frustrated, and a kill made in due
course. Dixon’s injuries, beyond the fractured legs, must have been
confined to contusions, for, years afterwards, he joined in the hunt
with unabated keenness.

Hayes Water has no story to tell the wanderer: it is out of the way of
history and legend. Many a hunt passes along its glen, but no commanding
crags claim adventure and peril. It is among the most beautiful of our
tarns, and the ghyll by which its outflow passes to the Goldrill is a
paradise. Cataract and dimpling pool, lush moss and clinging ivy, alder,
rowan, ash, and birch; here the beck gurgling in a deep channel, there,
in the realm of bracken, sliding down the hardened stone it cannot
pierce. The stream is a playground of the dipper, the wagtail, the
kingfisher. Suddenly the rivulet charges down a rocky ravine, and
emerges, as a clear, calm brook, in the level glen of Goldrill. But one
hardly yet follows it, for across the heather and towsled grass there is
an Angle tarn to see. This small pool on the level moor is a haunt of
the wild red deer from Martindale. Skeletons of several of them were
found here after the terrible winter of 1895, when for weeks the ground
was frost-bound, and the heather buried in snow. But Angle tarn, as well
as Hayes Water, is famous to the angler; permission to enjoy this sport
must, however, be sought from the lord at Lowther Castle, in whose manor
both lie.

               [Illustration: A SUDDEN SHOWER, BLEA TARN]

Brothers Water, up a branch of the Goldrill, affords fair sport to the
rod. Its shores the wandering kind would think, but erroneously, tame.
No huge crag leaps up from it, but its surroundings are of singular
ruggedness. The lofty, bristling front of Red Screes, and the purpled
fields of broken crag on Kirkstone fell, face the nobbly Hartsop Dodd.
The ridges are cut up by narrow chasms down which in flood-time, like
hordes of wild horses, unbridled torrents fling. The glen above the tarn
is given over to one of the largest sheep-farms in the district. Its
acreage is counted, as its fleeces, by the thousand.

It is a far cry and a rugged way to Grisedale tarn, but the climb is
worth doing. Up the ghylls you climb on your route to Fairfield; and
when you reach the topmost ridge in sight, you find the deep narrow gulf
of Deepdale lies between. You detour round the head of this glen. It is
glorious wild country, this home of shepherd craft. There is no good
path; you follow the wandering sheep-tracks where they serve, and leave
them the moment you find their trend unfavourable. It is eerie when the
mist suddenly wraps around. Then you may have to trust to dead reckoning
for your safety. But, on a clear day, the vertical views from the narrow
approach to Fairfield, into Rydal and Deepdale are charming: on either
horizon is the flash of water—Windermere, Coniston, Ullswater. The ridge
of Fairfield crossed, suddenly breaks a new glen into the mountain wall,
and at the same time there is revealed to you a whirlpool of distant
summits. Right below is the tarn of Grisedale. Seen on a dull day it is
an abode of mystery: deep, so deep blue that one feels that it were a
lower firmament; pure, so pure and fresh that it seems impossible that
through it one might not journey to a fairy paradise.

This grand cleft in the mountain wall was haunt of the wild boar and of
great eagles for long after less wild regions were cleared. To-day you
see nothing sterner than the peregrine whizzing after towering larks. I
well remember assisting to drive a flock across this upland basin. Of
all scenes in dales life, few are prettier than well-driven sheep
passing over open land. The collies, watchful, obedient to call or
whistle of their master, follow the wings of the mob; the shepherd is
behind the centre, and the broad front of grey fleeces and black faces,
a thousand or more strong, steadily, readily, moves to pastures new, and
the delicate green grass, with grey crags and darker stripes of moss,
combines all into an idyllic picture.

           [Illustration: KIRKSTONE PASS AND BROTHERS’ WATER]

From Grisedale, there is Helvellyn to climb on the way to Red tarn, and
to a tiny pool beneath the northern screes known as Keppel Cove tarn. A
tour further afield would be across the knife-like Edges of Saddleback
to the lonesome tarns immured beneath their cliffs. We, however, journey
over the ridge between Fairfield and Seat Sandal for Grasmere’s sweet
vale. There are many views across the pass to Helm Crag, with its
uncouth rocks on top, figures of monsters frozen speechless from the dim
twilight of time.

