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Title: In Lakeland Dells and Fells
Author: Palmer, William 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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                          Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
in hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling and
punctuation remains unchanged.

Footnotes are located at the end of the relevant paragraph.

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         With a Frontispiece. Crown 8vo., cloth, gilt top, 6s.

                         LAKE-COUNTRY RAMBLES

‘Much has been written about the Lake Country, but few Lake Country
books have been so observant and pleasant as Mr. Palmer’s “Lake-Country
Rambles.” Mr. Palmer’s unambitious volume has simplicity and real
appreciation; he knows what he is writing about, and he gives sound

‘It would be almost impossible to imagine anyone unmoved to keen
pleasure in the reading of Mr. Palmer’s book on the Lake-land he knows
and loves so well.... It must suffice to recommend all lovers of Nature
and good books to buy it and read it. It will—admirable test—be a
delightful possession in Lake land itself.’—_Vanity Fair._

‘One of the very best studies of Lake-country life that has ever been
published, and there is no dull page in it.’—_London Quarterly Review._

‘Clever and pleasant reading. The book is well worth the attention of
those who collect the literature of country life and sport.... Mr.
Palmer traverses many branches of sport, and never writes without
interest and spirit.... The whole book is worthy of the country, which
has many and fine literary associations.’—_Pall Mall Gazette._

‘A most fascinating and delightful book. Mr. Palmer knows his Lake-land
thoroughly; no phase of its many-sided life has escaped his notice.
The spirit of the place is upon him, and his pages reflect it with
truth and vividness ... and make the scenes he describes live before
the reader in a manner which recalls the work of Richard Jefferies. We
cordially thank Mr. Palmer for a most fascinating volume.’—_Monthly

‘In his very entertaining book Mr. Palmer has left none of the aspects
of the Lake district unpainted in words. He spends, as it were, a
whole year—from spring to spring again—in Lake-land, and as the time
comes round for each change of occupation he is ready with stories and
descriptions which leave no room for dulness.... Mr. Palmer writes as
one who knows from experience the delights of a country life.’—_Daily

‘It has the sweetness and light of the country and of country life in
its pages.... Here is a volume by a true lover of Nature and a keen
observer of her ways. Moreover, Mr. Palmer writes with happy touches
such as come of long communings with Nature.... It is pleasant to read
a book of nature-studies like this.’—_Daily Chronicle._

‘Mr. Palmer’s charmingly written volume.... If one would know what
magic this wonderful district holds he must go to Mr. Palmer for
further guidance.’—_Morning Leader._

‘One of the most interesting topographical books that I have read for
a long time. It is full of exciting climbing by night as well as by
day. Mr. Palmer knows that delightful Lake Country well.... These are
fascinating chapters.’—_Tatler._

‘No one need desire a more capable or well-informed guide than Mr.
Palmer, and those who have no intention of visiting Lake-land will find
his book delightful.’—_Times._

‘Mr. Palmer must not be alarmed if his reviewers envy him. Those
“Lake-Country Rambles” of his have keen delight which a saint might
covet.’—_Daily News._

‘Could only have been written by one who has actually rambled over
the ground he speaks of; the papers have the merit which intelligent
observation at first hand almost always gives.’—_Westmorland Gazette._

‘Mr. Palmer possesses in a very eminent degree that true art which
consists in dressing nature to advantage, and it is joined to a clear,
natural, and picturesque style. His book is one which it is a pleasure
to read and a pleasure to recommend.’—_Glasgow Herald._

‘These pages are all imbued with the most simple and unaffected
poetic feeling, and with a sympathy keenly awake to the beauties of
Nature.... A book which is singularly interesting and thoroughly

‘In his pages we find every phase of the fells and lakes mirrored with
affectionate fidelity.... One of the most fascinating books of country
life that have appeared since Richard Jefferies opened the gates of his
literary Arcadia.’—_Manchester Guardian._

‘Mr. Palmer is a most instructive and agreeable companion in exploring
those characteristics of the people and country which, though less
familiar, are the very salt and essence of a proper appreciation of
lake-land. Mr. Palmer knows the lake country thoroughly, and, what is
more to the purpose, he is able to impart to the reader most of the
pleasure he has made for himself.’—_Whitehaven News._

‘A very charming book on a charming district.... It is hard, indeed, to
assign a limit to the varieties of entertainment that this fascinating
book contains.’—_Pilot._

‘The book has the great living quality of faithfulness. The author
renders simply but vividly just what he has seen, and, as his
experiences have been often adventurous, this earnest accuracy results
in a narrative power which constantly holds the reader. There is quite
an Homeric flavour about some of the pieces.’—_Speaker._

‘The pleasant journal of a man who sees natural beauty with quick,
clear eyes; there seems to be no sport, no custom, or toil, or delight,
about which he has nothing to say—all are familiar to him, and are
chronicled with an appreciation which is infectious and advice which is

‘A volume to be welcomed by all lovers of the Lakes.’—_Saturday Review._

          London: CHATTO & WINDUS, 111 St Martin’s Lane, W.C.

                      IN LAKELAND DELLS AND FELLS


                           IN LAKELAND DELLS
                               AND FELLS


                             W. T. PALMER

                  [Illustration: Publisher’s Device]

                            CHATTO & WINDUS




  I. A LINK WITH THE PAST               3

  II. AT A SHEPHERDS’ MEET             21


  IV. IN WILD WEATHER                  43

  ‘FELL-WALKING’ RECORDS               59


  I. UP THE DALE                       95


  III. A MOUNTAIN RAMBLE              121


  V. GHYLL-CLIMBING                   143

  VI. MOUNTAIN MOONLIGHT              159


  MOUNTAIN FOX-HUNTING                171




  III. AT MAYFLY TIME                 211

  IV. EVENING FISHING                 219

  V. ABOUT THE FISH-SPEAR             227

  TALES OF THE MIST                   239


  I. DAYBREAK ON THE SANDS            255

  II. THE PERIL OF THE SANDS          263


  I. ALONG THE HEATHER                275

  EXPEDITION                          290

  III. A WINTER DAY’S SPORT           306

  IV. ON THE FROZEN MERES             323



                     SHEPHERD LIFE AMONG THE FELLS


A voluntary exile from the land of the fells is an old-time shepherd.
Instead of among heathery wastes or rocky scaurs, he lives between
dismal gray grass-slopes where the Pennine divides Lancashire and
Yorkshire. Probably the heart beating within that stout framework which
defied the mountain storms of fifty years ago oft turns from the new
pursuits to the old. I met him on a cobbled road—what an abomination
these inhospitable stones must be to one whose foot for long fell soft
and silent on the grass of the uplands!—a weathered, well-made man,
with hair and whiskers turning tardily from brown to gray.

Shortly he detected that I knew and loved his own native land of the
fells, and then, after rapidly reviewing scenes from many a lovely lake
and valley there, our talk lighted upon some phase of shepherdry; and
then his eye kindled, and I knew him for what he truly was—a shepherd.

‘You know that dale, eh? I well remember the time when all the high
fells you can see from it were open and common to its farmers. Now they
are cut up according to the size of the holdings.

‘Before that happened the shepherd’s work was much more difficult.
Sheep-smits were a real thing then; you _had_ to know the mark of
every farm for miles round, for, unhindered by fences, strays were
always coming and going. Lambing-time was often late in May, and a
hard time it was. The shepherd had to remain night and day with his
flock, oft in a far-off mountain basin, where for a fortnight on end
he might never meet a single person. If the weather came stormy, the
labour and anxiety was trebled; the ewes and lambs had to be seen to at
all cost. One time I was four days and five nights without rest, for
first a great blizzard and then a wild rain-storm raged. In my flock
alone forty ewes died in those four days; the total loss of lambs was
impossible to reckon, for the whole lambing was spoiled. And I was in a
sheltered position, too. At such times, and when we worked the highest
grass at midsummer, our food had to be brought up to some pre-arranged
spot—a rough hut made with turf and a few spruce branches, partially
sheltering under some big rock. Often for two or three summer nights,
when it was fine, we lay out on the open moor. If a spell of really wet
weather set in, of course we came down nearer to the dales. During a
thunder-storm we frequently were in danger. I have seen a score sheep
struck with lightning—what a horrid smell is that of burning flesh and

‘At all times, fair weather or foul, our work was greatly lightened
by our dogs. It is a pleasure for a shepherd to train them for his
own use. You can’t buy a first-rate sheep-dog with gold. When I began
shepherding, sheep were much wilder than now, less in size, carrying
but poor wool, thriving badly. Cross-breeding with the Scotch sheep has
imparted a good deal of vigour to the mountain flocks, and the blood of
Southern breeds shows in increased size and choicer wool. Often when
wandering along the fellsides we shepherds used to sight one another,
but, seeing that each had a flock of about four thousand, it wasn’t
likely that we could feed our sheep together. If we did come close, our
flocks quickly got mixed, and there was half a day’s work sorting them
again. In those days, too, as wool fetched a better price on the market
by about double what it does now, shepherding was the best-paying farm
work. So there were plenty of good fellsmen to be got—men that could
clip [shear] and wash and doctor with the best there is to-day.

‘How did we manage to divide the fell up without fences? As I have
said, every farm had the right to send a number of sheep to graze
on the fell in those days, as they have a claim on so many acres of
pasture now. The owners of adjoining smaller farms combined to employ
a shepherd among them. Of course, the bigger halls kept shepherds of
their own. For farms on the right-side of the valley the shepherd
claimed the land from their outermost wall up to the top of the
watershed for width, and for length as far as the lowland extended. A
shepherd might thus drive over a moor four miles long and six miles
wide, with perhaps occasional excursions some eight or more miles.

‘A shepherd’s first job in the spring was to collect the sheep, and
to get to know their marks. Then he drove the mass to where there
was enough grass for pasturing. When you were walking among the
fells’—addressing me more pointedly—‘you would likely notice a great
number of sheepfolds. These formerly marked the end of the “heafs,” or
pasturages. The shepherd’s work was to drive his flock daily from one
set of folds to the other. But, seeing that grass is sparse on these
uplands—many an acre is occupied with cliffs and beds of rock and
scree—the shepherd had constantly to vary the level of his route.

‘Soon after the flock were on the fell-grass lambing commenced, when
the more weakly of his command needed close attention. The sheep didn’t
make things any easier by wandering to as remote positions as possible.
Lambing-time lasted four weeks as a rule, and after that the summer
grass had fully come. As the days began to be hot, we used to let our
sheep wander into the deep dark ghylls and the narrow shadows of the
boulders while we took a nap. Sometimes, instead of sleeping, we passed
the time in trying to avenge ourselves of our natural foes. The raven
and the fox particularly had levied toll of the weakest of our flocks
at lambing-time, and now we had a chance.

‘I have heard people say that the raven does no harm to the flock,
but amply eats up any dead bodies that may be lying on the fells. I
have seen, and at that time knew many men who had seen the same thing,
ravens descend from the great crags and attack newborn lambs. I say
this while believing that hawks, magpies, and carrion crows do not do a
fraction of harm to living sheep or lambs. But to talk about any or all
of them clearing dead bodies away—it’s sheer nonsense. In three days
the mountain beetles, tiny though they be, will clear every particle of
flesh from a dead sheep, leaving merely a skeleton of bones and a few
patches of wool. The raven is very plucky in defence of its nest, and
more than once I have heard of men being attacked by them when after
their nests. It’s exciting work clambering about the crags on the end
of a thin rope. You will maybe have seen near fox tracks and earths
short walls, and perhaps even loop-holed huts built of boulders. So
rough are these that few save dalesfolk notice them. They are shelters
for shooting from. At dawn and nightfall shepherds lie in wait in
these places, and fire upon the foxes as they pass. Few of the shots
are successful, owing to the poor light prevailing. The other ways of
killing foxes include poison, traps, and digging them out of borrans.
Many a score of fox-cubs are taken by the shepherds; they are worth ten
shillings apiece to masters of foxhounds in the low country. I have
downed many a fox by finding its benk (or place where it lies out in
summer), and then getting the sheepdogs to chase it into the open past

‘The next job in our summer, of course, was washing and shearing, but
it wasn’t often that I had much to do with either of these. A good many
sheep were drafted off about this time and sold. Big flocks were sent
into Scotland, and I generally got some droving. It was in the days
before railways came into this part of the world. Sheep were then sent
between buyer and seller by road. I remember, perhaps, best my first
journey. I was then with a farmer not so far from Shap Fells—in fact,
our sheep grazed on a corner of that big common. Our master and his
neighbours sold altogether five thousand sheep to go to a farm which
was being newly stocked near John o’ Groats—right away up in the North
of Scotland. John Todd and myself were picked out to drive them, and
one Friday morning we were to start. With our dogs at heel, we walked
down to the lowermost farm in the dale which was sending sheep. It was
a bonny morning. Skylarks, though the stars were hardly gone, were
whirling up, singing as only wild birds can. The beck rattled down
among the rocks and gurgled into the dubs. There had been rain in the
night, and when the sun got up every grass-blade shone with wee drops.
To a stranger, maybe, our dale looks wild and desolate, but to me it
was home. We passed the school where I learnt my few lessons, and
stopped at the next farm—old Donald Morris had it then.

‘“Come in—come in, John!” called the old farmer, as our clog-irons rang
on the paved fold. “What, Jimmy! is thoo gaen [going] with t’ sheep?”

‘“Ay!” I said.

‘“Well, come on and have some breakfast wi’ us; we’re just sitting

‘But I was glad John Todd said nay, for the word “breakfast” put me
by it [made me disinclined]. You’ll understand what it is for a lad
leaving his home-dale for the first time. We shepherds think a lot of
home, though it means cold flagged floors, rough-beamed dark rooms, and
leaking roofs, with whitewashed cottage walls, and maybe a straggly
stick-heap outside.

‘Donald came with us, and showed us the batch of his sheep we were to

‘“They’ll be a bit bad to manage, maybe, till you get out of the sound
of the lambs,” said he. “Here, Toss, Nell, get away by” [pass beyond
the sheep].

‘In a minute the dogs had driven the tiny flock out upon the dale-road,
and there they were restlessly moving back and forward, waiting for us
to commence our long drive.

‘“Noo, Jimmy,” said the old man, pressing the first crown piece of my
own I had ever possessed into my hand, “mind thoo does as John bids
thee. I remember thy father’s first droving; it was frae here into
Scotland. It’s a lang while sen.”

‘John called “How-up!” at this juncture; the sheep started forward, and
away we went. From the farmfold of Donald Morris I could see a little
white cottage perched high up the brae—my home—and my heart grew sick
for it. But as we began to push up the dale our flock of ewes—many of
them leaving lambs on the hillsides around—began to show spirit. Every
gateway they tried to rush; at a leaning or lower piece of wall one or
two surely attempted to scale it. Once or twice sheep wriggled through
small gaps into the fields around, and had to be hounded back to the
road. All the time a babel of bleatings filled the air, our crowd
replying with guttural voices to the thin wailings of the lambs.

‘Every minute the row [tumult of sound] grew wilder and our sheep
moved with more difficulty. Farm after farm was called at, or their
shepherds joined their quota on to ours from the fields. At each place
a billet of numbers and markings was given us, that we might prove
our claim to any that might stray or be stolen during our journey. By
about nine o’clock we reached the coach-road which leads across Shap
Fell, and soon after this the flock seemed to accept the inevitable,
and quietened down beautifully. Not for long, however, for immediately
we came on to enclosed roads they became very lively, especially when,
with a wild blare on the horn, a mail-coach passed us just above
Brougham Castle. They were scared without doubt, and it took us all our
time to keep up with them. Will you believe it, that by eight o’clock
at night we were past Carlisle? We had travelled, mainly at a run,
over forty miles, and, sheep, dogs, and men alike, we were dead tired.
The sheep were very hungry, too, for after leaving the open fell-road
they hadn’t stopped to nibble a single mouthful of grass. Next day we
crossed the Border. We perhaps did not get quite so many miles done,
for once our flock took a wrong road, in spite of all our dogs could
do; but, all the same, it was a hard, fast day—— What did you say?‘

‘Oh, I merely asked if you saw Gretna Green, where there used to be so
many runaway weddings?’

‘Oh ay! But there was no blacksmith’s shop at the bridge end, as
folk nowadays say there was. There were three or four postillions at
the next public-house, laughing of how they’d driven post-haste from
Penrith that morning, with two couple of gentlefolks. No doubt the
gentlefolks themselves were in the house, but we didn’t see them.

‘After four days of hard travelling we had crossed the mountains
behind Moffatt, and were getting near to Stirling. John Todd had again
and again said this pace could not last, and now the sheep began to
get more into command. Every day saw a mile or two less than the one
before, till we got down to a steady twenty-one miles per day. The
sheep were many of them quite footsore, and our dogs could hardly
raise a run. I remember quite well Stirling, with its great castle
pitched on top of a tall crag, and with the beck in the valley below.
Now we began to rest our flock every third day, and so crossed the
lowlands and approached the mountains. Folks began to stare at the
English shepherds, and wherever we stopped there was a crowd to ask
us questions. The country began to look different. To Perth every
field was cultivated; they grew the same crops as on the lower land
in Westmorland, and a fair good yield there seemed to be. So far we
had been easily able to get a lodging each night, and a field to put
the sheep in, but now there came to be fewer and fewer houses by the
roadsides, and even inns were scarce.

‘At this lapse of time I remember but few names of places; you see, the
country folks pronounced them so much different to what they look in
writing. One morning we left a village; almost immediately the road
began to climb into the middle of the great Grampian Mountains. Our
sheep moved but lamely and slowly. At mid-day, however, we had come
on to a wide moorland, the road over which was overgrown with grass
from scant use. In time we came to where the stump of a guide-post
marked a parting of ways, and near this stood a Highlander in kilt and
tartan. He looked at our flock as it filed past, then spoke to us a bit

‘My companion knew Lowland Scotch well, and had picked up a bit of
Gaelic about Perth on other journeys, but this man spoke a thick
dialect which completely baffled him.

‘“Are we right for Inverness?” John asked again and again, but the
man’s reply, though long and earnest, contained not a word we could
make out. Even the name Inverness was strange to the man, and, alas!
we knew not any near village. The Highlander seemed, by his signs, to
wish to tell us either something about the weather or the late hour for
driving, for he swung his arms again and again in the direction of the
drooping sun. For some minutes we tried in vain to understand him; then
John Todd said:

‘“Well, Jimmy, he seemingly thinks we’re on the road to somewhere, for
he doesn’t try to stop us. So, seeing it’s getting a bit late, we must
be pushing on.”

‘And on we went. A last backward glance showed us that the Scot had set
off along the opposite route. Now hill after hill was passed; never a
house in sight, only a wearying succession of gray, bare braes, with a
sky growing dark. At nine o’clock we toiled up a long slope, fording
a stream at its foot—just the same desolate scene. Night was fast
falling, when John said:

‘“Jimmy, it seems to me that that Scottie wanted to tell us it was far
to the next village; but whatever it was, this is certain—we’ll have to
sleep out to-night. Canst thou see a hut or shelter handy for us and
the dogs? The sheep won’t stray far; they’re overtired.”

‘A big boulder of granite stood some fifty yards away, and under it
we lay down, wrapped in our top-coats. It was a bright night till
midnight; millions of stars glittered above, and a thin horn of a moon
shone. Then the weather changed. From leaving Shap Fell to here we had
only had one wet day, but now it made up for lost time. The breeze
blew strong and cold from the west, and a great pack of cloud flew up
into the sky. It began to rain smartly; there was a sudden sharp gust
of wind, and everything was blotted out in blinding mist. My! it was
cold waiting up there for the dawning—colder far than a wet autumn
morning on Shap Fell. I couldn’t sleep, nor could the dogs, but John
and our flock seemed to take the occurrence as a matter of course. The
wind veered round about five o’clock, just as we were ranging up and
counting the sheep—a difficult job in the half-darkness—and in ten
minutes the last shred of damp cloud was torn from the ridges around
and the whole moorland was ablaze with day. Perhaps the outlook at
sunset had been wild and gray, but everything now was fresh and green.
Cheerfulness in life seemed to be renewed everywhere; our sheep walked
less tiredlike; our dogs frisked about merrily. At mid-day we reached a
small inn. There was no occupant within, all being, probably, haymaking
in some invisible field, so we foraged for ourselves: a brown loaf and
some cheese made an excellent repast after a fast of over thirty-six
hours. Then, leaving money on the table to appease our unwitting host,
we pushed on, hoping to reach some village ere sundown, which we did.
We saw our sheep safely into a field and went to bed.

‘We had intended to stay two days in this place to rest our sheep, but
on our very first turn-out John and I were collared and handcuffed by a
couple of broad policemen. We asked again and again what we had done,
but they only grunted out some words we could not understand. After
ten minutes, in which a lively debate went on between the policemen,
we were jerked along between them right through the village, stopping
at last at a big house. A few words passed between our captors and the
servant, and then the four of us were shown into a big room. Presently
a big soldierly man came in; he walked with a limp, but he seemed to be
a real gentleman.

‘He spoke a minute with the two constables, then turned to us, and said
in English:

‘“Well, what have you to say?”

‘“Will you first tell us what about, sir?” said John. “What’s to do
that we’re brought here?”

‘He looked a bit surprised at John’s quiet way, and said:

‘“You’re brought here for sheep-stealing. The police tell me you have
brought a lot of sheep from the moors to this village. What have you to

‘John laughed, and I laughed too.

‘“Well if ever! Why, we’ve driven the sheep from Shap Fell, in
Westmorland! I’ll show ye my proofs.” And John turned a whole pile
of papers out of his pocket, which the magistrate read slowly and

‘“Do you know Captain——?” he said a moment later, naming a man well
known in our district.

‘“Of course I do! My father used to work for him, and so I did myself.
My brother is in his regiment, sir.”

‘“What is your brother like, and what is his name?”

‘John of course gave these details without a bit of trouble, after
which the magistrate got up and shook hands with us both, gentleman
though he was.

‘“Your brother is in my regiment, too,” he said; “or, at least, it was
my regiment till——” and he stopped short and pointed downwards. He had
but one foot; that was why he limped. “Now go back to your inn; I’ll
settle with the police.”

‘When we got past the mountains and through Inverness, we were met by
two shepherds, sent from John o’ Groats to meet us. Our flock by this
time were a straggling lot. Instead of moving in one compact mass, they
now generally covered some two miles of road, the parties going at
speeds according to their strength. One of us with a dog had to walk in
front to find the right road; the other kept the sheep behind on the
move. But these two shepherds helped us gloriously, and thirty-six days
after we left home we finally delivered our flock to the man who had
bought it.

‘How did we get home again? John Todd was a wonderful fast walker, and
we made fifty miles a day from John o’ Groats down to Carlisle.’

The foregoing remarkable journey was but one of many the old shepherd
had made. He had driven sheep to Fortwilliam, at the foot of the
Caledonian Canal; had, when Barrow, now a great industrial centre, was
a mere village, driven sheep to meet a brig which then plied between
Peel Castle and the Isle of Man. The voyage took three days owing to
contrary winds, and the poor animals ate every scrap of hay and straw
on board the vessel. The shepherd had travelled South as well as North,
and knew some of the walks of North and Central Wales well.

Many other stories of his life did he regale me with, but nothing,
perhaps, which interested me more than the following curious statement:

‘Sheep possess a strong homing instinct on occasion. In the old days,
before steam was used for transport, time and again they used to
leave the intakes they were bought for and travel many a mile back
home again. This was, perhaps, the most remarkable case I ever met
with. In the early days of cross-breeding a farmer bought a score of
Cheviot tups at one of the Scottish Border towns. A day or two after
reaching the farm, they, having been smitted, were put upon the open
fell, where they seemed to be quite at home; but before the week-end
the shepherd reported every one of the new-comers missing. Every flock
ranging the common was searched without success, and the farmer was
beginning to fear they had been stolen, when a letter came from the
Scottish sheep-walk saying the tups had returned. How they had managed
to win home again across the width of three counties, and presumably
along the great “drove road,” is beyond my comprehension. No doubt this
tale is beyond your belief, but I have seen many similar instances.
A wandering “stray” is no marvel in a land of shepherds; but a body
of sheep moving in one direction, influenced by a common impulse,
which carries them over some sixty miles of intersecting road and
through terrifying difficulties (to a sheep), cannot be anything but


The sheep have been collected from the unfenced mountain pastures,
and are now being driven down towards the valley for winter. Near the
gateway into the enclosed fields the shepherd goes round to the front
of the moving flock to let down the bars (or open the gate, as the
case may be) for their passage. Two of his dogs are left to drive the
sheep downwards, the third accompanying its master. The gate opened,
the sheep are allowed to pass singly, while the man posts himself in
a position to clearly see the distinctive flock-mark on each animal
passing. Should one not show this red or black sign, the nearer dog is
signalled, and the animal is rapidly driven to an adjacent fold. After
all have passed, the shepherd’s attention is turned to these enfolded
sheep. The place in which they are standing is divided by a rough
wall, and in the largest section the suspects are grouped. Posting
a dog in the gap which serves as entrance, the shepherd goes in and
examines his ‘sorting.’ Some are almost irrecognisable wanderers from
his own flock, a great many truants from neighbouring heafs, while the
remainder belong to adjacent valleys. The sheep of the home dale are
shortly driven to their own intakes, and during this round of visits
the shepherd receives many of his own ‘strays.’

The remaining head cannot easily be returned to farms into the teens
of miles away, so to obviate expense the Shepherds’ Meet has come
into existence. Formerly of great importance, the festival has now
fallen to the bare exchange of sheep and an excuse for holiday. The
gatherings are usually at places central to a wide area of fells farms;
for example, that held at Mardale attracts the men of that dale, of
Swindale and Mosedale, of Bannisdale and Boroughdale, Longsleddale,
Kentmere and Troutbeck. There are also famous meets held in Eskdale,
Langdale, Wastdale, and at Thirlspot under the shadow of mighty
Helvellyn. To these the shepherds of the various districts bring on an
appointed day such ‘strays’ as have not been disposed of, and here come
also those who have animals missing from their flocks.

The shepherds working on that great wilderness of mountains between
High Street and Fairfield meet at the little whitewashed inn on
the summit of Kirkstone Pass. If you are lucky enough to gain
accommodation there on a night in late November, you will be roused
at daybreak by the quavering plaints of many sheep. Shepherds are
early risers; as the day is mainly given over to amusement, they
naturally endeavour to get all business done as early as possible. As
you stand in the roadway, you see many knots of sheep moving towards
the hostelry, in the narrow field behind which a labyrinth of pens has
been constructed. As the small flocks pass it, their bleatings are
thrown from the squat white walls of the house as from an excellent
sounding-board, and the steep ribs of Red Screes echo the sound
backward and forward, fainter each time, till it passes beyond the
ear’s perception. In the gray light the scene around is particularly
wild; above the great rocks carrion crows are wheeling and sounding
their raucous notes; in the lofty crag towering to the left of the
great rift in the mountain wall a raven is croaking and a pair of
buzzards skirling. Nearer at hand, unmoved by the stir and clamour,
dingy sparrows and a few dirty-gray stonechats are flitting about
on their morning business. After a few minutes passed in the road,
comparing this noisy dawn with last nightfall, when the gray shades
crept from eastward, blotting out distant mountains and well-like
valleys ere darkness stalked down to this lonely place from the
heights, I turned to where the sheep had been penned. At my elbow was
a young farmer of Troutbeck, in search, he said, of five animals which
had been missing from his farm since last July.

As the shepherds arrive, their quotas are penned separately, and all
around is the buzz of conversation from weather-beaten men, looking
intently on each occupant of the rough constructions. Now and again I
hear a voice claiming one for his own.

‘Ay, this is mine. Looksta at t’ blue pop on’t nar [near] shoulder?‘

‘What’s yer other marks, Mister Dobson?’ says a rugged veteran who
seems to have constituted himself steward of this pen.

‘Well, noo, I bowt [bought] that fra Jack Briggs o’ t’ Lilehouse. It’ll
be horn-marked B on t’ right horn, and D on t’ left hoof. Hesn’t it a
“key” in t’ right lug [ear]?‘

‘Ay, Mr. Dobson, it hes.’

The veteran climbs into the pen, and secures the sheep indicated, the
loose hurdle is unbound, and Danny walks out with the animal between
his legs. A struggling ewe is impossible for me to manage. Hold it as I
will, I am dragged hither and thither at its pleasure, and at last am
fain to let go; but these men have mastered the art of control, and in
a few seconds the sheep’s marks are checked and it is driven through
the rabble of men and dogs to an empty pen.

The Troutbeck shepherd is standing some yards away beside a pen
containing five half-bred ewes. As I approach he turns, and remarks,
with a laugh: ‘These are mine! All together, and t’ first lot I’ve
looked at!’

I congratulate him on his luck, then ask him how he will prove his

‘Well, look here’—he vaulted within the enclosure and laid hands on the
nearest animal—‘all my sheep are marked with a R burnt on the horn;
there’s t’ same on t’ hoof, wi’ a red stripe down t’ left flank like
this. Well, anybody from our dale knows these marks, and if anyone
doubted me I should bring some of them to prove it.‘

The shepherd and I walked round the strays still unclaimed; the wan
morning light had broken into clear day I noticed, but my companion, by
his remarks on fells life and customs, kept my attention closely. Then
he suddenly stopped, and, pointing to a single ewe folded by itself, he

‘That sheep’ll not be claimed to-day, I guess.’ Then, turning to the
lad in charge, he continued: ‘Jimmy, wharriver hesta gitten that fra?’
[wherever have you got that from?].

‘Why, it com into our flock three week since. Dosta know whar it

‘It’s a gay way from here. Hesta seen Jimmy Green of Little Langdale

‘He was here five minutes sen. But he can’t name it.’

‘I’ll fetch him;’ and off he went, to return in a minute with a long,
lean man of the nervy hunting type. ‘Noo, Jim, dosta name it? It
belongs to t’ priest at Seathwaite. Thoo’s handled many a yan [one] o’
his when we lived at Tarn Hall together.’

Here followed a technical description of the marks distinguishing the
flock of the Vicar of that remote mountain parish, and the upshot was
that Green agreed to take the sheep to Little Langdale, till such
time as he could spare a day to climb the steep pass of Wrynose, and
tramp the seven miles of rough path down the Duddon Valley to where
the sheep’s owner lived. How had the sheep wandered so far away? I
wondered; the point at which it had been detected was thirty full miles
from its rightful home. My companion thought it possible that the ewe
had rambled over the fell to some mountain road, and along this had
followed in the track of some flock which was being driven from one
dale to another. It was likely that one such happening might bring the
ewe across all the enclosed ground between two commons, upon the second
of which it had been captured.

By this time the business of the meet was over, and mine host called
me indoors, and half scoldingly reminded me that the breakfast ordered
for seven a.m. remained untouched now, after eight o’clock. My little
parlour, I found, had been invaded by a section of the shepherds, a
few of whom joined in my meal. I had just got back to the front of the
house, when the sound of a hunting horn floated along the stony breast
of Red Screes. The stirring notes rose and fell and rose again, dying
off at last in a confusion of sweet echoes. A pack of foxhounds is
always an attraction at the Kirkstone Meet, and rarely does a good hunt
fail them over the splintered seams and lofty slopes which extend for
miles on either side. In a few minutes the pack arrived. There were
no preliminaries; the huntsmen simply stated that the hounds would
operate in a certain direction, and off they went, a knot of stalwart
dalesmen in attendance. Up the great hill the quest gradually wound.
Every now and again a hound gave tongue, but no scent worth following
was discovered. I could see men and hounds scrambling and dodging among
the rocks above the first range of cliffs. Suddenly there was a wild
chorus; the tiny objects redoubled their speed of ascent. They stood
out against the skyline, a number of slender points, then went out of
sight. The huntsman’s pink coat had hardly disappeared over the rocky
ridge ere another horn heralded the approach of the harriers. These
last, with more leisure, cast off in a field just beside the inn, and,
more fortunate than the others, had a scent almost at once. I watched
them dash away, the hounds outdistancing their followers easily, till a
fold of the fell hid them from view.

My interest was less with these sports than with the real business
of the meet. Every ten minutes or so a shepherd would start off for
his distant home with a few sheep, and I watched each out of sight. I
engaged a few men in talk about their calling, but their words were
not fluent, and little information could I glean. Then mine host, in
a moment of slack business, presented me to a very old man, who, he
averred, knew all there was to be known by humans of life on the fells.
To this commendation the whole company assented. ‘Old Jimmy knows
everything about t’ old times,’ they said.

After a few preliminary questions we got far into the past, and I was
surprised to find the old gentleman, at the age of ninety-one, able to
give lucid expression to memories of his very young days. He had known
Wordsworth, and Professor Wilson of Elleray, and a score more of the
great inhabitants of Lakeland. Mr. Ruskin (who at the time was still
alive) had on two occasions stayed the night at his house, but of that
noble character the old man understood but little.

At this point someone called in from the doorway that the hounds were
running in full view. Out we poured in a great hurry, the old man as
nimble as any, and moving without the aid even of a stick. We watched
the pack gallop hard along the grass, then lost them a moment as they
crossed a deep ravine. In less than three minutes the hare led them
out of sight again over the ridge, and we saw them no more. The old
man elected to tell the remainder of his story in the open air, and,
scorning my offer of a chair, sat down on a low wall opposite the inn.

‘Now, Kirkstone was not always the place for this Shepherds’ Meet. It
used to be on the top of Kentmere High Street, a nearly level bit about
a mile and a half long. Up there, after the sheep were all exchanged,
there used to be horse-racing. You mightn’t think a fell pony could get
along quickly, but, bless you! they are mighty handy in picking their
way across ground covered with stones or peat bogs. Then there used to
be a lot of wrestling, with a few foot races and suchlike. Now things
are different. When t’ meet was first brought to Kirkstone, there used
to be a guide’s race up to t’ top of the fell there,’ indicating an
almost inaccessible-looking spur of rock and scree; ‘but that’s been
done away with for a bit now. And what wi’ hunting both fox and hare,
there’s no time left for wrestling. Things are altered a deal in every
way, and maybe it’s as well t’ meet changes like other things.‘

The old man had many stories which I shall not repeat here. His long
life had been spent entirely among the fells, and he was a veritable
storehouse of legends and old customs.

The day passed on rapidly, and at evening there was a grand meeting
of all the shepherds and followers of both packs. Events were fast
settling down to the level of a ‘merry night’ when I bade mine host
farewell and followed the sound of the last departing flock.


I wish it to be clearly understood that I am reproducing, without
ornament or argument, the tale of a mountain catastrophe as told by a
rheumy little man of sixty-five, the holder of a well-known sheep-farm
among the fells. The scene in which it was told to me was one of the
bleakest tracts on the Lakeland mountains; others of my party had
pushed on towards the dale, leaving me to hear the old man’s story.
This was told in a strong dialect, reproduced with difficulty in
ordinary English, and in this version I have tried to retain the simple
directness of his narrative.

       *       *       *       *       *

‘Joe Sumner was in charge of my sheep in the intake just beyond the
pass-head there. In summer I used to go once a week or so to look my
lot over, and, with Joe’s help, to doctor any sick. In winter I always
went up after a snowstorm to help dig out any that had been caught
in the drifts. Well, one December there was a fearful storm; the wind
from south-east brought eight inches of snow to us in the lowlands. As
soon as the worst blew over I harnessed up, took Jim, one of my men,
and three dogs, and drove over to Joe’s house at the pass-foot. He was
waiting for us, and said that he was afraid a good many sheep were lost
in a ghyll which had been drifted level. He mounted the trap, bringing
a lad to look after the horse while we were in the intakes.

‘The way up was pretty bad to drive; here and there the snow had
drifted right across the roadway, but the old mare pulled through
easily when we had got out and lightened the trap. Just below the
summit was about a mile of level nearly clear of drifts, and along this
we rattled at a fairish pace. At the top we got out, and sent the lad
back with the trap. It had been blowing pretty thin all the morning,
but the first sweep into our faces from northward simply doubled us up
with cold. The hills around this pass-head always look wild and dreary,
but never so bad as when yards deep in snow. Joe and his dogs led us to
a hollow in the fellside where in summer a beck rattled down in a score
pretty waterfalls. This was drifted nearly level.

‘Joe came to a stop at the bottom of this great mass of snow—a hundred
yards long, ten deep, and maybe twenty to thirty wide.

‘“I’ve been out since daylight looking up the sheep, and there’s
fifty-eight missing—twenty-eight of mine and thirty of yours. My dogs
scented a few in Yew-tree Ghyll, and one or two nigh Borwen’s Knott,
but I hadn’t time to dig any of them out. However, I think that the
best part of them that is missing are in this ghyll, and maybe we’d
better try to get the nearer ones out now.”

‘A pair of spades were going very shortly in an outlying patch, where
the dogs had marked a buried sheep. The snow was dry, and flew in
great clouds like powder. I was watching the others at work. The
breeze was—well, I said its first sweep was a marvel for coldness, and
I thought it wasn’t possible for wind to be more bitter. But as the
minutes went on, it grew decidedly worse, so I took shelter behind a
big rock. Of course, a wind could hardly blow over many a weary mile of
snow and then be anything but freezing itself. I whistled for the dogs,
but they didn’t come, and in a few minutes, wondering what mischief
they were up to, I ventured out. Was that old Dobbin ranging on the
road half a mile away? I whistled my hardest—dogs can pick up a further
sound than a man, as any shepherd knows: it stopped a moment, then
turned and leathered heedlessly away. Black, Nan, and Bob were also on
the road galloping for home. I couldn’t understand it, so called Joe
up. He was puzzled as well.

‘“There’s something in it,” he said, pondering like, as he looked
around. “I bet it’s fairly frozen the poor little beggars out. Whew! I
never knew it so cold as this, even on the pass!”

‘We were both looking northwards towards the dark lake and the dismal
white mountains, when the great mass of a far-off range suddenly
disappeared, and in its place a murky gray cloud seemed to leap from
summit to summit in our direction. Joe gasped, and then turned with a

‘“Jim, come on sharp! There’s a regular host of a storm coming. Now,
mister, ye’ll have to step lively if we’re to be over the pass before
that great whirlwind of snow catches us!”

‘Down the snow-slope we ran, but we had barely reached the track before
the gale was on us so strong we could hardly keep our feet. Beside
which the snow whirled down so thick that we could hardly see one
another even between the gusts.

‘I heard Joe’s voice yell above the storm, “Keep close to me, both of
you!” I did my utmost, but as we got on to the plain [bleak] pass-head,
with a wild skirl the wind got hold of me, and threw me headforemost
into a deep drift. I’m not thinking you’ll believe me, but I had a
fearful job getting out of that. The wind seemed almost solid with
pelting snow, and every time I staggered to my knees it knocked me flat

‘In a few minutes I managed, in a lull between two earth-shaking
blasts, to get on to my feet and make a rush for the road, which, at
least, was free of snow. Then, jumping up as each gust blew over, and
running in the little quiet before another came along, I got to the
top of the pass and down into a fairly sheltered cove. Here Jim and
Joe hailed me with delight. They were wondering how I had come on, Joe
holding that I was all right, and the other being equally sure that
some big drift had got me. _They_ had been knocked flat by the gust
that almost buried me, after which, taking advantage of every slack in
the storm, they had got to shelter a good ten minutes earlier.

‘After this we got down to Joe’s house and waited—the sheep must stick
[stay] for the present. The dogs, coming in long before we did, had put
the folks out terribly.

‘It was near midnight when the snow passed off and we made a new
start. This time our aim was not so much to dig out the lost ones, as
to collect and drive down every sheep we could find. It was bright
moonlight when we set off; the air was still, and the stars glished
[gleamed] down as bright as if they were but a mile away. Have you ever
been on a pass-head with mountains all around on a moonlight night?
Some folks call it sublime and awesome, but those words mean nothing to
plain men like me. Three of us climbing through drifts and along stony
roads felt like we did when we were bairns, and ventured alone after
dark where we believed ghosts and fairies lived. We used to cower along
as if at every step we expected something terrible to happen, with our
shoulders drawn in, waiting for a heavy hand to strike us. I remember
well my half-sobs and nervous looks around when I had to cross the wood
beyond the stepping-stones, where a murder once took place. This time
we didn’t sob, though our other feelings were the same.

‘On the pass-head everything was so still that it was quite a relief
when Joe whistled his dogs away to the top end of the intake, where
a crowd of dark gray dots could be seen on the white. I sent my dogs
to watch the further side, keeping them near the places where drifts
had buried the fences. Our shouts and whistles seemed strangled
in our throats by that queer stillness; but, still, they must have
travelled well, for the dogs made never a mistake. The air was cold,
freezing cold, but it was still, and the chill was nothing compared to
the searching bite of the wind earlier in the day. In about half an
hour a mixed flock of my sheep and Joe’s were being brought with loud
bleatings down to where we stood.

‘Our return down the pass was done in darkness—if the combined shining
of stars, northern lights, and the reflection off miles of snow, is
darkness—after which I should have been glad to get to bed awhile. But
Joe was determined that the sheep must be dug for at once; the great
hollow where most of them lay would fill with water if a sudden thaw
came, and any sheep then left in would surely be suffocated. He went
the round of his neighbours’ farms to pick up any men that could be
spared, while I sent the trap home for what servants my place could do
without. Collecting workers is always a tedious job, but in four hours
we had nine spademen mustered, and made a move for the third time up
the drifted track.