From Grasmere there is a particularly fine mountain walk, with a ring of
tarns as its objective. Starting from the tourist village one passes up
Easedale, then begins to ascend the side of Sour Milk ghyll. Come when
there has been rain and a tortured chain of water flies down four
hundred feet of rocks, in a succession of gleaming spouts. But in the
days of drought the rocky pathway is bare and almost dry, the rivulet
drips noiselessly down the inclined rocks. At the head of the force you
enter the realm of the fell properly. The true mountain moth flutters
by; the moss beneath your feet is racemed with fox’s tail, least
civilised of plants. The ring-ouzel, the blackbird of the fells, is
often here—in the waterworn rocks are its nesting-places. The bracken
throws off its sweetest scent. The tarn side is a peaceful scene under
most conditions, but when a gale rages you see the water fly off in
sheets. The scene is glorious, but the buffetings are tremendous.
Easedale tarn is among the larger in size, its trout are more easily
caught at hours and seasons when the tourist is unknown. At evening get
out the boat and float toward the outlet. The weeds here are the nightly
haunt of the best fish.

Our next tarn is Codale, perched on a shelf six hundred feet higher than
Easedale tarn—a mere rock pool, but in situation most romantic. Fishing
here—well, there are a few trout to be got by the lucky. “Codale tarn?
Ah, we used to come at it after we had done Stickle tarn. Old Jonty knew
it well. Once when I was with him—it was a blazing June day—he said he
could get the fish in Codale. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘By minding my own
business.’ He produced two lengths of line, and along them fixed the
hooks and baits common to the lath. ‘Noo, thee gang that side o’ t’
tarn, ah’ll gang this.’ The line was between, and we soon dragged the
narrow water from one to the other. There wasn’t a fish missed. One
after another they swum up; what the baits were Old Jonty wouldn’t
say—salmon roe most like, for he was a terrible poacher. We got four
pounds of fish with the single drag, more than I had seen in a week of
tarn fishing in that blazing weather.”


A few weird things are told of the wild upland where lies Codale tarn,
stories as wild as the demon hunts of Dartmoor. Through the mists the
wanderer often fancies a face distraught with pain and toil. It is the
weird of a lost soul. The first time I was a-wandering in this region I
was caught in a dense cloud, and, the stories still fresh in my mind, I
felt rather nervous that some horror would come to light. It is
wonderful what vivid imaginings come when one is astray in the mist. I
have a great many times seen visions in the grey beards—so clear, so
true, that once I hailed a comrade whose face I saw, though he himself
was forty miles away. Codale tarn, to my mind, is the prettiest mere of
all: stand back from its outlet and drink in the picture—the narrow dark
band of water, the great pile of rock dabbed with spits of grass, seamed
with moss-laces and with parsley fern. Above the crags, where a spot of
snow oft lingers till June, is the azure sky, and the dots of winged

Over the hills and away to the tarn of Stickle. At clear midnight the
hollow is at its finest—when the sky is gemmed with stars and over the
jagged Pavey Ark the northern light pulses and flows, and the mountains
swim in delicate folds of vapour. It is fairy time—the wee folk _must_
survive in this abode of eternal peace. The crags overhanging the tarn
are full of problems for the rock-climbing cult—one or two of the
gullies are almost first-rate. The “shepherd’s path,” which few dalesmen
ever use, is dangerous to any one not trained to this severe work—I
mention this as a warning. The tarn holds trout of large size and
exceptional quality. In winter this basin is an awesome place for a
ramble. The great plinth which ends Pavey Ark rises almost without a
patch of white—a pillar of darkness. Other parts of the fell are
plentifully smeared with drifts. When the snow has lain for a week or
two there is snow craft to be practised here, but things are better
further afield on the Scawfell group.