‘Gray dawn was just coming when we got to the top of the pass; the
silence of moonlight was gone, and our company’s talk made the dreary
hillsides echo. We had plenty of dogs, so a few of us went to Borwen’s
Knott—a stiff climb, where every few minutes we seemed to slip back
as far as we had dragged forward. My back ached long before we got to
where the sheep had been marked, and I lagged behind to rest. When I
got up to the others, the dogs had marked down three sheep at no great
depth—perhaps a yard or so—and the spades were clearing the snow away
like mad. In a minute or two the sheep were clear, and we sent them
off towards the pass-road. One of the dogs scented another close in
under the crags of the Knott, and to get this out seemed like to give
a lot of work. How do these sheep get buried, you say? Well, it’s
sheep nature when a storm—wind, snow, rain, or the three together—gets
to a certain pitch to lie down with their backs toward it. Like that
they bide [remain] till the worst is over, no matter whether they
are buried overhead or not. For a sheep can breathe easily through a
covering of twenty feet of snow; and as its body-heat thaws a little
cave, the weight above, though it may be tons, doesn’t harm it at all.
The breathing-places on the snow can be picked out by a man if the
sheep aren’t far under; but if they are, it takes a dog all its time
to find where the beast lies. Now, as I was saying, these lost sheep
at Borwen’s Knott were right in among the rocks, and pretty deep down.
The shepherds, however, dug a deep trench in the drift which had
plastered itself against the Knott, and after an hour’s hard work the
sheep jumped up not a bit worse. At Yew-tree Ghyll a gang got down to
the sheep without much trouble; one of them was so lively after passing
thirty hours or more in a drift that it butted over three of the
shepherds in making for the open.

‘Joe reckoned that twenty-four sheep were in the deepest part of the
big ghyll, and that another score could be got at in a day’s work.
While the spades were beginning work, I and two of my men took our dogs
and went over the whole two intakes thoroughly. At one spot we had a
surprise. A hollow in the hillside not more than a yard deep had been
drifted level, and in this were, maybe, a dozen rounded lumps—tops of
rocks covered with snow, we thought; but my man Jackson, as we crossed
the flat, kicked his foot against one, and found nothing hard. He
stopped to examine the thing. It was a sheep, lying just as it had
turned its back to the storm, not covered with more than a foot of
snow. We whistled the dogs up, and as they came floundering along,
fully a dozen ewes jumped up and made away.

‘“Ho, ho!” said I, “this find ’ll make Joe Sumner stare. He’ll have
to alter his figures as to what’s in that great ghyll if we go on like

‘But though we found no other great number, a careful look about the
walls and other likely places showed us where more lay. Altogether,
our tramp about the intakes brought up twenty-three ewes in good
strength and condition. One poor thing we found with a leg broken by
a stone which somehow had split from the side of a rough outcrop, and
another was in the pool beneath a force in the beck that runs into
the valley, drowned. Joe Sumner was surprised at how we had come on.
A dozen men working for their lives fairly in that great pile of snow
in the beck-course had got three sheep out in as many hours. But their
digging was coming near to a flat grassy spot where a dozen or so sheep
lay, and here all expected success. And it was not long in coming. The
sheep had clustered almost into one mass, and were lifted out one after
another. In their haste the spademen had left the snow overhanging some
four or five feet, and just as the seventh sheep was lugged [hauled]
out, a big patch gave way, smothering everything for two or three
minutes in a cloud of whirling snow-dust. When this cleared somewhat,
it was found that two shepherds were still under the snow. Spades had
been used before at some speed, but I can tell you _that_ was nothing
to the rush put on now. For what’s the price of a sheep to the value
of the life of a man? Tons of snow were whirled aside, and in five
minutes the first man was reached. He had an ugly gash on the side of
his head: he had been driven down with tremendous force on to the blade
of his spade. But he was still conscious, and reiterated weakly what we
knew too well: “Jack Howson was further in nor [than] me.”

‘The spademen stopped work not a moment; for though a sheep can breathe
through many feet of snow, a man suffers terribly when buried over a
foot. Soon a boot was reached, and in a few seconds the drift had been
thrown aside sufficiently for Howson to be lifted out. He was pretty
much dazed, but no worse for the mishap, and in ten minutes he again
took his share of the digging. Immediately beneath where his body had
been lying an old ewe was found, and seven more within some two yards.
Altogether, thirteen sheep were brought out. Only five were missing
from both flocks now—three from mine and two from Joe’s; and as we
couldn’t find the exact places—the snow was so deep that the dogs
couldn’t scent them—where they were lying, we were forced to let them
bide [remain]. They might have the luck, we thought, to live through
till the thaw came, and the melting snow mightn’t, perhaps, drown them
all. Besides’—and here the native shrewdness of the shepherd shone
through the eloquence of the raconteur—‘it would have cost a deal to
dig the ghyll dear of snow—far more than five ewes at forty shillings
apiece are worth.‘

Seemingly, with this the story was ended, but I queried what eventually
became of the five missing sheep.

‘All lost in the thaw,’ was the reply. ‘The beck flooded, and the
drift sucked the water in till they were suffocated, poor things!’


Under its canopy of leafless sycamores the sheep-farm stands high above
the next most remote dwelling in the dale. It is a pleasant place to
dwell in during summer: the great fells clothed with green, spreading
beds of bracken rise close around. A great rib of rock and scree almost
cuts off the tenement, so that it commands only a narrow view of the
long, almost level valley. But, though so close confining it, the
mountain protects neither the buildings nor the farm land immediately
adjoining from the fury of winter storms. When the air becomes filled
with sleet, the fields and rough mountain roads stand mid-leg-deep with
half-liquid snow. A hundred feet above, the clouds fly in dense ragged
beards; their damp breath penetrates nigh even to the cosy kitchen
fire. The scene is cheerless: gray sky and grayer dale, relieved only
with white where in the shelter of the rocks a small snowdrift resists
the general thaw, or where in foamy spouting cataracts the flooded
becks are gushing. Dimly seen through the sheets of snow and rain,
the sheep are cowering in the dips of the intakes, and among them the
shepherd is moving.

As he returns to the steading for another load of hay—it were cruelty
indeed to expose even the hardiest horse to the terrible ‘clash’
prevailing—I walk out to intercept him.

‘Can I help you?’ I ask.

For a moment he surveys my outfit of mackintosh, leggings, and
multifarious wraps; apparently I pass muster, for he says quite kindly:

‘Well, if you like; but it _does_ blow something cruel outside of the
fold. You had better go back to the kitchen.’

This put me on my mettle, and I declined to retire. Without another
word, the shepherd slung a rope round a big bundle of hay, and helped
me with it on my shoulders.

‘Can you manage it?’ he asked.

It was barely possible, but I would not admit it, especially as he, a
spare, bent figure of a man little more than half my size, was already
shouldering a bundle of about double the weight. My load seemed to
spread over my neck and head, driving my chin perforce on to my chest,
and causing me to breathe with increasing difficulty.

‘Now follow me,’ said Ralph, as he staggered through the wide doorway.
Clear of the buildings the storm was raging more wildly. A heavy gust,
almost solid with sleet, struck us, and at its onslaught I reeled
against a convenient wall. When my eyes, dashed with water, took
service again, I saw Ralph stepping ahead over the sloppy fold. The
mountain of hay he was almost buried in proved a good point to guide
by, though the start he had obtained while the gust held me prisoner
gradually increased till it became difficult to see him through the
films of falling rain. The fold-gate reached—Ralph had propped it
ajar—a bleating throng encompassed me.

‘Where shall I drop it?’ I called, my attention being for a moment
diverted from my companion, and from a long way in advance his voice

‘Come on! it is for the ewes by the beckside.’

To reach this point we had to face a short ascent and cross a tiny
exposed level. This was the very vortex of the hurricane. No sooner had
I stepped on to it than the powerful gusts hustled me round and round,
dragged my load from my shoulders, and threw it yards away, depositing
me meanwhile in a deep basin of snow-broth. The great dashing curtains
of snow and rain and this mishap completely wet me through. It
therefore seemed of little avail to abandon the job, so I looked round
for Ralph. He was delivering his forage to a crowd of pushing sheep
two hundred yards away. I essayed unaided to lift the bundle in my
charge, but not until the third attempt did it consent to balance on my
shoulders. I now made a quick rush in Ralph’s direction. My feet were
far from as sure as Ralph the shepherd’s on such slippery ground. The
storm tumbled and tossed me about; my unwieldy bundle, caught by the
wind, whirled me bodily away, spun me round, then whisked me off my
feet entirely. In ten minutes, and after three attempts, I got nearly
three-quarters of my journey over, but so storm-tossed that I had to
signal the waiting shepherd to come to my aid. He carried the bundle
the rest of the way.

For a moment the wild screeching of the gale among the crags above
ceased. The sheep crowded round us, intent on getting their share
of the forage. Poor miserable creatures they looked, for in winter
these valley lands are at best unhealthy. The little corner Ralph had
selected for a feeding-place was somewhat sheltered from the sweep
of the storm, but the flock had trodden the ground into a perfect
quagmire, from which they were now picking stray wisps of muddied hay.

‘Well,’ said Ralph, ‘what do you think of them?’

I had to say that the sheep did not seem very first-class, to which
the shepherd replied that there was hardly a flock in the dale in
better condition. Fell sheep are brought down from the highest ground
in November, and many are sent on to the marshlands near the sea for
winterage. As this means certain expense, however, the farmer must in
these hard days keep as many sheep at home as he possibly can. Should a
protracted season of frost and snow ensue, the slender resources of hay
and roots are soon exhausted, and then there is much suffering for the
flock. Ralph seemed to feel the misery of his flock as much as any of
its individual members.

‘But,’ said the shepherd, ‘our sheep aren’t as bad as they used to be
in my grandfather’s time. He says that frequently nearly one-half of
the lambs never went to heaf again after winter. Footrot and lungworm
used to kill them by scores. Now let us walk round the intake, and see
how the others are faring. I fed them up at the top end before it was
light this morning, and I wasn’t sure all the sheep turned up.’

Though the storm bellowed and hurled its forces against us, we
struggled round that great enclosure. Even on the most exposed
shoulder, in every cranny among the rocks, in every fold in the hill
where there was anything like shelter, in every beck-course, there
were sheep. Back-turned to the seething gale, silent, mournfully
chewing their cud. Said Ralph the shepherd:

‘It makes my heart bleed to see them like this, but, then, what can I

One sheep, after careful numbering, was missing, and after a long
search we found it. It had been wandering along the edge of the stream,
and had fallen down the steep bank into the water. One leg was broken
by the fall; it was one of the most ailing of the flock, so weak that
it had drowned in a very small pool.

Our patrol over, I returned to the farm kitchen. How cosy a fire looks
to one who has been struggling against chill and damp furies for three
or four hours! My return was hailed with a chorus of protests against
ever turning out on such a day; but I had seen something of the most
unpleasant and fatiguing side of shepherd-life, which I could not fail
to remember.

Twenty minutes later Ralph left the kitchen to recommence his duties;
but flesh and spirit were alike weak, and I did not then accompany
him. Till darkness fell, I watched from the inside of a stout home the
day’s mood vary from whirling snow to thundering gale and to clashing
curtains of rain; then, as night really began, we drew firewards.

‘Where’s Ralph? Hesn’t he come in yet?’ asked the old farmer from the
depths of his chair.

‘He’s just gone round to let his dogs out,’ was the reply. ‘He says
there’s some sheep want driving in a bit for the night.’

At this the shepherd himself opened the door. He was dripping wet, but
that was what he had been all day, and in his eyes lived tiredness.

‘Will some of you come and give me a hand with the sheep from the top
end? I’ll have to have them nearer if they’re to be looked at again

Three of us promptly offered our services. Lanterns were brought, and
soon we started. Even with our lights not more than ten yards could be
seen. Soon I lost touch with the others, and for an hour wandered about
the storm-swept fellside. Then in the lulls I began to hear men and
dogs and sheep on the move: the others were bringing the flock towards
the farm. These men had had an exciting time; snow-fringed ghylls and
slippery rock-faces had provided real dangers to avoid.

Home at last! The wearied Ralph, divesting himself of several layers of
outer garments, went off to bed. We leisured ones sat by the fireside
awhile, yarning of fox and sheep and dog and bird—the sport and work
of a mountain farm.

The winter dragged on to its weary close. Many days of tempest came,
and were calmly endured. When the weather allowed it, we wandered after
sport: sometimes a pack of foxhounds was in the vicinity, or the guns
were brought out for a shot at migratory wild-fowl. February ended in
genial weather, and for a few days of March it continued. After this
came an ominous gradual change in the weather.

For a fortnight or so the bitter east winds raged among the mountains
and hissed into the dalehead through the narrow passes. But this was
seasonable. In a few more days these fierce blasts would exhaust
themselves, and more genial weather follow. But, instead of clearing
away, the clouds, our constant companions during the long drear
winter, crept further down the rugged braes, and occasional snowflakes
hovered in the air. In those scant moments when the gale whirled the
beleaguering gray masses aside and showed the uplands, we could see
that snow-squalls had been frequent. The glasses at the farm portended
unsettled weather, and in the Beck Hause flocks lambs were beginning
to come. For three days every hand, in varying degrees of efficiency,
had been working restlessly, almost frantically, tending the sheep and
the newly-arrived lambs. It was impossible to provide shelter for the
two thousand sheep on the holding, so the ewes likely to lamb within
the next three days were driven into the most sheltered intake—a bleak
place at best in this ‘snerping’ wind.

At mid-day the white fury whirled down; the strong sunshine of
spring was cut off by the advancing storm, and we were groping in
semi-darkness. So dense were the snow-wreaths that no further than
ten yards could be seen at any time, and long ere sunset the ancient
horn lanterns were bring used by the shepherds. When struck by a
storm, sheep generally get to the cover of the nearest wall or bed of
boulders, and to this trait we owed much during the hours of stress
which now followed.

A succession of patrols went round the intakes, in which ewes and lambs
were huddling in scanty shelter. The storm grew wilder; the snow lay
inches deep. I had charge of a small hovel among the farm buildings,
where a score of ewes which had already lambed had been driven. So
intensely nervous is the average sheep that a light had to be kept
burning in the shed, and I had to accustom them to my presence. If my
candles had blown out, I was assured that every sheep, in her anxiety,
would have endeavoured to ‘mother’ her lambs close to her, with the
result that in the confusion most of them would have been trampled
upon. Now and again a panic would begin. The sheep, restlessly moving
about, would break into plaintive bleatings; but at a word they would
be pacified, and relapse into silent suffering. At about midnight the
door was opened, and one of the maid-servants relieved me. No one would
go to bed till the storm had spent its violence. The gale outside was
fearful, and I was badly thrown about in my attempt to cross the few
yards to the kitchen door. The other females of the house were busy
trying to persuade two little lambs which were lying on the hearthrug
to drink some cow’s milk. These poor things were orphans of an hour,
for their mother had died from exposure soon after giving them birth.
The shepherd had picked the unfortunate little mites up, covered them
with his greatcoat, and carried them gently to the warmth and care of
the kitchen. I asked casually where the other shepherd was. No one
had seen him since he set out, four hours ago, to look over the flock
outside the lambing intake. ‘Maybe he had come across some ewes lambing
which hadn’t been expected yet.’ After swallowing some supper—I was
hungry, else the heat and stench of the hovel I had just left would
have destroyed my appetite—I went into the hall to glance at the glass.

The storm still continued, and I prepared to go with Jack the shepherd
through the lambing intake. Lanterns and dry coats were ready for
us—you live in leggings on a farm some thirteen hundred feet above
sea-level in winter—and soon we were outside. The blizzard beat into
our faces as we groped across the fold to the gateway. Immediately we
passed this, Jack pulled my sleeve, indicating that we should go right
ahead. It was no use speaking, for the loudest human voice would have
been lost in the storm-clamour. The lambing intake was about one-third
of a mile long, on the ‘lown’d,’ or leeward, side of the valley, and
the sheep were on the farther side.

We had almost got across the space in the face of the howling tempest,
when Jack, taking advantage of a momentary cessation of the gale,
shouted: ‘We’d better go up this ghyll—there’s likely one or two in
it.’ Accordingly, we plunged into a drift-bounded hollow, and, peering
to right and left as far as the feeble rays of our lantern gave light,
gradually ascended it. But not a fleece could we discover; some of the
snow-banks, indeed, were deep enough to have overwhelmed a flock. At
last the shepherd turned his glimmer of light on to a rounded hummock
in the spreading white. Something told his practised eye that a sheep
was lying here under the lee of a big boulder (the rounded hummock),
and in a few seconds we disentombed it. The snow was only a few inches
thick, but the ewe’s position was one of great danger. We quietly drove
it to the shelter of the wall.

We had walked down some way before we came upon other sheep, and here
was one which had just lambed. The poor little creatures were lying on
the freezing snow-crust, while their mother made frantic efforts in her
weak condition to lick them dry. If a lamb is exposed to severe cold
for even a short time at this stage of existence, it never recovers.
The shepherd forced the lambs to swallow a little milk, and in a while
they were standing upright and out of immediate danger. As we followed
down the wall the sheep seemed to know us, and watched us come and go
without terror. Perhaps they found some company on that wild night in
the periodic lantern visits. Towards three a.m., wet through with the
sleet and mist, with hands almost frozen, we returned to the farmstead,
to be told that the other shepherd had not yet come in, and that some
harm might have befallen him. Though the wind was shrieking over the
pitch-dark dale, and the cold was, seemingly, more intense; though the
snow-blizzard had gradually developed into an awful sleet, and the
snow-wreaths were piled high—it was no time to draw back, to wait for
help and daylight. The shepherd’s favourite dog was brought out, and
three of us tramped sorely and wearily back into the darkness. For
awhile we beat the boundaries of the intake closely, visiting every
corner where a sheep might have been lying, without avail. Then, as
we passed a narrow gully, the old dog gave a sign for which we had
been looking. In a few minutes we had located the portion of drift in
which Ralph was lying, and ere long we saw a portion of cloth in the
excavation we made. A couple of minutes later we were carrying the
senseless body towards the farm.

When he recovered consciousness, the shepherd stated that he had looked
over the sheep in the further intake, and was returning, when his
footing on the snow gave way and he was hurled some little distance
down. At the end of his fall his head struck against something hard,
and he immediately lost consciousness. The next thing he remembered
was being ‘brought round’ in the farm kitchen. Of course, it was
Providential that we commenced the search so opportunely, but our best
efforts would have been in vain had not the good old dog given us the
right direction in which to dig.

The night dragged on wearily. Long ere daybreak we were all tired out,
but our task was too important to be allowed to lapse. A few more
lambs were born, some to die from their exposure, whilst others were
saved. With the first glimpse of coming day the sleet gave way to cold,
pelting nun. In a very short time the white garb of the dale had turned
a sloppy discolour, and we were splashing about through knee-deep
slush. By ten a.m. the thaw had apparently well set, and the mountain
torrents began to make their voices heard through the quieting gale. We
had some anxious moments searching the ghylls down which floods were
beginning to surge; count and patrol as we would, a score sheep could
not be accounted for, and it was very possible that they were in some
of the numerous gullies. The way in which the rising streams soaked and
lapped over the drifts which here and there had formed in their courses
was sufficiently suggestive of the fate of any ewe therein entombed.
The dogs—the shepherd’s only resource—were quickly brought out, and
before long spades were being wielded in one or two of the ghylls. At
one point the dogs stopped on the level, wet snowfields. ‘Bruce Ghyll!’
muttered one of the shepherds. A week previously we had scrambled up
this narrow ravine, but now there was no sign of it. However, we began
to dig, and in a while had uncovered three sheep—two alive, and one
smothered in the sodden drift. The dogs gave no further attention to
the snow, so we moved on, and in a few minutes were standing by the
edge of a tiny fold in the steep hillside. Here was a small basin,
some two score yards in width, and maybe a yard and a half deep, but
level with drifted snow. The three dogs ran over the surface, giving
deep barks as they came opposite where a sheep was buried and scratched
the surface. In the drift were our remaining 'missing’—all safe, and
not far beneath the surface. We had hardly got them released before
the wind shouted an angry warning from the mountains, followed by a
tremendous snow-squall, during the passage of which it was difficult to
stand upright. When this had spent itself, and was being followed by a
downpour of rain, we got back to the farmhouse. The damage done by the
storm so far was twenty-nine lambs and seven ewes dead. Had our lambing
season been more advanced, Beck Hause, from its great altitude and
bleak aspect, would have suffered terribly.