From Stickle our wanderings should carry us down past the racing fosse,
and away into Little Langdale where we pause at Blea tarn. This was the
haunt of Wordsworth’s “Solitary,” chief figure in his poem, “The
Excursion.” Little Langdale tarn, which lies somewhat further down the
glen is a small weedy pool in a meadow-land. Its waters for long have
provided little sport, for they are overstocked with tiny useless trout.
A net used with judgment might improve the fishing here. But Little
Langdale tarn has its own peculiar charm of quietness. It is a haunt of
the heron and otter. And over it stands the grand barrier of
Tilberthwaite fell, from the base of which, in solemn echoing blasts,
“the quarried thunders ring.” The hillsides around are pitted with ugly
little scars of abortive quarries. Still down the glen, we pass Colwith,
where the stream makes a sudden leap into a lower country. It is a
pretty enough spout, but on enclosed ground, and therefore few wanderers
of the fells confess its beauty. The white farm at the cross road, as
you turn into Great Langdale, of course has been an inn. One of its
old-time landladies was wont only to brew when there was a prospect of
sale. The water from the spring was good enough for her household, with
milk if they felt dainty. Her customers chiefly came eastward over
Wrynose pass. It was a long stretch, and a thirsty, from the last tavern
in that direction. The landlady was not accustomed to waste material, so
every morning when she judged that packmen from Whitehaven were due she
walked up the hill above the farm to watch for their coming. If but few
ponies appeared crawling down the steep, then the malt was stinted, but
if the pass-head was, in her opinion, “black wi’ folk,” more ale was
prepared. One morning a traveller, tired of the slow pack-train, pushed
on ahead, and duly came to the inn. Ale he called for, and was informed:
“Oh aye, ye can hae ale, but it’s rayther warm just yet.” The traveller
had beaten the new brew down to Colwith.

                  [Illustration: LITTLE LANGDALE TARN]

To Elter Water the lane winds through dense coppice, and emerges into
the open just before the village is reached. Here the chief industry is
the making of gunpowder, with also slate quarrying and the production of
the famous Langdale linen. John Ruskin it was whose teaching brought
this craft back into being, and in a quiet way it is doing good to the
valley. I wonder if the dales farmer will ever turn his attention to the
cultivation of flax. At one time a plot of this staple was more
necessary to a farmstead than a vegetable or even a herbal garden.

Elter Water is a larger picture of the elements comprised in Little
Langdale tarn. Except that it is at the foot of the Langdales there is
little to be said about it. The pike are so numerous that few perch even
stay with them. Loughrigg tarn, which we visit before getting over the
ridge to Grasmere, is of a different class to any we have yet met with.
Christopher North described it as “a diamond set in emeralds,” and he
was not wrong. Where are waters more sparkling, or meadows greener than
these? In a secluded corner of the world, Loughrigg does nothing but
look pretty: there is no message to the mind from its beauty save that
of surpassing beauty in repose.

Coniston is a splendid place to start from for another journey. The
nearest point is Gates Water, under Dow crags. The way is not
particularly difficult, but the scenery is impressive. The great crag
rising sheer almost from the water’s edge is a haunt of the raven, a
bird yearly growing scarcer as the wildernesses become less wild, and as
the shepherd gets more reliable fire-arms. But, says legend, there is
one raven quite impossible to reach. It has dwelt on Kurnal Crag since
the dawn of Britain’s history. Yet it failed its post. It was the
Druid’s familiar, and when invasion rolled nor’ward it became a sentry
over the settlement of Torver. “False bird,” cried the old Druid, when
from the mystic holly circle he saw the Britons’ camp burning and the
Roman legion pursuing the defeated remnant of his people, “and this is
how thy promise of sleepless day and night is fulfilled. Thou wast to
croak when danger threatened, and instead I wake to see thee join the
invader’s rank.” “Nay, father Druid, I went to fight the yellow bird
they carry in their van. It is but a bit of burnished bronze they hold
up, and no bird, and I stayed too long surveying it.” “Venerable bird,
venerable as myself and as old, I had it in my mind to condemn thee to
die, but instead thou shalt live, live, live on the topmost crag of Dow,
till another army sweep away the Roman, and the yellow bird is carried
southward over sands.” The time came when the Roman legions hurried
south, and the raven, well stricken in years, hoped for release; but it
did not come, for the last legion, on a misty morning, became involved
in a swamp on Torver moor, and standard-bearer and burnished bird were
swallowed in deep mud. There they lie and moulder, and the old story is
that unless they are found and the eagle carried south the raven of
Kurnal Crag may not die. You can hear its aged, rumbling croak afar off,
at times when thunder is in the air, and you linger in the gulf of Gates
Water to hear the first echoing bellow of the storm.