This chapter may be described as a collection of the ‘fell-walking’
records of Lakeland, with as much comparison in fact and figure as
may interest the general reader. They are not competitive events in
accordance with the common use of the word ‘record’; but primarily, at
all events, were carried out that men might look back in afteryears to
the time when they were strong and active, and could climb mountain
after mountain.

As a comparison of the walking and climbing powers of the men to be
mentioned, no account can be absolutely accurate. No two parties
take precisely the same routes in their walks, each avoiding some
particular variety of fell-land—scree, boulder, crag, or bog—and the
value of these avoidances varies in the estimates of other men. The
admixture of road and fell over which these walks have been taken is
unfavourable to exactitude, for a point-to-point record, involving a
considerable stretch of level, may not really be so gigantic a task
as a twenty-four hours’ walk over fells exclusively. Another element
which cannot be resolved into figures is the weather, which, as in all
outdoor events, is an important factor towards success. An unexpected
snow-squall, a freezing gale, or a dense mist, may completely stop a
walk; whereas on bright, cool days, with dry surfaces underfoot, great
distances are compassed with ease.

In this comparison a few rules with regard to figures have been more or
less followed, but circumstances often make any systematic treatment
useless. While miles walked on the road may be classed as units, the
fatigue of each mile over mountain-land varies considerably. According
to one eminent authority, the average fell mile is equal to two by
road. When screes or boulders are negotiated, each mile will be more
difficult; while when great ascents are climbed, the unit may equal as
many as four ordinary miles. The energy required in crossing grassy
moors, on the other hand, may not be more than equal to road work, but
is best assessed as ranging from one and one-eighth to one and a half,
according to slope and climatic conditions. Boggy stretches, however,
make sport with figures—after a wet period their passing is often as
exhausting as the hardest ascents; in dry times they are quite easily
dealt with. The in-and-out nature of the figures quoted below must
be attributed to such accidentals as these. When record making, some
men take all favourable slopes at a run, and this mode of progression
is very wearying, though the rapid waste of power may not be noticed
at the time. Others, to save too severe concussion of foot and leg
muscles, walk down such places, when the fatigue mileage must be only
increased by one-half to compensate.

In general, ‘fell walks’ resolve themselves into two classes, the
first including attempts to pass a specified number of points in the
shortest possible time; the second, records in which the time only is
approximately fixed. It must also be remembered that these long walks
only attract a few men in a generation, and whole decades have passed
without anything noteworthy being done. During the past few seasons
more than usual attention has been given to the sport, and it is to be
hoped that still greater interest will be aroused.

A fell walk calls for more than speed and strength; vigilance of eye
and foot must combine to cope with the ever-changing level. There must
be a certain ‘hold-back’ of power to change, as a flash, stride into
leap, walk into run. The ability to journey accurately through damp
mist; the strength and endurance to cope with the sterner side of the
weather; the precise knowledge of locality; the instant recognition of
the faintest landmark or sign of Nature, and its application to rectify
any error—without these a long fell walk cannot be carried out.

Then, of course, a man must be trained to the task—that is, if he is
to do it with the greatest possible ease. Few of the men who have
done these enormous walks could be termed ‘trained,’ by any stretch
of the imagination. This form of athleticism is different from any
other popular sport, and the training requisite is therefore of a
different kind. The man must not be too finely drawn, as a good deal of
‘substance’ is required. A fell walker is constantly jolting himself
as he copes with the ground, leaping here, balancing himself on a rock
pinnacle there, and unless there was a considerable reserve force no
man would be equal to the task.

All the fell-walking records have been made over three great mountain
groups: Skiddaw, lying to the north of the Greta, including the peaks
of Skiddaw (3,054 feet) and Saddleback or Blencathra (2,847 feet).
About twelve miles south of this is the Scawfell range, the backbone
of the Lake District, lying at the heads of Borrowdale, Langdale,
Wastdale, and Eskdale, and comprising three main peaks—Scawfell (3,163
feet), Scawfell Pike (3,208 feet), and Great End (2,984 feet). These
are divided by Eskhause from the Bowfell Chain (2,960 feet), and by the
Styehead Pass from Great Gable (2,949 feet) and its kindred giants.
This district contains the roughest and highest ground in England; in
fact, its rocky slopes afford the crag-climbing which has given the
Lake District a name for such work. Helvellyn is the remaining mountain
mass, divided from the Scawfell group by a long moor, some 1,800 feet
in average altitude, and nine miles in breadth, and from the Skiddaw
group by the vale of the Glenderamakin. It divides the Thirlmere and
Legburthwaite valleys from Patterdale and Grasmere, its chief peaks
being Helvellyn (3,118 feet), and Fairfield (2,863 feet) across the
Grisedale Tarn depression. The rest of the country is furrowed into
deep, narrow valleys.

The pioneer in ‘record walking’ was the Rev. T. M. Elliott, of
Cambridge, who in the early sixties made the round of the fells
surrounding Wastdalehead. After scaling Scawfell, he passed over
Scawfell Pike and Great End into the Styehead Pass. From here he
climbed the Great Gable, whence, keeping on the highest ground, he
walked, by way of Kirkfell, the Pillar Mountain, and the Steeple, to
Red Pike and Stirrup Crag, finishing at Wastdalehead. His time was
eight and a half hours, during which 6,500 feet were ascended, and
a round of some fifteen miles covered, requiring energy sufficient
for thirty-eight level miles. Practically all the walking was done on
ground more elevated than 1,500 feet. Mr. Elliott, who did much Alpine
climbing, met his death by falling from a glacier, July, 1869.

In the spring of 1870 a notable walk was performed by Mr. Thomas
Watson, of Darlington, and Wilson, the Lodore guide. For the height
ascended, the distance covered, and the rapidity with which it was
executed, this excursion ranks high. The pair left Keswick just before
midnight, and covered the nine miles to Seathwaite by 2 a.m., thence
making for Scawfell Pike, where they were greeted by a most unwelcome
snow-squall. They next wended their way through Langdalehead, and
across the Stake Pass to Wythburn and Helvellyn, where, the mist
being very dense, they more than once lost their way. During a most
unfavourable evening they ascended Saddleback and Skiddaw, the strong
wind over the forest compelling them to progress over the more exposed
portions on hands and knees. The walk was concluded at 7.45 p.m., and
in figures works out to—Total elevation, 10,507 feet; time, 20¾
hours; distance in miles, 48; equivalent on the level, 74 miles.

Again for several years no fresh record was made, till a well-known
member of the Alpine Club tried to climb Bowfell, Scawfell Pike,
Helvellyn, and Skiddaw in one day. Accompanied by old Mackereth, the
Langdale guide, he barely succeeded. His general course has been
adopted as the ‘four fells record’ of later climbers. The total
distance was forty-one miles, of which sixteen and a half were over the
fells. In fatigue the route was equivalent to fifty-seven miles level.
The total of elevation reached 9,000 feet.

The first successful attempt to cut this was by the brothers Tucker, in
June, 1878. They left Elterwater at 4.20 a.m., and reached the summit
of Bowfell in the remarkable time of one hour forty minutes. The day
now developed extreme heat, the thermometer reaching 78° in the shade.
Passing over the rough crags to Eskhause, they scaled Scawfell Pike by
8 a.m., and then began the long descent into Borrowdale and to Keswick.
At two o’clock the four were standing on the top of Skiddaw—a very fast
performance, averaging four and a half miles per hour on the road,
and just over two on the fell. This speed was too good to last, and
Helvellyn, some fifteen miles away over fairly even ground, took six
hours to reach, but this period included refreshments. Getting their
second strength, the long descent to Grasmere was soon reached, whence
a couple of miles over Red Bank would have finished the route. But, as
the brothers elected to walk home by way of Rydal and Ambleside, the
record route received an addition of ten miles, Elterwater not being
reached till 11.58 p.m. The total time was nineteen hours thirty-eight
minutes, and the pace over the whole approached three miles per hour.
The four brothers—one of whom is now Bishop of Uganda, and another a
well-known landscape artist—were fine lusty men, hardened to the fell,
and renowned walkers.

The above figures represented the record until August, 1895, when
Messrs. Dawson, Poole, and Palmer made an attempt At 1 a.m. on a wet
morning Mr. J. J. Astley started the party from Elterwater Common. The
clouds were soon climbed into, and then commenced the grope upwards.
Bowfell caërn was reached by 3.20 a.m., fully forty-five minutes behind
the record, after which the trio made for Eskhause. At no period was a
greater distance than a hundred yards clear, and consequently the path
was soon lost. The rugged beauty of the crags in Ewer Gap, with the
dark brooding Angle Tarn beneath, may be appreciated in broad daylight;
but when torrents of rain and the coldness of the hour before dawn
are added, the scene becomes dreadful rather than sublime. At one
stage the party came to a very steep declivity, and were preparing to
descend, when a whirl of wind sent the mist clear from below. There,
at the foot of a precipice, on the brink of which the three stood, was
Angle Tarn; an advance of a few more yards would have put them in a
precarious position. With Eskhause lighter banks of mist were reached,
and the less pronounced darkness pointed to sunrise. Palmer, who had
injured his knee in crossing one of the crag-beds, now began to move
with difficulty, and within five minutes of Scawfell Pike gave up the
attempt This peak was reached by 5.5 a.m., and forty-five minutes later
the party divided on Eskhause, Dawson and Poole continuing through
Borrowdale to Skiddaw. In the valley the sun came out splendidly, but
the tops did not clear all day. Skiddaw was climbed by 11.15 a.m.,
thirty-five minutes in arrears. Being behind at this stage of the walk
did not promise much success, but it was hoped that time would be
gained towards Helvellyn, and so it proved. This last point was made at
4 p.m., with twenty minutes in hand, the descent, being varied toward
Dunmail Raise, enabling the walkers to reach the Traveller’s Rest,
near Grasmere, at 5.53. Palmer, who had crossed from Elterwater, here
met the pair, and, despite his condition, paced his comrades to the
end. Ambleside was passed at 7.22, and the walk came to a finish, amid
general enthusiasm, at 8.17¾ p.m., the record thus being improved
by twenty and a quarter minutes. It was really a technical victory,
but, considering the calibre of the climbers, a wonderful one. The
1895 party did not know much of the ground, Palmer being the only one
who knew anything of the route between Scawfell and Helvellyn, and his
early retirement probably hindered the result.

A great climber, of whom I shall have much to say later, Mr. R. W.
Broadrick, next attacked the record. He was far superior to any of his
predecessors, and was able to pick a good day for the walk. On April
27, 1900, he started from Ambleside at 4.20 a.m., reaching Bowfell two
hours thirty-nine minutes later. Scawfell Pike was passed at 7.55,
and Skiddaw at 12.24. At the foot of this mountain Mr. Broadrick left
his purse by a stream where he had a slight meal, and lost forty-five
minutes in going back for it. Helvellyn was ascended before five
o’clock, and the whole journey was made in fifteen hours twenty-six

It is not surprising to find that the most appreciated record is the
twenty-four hours, and several attempts on it may be instanced. Only
such as can be verified are chronicled; many feats passed down in
gossip must be ignored. Routes are more varied in these climbs than in
the ‘points’ records, some climbers, owing to bad weather at the time
of their attempt, skirting mountains which others have ascended, or
taking them at different points.

The first long walk of which cognizance can be taken was carried out in
the seventies by Mr. Charles Pilkington, President of the Alpine Club,
and his cousins, who started from Lodore at 11 p.m. They climbed Great
Gable, but, dense mist descending, the walk was abandoned for half an
hour. Later the morning promised something better, so they climbed by
Sprinkling Tarn to Eskhause, and over Scawfell Pike and Great End.
Returning from this détour, Mat Barnes, the guide, not relishing the
heavy clouds on Hanging Knott, led down to Angle Tarn, where a steep
path leads direct to Bowfell Top. The difficult return negotiated, the
party made for Dunmail Raise, and struggled along a rough path over the
shoulder of Seat Sandal to Fairfield, a peak across Tongue Ghyll. Mr.
Pilkington then dropped for Grisedale Tarn down a series of screes,
the longest in the Lake District. The mist thinning to some extent,
Helvellyn was next climbed, then Saddleback and Skiddaw, Lodore bring
reached by 11.25, the whole tour occupying twenty-four hours and
twenty-five minutes, with a very punishing finish, as the party wished
to get in within the twenty-four hours. Mr. Pilkington’s party was
exceptionally unfortunate in having so much mist to contend with during
the day, as otherwise they would have easily finished in the specified
time. The total of height ascended was 13,792 feet, and the distance
runs to sixty miles, with a fatigue equivalent of eighty miles level.

Next to this performance came a famous walk. On June 17, 1876, Mr.
Jenkinson—who afterwards compiled a splendid guide-book to the
Lakes—did a remarkable walk. He was a man of middle height, sturdily
built, and a grand walker. His action on the level was easy, while his
dexterity among screes and boulders was something to marvel at. Mr.
Jenkinson left Keswick at twelve midnight—a lovely night with bright
starlight—and soon after 3 a.m. was standing at Styehead Tarn, with
Great Gable looming over him. To the top of this (from the tarn a climb
of 1,519 feet) and back again occupied little over an hour, after
which he took the path for Eskhause and Scawfell Pike. Before 7.30 he
was on the highest ground in England. The mist, which had for awhile
threatened to descend, became dense, and for three hours the famous
walker wandered round Eskhause, endeavouring to reach Bowfell by way
of Hanging Knott. Just before 11 a.m. he reached the summit, after
which the steep descent into Langdale Fellhead prepared him for a tramp
to Wythburn. After about an hour’s stay at this village he climbed
Helvellyn, and, by way of the Vale of St. John, Saddleback. From here
he crossed Skiddaw Forest, but could hardly keep up for sleepiness.
At a gamekeeper’s house he rested awhile, and, naturally, resumed his
walk sleepier than ever. The summit of Skiddaw Mr. Jenkinson never had
more than a hazy idea of scaling—he often joked that he saw it as in
a dream—but two hours later he walked into Keswick. The total climb,
twenty-five hours in duration, was fifty-three miles in length; the
total footage scaled, 12,249 feet; and the fatigue equal to eighty-two
miles level.

Mr. Jenkinson’s walk created quite a stir, and ere long another
champion arose in Leonard Pilkington, who had tramped from Liverpool to
Windermere, a distance of eighty-four miles, in twenty-one hours, and
also proved his quality on the fells. With Bennett, the Dungeon Ghyll
guide, he passed over Bowfell, Scawfell Pike, Great Gable, Skiddaw,
Saddleback, Helvellyn, and Fairfield in twenty-one hours thirty-four
minutes, between 2 a.m. and 11 p.m. Mr. Pilkington says of this walk:
‘We were both perfectly fresh at the finish, and had we come straight
through, instead of having supper at Grasmere, we should have saved at
least an hour—we could easily have done the journey in twenty hours;
but having finished the mountains, and with so much in hand, we did not
think of it.’ This tour necessitated climbing some 12,900 feet, and
walking a distance of sixty miles, approximating in fatigue to eighty
miles on the level.

October is not an ideal month for a scamper across the fells; yet at
this time of year Messrs. Robinson and Gibbs, the Lorton walkers,
essayed to surmount the whole of the giants of Cumberland in
twenty-four hours. On the stroke of midnight, Thursday, October 27,
1893, these gentlemen started from Keswick. A strong wind blew from
the north-east, and the sky was too cloudy for more than mere gleams
of moonlight as they walked up Borrowdale. By 2.10 a.m. Seathwaite was
reached, the wakeful sheepdogs making music as the climbers passed
towards Great Gable. The dull roar of Taylor Ghyll Fall, and the rattle
of the fierce wind on the higher levels, alone disturbed the hush of
night. Snow-laden clouds swirled past them as they wound up the gully
between the Gables, the air became bitter, a white mantle three inches
thick covered the ground, and above a dense mist blotted out completely
the summit. At 3.55 the top of the Grand Old Monarch was reached,
and the Styehead Pass descended to. From the top a course was struck
across the rough north-western face of the Scawfell Range, under Skew
Ghyll, over a shoulder of Lingmell, and up to Lord’s Rake, where in the
closing days of 1893 Professor Milnes Marshall fell to his death.

In this cleft the scene was wild in the extreme. Snow lay thick, and
outside its shelter the gale boomed and moaned among the great crags
above. The scene was bleak and wintry; the faces of the rock which were
too abrupt for the snow to lie on were crusted with ice. From the top
of the first reach of the Lord’s Rake Messrs. Robinson and Gibbs struck
off along the grassy ledge which gives easy access to Deep Ghyll. Here
a sudden gust of wind loosened a stone high on the crags above, and
they cowered under a rock as, with a crash and a bound through the air,
it whizzed past into the dark recess immediately below.

The snow now became thicker, having been drifted into this wild
ghyll by the wind, and on the steep bits near the top it was frozen
sufficiently for them to kick their toes into the almost perpendicular
slope, and go up it ladder fashion, holding on as best they could to
insure safety. As the pair emerged on to the plateau on the top of
Scawfell at 6.10 a.m. the mists began to roll away, and the first
streaks of dawn were viable in the east. Across the Mickledore, a
fearful, rock-split chasm, lay Scawfell Pike, to reach which involved
a descent to Broad Stand and a scramble along the ice-coated ledges.
Mr. Robinson says of this portion of their experience: ‘We were not
prepared to find the climb in a more dangerous state than it was last
year in midwinter, but such it was; and the alpenstocks we had provided
ourselves with were without the usual spike in the end with which to
roughen the ice to make a foothold. I took off the rucksack which held
our lunch, and, with an arm through one strap while my friend held on
to the other, kicked off the ice from ledge to ledge.’ Truly a risky
mode of progression, when a single slip would have had irretrievable

The top of the Pikes was reached at 7.10 a.m., and thirty-five minutes
later the couple were on Great End. On the fells on every side the
gale was harrying the powdery snow. The tracks over the passes were
obliterated; a landmark here and there stood above the shifting plains
of white. Weird, dangerous, and black the crags stood over their
setting of whitened scree—a prospect which cannot be described.

By this time the climbers must have been in a comfortless state.
Their clothes, damped by perspiration and half-molten particles of
snow, would long since be frozen to their backs. What that means only
those who have experienced it can know. Bowfell, with one foot in
Westmorland and the other in Cumberland, was next in the line, and here
the ground, covered with shale and masked with snow, became extremely
dangerous. The summit was found at 8.30 a.m., after which, skirting the
Langdale side of Hanging Knott, Rossett Ghyll was descended to, and
the tramp over miles of bog to Wythburn begun. This valley was reached
by 12 a.m., and an hour and twenty minutes later the ascent of mighty
Helvellyn was commenced.

Thirlspot at 4 p.m. was the next point in the tour. After passing
through the Vale of St. John, a halt was made for tea at Setmabanning,
as the moon was not yet up and it had begun to rain. But at 6 p.m. the
plucky climbers started for Blencathra. The night became intensely
dark, the clouds denser, and the wind more and more furious. Messrs.
Robinson and Gibbs chose the narrow ridge approach by Threlkeld to the
mountain, as this afforded some shelter at first, but on reaching the
open the violence of the storm was fearful; only in the short lulls was
progress possible. Yet by 8.30 p.m. the summit was reached, and the
walkers plunged across the moors for Skiddaw.

After getting one-third of the way up this their last peak, they
found that, though strength was still sufficient, time was not left
to finish. the ascent and reach Keswick ere another day. Accordingly,
at 9.50 p.m. the finest pair of climbers the Lake District has ever
seen turned back on the Glendaterra, reaching Keswick at 11.25 p.m. in
extremely strong condition, considering the day’s exertion.

Of the closing stage of the walk Mr. G. B. Gibbs says: ‘It seems to
me possible that we had quite sufficient time on leaving Threlkeld
at 6 p.m.’ to finish the attempt, ‘but the darkness and very high
wind, which caused us to take two and a half hours over the ascent
of Blencathra, instead of one and a half hours (as we did four days
later), made a loss of a very valuable hour. Further, the force of the
wind as we rose from Skiddaw Forest was so great as to compel us to
believe that progression would be on hands and knees when we got to the
top, and produced a conviction that under these conditions we could not
go the whole round within the day of twenty-four hours.’

Mr. Robinson is best described as a typical Cumberland man, endowed
with a muscular system inherited from generations who revelled in
outdoor life. As Dr. J. Norman Collie says: ‘Robinson is the great
authority on the hills of the Lake District. There is not a rock on a
mountainside that he does not know. In sunshine or mist, in daytime or
at midnight, he will guide one safely over passes or down precipitous
mountainsides. Every tree and every stone is a landmark to him.’

The figures to represent this remarkable walk are: Distance, 56 miles
in all—16 on the road and 40 on the fell—equalling in fatigue 86 miles
of dead level. The total of height in feet reached was 13,840, the
altitude of a considerable alp. The time was 23 hours 25 minutes, and
the pace, taking the day’s average, would be 4½ miles per hour on
the level, with more than 1⅞ on the fell.

From 1893 to June of 1898 there was no serious attempt to claim the
twenty-four hours’ record, but during the month stated four Carlisle
men—Messrs. Westmorland, Johnson, Strong, and Ernest Beaty—made a
determined effort to put it to their credit. Their design was carried
out under very favourable conditions. The men were in perfect training,
had had a preliminary spin, and were rested for a start. This was from
Seathwaite, right at the foot of the mountains— not, as in previous
records, from points more or less distant—on a clear morning, which
merged into a bright and cool day. The party started at 5.27 a.m.
in broad daylight, and immediately made for Great Gable, which was
ascended in one hour eighteen minutes. The descent down the scree to
Styehead Tarn was accomplished in eleven minutes, and a cast was made
for Great End, reached in forty-three minutes.

This party took the Scawfell group by ascending its easier shoulder,
not facing, as did Mr. Robinson, the dangerous scramble on the
cliff-face by way of Skew Ghyll and Lord’s Rake. Scawfell Pike was
climbed at 8.4 a.m., and Mickledore crossed for Scawfell. The return
by Broad Stand took thirty-six minutes—a different matter from Mr.
Robinson’s hazardous crossing—Eskhause being rereached at 9.31. Bowfell
now loomed over Hanging Knott and Ewer Gap, and was ascended at 10.4,
after which Wythburn was made for by way of Rossett Ghyllhead. At the
Nagshead the party divided, two making for Threlkeld and home, the
other pair for Helvellyn and beyond. The footgear of these two, it may
be remarked—gymnasium slippers—was quite inadequate to the strains of

The remaining men now ascended Helvellyn, which took sixty-eight
minutes, and walked along the descending tops to Threlkeld.
Saddleback’s ascent (from Threlkeld) occupied eighty-two minutes, and
the walk across Skiddaw Forest to Skiddaw one and a half hours. What a
different finish was this from the October night when Messrs. Robinson
and Gibbs attempted to force their way through a howling tempest!

The moon now flooded the depression with peaceful light, but once
across the summit the shadow of the hill was reached, and the path
could only be followed with difficulty. Messrs. Johnson and Strong were
fortunate enough not to get lost before they reached the valley, but
here they made a mistake which cost them half an hour. On reaching the
town of Keswick the walk was given up. It had extended over fifty-two
miles of fell country; the total of altitude was 14,146 feet (294
feet more than Mr. Robinson’s record); total time taken, nineteen
hours thirty-five minutes. The average speed per hour was near two
and a half miles; and in fatigue the course approached seventy-eight
miles—eight miles less than the Lorton Walkers’ record. The day was an
ideal one—a day of bright sunshine, yet not overpowering heat. None of
the party can ever forget the exquisite beauty of the scene at early
morn as Seathwaite was left for Great Gable. The hills stood out in
the deliciously pure air near to the eye, yet apparently dwarfed in
height and retiring in perspective, but every crag, every cleft, every
seam and line, in those majestic outlines was perfectly distinct. There
is a difference in these two last-named walks which is hard to define;
but the one resembled the other as much as a cycle race over sticky
roads resembles the same event carried out on dry ground. Messrs.
Johnson and Strong have shown themselves capable disciples of the older
mountaineers, and their initial effort is sufficiently marvellous to
puzzle criticism. In July, however, Mr. Westmorland and Mr. Beaty made
another attempt to do the distance. They started from Threlkeld at 4.46
a.m. in bright sunshine, and took a line over Helvellyn, High Raise,
Bowfell, Hanging Knott, Great End Crag, the Pikes, Scawfell, Great
Gable, Skiddaw, and Saddleback, returning to Threlkeld.

The last part of this walk was accomplished in darkness, and the end
was a close affair. After crossing the Caldew between Skiddaw and
Saddleback at 2.40 a.m., this last mountain alone remained to be
negotiated. Daylight was just beginning to show, but the higher ground
was enshrouded in mist, and twenty valuable minutes were lost through
the climbers missing their way. According to his own modest report,
Mr. Westmorland began to lose heart here, fearing that the real top
might not be found in the dense mist until the time was too far gone
for success, but Mr. Beaty seemed as determined as ever. They could not
decide as to which was the proper way up to the right summit of the
mountain in the mist, so Mr. Beaty started off on the left-hand route,
and Mr. Westmorland took that trending to the right. The latter proved
to have chosen the right path, and shouted to Mr. Beaty, who joined
him on the summit at 4.8 a.m. By this time only thirty-eight minutes
remained of the set time, so, nerving themselves for a last almost
desperate effort, the pair ran down the sharp edge of Saddleback—a
rough, precipitous descent of over two miles and 2,800 feet, which was
accomplished in twenty-two minutes. Such was the finish of a giant
task. The course was completed in twenty-three and three-quarter
hours—a magnificent performance. The nine fells had been climbed within
twenty-four hours at the third attempt, and these two persevering men
considered themselves rewarded.

It is granted that the month of September is the most favourable for
walking, as the days are generally clear and cool; therefore it not
infrequently happens, as in 1898, that the season winds up with a
record. At 3.30 a.m., September 1, Mr. R. W. Broadrick started on his
cycle from Windermere for Dungeon Ghyll. When he started it was dark,
so he left his machine in a conspicuous position, hoping that the hotel
people would take charge of it. He climbed by way of Ell Ghyll to
Bowfell, reaching the summit at 5.55 a.m. Day broke as he made the tour
of the Scawfell group—Great End, Scawfell Pike, Scawfell. There is in
Nature nothing on so grand a scale as a rosy daybreak seen from some
high mountain. The famous Wastdalian, Will Ritson, used to tell of what
he witnessed from Scawfell Pikes. After following the hounds all night,
he found himself by Mickledore when the light began to glow, and never
having seen sunrise from such a position, he climbed the Pikes. He
always referred to the sight as the finest he ever saw. Mr. Broadrick
breakfasted at Wastdalehead, and then climbed by Gavel Neese to Great
Gable, reaching Keswick by 12.50. On the way to Skiddaw the climber
missed the path, and had to wade through knee-deep heather for about
an hour. Keswick rereached, he made for Sticks Pass, by which route he
gained Helvellyn by 7.40. Mr. Broadrick went hard from here, hoping to
get into Grasmere valley ere complete darkness fell. At Grisedale Tarn,
however, the last gleams faded; he missed the way, and after stumbling
across very rough ground (the south face of Seat Sandal) he reached
the top of Dunmail Raise at 8.50. The walk to Windermere—thirteen
miles—took two hours fifty-five minutes—a fine performance considering
previous exertions. The total distance was sixty and a half miles, in
the excellent time of twenty and a quarter hours. Mr. Broadrick’s cycle
played a very important part in the day’s work, placing him while still
fresh at the foot of the mountains; but deducting the twelve miles, and
one hour thus passed, the performance remains a great one—forty-eight
and a half miles for nineteen and a quarter hours. The total of height
ascended is 13,450 feet, with a fatigue equivalent of sixty-six miles
level, ignoring the twelve miles’ cycle.

Excellent as were his previous walks, Mr. Broadrick has since done
still better. He called on Mr. Westmorland, who has already been
mentioned, and proposed that they should together try and beat all
records by including Pillar Mountain and Fairfield in the walk, and
doing the whole in twenty-four hours. Mr. Westmorland prepared a
time-table, and they appointed to meet at Seathwaite. They journeyed,
but the day proved wet and misty, and the walk was abandoned for that
time. On September 14, 1901, in company with Mr. C. Dawson of Sale,
Mr. Broadrick started from Rosthwaite at 3.32 a.m. The top of Styehead
Pass was reached as day was breaking, the sharp ascent of Great Gable
accomplished at 5.18. At this point Mr. Broadrick’s programme departed
from the orthodox, for, instead of descending again, he skirted
Kirkfell and crossed Black Sail Pass to the Pillar Mountain. The ground
here is very rough; you are passing along the ridge between two series
of crag-climber’s cliffs, on which the Napes and the Pillar Stone need
only be mentioned. The quickest descent to Wastdalehead is down a long
steep scree (the Doorhead), and this was successfully done by 7.20 a.m.
Here the pair breakfasted, after which Mr. Oppenheimer of Manchester
joined them. The next group of peaks assailed were those favourites of
climbers—Scawfell, Scawfell Pike, and Great End, where the going is
exceedingly rough. Between the first and the second named mountains
lies the Mickledore chasm—a great gap in the wall of rock—whilst along
the Pike and the following ridge is a horrible _pave_, rocks many
tons in weight lying like so many tipped bricks, and over and among
these lies the route. The same class of surface is also met with in
Ewer Gap, save that there the rocks are smaller. Mr. Broadrick’s party
reached Scawfell at 8.45, the Pikes at 9.15, and Great End at 9.41.
Bowfell was passed at 10.25, after which came the precipitous descent
of the Band to Dungeon Ghyll at 11.18. Mr. Evans and a brother of
Mr. Oppenheimer took the party of record-makers on from this point,
and Grasmere was reached at 1.25. The next mountain was Fairfield—a
splendid scree-strewn giant—and the party climbed this by 2.26. The
quickest descent from the summit is down a long series of screes,
quick work requiring surefootedness and careful attention. The walk to
Helvellyn top, with a refreshing dip by the way in Grisedale Tarn, was
negotiated in an hour and a half. Thirlspot was reached, and another
excellent meal disposed of, at 4.50. The evening now began to draw on,
and Saddleback’s huge summit was made at 7.55.

‘We went on very well till the top of Saddleback,’ writes Mr.
Broadrick, ‘the weather conditions being perfect; but there darkness
and fog came down together, and we had five hours stumbling along by
compass and lantern-light, which, owing to the mist, only showed up two
or three feet of the ground ahead at one time. Added to that, there was
a very strong north-east wind, which blew the light out continually,
and necessitated wrapping it up in a sweater. However, after making up
our minds several times that it would be necessary to spend the night
on the uplands, we struck the railing leading down the mountain. I
don’t know whether we got to the actual top of triple-headed Skiddaw,
but we got to one of the tops, and stuck our cards on the caërn. It
was utterly impossible to tell which of the three it was.’ Eventually,
at 12.50, after much uncomfortable scrambling and many stumbles, they
reached Keswick, and, tired but triumphant, Rosthwaite at 3.4 a.m.,
thus claiming the record, with half an hour to spare.

The length of this record walk must be over sixty-seven miles,
involving ascents equivalent to 16,600 feet, and a fatigue equal to
some ninety-two miles on the flat.

To speak about the men who have carried out these big walks is
difficult, but the greatest moderns are a splendid contrast. Mr.
Westmorland is a splendidly developed man of over fifty years of
age—Sandow’s gold medalist for his county; whilst Mr. Broadrick is a
tall, lithe young man full of wire and go—the ideal of a climber and
wrestler with the elements, in my opinion. Mr. Broadrick can perhaps
average half a mile per hour better than his rival in a straight walk;
but Mr. Westmorland’s splendid stamina and perseverance, together
with his lifelong study of methods of climbing and descending, give
him a strong pull when the two are compared. As an aside with a
tremendous bearing on the subject, both are well-known crag-climbers:
Mr. Broadrick, with his brothers, just failed to surmount the last
overhanging cornice of Walker’s Gully in the famous Pillar Rock a few
weeks before the late O. G. Jones and the brothers Abraham carried the
whole ascent.

As I am passing these pages for press (June), news has come to hand
that even Mr. Broadrick’s record has been beaten. Mr. S. B. Johnston,
of Carlisle, at 5 a.m. on May 28, started from Threlkeld for the
Sticks Pass and Helvellyn. This summit was gained at 7.20, Fairfield
at 8.19, and the descent to Grasmere negociated by 9.12. After passing
Grasmere, Mr. Johnston and his pacer, Mr. Strong, pushed over Red Bank
to Langdale, where at Stool End (10.55) Mr. Westmorland was waiting.
He conducted over Bowfell (12.0), and right down the Scawfell range.
Here the ground is extremely rough. The day was excessively hot; yet
good progress was made. Wastdalehead was reached at 3.20, and the long
Doorhead Pass to Pillar Mountains essayed. A journey in the hollow of
the fells here made genial James Payn assert that the Lake Country—and
Wastdale in particular—was the hottest part of England. The ground from
the Pillar (4.33) to Great Gable is very difficult to cross with speed;
yet Mr. Johnston’s twelve hours of exertion had told but little here.
Seathwaite was descended to 7.25 p.m., a really good piece of walking.
Mr. Johnston allowed forty-five minutes here for rest and refreshment,
after which, with Mr. Beaty in front, he did the nine miles to Keswick
(two of them moderate mountain road) under the two hours. Nor did the
gathering darkness in any way diminish the pace up Spooney Green Lane
on the way to Skiddaw. At exactly midnight this summit was reached, and
careful direction for Blencathra, last summit of the circle, taken. The
two walkers marked out a course by the stars, and so kept their proper
line. At 2.10 a.m. the summit of Blencathra was reached. The descent
which remained is a very steep one. The ridge leading down to the
lead-mines needs the greatest care at all times, and at that early hour
it was not light enough to distinguish grass from rock. Also a strong
breeze was blowing, which made balance on the narrow ridge a difficult
matter. Fifty minutes were taken for the descent—in July, 1898, Mr.
Westmorland and Mr. Beaty did it in twenty-two minutes at a later
period of morning—and Trelkeld, the starting-point, was reached at 3.7
a.m. The whole journey therefore took twenty-two hours seven minutes—a
remarkable performance.

I am averse to summing up and comparing the figures quoted in this
chapter, but one advantage the later record-makers have assumed: pacing
and prearrangement of all kinds is considered necessary, and the
record-maker is relieved of all impedimenta. Similarly, many of the
mountain tracks have been much improved by use and judicious repair
during the period under review, so that the number of cases in which it
is an advantage to a strong walker to leave the orthodox route are now
few indeed.

In conclusion I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness for many
kindnesses and much valuable information to the walkers whose
journeyings it is my pleasure to chronicle.

The last has not been heard of the ‘fell-walking’ records, and I trust
athletes will ever be forthcoming with hearts as plucky and limbs as
stout as those of the men I have written of.



Beneath the trees in the orchards the early snowdrops are the only
wild-flowers; hollies and other evergreens stand out sombre and heavy
amid the sere woodlands; the closest observation reveals not an opening
bud on the hardiest hedgerow. Everything is gray and dead and cold
between the bridge over the rock chasm and the distant fells, where in
the ghylls and hollows small fields of snow contrast chill white to the
dim blue slopes around.

Such is my argument, and yet——

To begin with, the bridge beneath our feet is interesting; a score
varieties of hardy ferns thrive in its crevices. The beck rushes twenty
feet below its single arch, churning round in a basin scooped by its
own rude efforts here, rushing with feeble thunder over an abrupt rock
there, sliding in green volumes down a smooth slab anon, to settle
finally in a narrow rock-bound pool. Wrens are already flitting about
the dense masses of ivy which trail over one side of the gorge—opposite
the gray outer wall of the old mill—the longest fairy-rope hanging
nearly halfway to the pellucid waters. And what is this slumming in
jerky flight upstream—a little bird decked in blue and red splendours?
Where the mill-wheel resounds to the thumping of hidden waters, and
lazily draws round its dripping, mossy buckets, the kingfisher hangs
a second in the air. Were you to descend, you would find a ‘rat-hole’
there, in a seam of clay between heavy strata of rock, the mouth
partially veiled by the rushing spent-water from the wheel. A few years
have passed since, with the heedlessness of youngsterdom, I scrambled
from this bridge down to the water-wheel. The mill was not working at
that hour, but a fair current of water poured down the spent-way. I
was standing ankle-deep in this, gazing up at the great wheel, when
there was a faint snatch of a kingfisher’s song outside, and I turned
to watch its burnish of blue and red glint past in the sunshine. But
the bird turned, and, without abating its speed, dashed into the veil
of descending water close to my feet. A minute later I had turned
this aside, and was possessed of the kingfisher’s secret. Two neat
bluish eggs reposed within the crevice on a bed of fish-bones, etc.
Year after year the bird had hatched her brood in the sound of the
mill-wheel without discovery. That bird pausing in its flight knows
of the hidden dwelling, perchance has called it ‘home,’ and is now
thinking of paying it an early visit But no! as it wavers it notes
strange appearances above the bridge. It flirts forward, beneath us,
a line of flashing metallic sheens, and goes winging upstream at a
tremendous pace.

From the bridge, northward, past the stone mounting-block. Close
beside, in white gushing founts, the beck is fretting its way down a
rugged channel. Here and there a rock is crowned with a gray patch of
grass. In summer this will be an islet of glory, its rich green pall
beneath a cloud of dancing blue harebells and golden-eyed white ghoods
(marguerites). The hillsides towering around are gray—gray streaked
with broad lines and patches of green bog-moss and water-grass; along
their slopes great boulders are strewed. These vagrant rocks are
most plentiful near the cliff. Our eye catches a faint dot hovering
above: a buzzard hawk—since the raven retired to less accessible
peaks—the monarch of these wilds. A colony of rooks inhabit a cluster
of oak-trees beside the road, their hoarse caws rising over the tumult
of surging waters. Just here the river takes a sharp turn, and we are
suddenly brought in sight of an old and disused bobbin-mill. Time
was—and deserted Cocks Close null is a memento of it—when the trade
of bobbin-making was prosperous in this and many another contiguous
valley. Three mills—one near the bridge, this at Cocks Close, and one
further upstream, which has completely disappeared as a building,
though its excavated waterways remain—were in full swing, and every
cottage for miles around was inhabited. Cocks Close is beyond the
stream. A couple of thick spruces have been laid side by side, and
span the chasm. Walk upon them. They sway fearsomely. Do not touch
that hand-rail: of its four posts, not one is soundly fixed, and some
day soon the forty feet of rail will fall away of its own accord. The
two trees sag differently under our weight, so that on the perilous
passage your right foot is often placed on a quivering log a foot lower
than that supporting your left. I crossed here once on a wild November
evening; a gale was blowing, and the river was in full flood. In the
scant light prevailing great darkling jets seemed to toss within a foot
of the trembling structure. Daring beyond discretion, I waited for a
lull in the storm, and then started to cross. I had not got more than
halfway, when, with a sharp, snarling roar, the furies were around me.
It probably happened in a second, but the time seemed long hours to
me. The powerful gale gradually pressed me further and further over;
the frail black pathway over those dancing waters seemed to fail, and I
felt something must soon give way. After a long interval my mind began
to work. I threw myself flat on the pine bridge, holding on with hands
and feet till the wild gust spent itself. I don’t care to be in such a
position again.

Further up the dale the river goes far away from the road; we see
it across the fields occasionally. Yonder is a heron fishing, or,
more likely, feasting on fish which have met with death on the
spawning-redds. Friend Jammie is a well-known beckside bird here, and
we will possibly meet him later at closer quarters. That cock crows
in a peculiar high-pitched clarion. Yet that is the call of the real
fighting cock. The bird is leisurely strolling across the road with
its harem, or ‘mantling aboot as if t’ farm belonged to it,’ as its
owner avers. Stop a moment, and I will ask him about the bird and

‘Ay, Tam’s varra fair,’ shortly admits the dalesman, in reply to my
spoken admiration of his champion. As he speaks he eyes me curiously.
This sort of conversation from a stranger means either that the other
is of the ‘cocker’ cult or an ally of the powers that be ranged against
that interesting sport.

‘My, but his spurs are short!’ I remark as innocently as I can possibly

A glimmer of recognition lights up his face.

‘It’s thee, is it? I didn’t ken thee. What, man! I’ve nivver seen thee
sen that main as was brokken up by t’ police.‘

The dalesman apparently recollects myself and that occasion well, for
did he not mount guard over me? Wandering over a lonely moor, up hill
and down dale, I suddenly walked into a cockpit. Two men had just
released their birds, which were prancing around the tiny greensward,
hectoring one another and gradually infuriating themselves to an
attack. I had wandered through the line of scouts, always, in these
days of persecution, posted by watchful ‘cockers’; but being where I
was and a mere stripling, I was compelled to stay, lest I should put
the authorities on the track, and, indeed, had got somewhat interested
in the sport, when a sudden alarm caused the ring to disperse
hurriedly. As I sped away, I saw the enraged cocks still battling
wildly on the arena, and saw two or three sacks, which evidently
contained other feathered gladiators, lying on the ground some yards
away. Celerity in putting myself through the cordon of police alone
saved me from being haled before the magistrates with the ‘cockers’ and
their birds.