             [Illustration: ELTERWATER AND LANGDALE PIKES]

From Gates Water the wanderer goes over the Old Man to Low Water, really
one of the most elevated mountain waters. It is splendidly situated,
screes and boulders from forbidding cliffs falling right to its shores.
It is pleasant to be here at sunset and watch the gloom collect on the
summits around. The tarn is credited with almost diabolically large
trout, but no one catches them now, and anglers are sceptic. The
hillside you traverse to reach Levers Water is almost honeycombed with
the shafts of old copper mines. “Mines Valley” indeed was once the
busiest haunt of men in the Lake Country. Its copper is now being
exploited afresh, and the prosperity of sixty years ago may be repeated.
Some of us would rather hear the skirl of the curlew than the roar of
ore-mills, but if dividends are possible the lover of the untamed land
will once again have to move on. There is no guarantee, save at
Thirlmere, that an unspeakable hideousness of industry will not suddenly
blot out our remotest haunt. From Levers Water the rambler climbs the
ridge toward Seathwaite tarn, now a reservoir for the use of warrior
Barrow. This tarn the lord of the manor had the exclusive right to net,
and the annual occasion was always made a picnic. Nets were shot, and
the finny spoil, char, trout and perch, drawn ashore. Then, as quickly
as possible, a tithe of them was prepared and cooked at fires on the
shingly strand. The merry-making was a splendid break in the silence of
the year here. The tarn also has a small gullery, though miles from the
nearest arm of the sea.

The charms of Tarn Hows I have mentioned in my chapter on Coniston
Water; it is well worthy an afternoon’s ramble, though if the visitor
can put off the hour till the last charabanc has rattled down the glen,
he will be the more repaid.

             [Illustration: SEATHWAITE TARN, DUDDON VALLEY]

My space limit has long run out, so I must only indicate the positions
of a last knot of tarns. Devoke Water, within a few miles of Eskdale
Green, holds pink-fleshed trout, the progenitors of which are said to
have been brought by the monks of Furness Abbey from sunny Italy.
Burnmoor tarn lies between lofty Scawfell and Wastwater Screes. The moor
around is studded with Druid circles and other memorials of a vanished
race. Then in Stye Head pass is a dark brooding tarn; on the fell
towards Great End is Sprinkling tarn, near which is the famous rain
gauge, where annually the highest English rainfall is recorded. In
twenty minutes an inch of rain once fell here; I have had several
quick-time drenchings in this neighbourhood. On the fells between
Wastwater and Ennerdale are Scoat and Lowfell tarns, the former of which
is reputed to contain a golden fish, and the latter a silvery one.
Floutern tarn is the furthest away of the mountain waters, lying on the
desolate fell between Buttermere and Ennerdale.


  Accommodation, 5
  Adventure in winter, 159
  Aira Force, 197
  Ambleside, 28, 30
  Americans, 12
  Angle tarn, 204, 214
  Angler, 31
  Anglers Crag, 103
      ”    Inn, 100
  Angler’s yarn, an, 130
  Armboth House, 173
  Autumn, 44

  Badger, the, 56, 187
  Bank holiday, 154
  Barley-bread, 154
  Barn Scar, 207
  Barrow Cascade, 143
  Bassenthwaite, 156-164
  Belle Isle, 15, 18
  Benn, the, 175
  “Birds o’ passage,” 184
  Bit-by-bit reform, 42
  Blea tarn, 219
      ”    Water, 212
  “Bloomery,” 62, 72
  Boating, 101
  Bolton, Mr., 14
  Borrowdale, 144
  Botling, 91
  Bowder Stone, 152
  Bowness, 20
  Bowness Bay, 20
      ”    landing-place, 21
  Bowscale tarn, 207
  Brandlehow, 199
  Brantwood, 69, 74
  Brook trout, 180
  Brothers’ Water, 207, 214
  Burnmoor tarn, 223
  Buttermere, 124-136
      ”    after series of rainstorms, 128
  Buttermere, fishing of, 132
      ”    in winter mist, 132
      ”    maid of, 125
      ”    my first visit to, 127
  Butterwort, 182