‘Dosta ken Tam? he is the varra [very] spit an’ image o’ t’ bird as wod
ha’ [would have] won t’ main on t’ fell.‘

Yes, now I remember. What a beautiful form that bird had! Tam is as
like it as two peas. Not leggy and tall, but compact in build, a
fighter of a fighting strain. Glorious red plumage as close in texture
as leather, stout thighs beneath whose short feathers the muscles
quiver. But who can describe the fighting cock? There is a distinction
about its movements, a pride in the poise of its head, the contour of
which, though wattles and comb are clipped short, is still beautiful.
But beauty and majesty are to be expected in an inheritor of three
centuries of bluest blood; and as for courage, neither weight nor size
matters much to the fighting cock. Like the other pet of the dalesmen,
the trail-hound, it is trained to go to a finish, odds be as they may.
A fighting cock and a turkey-cock were holding an impromptu main the
other day in a farmyard until actively interfered with. A few words
more of admiration of his pet puts the dalesman entirely at his ease,
and he breaks freely into reminiscences and explanation.

‘How do we fit the spurs on to a fighting-cock? Well, wait a minute
and I’ll show you.’ He steps into the whitewashed cottage, and in a
few seconds returns with a pair of polished steels. ‘These are the
spurs; they’re of the varra [very] best steel, and you mun [must] mind,
because they’re sharp. My father hes a pair of silver ones that his
grandfather wan [won] when a lad of sixteen, at a girt [great] main
at Ooston [Ulverston] Fair. There used to be some cocking then, but,
of course, noo it’s called illegal.’ Now flamed forth the ire of a
republican countryside. ‘And why was it forbidden? For nowt [nothing]
else than because the quality couldn’t show off and win all t’ mains.
Old Squire———, grandfather of him that hes the Bank Hall now, paid many
a hundred pound trying to pit a bird that could stand up to the first
four in t’ dale when Lady Mary’s bell[1] was fought for.’

  [1] The prize at the chief mains in the old time was a small silver
  bell, which was worn by the victorious bird, or by its master when
  his champion was actively engaged.

‘How do you fix these spurs?’

‘Well, you see’—the verbal storm had passed, and the cocker was in
earnest on his sport—'the cock’s spurs are shaved down as far as
possible, then’—Tam, seeing the gleaming weapons and scenting a battle,
had strolled up to us, so with a dexterous sweep of the arm the
dalesman captured him and gave us an object-lesson on the craft—'these
are slipped on—they just fit—over the spur, and fastened round the
leg. Now’—releasing Tam, who forthwith set up a defiant and hasty
crowing—‘he’s fit to fight, except that his comb and wattles would have
to be shorn.’

‘In cock-fighting the most active and alert bird wins. The birds face
each other and try to jump, so that when descending the sharp spurs
will cut into their opponent which is, of course, beneath. The wounds
in cock-fighting, save for occasional pecks, are almost always on the
head, neck, and back. Most are slight, the thick felting of feathers
stopping all but the most directly delivered strokes. Some cockers,
when the birds are fairly set to, will not allow them to be separated,
but I never let my cock down into a ring unless it is agreed that any
fighter cut down—that is, knocked off its feet with a blow from the
spurs—is considered beaten. Most cockers want to see a kill, and they
have their way.‘

‘Not much cocking done nowadays, you think. Well, as it’s you, and
ye’ve seen a bit of it, I wod [would] say that there’s more going
on now than ivver there’s been sen cock-fighting was put down. I
know a dozen gentlemen, men with big estates and fine houses, as are
magistrates and on t’ County Council, as hod [hold] many a main, and
they say one parson isn’t again tekkin’ [taking] a bird on if it’s kept
quiet. Way over Furness, there’s hundreds and hundreds of cockers,
man, and more every year, and it’s a bonny sport more to them as takes
an interest in it.’

So saying, the dalesman turns to again admire his pet. A stranger is
coming along the road—our friend swoops down on the bespurred Tam and
bears him out of sight; we, feeling somewhat guilty, walk on up the

The river is again close by; a slight bank separates it from the road.
The waters are babbling pleasantly over a long array of shingles; here
and there an attenuated trout fins languidly along. The spawning season
has just passed; these valley becks are shallow, with no deep, silent
pools to hold an almost inexhaustible supply of fish-food. So shallow
is even the main stream on the redds that, when a long frost causes
it to dwindle in volume, the fish are often frozen down to the gravel
their eggs are deposited in. When the thaw floods come, the dead bodies
are washed far away, into odd corners beneath bending willows and
behind rocks, food in plenty for otter and heron.

Here is a bridge of the old type, tall of arch and narrow of roadway,
and crowning the short ascent in front is the churchyard. It boasts a
sundial, but it is loose on a decaying post. The church itself is quite
a new one, superseding a mouldy, dark building of unknown antiquity.
Yet the building is interesting, for does it not contain the archives
of the dale—wondrously complex churchwarden accounts dating back over
a hundred years, and rich in personal touches of old-time men and
women? The churchwardenship was then the most responsible position in
the valley; the holder was directly responsible for the welfare of the
poor. Charity was dispensed with sound judgment, and only to relieve
necessity. The famous Smit Book is here, but, alas! it is no longer
carried by the priest[2] to the nearest Shepherds’ Meet in order that
disputes may be properly settled, and lost sheep, by their fleece and
horn-marks, traced.

  [2] Among the fells the Church of England minister has been from
  time immemorial named ‘the priest.'

The valley is now opening out; to right and left great rock-strewn
bluffs bound its almost level bed. Floods are of frequent occurrence
here, but they run off the land quickly. I have waked at dawn. Since
midnight a storm had raged, and great films of falling rain crashed
resoundingly against window and door of our cottage. Outside the level
of the dale is occupied by a sullen lake, stretching far toward the
mountains; the rain-squalls are ploughing its surface with wide white
furrows. The storm ceases suddenly; the cloud-banks trail reluctantly
from the fells, revealing a paradise of falling waters. Six hours
later the broad acres are showing green and soaked, and the river is
back in its channel. Such brief life, though furious, has a flood of
the fell lands.

Through the leafless alders lining the ghylls we see, in gushing
white, rivulets descending from the unseen moors. On our right Gray
Crag heaves up its plainer, grassier shoulder; and next to it is
Anchorite’s Breast, where in a shallow cave by the beckside legend says
an anchorite from the monastery at Shap dwelt many a year. The monks in
this district seem to have been very self-contained in their dealings,
and were much misunderstood by the half-pagan, half-Christian Saxons
about them. It is stated that the dwellers in the dale refused to
furnish the hermit with food. His weary track over the long moor to the
abbey can, it is averred, even now be traced.

But to-day, instead of pensive monks, on the wild gray tracts of grass
are seen men moving at a run. The dalesman loves a fox-hunt dearly. He
is tireless in the pursuit. Miles of open country glide beneath his
feet. On the rough crags and moraines his dexterity is marvellous. The
hunt is in full cry on the hillside. The hounds are going at a great
pace; the men are every moment further and further in the rear. A
quick eye might even catch the tiny brown form of the fox running for
its very life. For some minutes we watch them sweep along, at first
parallel to the dale, then gradually turning up and up the mountainside
to its crest. Hound after hound leaps on to the tall wall, halts a
brief second, his form outlined against the bright blue sky, then
disappears, and faint, long-drawn-out voices are all we have of a
mountain fox-hunt.

As we turn away we begin to meet numbers of the chase. They tell us
the pack are well up to their fox, that they will hunt him in the next
dale, maybe, but unless they kill they will bring him back again. Maybe
about Yewbarrow, says one, as he trudges briskly along; about Swinbank,
argues another, and takes things more leisurely. Now two men in pink
are coming towards us. What a change to eyes full of sombre gray and
green is a flash of warm colour! It is the veteran master of the pack
and his huntsmen. The dalesmen salute the elder cheerfully. He has a
word for all, and a pleasant one, too. He is wiry in build; his genial
face is wrinkled. He has doffed black hunting-cap; his hair, cropped
short beneath, is silvern. This is the man who for two generations has
provided sport in the dales. John Peel was not less deserving of the
grand hunting-song than he is. With a courteous salutation he passes us
by. Many a time I have thought of and sighed for the splendid hunts he
has witnessed both before and since the last ‘greyhound’ fox was killed.

A mile further on the road crosses a short rise caused by an
outcropping vein of white felspar. To the right is one of those conical
mounds dubbed by dalesmen either ‘ancient fortresses,’ ‘barrows,’ or
‘haycocks,’ formed by the glacial process of denudation and deposit in
days long past.

For a couple of hours it has seemed as though we were walking along a
level, but from this slight eminence we see that the dale is but as a
shelf sloping downwards from the mountains. The bluffs which dominated
the view at our starting are now insignificant in the distance, and we
look over their tops to a broad, undulating valley. In front of us is
the dalehead, a small subvalley, the entrance a narrow ‘gate’ between
two converging ribs of mountain, the exit a rugged track winding up
rock-strewn braes.

There is but one tenement in sight, an ancient sheep-farm perched
quite close to the rocky river-bed. Its buildings are very old; one
or two possess floors of trodden earth probably dating back four
hundred years. The yeoman who possesses the domain is much respected.
Further up the stream than Sacgill is a level strewn with beaches
of stone. Here at some time has been a small lake, but the torrents
have completely buried it in débris. Their activity is so great that
the whole dale has to contribute to the cost of a retaining barrier
here. Otherwise in a single winter 10,000 tons of stones would be
washed down, the river-bed would be choked for miles, and the stream
would run riot down the dale, turning into marshy bogs what are now
carefully-drained pastures. The prophecy of ‘Every valley shall be
exalted, and every hill brought low,’ was once preached from a dales
pulpit. ‘But net in oor day [but not in our time], O Lord!’ fervently
ejaculated an aged hearer.

The dalehead, as we travel into it, presents rather a dreary aspect.
Even the bogs are gray, not green as on lower heights. A few thin
patches of scrubby coppice show on the slopes immediately behind the
farm; a little patch of soil near the opening of a deep ghyll is
clothed with a large plantation. Gray grass and tangles of rotting
bracken are on the braes, but the area of naked rock, scree, and
scattered boulders far exceeds these. The whole outlook is barren and
forbidding. How can a farmer wrest a living from such a place? How
indeed! The sheep-farm is barely remunerative in these days of cheap
wool; but mountain mutton is renowned, though the producer benefits
little by this.

In about half an hour we reach the choked tarn area. When its dark
waters laved the lowermost scree-beds of these steep fells, the
dalehead must have made a perfect picture. Even now to our left Goat
Scaur raises its grand head nearly 2,000 feet above us, while on our
opposite side in one huge cliff the Gray Crag stands almost as high.
Both mountains are plenteously splashed with white. On the lower
pitches the snow in the deepest gullies are remains of great drifts,
but as the eye rises higher the white areas become more numerous; they
are connected one with another, and at the top of the brae a long
white curling drift resists the spring sunlight. The level beams of
eventide shoot over the hills from westward, flushing the snowfields
with crimson bars and glorious rosy shadows. At last, by a rough,
water-torn road, we reached the summit of the pass, 2,000 feet or so
above sea-level,

 ‘With a tumultuous waste of huge hilltops before us,’

Kidsty Pike, where the wild deer of Martindale often roam. On a day
like this we saw over the glistering snowfields a stag and three hinds
galloping toward Swindale, a splendid sight! Branstree, a rounded
mammoth on our left, is the home of giant foxes; many a stiff run has
started from its benks (grass ledges). The deeper hush of night is even
now falling on the voiceless wastes. Hark! what is that? The crunching
of a foot in the snow, and round a corner in the pass, toiling upwards,
comes a dalesman. We hail him with delight, for the very air breeds

‘I was just coming from Mardale,’ says he. ‘I’ve been driving a few
sheep over as had strayed.’

He is a man of rather more than middle age, hard, wiry, full of vigour
and life.

‘How long have you lived in this valley?’ I ask.

‘Was born here at a little house halfway down the dale; you’ll remember
it—there are a few sap-trees overhanging it. Just before you came to
that farm where dead foxes are hanging in t’ trees.‘

‘Been a shepherd all your life?’

‘Well, yes; I was ten year old when I began to shepherd on t’ fell hard
aside of home. Things were a bit different then.‘

The sound of a triple tramp on the snow-patched road is all that is
heard for a few moments; then, from its feast of carrion beside a
rock, a great raven soars croaking up, up, up, high above the dale to
where the sun still reigned. The sight of this swooping bird fills the
shepherd with wrath.

‘Ay, thoo may croak,’ he says sadly, ‘but maybe we’ll be the better of
thee in nesting-time.’ Then to us: ‘Those ravens are a nuisance. Every
spring we have to go out nesting to keep down their numbers. They think
little of attacking a weakly lamb and carrying it off among the rocks.

‘I remember well one day we went after some ravens in Goat Scaur front.
Four shepherds joined me and we took plenty of ropes. Getting opposite
where I thought the nest was, we descended the cliff as far as there
was foothold. On the last ledge a gavelock [crowbar] was fixed to let
out the rope by; then, tying a noose round my body, I stepped and
downward. I could hear the old bird croaking away beneath. My mates
kept letting the rope come slowly, and, of course, I went down with
equal speed. At last, when I should think some fifty feet of rope had
been let out, I stopped on a narrow ledge.

‘Looking cautiously about, I soon found traces of my quest: on that
jutting rock it seemed that father raven had sat watching his mate
sitting her couple of eggs. I carefully clambered forward to the
splinter, and to my joy found the raven’s nest in sight. But in a
moment my hopes were dashed. A deep narrow crack lay between me and
my goal. Try as I would, the gulf could not be passed, and the old
raven sitting there in security seemed to croak derision at me.
However, by returning to my companions and being relowered from some
more favourable spot, I hoped yet to turn the tables. So up I went,
assisting my friends by rapid runs up any face of rock which gave a
possible angle. In a moment I explained the situation and we were
traversing the great cliff in the desired direction. When a platform
for our rope-head was found, I made another descent; but, instead of
the straight course I had fancied possible, a great rock overhanging
the gully sent me dangling in mid-air, unable to reach foothold.
However, it was possible to avoid the ugly cornice and then I climbed
down the side of the gully. The old raven flapped off her nest with
a wild croak as I came near, but she never went far away. More than
once, with a whistling swoop, die came almost within arms’ length, and
every time I prepared to parry some sudden attack with beak or wings.
Probably, had her mate been within call they would not have hesitated
to attack me, for in defence of its nest the raven is pretty vicious.
As soon as they were within reach, I scooped up the eggs from the
barrowful of filth—remains of rats and carrion lay on a bed of wool and
sticks—and was rapidly drawn up to safety. One raven was shot shortly
afterwards, at which the other left the neighbourhood. A good riddance
for us shepherds, too!‘


As I wandered in solitary thought across the moor I heard voices in
front of me. As the tones were in complete accord with my mood and with
that region of cheerful silence, I was but mildly curious as to their
origin. I lingered on the summit of a splintered outcrop of rock and
looked around me. To my eye the scene was perfect. The heather was in
full bloom; the air was resonant with the humming of bees, intent on
petty plundering of the purple flowerets; around the heather-beds were
here and there solid banklets of dainty crimson and white heatherbell,
and next them the harebell’s large sky-blue corolla curtseying on its
slender stalk to every swerve of the breeze. Beneath the domain of
the hardy heather a waving green wilderness marked the haunt of the
bracken, very rugged with fragments in its upper portion, from the
crumbling hillside above, but lower down opening out an almost level
ledge of the mountain.

Descending leisurely to this, I recognised some of my neighbours at
work among the bracken. One was cutting the stout stems with a scythe,
leaving a thick swath behind him, which another spread out so that the
sun’s rays might dry it. Some two score yards away three other men
were loading a sleigh with the dark-brown harvest cut some days ago,
and now ready for the barn. This was a great contrast to the lowland
hayfield of the farm. The ground, which from above looked so smooth and
almost level, was in reality furrowed with innumerable watercourses and
seamed with rocky places. One moment the sleigh timbers creaked as a
sudden strain was put upon them by an unseen hollow; next the stout,
handy horse drew it clear of this, and the runners were sliding with
unpleasant grinding sound over a pavement of boulders. These men had
been on the moors since soon after daybreak, and shortly they would
have to return to their farms. I assisted to bind on the dusky load,
and made down the hillside in their company. The path taken by the rude
conveyance was, it seemed to me at first, a dried-up watercourse; it
fell so steeply that at places our combined resistance alone prevented
the sleigh from overrunning the sturdy little mare in front, while the
unevenness kept us continually on the alert lest the load should, as
the dalesmen put it, ‘keck ower’ at some particularly awkward point.
But the cautious and sure-footed animal in the traces brought down the
load with safety to the level of the mountain tarn, of which we had
enjoyed almost a bird’s-eye view.

In our Lake Country dales it is impossible to grow enough straw for
bedding purposes in winter, and the hayfield is often insufficient for
forage; therefore the farmer turns to the uplands and draws thence the
necessary supplies. Large areas of bracken are cut every year, and
by primitive sleigh routes brought down to where carts can be used
conveniently. The scythe used in cutting bracken is a much shorter
contrivance than the ordinary one, but the work is more tiring. The
ground is so covered with stones or otherwise uneven that but seldom
can the labourer get two swinging strokes together, and the perpetual
jerking to avoid the blade being damaged accounts for many a man’s
dislike to the work.

A couple of gamekeepers as we came to the mereside were preparing a
boat to row to the other end of the tarn, and, as I wished to ramble in
that direction, I embarked with them. In the clear, peaty depths trout
were lazily finning in and out among the gently-swaying water-weeds,
and smaller fry disported nearer the surface. As we approached one
point the keepers ceased rowing, in order that we might float over
where a large pike lay in wait for its prey, and at a rocky islet ran
ashore that I might inspect the trees where the recently shot vermin
were gibbeted. The boat was forced through a fringe of blue irises
to the mouth of a tiny beck, where I landed. Soon the faintly-rutted
track I was following changed direction, and I struck across the heathy
waste. Grouse rushed away with querulous cries, curlew and heron
banished silence from the wilds, while from tussock and cevin small
birds chirped and twittered. A lark high above was singing a joyous
roundelay; suddenly his ringing notes were hushed, and down from his
crazy height he rushed, for the raucous voice of a buzzard struck
terror to the tiny winger. Wave after wave of moorland—a sameness which
might almost become monotony. Each hollow, opening out its treasures,
gave the same tiny stream, with myriad sphagnum bogs and stunted
willows; every shallow glen was carpeted with bracken and heather. But
now a change.

A great knot of fir-trees rose on the near horizon; and as I stepped
up the stony ridge to which they anchored with huge cablelike roots,
in front there appeared a series of distant blue mountains—the heights
of Lakeland—while nearer at hand stretched outward a long triangular
plateau, its apex touching the nearest fell, its base the ridge on
which I stood. In about the middle of this expanse was a fairly large
tarn. In about half an hour I was close to its shores. As the lower
ground was reached, a score small tumuli met my eye, and on approach
these proved to be of peat—miniature stacks loosely piled, so that
the air circulated freely through them, and though built wet, their
contents would soon become dry. At the tarn edge I spent some minutes
in collecting the fine yellow water-lilies, which occur only in this
tarn in our vicinity; then, espying a man at work in the distance, I
made in his direction. The intervening space was swampy; sometimes by a
series of grass banks I gained far, only to be stopped by a spongy bog
too wide to leap. But here and there, retracing my steps, I gradually
found a track across the maze; the man was mowing the reeds which in
wide stretches favour such surroundings—not an easy task when the
disproportion of sound land is considered. Of course, he only mowed the
more accessible places; but even then he had to garner the cut stems on
a hand sleigh, and draw them to a hillside where the tarn waters, if
overpent after a thunder-storm, were little likely to reach. The reeds
also were to be used for winter bedding; and so large a quantity is
required in the dales abutting the plateau that half a dozen barns for
their summer storage are in the immediate vicinity of the swamps.

Half a mile on—I was now facing eastward to reach one of the valleys—I
came across a party of men digging peat. The heather tufts had been
burnt away, and the thin veil of soil thrown aside to lay bare the
deposits. Then, with a long narrow spade, cuts were made in the
chocolate-coloured pile, so that an oblong mass was easily separated,
and these were collected and wheeled aside to be piled into the loose
erections previously mentioned. The dexterity of the spademan was
pretty to watch; the blade of the tool was plied as freely and easily
as a knife. Peat-digging on the flanks of the fells is easy compared
with the same work on the lowlands, for here drainage is rapid and
sufficient, and the deposits less dense and moist. Many of the dales
farms still use little other fuel but peat and coppice-wood. As I stood
near the labourers, I noticed a violet in bloom—a rare occurrence
on such an exposed situation—and into my mind rushed an anecdote
of Wonderful Walker, Vicar of the mountain parish of Seathwaite
a century ago, whose life of industry and nobility of character
claimed the admiration of William Wordsworth. Said he: ‘See you
that violet?’—pointing to a little simple pansy that was bending its
graceful flower close to the spot on which he stood. ‘Look at it,
and think how it came there. Last autumn this spot was covered with
bog-earth, which had probably rested on this bleak and barren moor
ever since the Deluge. It was disturbed last year by the spade of the
turf-getter, and now this beautiful flower has sprung up in this place!
For ages and ages its seed must have remained embedded in this sour and
barren bog; yet, once disturbed by the hand of man, it springs up fresh
and lively, to show that God can keep alive what to the eye of man
may seem to perish, and can deck with grace and beauty even the most
unpromising spots of creation.’


Diverse are days among the fells—some wet, some fine. On some the
mountains seem to palpitate in sultry haze; on others they stand
statue-like and distinct against the bright blue skies of spring and
autumn. The rocks and slopes possess ever-changing moods: grim with
snow and icicles in early spring, green with grass and fern and moss
later on, russet and crimson with the dying fires of the fall, gray and
wan washed with the rains of winter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eskdale in the pride of summer. The woods are covered with heavy
foliage; in the bright morn light the brackens clothing the rocky
tors waves, and their fronds sparkle with drops of glory. Down the
glens and over the rocks bright rivulets are dashing; sunny waters are
sleeping in every hollow. The air feels buoyant, leaping with life,
as though all Nature were revelling after the dun span of night. Thus
for half an hour, till a cloud-bank swirls up from seaward. A dark
shadow stalks along the valley; great billows of rain slash against the
trees and rattle among the quivering leaves. The mountains, fringed
and studded with rock, seem to throw back the storm-wrack from their
sides; they tower dimly through the dark tide of drops, and as each
brief paroxysm subsides they peer down again on the soaked dale. Then
the squall passes on as rapidly as it came: the cap of wind soughs
itself out among the swaying branches, and in a minute the air is
clear, the sky blue and joyous, and with a flash the sun looks through
the fast-retiring beards of mist and rain, cheering the dripping woods
and bedrenched meadows, rousing skylark from the field, thrush in the
brake, gilding the hurrying, foaming rills and beds of watery fern. So,
with regular portions of rain and fair weather, passed two hours of the

When I started the air was clear; a gray bank of cloud was wandering
among the distant mountains. The bright sun glinted on Eskdale’s
emerald braes and laughing cataracts. A cloudlet of steam marked the
laborious approach of the tiny decrepit train which runs between Boot
and Ravenglass. Many years ago a geologist traced a rich outcrop of
hematite in the hills here. Capital was easily found to exploit the
series of mines; labourers in hundreds flocked to the old-world
valley. Nine miles of light railway were hurriedly laid. Then the mines
suddenly ‘petered’ out. The expected El Dorado was a mere surface-seam
of ore. Now ghylls and hillsides hide the great abrasions of that
brief dawn of human energy ‘neath deep bracken and heath. The costly
machinery at the pits is mere scrap, not worth transport; at some
places the whole outer structure has fallen down great declivities,
to rust in tangled, dismal ruin. The cabins of the miners have almost
entirely disappeared; the cottages, unroofed and with trembling walls,
are nearly gone. On my right the river was running with surcharged
speed. Its banks could not hold its volume; the alders and rowans
rooted in the water’s realm shook as the current buffeted them. Every
hundred yards or so an islet divided the force of the stream. Channels
long ago deserted by the river were full and strong again, surrounding
large slices of meadowland, on which kingcups bloomed in profusion.

After about half an hour’s walk, I turned in where a bridge spans a
gorge, where Esk would be tumbling and churning and roaring in flood
lust and fury. Yesterday hardly a foot of water flowed quietly far
beneath the bridge, but now the raving torrent, pent in by immovable
rocks, shot beneath the arch, throwing up, as obstacles buried far
beneath were struck, a smother of spray. The water had risen eight feet
during the night at this point, and was probably still rising. From a
rock ledge next the bridge a veteran angler was trying for sea-trout.
Again and again he swung his line into the wild turmoil of currents.
Possibly this man had been out since daybreak, for the sea-fish were
running in large numbers. While I was present two fine fish came to
his net. The second, aided by the tremendous power of the downcoming
waters, made a splendid and exciting fight. Esk in flood is never more
than mildly turgid, and it was not difficult to follow the fish’s
evolutions. Once, with a vicious backward leap, I thought it had broken
clear; but my veteran had anticipated such a move, and his line ran
slack accordingly.

‘Catch many?’ I asked.

‘Season’s been rayther bad till noo,’ was his reply. ‘It’s oor first
spate, this, and near t’ end of August, too.‘

‘How have you done this morning?’

‘Varra fair. Twelve, but they’re nobbut lile uns’ [only little ones].
Which to my mind was a fiction. That second sea-trout must have been a
three-pounder, and that will be reckoned a big fish for Esk.

The ancient now leant his rod against the bridge to execute some minor
repairs, and was about to give me details of a wondrous catch of thirty
years ago, when the air darkened and a warning dampness in the breeze
sent me to seek shelter among the trees.

When I took the road again, my route was toward the great Burn Moor.
The Willan, which I had to cross, is a rivulet of moods. Generally its
bed is occupied by a succession of verdure-hid, deep, clear pools,
joined by narrow gurgling ribbons of water; but now there issued from
its granite dell a mighty surge of sound, and the flickering of a
waterfall through the trees behind the cluster of houses called Boot
caused me to turn aside. Down a great elbow of rock the rivulet was
dashing. Here a creamy spout shot from some hidden cleft clear of the
cliff, and crashed to spray on the boulders far below. This protruding
slab of mossy rock a thin film of water tardily welled over. The
harebell so precariously anchored to that ledge is hidden from sight;
perhaps a stalk or two will be plucked away by the rude stream. Yet
when Willan retires to seek its wonted way, nodding bells of azure
blue will again uprear, a little bespattered with foam, yet perfect
and strong, held into that hospitable cleft. But the main fosse is a
little to the right. In three leaps it comes down fifty feet, throwing
up a spume which is tinted by the sunbeams into a halo of rainbow hue.
A few minutes later, as I passed up the steep mountain road, I turned
for another look at Eskdale, the home of torrent. Great regiments of
larches clothe the southern hills; the other side is festooned in green
of fern and grass. From seaward the hills rise bolder and more rugged,
with offshooting castles of jagged rocks overstanding the dale, with
rifted gullies and gnarled woods where

          ‘with sparkling foam a small cascade
    Illumines, from within, the leafy shade.’

Like a silver streak, the Esk wanders down the centre of the dale, with
here and there dwindled cots and farms and fields and kine beside. A
duskiness, forerunner of another stormlet, sweeps along, dimming the
lustre of water and moist land. The sky is streaked with stretching
pennons of rain-cloud, and I—I, with ne’er a cape to protect me—am
standing on a bleak fell-track, far from shelter. I am neither hero
nor philosopher to accept trials kindly, but I strongly wished to
reach Windermere at nightfall, so heeded less the drenching shower.
Care for health—the young are proverbially careless; but if, when your
clothes are completely saturated, you never allow your body to lose
its temperature, a wetting more or less need not appal you. For years
used to such inconvenience, I can only add that this theory is also
practice with me.

Ere the top of the ascent was reached, the brief splashing shower had
rushed on into the mountains. Across the cleft of the dale, right
opposite me, from an unseen distance of moorland, a mighty torrent was
pouring over the edge of a precipice. This was Birker Force.

    ‘Resistless, roaring, dreadful, down it comes
    From the rude mountain and the mossy wild,
    Tumbled through rocks abrupt, and sounding far.’

The air was filled with the varied voices of many waters: gurglings
from the near-at-hand springs and runnels; tinklings from the rivulets
dropping down narrow rifts in the moor; the rattle of the torrent
speeding down the centre of the upland declivity; and a dull, insistent
roar carried up to the heights from the Willan cascade, the rock-racked
Esk, and it might be from the far-away water-cloud of Birker.

My track across the moor was a bit inconsequent: sheep-tracks and
man-tracks, anything trending in the right direction, were followed.
Of course, the long tracts of bog had to be avoided—water oozed from
them as from a huge sponge. In addition to these places, the whole moor
was full of springs. Among the roots of heather were many up-currents,
some with orifices six inches square; and their volumes spouted out
with force, too, jets nearly a foot high being common. Had not my boots
been filled long ago with the drops brushed from heather and bracken,
I might have avoided these fountains, but under the circumstances I
recked but little. Wide sheets of water were pouring down every slack,
and I waded such as they were met. At one point from a pile of boulders
I counted fifteen springs within ten feet.

Just as another crash of rain came along I sighted Burnmoor Tarn. An
old poacher of my acquaintance holds this water in high esteem; the
trout are big and easily caught, he says. I have not tried the place:
the fishing is private.

Standing by the darkling waters a splendid view is around. Wastwater
Screes raise a green boundary to the left, to the right the ridges rise
to Great Howe, and finally to Scawfell. An easy route up the last-named
mountain is well in sight. A great pyramid of cloud rests beyond
Wastdale, the dusky gulfs of Black Sail and Mosedale alone being seen
below it. My route for the present lay straight ahead, over the narrow
hause toward Wastdale. Twenty minutes on I am at the summit. A bright
blaze of sunshine lights up Wastwater and the great circle of silurian
rocks around it. In the level valley the eye first catches the yews,
and then the modest gray church. This is the smallest in England. The
conundrum and boast of a Wastdalian, when asked his birthplace, is:
‘Ah cum fra whar there’s t’ hee’ist moontain, deepest lake, lilest
kirk, an’ t’ biggest leer in aw England', [I come from where there is
the highest mountain, the deepest lake, the smallest church, and the
biggest liar in all England]. But the sound of a foxhound’s voice,
shrill as of a pleased puppy, carries my mind to men rather than
views—to Will Ritson and the old Parson. I have a story of these two,
not new, and perhaps incomplete, which appertains at least to Wastdale.
Many years ago a wandering fox played particular havoc among the
flocks. Guns and dogs failing to close his account, one Sunday morning
a party of dalesmen assaulted the earth he lay in with terrier and
crowbar. However, while they attacked the front, Reynard escaped by a
side-channel, and was speeding away for a securer home, when an alarm
was raised. Collie and bobtail, hound and terrier, streamed across the
hillside in pursuit. The fox headed for Mickledore, and was crossing at
great speed the level fields near the church, when a worshipper—this
happened in the days of long sermons—taking a mid-service stroll,
raised a wild ‘Tallyho!’ and rushed back into the church, shouting:
‘Here’s t’ Ennerdale girt dog chassing for its life.’ The droning
homily from the pulpit was instantly lost in the clatter of clogs
on the flagged floor, as pell-mell the congregation—men, women, and
children—rushed out to join in the pursuit. If the parson sighed at
this abandonment of the service, he did it in brief time, for a moment
later his surplice was hanging on the pulpit-rail and he far afield,
labouring to catch up his parishioners. Down with the fox! then and
now, is the watchword of fells shepherding.

Some short distance I descended toward the vale; then, calculating
that the time in hand allowed me to take an alternative course over
Scawfell Pike, I deflected from the path and faced the wearisome side
of Lingmell. As I rose higher my view seaward widened, and beyond the
yellow sands of the Cumbrian coast I could see here and there a steamer
shaping its course. Of course, the air was preternaturally clear, and
even minute points came up sharply. Just as I climbed the last wall,
a little man in homespun came along the upper track. I spoke to him,
and he told me he was out ‘looking his sheep.’ Many of them had been
affected by ‘t’ wicks,’ and he had had an anxious time, accordingly.
‘But,’ he added, ‘it’s nowt to what feeding them in winter time is
for clash [wet weather] and hard work.’ I asked him if he had ever
been caught in a snowstorm while in charge of sheep. ‘No,’ he replied,
‘and I don’t want to. The fells here are that full of rocks and
cliffs that it’s dangerous work groping about in a thick snowshower.’
Remembering an experience of my own not three miles from this, when a
squall of January’s whitest enveloped us without a minute’s warning,
I agreed. Only good luck brought us out of that incident happily, for
every landmark was either deep under snow or hidden by the murkiness
prevailing. The shepherd told of searches by lantern-light for missing
neighbours; no harm to life or limb had befallen any that he knew of,
though the perils had been often great. Sometimes, he said, benighted
tourists had to be sought for, but usually such were easily traced.

After walking about half a mile with me, my companion excused himself,
saying that his flock lay towards Lord’s Rake, on the other side
of the brawling torrent. A few whistles and arm-swayings, and his
two dogs were running far away, routing out stragglers from among
the rocks and driving an ever-increasing band of sheep forward and
upward. I followed the stony track to the top of Lingmell, and across
a peat-stained expanse toward the last pitch of Scawfell Pike. A low
cloud, distended and black with rain, had swept along and swamped out
of sight the region ahead of me. I had reached the edge of the mist,
when the thought of keeping level along the hillside struck me. I was
now about 2,800 feet above sea-level, within 500 feet of the summit,
and my proposed traverse was a new piece of work to me. From the top of
the ridge you can see little of this abrupt slope; from the bottom the
detail of its facets and slacks is lost.

Huge splinters of stone lay on all sides, fragments which had fallen
from above, and over these I clambered. Again and again I sidled along
a narrow streaming ledge, steep rock above, a long gap below. Then the
cloud began to shed rain in tremendous bursts, and the rocks became
slippery. Once or twice I ventured along routes which, though promising
at first, became impassable, and I had to get back to my starting-point
as I could. When the stormlet was at its strongest there was suddenly
from above a sharp rapping sound—like the reports of a Maxim gun—some
little distance away. Five seconds or so the sound lasted; there was a
brief pause as though the world of rigid stone and driving rain hung
in the balance, then a magnificent crash of thunder seemed to make
the rock veins start and quiver. The mighty sound came from a lower
level, and I heard it re-echoing up the glen to Styehead, with many a
backward-flung cadence. The play of lightning through the mist-wreaths
was splendid. There was another roll of heaven’s-war drum as I picked
my way across upper Piers Ghyll. How that great chine seemed to hold
the sound, buffeting it from cliff to cliff, from foaming beck to
lowering cloud! At last I judged it meet to turn my face up the hill,
hoping to come near the path where the Esk springs from a small marsh.
In ten minutes I was within earshot of a party of climbers, surprising
them somewhat as I stepped through the curling mist almost into their


At the stepping-stones people on wandering bent generally cross, and,
turning upstream, are soon within the mighty Duddon gorge, where founts
of green water dash through barriers of piled-up rocks crowned with
heather and brambles.

It was early autumn. Through the cool air came the notes of some of
the later songsters, on the moors beds of green bracken still waved,
but here and there single fronds were turning orange and crimson and
yellow. Great bushes of glossy holly began to be noticeable on the
crags as the brakes of hazel and whitethorn thinned off their summer
foliage. On the bosky hillsides whitish patches of sphagnum were
framed with bands of fiery red bog-grass. The dale was resonant to the
turmoilings of water, down every ghyll foaming cataracts sprang, while
here and there deep floods surged through the level woodlands. The air
was marvellously clear, every knot and slack on the mountains showed
plainly, and the fresh bright sunshine gave everything, from the caërn
on the topmost crag of Wallabarrow to the wind-tangled bracken-beds
near our path, a halo of glory. Here and there rabbits frisked to the
shelter of burrow or fern, and once the half-choke of a cock-pheasant
called his harem together to flee our approach. Along a path marked
with pools of mud and water and studded with boulders we plunged into
the low screen of oak and ash, and in a few minutes were beside the

The river in front was at half-flood; the crossing was covered a foot
deep with clear, racing water. Far upstream, waterbreaks were gleaming
between gray boulders and many-tinted coppices; the roar as the current
fretted through its rough channel came to our ears incessantly. In
the shade of the larches we found an almost level path to our left,
worn, doubtless, by sheep ranging the glades of these woods. A jay
screamed and flew away, its blue side-feathers attracting the eye as it
winged through the maze of stems. The river was again close beside—a
deep pool in which the sunlit water seemed to collect strength to go
babbling down an inclined beach of smoothed stones. The river-bank
became tangled with brambles and dense coppice, so we turned into a
mysterious hollow where perhaps centuries ago Duddon’s stream varied
from its present bed. In a few yards we cleared the trees and stood
by a hollow in the woods. The stream in its ancient course had here
tarried awhile and delved out a circular pool before passing seaward.
Here, perhaps, the red deer had come by moonlight to drink—I never
ramble by Duddonside without my memory reverting to these animals,
which less than a century ago roamed in wild freedom over the great
silent wastes surrounding the valley. But now the bracken is rustled
by wandering sheep, which turn and stare at such unusual visitors.
We fringed this eddying place of a forgetful river, and dived into
the dense coppice beyond, where brambles so hampered our path that
we left the proximity of the water to find an old cart-track. On the
hazel bushes a few nuts still hung, and twice there were glimpses of
flying russet and white—squirrels disturbed at their repast. The old
‘gait’ found, we strolled steadily along: this wood in springtime must
have been carpeted with blue; the fleshy green leaves of the bluebell
protrude through layers of rotting leaves and twigs. But when autumn is
at hand flowers are rare in the riverside woods—a solitary strawberry
bloom, maybe, with here and there a belated primrose or daisy. What the
sweet summer glory of this paradise has been is recalled by the wealth
of dead honeysuckle trailers and the dried-up stems of many wildvines.
Now, descending a sharp hillock, we are by the ford in Tarn beck. The
steady murmur to our right warns us of near Duddon, and we resolve to
walk down to where the waters meet. The saplings are so dense by the
waterside that we again seek the less difficult woods, coming at last
to a narrow path bounded by thorn-bushes, brambles, and the punishing
boughs of the wild-rosetree. Ten yards on we are on the point where the
two streams meet. Tarn beck has scooped itself a little bay, but the
lordly Duddon here sleeps in a deep pool among the shingles.

What words can describe the contrast between the rattling, dashing
rivulet and the great placid, sunlit stream into which it falls and is
lost? On this very spot, amid a tangle of brambles and many fronded
brackens, the great poet of the fells stood in imagination when he

                    ‘Duddon ...
    Who, ’mid a world of images imprest
    On the calm depth of his transparent breast,
    Appears to cherish most that Torrent white,
    The fairest, softest, liveliest of them all.’

He saw it at ‘the busy hum of noon,’ when its ‘murmur musical’ promised
refreshment to distant meadows needing rain; but what would he have
written if he had seen it as we did, if he had seen the velvet green
of the aftermath in the fields across the river, and noted the woods
of autumn just flushing into realms of red and crimson and gold—if
he had witnessed the glory of that October morning, when the air was
instinct with light, and the ear was charmed with varied cadences of
falling and rippling water? Then Wordsworth’s magic pen would have
traced lines fairer far than those the scene actually inspired. But,
alas! the mind of a trifler with Nature rises with difficulty to
such enchanted heights nor stays there—for cunningly hid between the
veiling undergrowth and the upspringing grass I espied the stem of a
sapling ash with its branchlets roughly lopped off. For curiosity I
drew this forth, and, lo! there, scraped on the tender gray-green bark,
here and there—bitten through to the white wood—were the marks of the
rings attached to the salmon-poacher’s bag-net. Wordsworth and the
serene majesty of the morning were alike instantly forgotten in the
contemplation of this sign of a ‘black art.’ It was simple enough to
conjure up that scene of last night.

About a dozen salmon have collected in this pool, waiting for a flood
to allow them to pass through the roaring, broken rapids of the gorge
to spawning redds far above. For some hours vigilant eyes have been
upon their movements, and now in the pitch darkness of midnight two men
approach the riverside from opposite directions. Cautious signals are
exchanged ere they meet behind a screen of bushes, and are repeated
as they stealthily patrol the riversides. Then away in the woods near
the stepping-stones the axe is plied with muffled vigour; the branches
rustle with their neighbours as, the stem being severed, they are drawn
downward. The steel is scarcely audible as the lesser limbs are struck
away and the net-pole prepared. With hardly a sound the poacher threads
his way through the coppices, and he is soon again by the pool’s marge.

In the meantime his comrade has drawn their net from beneath the
concave bank, has laid it straight on the dank grass (there is the
draggled, tramped sward), and soon has the rings fixed on the pole.
Now all is ready, and the younger man takes the long shaft, and with
a sweep draws the net into the pool. In a moment it becomes saturated
and sinks, then is carefully drawn forward. The strain on the netsman
is great; he bends to the task and puts forward his utmost strength,
but in vain. He cannot force his contrivance against the current—here,
though flowing soft, Duddon is really very powerful—so his comrade
comes to his assistance.