  Calgarth, 24
      ”    skulls at, 24
  Carrier, country, 40, 57, 58
  Carrion crows, 184
  Castle Crag, 144
  Castle (sham) which Manchester erected, 173
  Catbells, 146, 151
  Causeways, 52
  Chant of profit, 146
  Char, 26, 61, 66, 91, 101, 190, 192
      ”    Dub, 101
      ”    fishing, 26
      ”    pie, 67
      ”    potted, 66
  Charcoal burning, 73
  Cheese, home-made, 154
  Civil war, the, 2
  Claife, 53
  “Clipping,” 114
  Coach-road through Buttermere, 124
  Coaches, 6
  Cockermouth, Keswick, and Penrith Railway, 7
  Cock-fighting, 57
  Codale, 217
  Coleridge, Hartley, 35
  Collies, 215
  Colthouse, 53
  Colwith, 219
  Coniston, 221
      ”    Old Hall, 66
      ”    Water, 60-78
  Convention week at Keswick, 153
  Copper, 62
  Corpse-road, 183
  Cottages, old, 152
      ”    old-style, 191
  Crosthwaite Church, 148
  Crozier, John, 157
  Crummock Water, 116-123
  Cuthbert, 147

  Dales, a youngster of the, 180
      ”    dwelling, 37
  Dalesman, a, 156
  Dalesman’s Keswick, 154
  Dalesmen, the, 3
  Dancing, 109
  Davy, John, 26
  Deer, red native, 181, 186
  De Quincey, 35
  Derwent, the, 144
      ”    Isle, 138
      ”    vale of, 151
  Derwentwater, 137-155
      ”    Earls of, 140
  Devoke Water, 207, 223
  Dialect, Cumbrian, 155
  Dipper, the, 130
  “Dixon’s Three Loups,” 213
  Dobson, Tommie, 79
  Domesday, 49
  Dotterel, the, 122
  Dove Nest, 27
  Dunmail, 2
      ”    cairn of, 167
      ”    pass of, 166
      ”    story of, 167
  Dunmallet, 200

  Eagle, golden, 187
  Easedale tarn, 217
  Elter Water, 220
  English Lakes, history of the, 2
  Ennerdale, 98-105
  Esthwaite mere, fishing in, 54
      ”    Water, 49-59

  Fairfield, 201, 215
  Fences partly wall, 171
  Finsthwaite, 11
  Fir Island, 69
  Fishing in Loweswater, 111
  Fishing tackle, 20
  Floating Island, Derwentwater, 143
  Floutern tarn, 223
  Fordendale, 181
  Forest laws, 61
  Fortune-teller, the dumb, 110
  Forty-Five, the, 196
  Foumart, the, 187
  Fox How, 28
  Fox-hunting, 45, 185, 212
  “Fraternal Three,” 83
  Friars Crag, 137
  Frost flowers, 48
  Furness Abbey, monks of, 223
      ”    bluffs, 21
      ”    railway, 6
  Fusedale, 186

  Gale (the wildest), on Coniston, 68
  Gatesgarth, 131, 134
  Gateswater, 61, 207, 221
  German miners, 146
  Glencoin, 197
  Glenridding, 201
  Goat hunt, 78
  Goats, wild, 78
  Golden eagle, 187
  Gondola, 68
  Gowbarrow, 197, 199
  Grange, 145
  Grasmere, 36-48, 216
      ”    Lake, 43
  Greycrag tarn, 209
  Grisedale tarn, 207, 214
  Gummers Howe, 10

  Harrop tarn, 175
  Haweswater, 178-184
  Hawkshead, 50
      ”    Church, burials in woollen, 50
  Hawkshead Grammar School
      ”    monks’ home, 50
      ”    Old, 49-59
      ”    Old Hall, 53
      ”    two centuries ago, 50
  Hay-making, 40
  Hayes Water, 213
  Hedge-parsons, 127
  Helm Crag, 43, 166, 216
  Helm wind, 187
  Helvellyn, 175
  Hemans, Mrs., 27
  Hen Holme, 27
  Herdwicks, 89
  Heron, the, 35, 54, 102, 180
  High Furness, 49
  Hogarth, 25
  Holme, Hugh, 182
  Home-made cheese, 154
  Honister Hause, 125
      ”    Pass, 136
  Houses, old, 50
  Hung mutton, 51
  Hunting, 79, 157

  Ice roaring, 76
  Inn stews, 66

  Justice Stone, 173

  Kendal, 208
  Kentmere tarn, 210
  Keppel Cove tarn, 216
  Keswick, 153, 154
  “King” of Mardale, 182
      ”    Patterdale, 196
  Kurnal Crag, raven of, 221

  Lady Holme, 22
  Lady’s Rake, 141
  Lake Bank, Coniston, 73
  Lakeland’s wealth of bypaths, 36
  Lakeside, 9
  Lambing-time, 158
  Langdale linen, 220
  Larch-tree and Wordsworth, 37
  Launchy Ghyll, 173
  Le Fleming, Sir Daniel, 66
  Le Flemings, 32, 39
  Levers Water, 222
  Little Langdale tarn, 219
  Lodore, 142
  London and North-Western Railway, 6, 7
  Loughrigg, 30
      ”    tarn, 220
  Low Water, 222
  Loweswater, 106-115
      ”    ancient farms, 108
  Lowfell tarn, 223
  Lowwood, 26
  Lyulph’s tower, 197

  Maggot, the, 90
  Maid of Buttermere, 125
  Manchester, sham castle erected by, 173
  Mardale, “King” of, 182
      ”    yews, 183
  Martindale, 188
  Martineau, Harriet, 30
  Matterdale, 189
  Measand, 180
  Mellbreak, 106, 119
  Midland Railway, 7
  Millerground, 23
  Miners, German, 146
  “Mines Valley,” 222
  Minstrels, wandering, 109
  Monks of Furness Abbey, 223
  Motor-traffic, 40
  Mounsey, 194
  Mountain accident, 135
      ”    ponies, 32
      ”    tarns, 204-223
  Mutton, hung, 51

  Nab Scar, 30
  Naddle Forest, 179
  “Nae land here,” 121
  National Trust for the Preservation of Places of Natural Beauty,
  “New brew,”219
  Newby Bridge, 9
  New Thirlmere, 172
  North, Christopher, 15, 221
  North-Eastern Railway, 7

  Old Corruption, 42
      ”    cottages, 152
      ”    Hawkshead, 49-59
      ”    houses, 50
      ”    Man, 63
  Old-style cottages, 191
  Old Thirlmere, 165
  Old-timers, 162
  Orrest Head, 23
  Otter, the, 112, 182
  Ovens, 153

  Parish clerk, 177
  Parsons, miserably paid, 99
  Patterdale, “King” of, 196
  Pavement End, 46
  Pavey Ark, 218
  Pedlar, the, 111
  Peel Island, 61, 73
  Pelter Bridge, 32
  Philipson, Robert, 19
  Philipsons, 19, 24
  Picnicking, 121
  Place fell, 197
  Point of view, 185
  Postman, the, 117
  Priest, the, 108
  Priest’s Pot, 53

  Radical reform, 42
  Raven of Kurnal Crag, 221
  Ravens, the, 119
  Rawlinson’s Nab, 22
  Red deer, native, 181, 186
  Red tarn, 190, 206, 216
  Ring-ouzel, 181
  “Robert Elsmere’s dale,” 209
  Rock, 102
  Rock-climbing, 88
  Rossett Ghyll, 205
  Rothay, 28, 30-35
      ”    legends of mighty trout, 43
  Routes of travel, 5
  Ruddle or native iron, 87
  “Rush-bearing,” 46
  Ruskin, John, 26, 30, 63, 64, 69, 220
  Ruskin and Carlyle, 71
      ”    and the gondola, 70
  Rydal, 28, 36-48
  Rydalmere, 40
  Rydal Mount, 37, 39
      ”    Park, 27, 31

  St. Bee’s Head, 98
  St. Bega, 104
  St. Herbert’s Isle, 146
  St. Kentigern, 148
  Sandwick, 188
  Sandys family, 50, 53
  Santon Bridge, 95
  Scale Force, 119
  Scales tarn, 207
  Scarf Gap, 131
  Schoolmaster, the, 108
  Scoat tarn, 223
  Scott, Sir Walter, 16
  Scottish raiders, 53
  Screes, the Wastwater, 87, 95
      ”    rockfalls in, 88
  Seathwaite tarn, 61, 223
  Sheep, 75, 154, 215
      ”    “clipping,” 114
      ”    thatch-eating, 177
      ”    walks, 133
      ”    washing, 113
  Shepherding, 157
  Shepherds, 89
  Silver Bay, 200
      ”    Howe, 35
      ”    trout, 190
  Skeggles Water, 209
  Skidda’ hermit, 163
  Skiddaw, 148
  Skulls at Calgarth, 24
  Small Water, 211
  Smugglers, 98
  Somnambulist, the story of the, 198
  Sour Milk Ghyll, 129, 216
  Southey, 150, 163
  Sprinkling tarn, 223
  Squall on a mountain lake, 139
  ’Statesmen, 106
  Stews, Char, at inns, 66
  Stickle, tarn of, 218
  Stonechat, 179
  Storm clouds, 138
  Storrs, 13, 14
  Striding Edge’s top, 189
  Stybarrow Crag, 193, 194
  Stye Head, 223
      ”    ”  Pass (at night), 82-84
      ”    ”  tarn, 83, 206
  Sunrise, 64
  Sunset, 74
  Swallow, 181
  Swarth fell, 200

  Tarn Hows, 76, 223
  Tarns, mountain, 204-223
  Tennyson, 69, 71
  Thirlmere, 165-177
      ”    angling hardly permitted, 165
      ”    New, 172
      ”    Old, 165
  Thresthwaite Cove, 25
  Thunderstorm, 120
  Tourists, classes of, 4
  Travel, routes of, 5
  Trout, great lake, 191
  Troutbeck, 25
  Trout-fishing, 101, 106

  Ullswater, 185-203
      ”    night on, 202
      ”    yachts, 193

  Walker, Steve, trail-hound trainer, 42
  Walla Crag, 179
  Wandering minstrels, 109
  Wansfell, 26, 27
  Wastdale Church, 84
  Wastwater, 79-97
      ”    in winter, 85
  Watendlath, 152
  Waterhead, 9
      ”    pier, 37
  Water-lily, 54
  Watson, Bishop, 25
  Wetherlam, 77
  Whinfell tarn, 207, 208
  White Moss, 40, 42
  Wild fowl, 118
  Windermere, 9-29
      ”    char-fishing with plumb-line, 26
      ”    farmsteadings, 11
      ”    ferry, 15
      ”    Ferry Hotel, 17
      ”    parish church, 20
      ”    spectral white horse, 24
  Wishing Gate, 45, 47
  “Wonderful Walker,” 126
  Wood-owl, 181
  Wordsworth, Dorothy, 197
      ”    William, 14, 33-35, 38, 46, 50, 56, 57, 150
  Wordsworth describes his “Waggoner,” 176
  Wordsworth’s aversion to the larch-tree, 37
  Wordsworth’s “The Brothers,” 99
      ”    cottage, 33
      ”    “The Daffodils,” 198
      ”    home, 36
      ”    “Solitary,” 219
  Wray Castle, 26
  Wrynose Pass, 219
  Wythburn, 170, 175
      ”    Head, 170
      ”    old rector of, 176

  Yacht-racing, 17
  Yeoman, the, bell-ringer, 177
  Yewbarrow, 95
  Yewdale, 77
      ”    crags, 67
  Yews of Mardale, 183
  Youngster of the dales, 180

              A. AND C. BLACK . SOHO SQUARE . LONDON . W]

                               PRINTED BY
                     HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
                         LONDON AND AYLESBURY.

                          Transcriber’s Notes

--Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

--In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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