By their united efforts the net is brought nearer land. As they bend
over, the sheen from the water lights up the faces of the struggling
men. There is satisfaction in every coarse and bloated line. As the
net moves the surface of the pool becomes troubled, a fin or a tail
cuts through the water: the salmon, though enmeshed, are exerting
themselves to escape. But in vain, for, with an oath at the coldness
of the water, the elder poacher steps into the pool, going deeper and
deeper till the water rises to his shoulders, till he is able to force
the pole and its heavily-laden bag-net to the surface and then ashore.
In the clear depths his footmarks are traceable by the places where the
moss was scraped from the stones by the hobnails of his boots.

The fish are rapidly killed and their carcases placed in bags (here and
there a broken scale gleams silvern among the grass and shales); then,
one carrying the unrigged net in addition to his load of salmon, the
poachers are quickly lost to sight in the woods. Such is the story told
by the abandoned net-pole and the shores of the robbed salmon-pool.

We turned aside from the river, scrambling up a steep clay bank,
forcing a passage through a barricade of hazels, and in a couple of
minutes were once again in a cleared area. Crossing this, in the
shadow of the larch grove, here and there were quite considerable
conical mounds, seemingly composed of dead sections of twigs. In and
out of these by a thousand tunnel entrances were moving files of
large black ants. These hills claimed our attention awhile. They were
indeed cunningly built, and more than once a longing came to make an
examination of their interiors. A scientist or a competent naturalist
would have been justified in such an experiment, but not a pair of mere

To compensate us, as it seemed, almost at once we heard a soft patter
of paws and a soughing of delicate branches—a squirrel was dashing
along the boughs not far away. As soon as the tree-bole was reached,
the russet body whisked out of sight at great speed, but an eye kept
on the point where it disappeared soon detected two sharp, tufted ears
and a pair of bright eyes anxiously watching our movements. I called
my companion’s attention to this, and so long as we refrained from
movement the keen three-sided contemplation went on; but as soon as
my arm stirred the little head was withdrawn, and I knew that four
legs were carrying the squirrel swiftly up towards the crown of the
tree. And, as anticipated, after the lapse of a few seconds the little
animal reappeared on a branch quite a long way up, quietly observing
us. The squirrels of Duddonside suffer little persecution by humans
evidently, for this one had a curious, if rather distant, interest in
us, and refused to be scared by any pretence at hostilities. Even as
we moved away, a backward glance told us that the animal had altered
its position to get a final glance, and was now hanging head downwards,
peering at us from _under_ the branch it was sitting upon.

A few minutes more, and the swiftly-moving waters of Duddon appear
through the straight larch-stems. We are close beside the impassable
stepping-stones and our path back from the woods to the little hamlet
by the church.


Nearly the most miserable class in society contains those who have just
fallen below distinction, while their efforts have raised them high
above mediocrity. These persons are unjustly described by the brilliant
as ‘the rank and file.’

In crag-climbing there are a few who seem to successfully emulate a
fly or a spider in negotiating slippery rock walls, who can scramble
unmoved along the sheerest precipices, or climb untiringly at the
steepest ascents. Then come ‘the rank and file,’ whose deficiency of
nerve or strength does not permit such risky work. Where do we find
this class during the holiday season? Squatting under some towering
crag, maybe, which it is their ambition to ascend, in the vain hope
that familiarity with its outline will breed contempt for its dangers.
Or spread-eagled in some dangerous situation, as the man who many years
ago attempted to climb Piers Ghyll, a narrow, deep chasm in the side
pf Scawfell Pike (Cumberland). He scrambled to a ledge nearly level
with the waterfall which closes the direct ascent of this most majestic
ghyll, then lost confidence, and dared neither advance nor retreat.
Twenty-four hours’ exposure made him desperate enough to leap into the
fall pool thirty feet beneath, in which manner he escaped.

‘A good cragsman is a good mountaineer’ is a proved axiom; but when
the fells are so thoroughly and accurately mapped out, and paths are
so distinctly traceable as they now are, few adventures happen to the
careful man, and the fierce struggles which form the chief delight of
crag-climbing are woefully lacking.

There is another branch of British fellscraft, however, which may
meet with the favour of such persons, and which should be better
known to everyone. But to discuss this it must be assumed that every
climbing-machine, every rock-scrambler, has found his natural sport,
for the man to whom this pastime is open must be able to discern grace
and symmetry in the water-hewn rocks, picturesqueness in the beetling
crags, and lively interest in the many charms of the ghylls of the

A ghyll, it may be explained, is the hacked-out course of a fell, beck,
or stream, and may be divided into three scenic sections: First, the
approach, generally by a wide moorland glen, narrowing into a defile
at its head, and choked with boulders of all sizes and shapes. The
succeeding portion is the gully proper. The deepest waterfalls are
here, as is also the hardest climbing. The lofty cliffs surrounding the
fosse are split into irregular chimneys, yards wide rise spray-washed
slabs without the slightest irregularity on their polished surfaces.
The head of the ghyll is a return to the natural scenery of the fell.
In some places this is reached by an easy grass ascent, in others after
a rough scramble over piled fragments of rock.

A steep cornice may, however, bar the way, or the ghyll debouch into
the hollow of a scree basin. Then comes a struggle upwards; the grit
slides away at every step. The wide scree gully in which the stream
of débris originates is reached, and progress becomes not a little
dangerous. The rotten ‘mountain delight’ which your feet have set in
motion slips away from loose rocks on the higher slopes, and down
they bound at fearful rates. Keep in the shelter if you can, and wait
for the solid rain to cease. You cannot dodge the flying pieces, for,
however quick your eye may be in marking, the treacherous foothold does
not permit rapid movement. And the speed some of these dislodged stones
attain is wonderful. The writer remembers, when climbing a scree under
Fairfield, seeing a portion of cliff topple over some hundred feet in
front. It simply bounced through the air, struck a spur from the parent
rock some dozen yards from him, and burst into dust and splinters. The
crash was louder than the explosion of a fair-sized cannon, and the
very mountain seemed to quiver at the shock. Had not a crevice afforded
shelter from the mass of shingle which for some ten minutes whistled
down the slope, these lines would never have been written.

Some ghylls are mere fissures in the mountainsides, with lofty cliffs
rising sheer from their beck beds. In these the imprisoned water races
down without a break on its surface, a yard wide, perhaps four deep.
You scramble along the wall of rock and look down upon the scene, or
laboriously work a way along the ledges, at every turn leaping the
stream, leaving insecure foot and hand hold on one side for points
equally insecure on the other. Then you come to a cataract; the brook
tumbles over an abrupt rock into the deep and narrow basin, hollowed
by and for itself. The gorge is closed; advance is at an end, retreat
impossible, for there is not room on the narrow ledge in which to face

There against the skyline, forty feet or more up, is a splinter of
harder rock which has separated itself from the cliff. Follow its
bold outline to the water, where it forms the promontory between two
minute bays. A tiny crack shows in the angle at the head of the cove,
up which is the only way out; but there are five yards of mossy, damp
crag between you and that. Carefully the body is pressed against the
slippery surface, and a sidle forward commences, a notch, a microscopic
chink affording precarious hold. The tiny bay is reached, and a few
feet further is the crevice desired. An outcrop of felspar now forms a
tiny escarpment above your head, and, holding to this, you drag along
the sheer smooth breast of rock, your whole weight on your arms. If
the ledge presents the slightest irregularity, your fingers will fail
to grasp it, and down with a mighty splash you go into the dimpling
pool. But the worst predicament is not eternal, and in ten seconds you
have got into the cranny. After a short breather, up the chimney you
struggle, wrist, forearm, thigh, and calf, all working at their fullest
power. A gathering light comes in from the left through the cleft
between the narrow crag and the cliff. A lightning flash, more powerful
than wind or weather, has cracked the former in many places, making it
dangerous to ascend. The platform behind, however, affords foothold,
and you have another welcome rest. The roar of the waterfall fills
your ears, and you look through the gap at it. How curiously near it
seems!—you can almost step into its creamy spout. Splash, splash, thud,
crunch—splash, splash, thud, crunch, in wearying reiteration comes up
from the well below. Across the gulf a sheer cliff rises, lined and
broken in its upper part as its twin on which you are clinging, but
dropping, a broad smooth slab, into the whirlpool of the force beneath.

In other ghylls the climbing is less severe—these are the pretty,
secluded glens by which the effluent of many a mountain tarn finds
its way to the parent river. The first two miles of the one in mind
are between bracken-covered slopes. Willows, mountain-ashes, and
hollies flourish; the clear water rushes down rock-slides from pool to
pool. But further up the scenery becomes wilder. The bed of the beck
is strewn with large fragments of rock fallen from aloft, which are
happily adapted to the many-shaped waterfalls displayed in the first
short gully. There is some hazard in frequenting these places, as many
a man has had proof. The shepherd has possibly seen the fall of an
immense mass of rock into the shallow where a day or two previously his
charge made halt to drink. I know one ghyll which in a single night was
choked by the fall of a neighbouring cliff, so that a lovely waterfall
was formed, with a deep pool above and another below the obstruction.
Many a natural bridge of ‘chocked’ rock is formed by such an event.
In the higher portion of this stream is a large tarn, and just before
it is sighted the waters of the outflow are pent into a gorge between
two mountains, and cascade after cascade breaks upon the view. Climb
along the river-bed here; it is difficult and toilsome work, but the
vantage is unique. The water churns round in a mad whirlpool here; a
few yards in front it races towards us on what appears to be one lofty
rock-shoot, but which discovers itself into a dozen separate falls.
The water does not seem to fall from one to another of these; it is
more of a single roll or a bound. Alert, bright trout dart about in
transparent water, devouring whatever food the beck brings down—a
hard-cased bracken clock which has attempted a flight beyond its power
and perished, a soft mollusc torn from its rock home, or a caterpillar
dislodged by the passing breeze from some twig.

Carefully coasting round a mossy corner into a recess from which the
cheerful thunder of water proceeds, we enter a crag basin of remarkable
charm. We find footing on a slab which almost spans the stream. It has
peeled from the cliff above, and has been caught in its descent on a
narrow ledge. The brook plashes against its sides, and grumbles under
it to the outlet. The spray-damped cliffs are green with moss; down
the gaps by which the springs from above reach their bourne hang long
streamers of water-weed; a wren has taken possession of a dry pocket
among the rocks opposite, and is surveying us suspiciously. It twitters
and scolds, defies and threatens, but its trouble is for nothing. The
niche in which it homes is impossible to reach, even if we were so
minded. Green and gray and yellow, white and crimson and brown, are
imparted to the drier precipices by the lichens; silvery birch boughs
sway above, green-yellow roots hang into the turmoil of the water. A
dipper dashing up the gully sees a human presence, hesitates a flash,
then passes at accelerated speed, its wild song echoing over the drone
and boom without a tremor or a pause. This rock hollow is merely one
among many equally pretty, and pen, pencil, or brush fail to convey
half its delights.

As the slippery cliffs afford no handhold on this side, we cross the
slab, and attack a cleft down which dangle, as so many ropes, the
roots of a mountain-ash. Holding to these, we easily gain the higher
level of the glen, and make forward. Passing the mountain tarn, we
enter the upper col; and among my many climbs, this has been the most
unsatisfactory. It is a wild delve in the mountainside; steep banks of
scree slope into it, with here and there a tongue-like bank of tawny

The little stream purls and rattles by your side as you force your way
over the yielding débris, promising a rocky and picturesque source.
Higher and higher you struggle, and the water correspondingly shrinks
in volume. The fanlike streams of shale and dust have here invaded
the narrow dell, and you may hear the beck grumbling and spouting
beneath the feet. Further up the ground seems to rise more abruptly,
and your hopes rise, to be quickly dashed, for the stream is now too
weak to burrow a course for itself. The moisture from a wide grassy
basin percolates through dank green moss, tinkles in thin lines down
the inequalities, or in wide glassy sheets slides—it cannot be said to
flow—among the steeper rock-faces, accommodating itself to all angles
without a sound or a splash. And this is the source of the stream you
have so laboriously traced.

Another fine gully is entered from an old quarry. After carefully
negotiating a succession of dripping slabs, on hands, and knees, you
reach the darkened bed of a chasm. On the right the light is excluded
by perpendicular rocks, crowned with a plantation of dark firs;
on the left a less abrupt slope, covered with dainty oak-fern and
evil-smelling ‘ramps,’ rises to a thicket of hazel, overtopped by ash
saplings. A couple of these have fallen and form a living bridge high
above the stream. Climb carefully here, and shun the ferny slope, for
the thin bed of leaf-mould slides down with the slightest pressure. A
misty gleam in front shows that the chasm widens; the noise of falling
water proclaims a cataract, and soon its trough is reached. The tiny
stream is descending a succession of mossy steps, now close to one
bank, now to the other, wandering as it wills over the wide face of
rock. In winter, when the spongy fell is thoroughly saturated, a huge
volume crashes through this defile. Then the gorge is impossible to
scale, the trough is a churn of angry, yellow-brown waters, and the
tiny tinkle deepens to a majestic roar. Above the fall the water still
descends in picturesque cascades, at one moment rushing pell-mell down
a tiny crevice between smooth black rocks, playfully diving into a deep
black dub at another. In one corner it divides round a green boulder,
on which a few wisps of grass and a foxglove find sustenance; further
up it passed an abrupt ledge in a pretty spout. The merriment of the
brook seems to infect you, and you feel that you have lost a companion
when you reach its source in the

    ‘Mere of the moorland,

Entering another ravine which has a most unpromising opening near the
top of a slate-quarry, we notice stupendous crags which augur hard
work. Their lower strata are, however, much broken, and the first
emerald-green basin of water is easily passed; but further up a giant
mass overhangs the ghyll. After carefully surveying both sides, a tiny
jut is tried and found wanting. The adventurer loses hold on the rock
and is immediately immersed in about ten feet of water. The other bank
is examined more carefully, and a long traverse discovered. Along this
we warily sidle, making holds for hands where possible. At a most
awkward point the traverse comes to an end, and the way back has to be
crawled at some risk.

The most dangerous gully incident was met when climbing by a waterfall.
The rock (ironstone) was steep, but rotten. We directed our climb
towards a block apparently about five feet in diameter. Perhaps this
was finely poised on a bed of yielding sand or clay, for as soon as
we got weight upon it over it toppled, narrowly missing crushing us
against the wall. The boulder fell into the deep water, and, of
course, we fell too. A wetting was a lucky finish to this adventure.

I well remember descending a very pretty ghyll—or was it the splendid
conditions which made it so? It was a lovely morning, and we had
climbed Kentmere High Street during the hours of dusk in order to see
the sun rise. A long bank of purple haze had lain along the horizon,
but the sun rapidly rose above this and flooded hill and valley,
mountain and lake, in a very blaze of glory. At 5.30 we made a move
towards Mardale, where we hoped to get some breakfast. Down the steep
mountain-shoulder, where the path dodged among the boulders, we made
rapid progress to Blea Water, the waters of which were rippling in a
slight breeze. At the foot of the tarn we sat for awhile on the gray
lichened slabs, enjoying the bright, warm morning sunshine. Then down
the bracken-covered slope again to a small waterfall most picturesquely
situated. The sun shone directly into its deep rocky basin, and every
surge of the tumbling water was telegraphed to the eye in flash and
glitter. Some mountain-ash-trees clung round the steep rock, their long
roots, white and green, hanging dripping into the clear pool below.
Seen under these indescribable circumstances, the sight was a very
memorable one. It was only the pangs of hunger that forced us to move

One of the best expeditions for one who has a real liking for the
smaller beauties of water and rock scenery is to Sacgill. This is at
the head of Longsleddale, a long narrow valley of the usual Lakeland
type, with an unusually cramped defile at the foot. Right in front, as
you cross the narrow switchback bridge from the cluster of antiquated
houses known as Sacgill, and turn up the edge of the torrent, are
Harter Fell and Gray Crag, the abrupt front of the former continuing in
Goat Scar, a pile of rough, fox-haunted crags. As the walk is proceeded
with, a curious depression in the dalehead is reached—a flat entirely
covered with stone, which at some distant time has evidently been a
small tarn. Portions of this level are still banked up to make pools
for sheep-washing, and a strong wall has been built across at the foot
to prevent the loose débris washing at flood-time on the cultivated
valley below. At the head of the depression comes our ghyll. At first
the usual succession of small cataracts, each with its clear pool
where the water swirls awhile ere escaping down the water-worn green
slabs which constitute the steep river-bed. The path, or, rather, the
sheep-track which serves this purpose, becomes steeper, and the falls
correspondingly higher. You rise from the valley in a succession of
mighty steps; the shelf on which you are standing prevents your seeing
the route by which you came, giving in return a distant view of the
valley shimmering in the bright sunshine, with, still further, range
after range of moorish hills, with, here and there a rough cliff, till
the distant sea closes the view.

You are now in the very jaws of the pass; a spur of Goat Scar
approaches the stream from the left, and a tall corner of Gray Crag
forces itself into the narrowing glen opposite. Now the more immediate
river-banks rise higher, the rolling waters in front come by a swiftly
descending curve. At this point we climb round the foot of the rocky
bank, here some fifty feet high, and find a standing-place on a small
beach. This is the only place in the rock basin where such a foothold
is possible. Behind us the crags rise, covered with tiny clumps of
mountain-sage, and fringed at their tops with waving bracken fronds.
Beyond, higher and higher, rise the stony ridges to the crags, which
strike the eye in whichever direction it is turned. The beck tumbles
into the small cleft, and as yet its unbroken descent is out of sight,
but the soft, liquid, churning sound betrays its presence.

As other venues fail us, a tough scramble up the grass-hung bank
commences. From the bank of the gorge are several grand vertical
views through luxuriant mountain-ashes of the stream dimpling in the
deep crevice, and then of the waterfall, with its brink twenty feet
beneath, its chasm fully fifty. Further on come a number of pretty
cascades; then you emerge from a water-hewn gallery on a level with the
stream. As the pass widens, a belt of tough slaty rocks is approached,
and down these the beck shoots. Not a bush grows near—we are at too
high an elevation—and the view savours of desolation. Damp, green rocks
pall; the succession of streams sliding almost noiselessly down long
smooth surfaces becomes monotonous; ridge after ridge of stony fells
give a dreary impression. But just where the pass opens into the swampy
moor is its redeeming feature. Threading along the course of the beck,
we see a stream issuing from a crag-guarded ghyll, and on approach
find that the stream fills it from bank to bank. A few stepping-stones
allow one to reach a place where some advance can be made along the
foot of the cliffs. Then ford the stream at the shallow, and climb the
jutting crag to the right. You are now in an amphitheatre of rocks. In
front is the waterfall, its spray damping you through; almost beneath
is the chinklike passage through which the water escapes. On either
hand tall crags rise, all dripping with spray and hung with luxuriant
mosses. Here and there a fern—hart’s-tongue or similar slime-loving
variety—finds root-hold; a huge fragment, torn down, maybe, by
lightning, reclines precariously in a corner, ready, it seems, to fall
and block up the pool. An active person can spring easily across the
narrow gulf to the cliff over which the stream is pouring, and there
find sufficient hold to climb out. But it allows of no mistakes. A fall
into the well of the cascade is to be dreaded, as the unfortunate could
only trust to the stream carrying him into the outflow passage; there
is no handhold within reach by which a good position could be secured
again. After this ghyll, not more than fifty yards in length, has been
explored, the tour is finished, and it cannot fail to have been a most
pleasing one.


Evening drew on apace as we walked out of Keswick by the Castlehead
road. The ground, though not frozen, was firm and dry, and the
faint breeze carried just a tinge of winter from northward. In the
great hollow behind us lights began to twinkle here and there. Lake
Bassenthwaite stretched like a sheet of blue steel between the steep
slopes of Skiddaw and the brown coppices beneath Barf, while the
cloudless western sky still glowed with the waning radiance of sunset.

On the hills lingered day; in the valleys night was nigh. At a corner
in the long ascent we paused. A thin blue mist was gradually ascending,
extending and joining into a canopy beneath which the lowlands were
rapidly lost to view. Two wide fleecy clouds showed where the lakes
lay. The vapour rising from the Derwent marked a streak across the
level meadows between them; a thousand rills sent up their several
lines to make a pall over the wide Newlands Vale, while a reek-like
smoke rose from where Greta fretted over its deep rocky course beneath
Latrigg. Ere we finally turned away, our eyes had wandered for some
minutes over a continuous, slowly-moving sea of cloud, upon which the
solid fells and precipitous crags seemed to be floating.

In half an hour we had crossed the ridge of Castlerigg. Through the
leafless hedgerows bounding our track to the right a series of dark
summits approached us closely. The last glare of day had left the sky,
and above these rugged heights shone a few of the brighter lamps of
heaven. A dull cloak of vapour occupied the hollowness in front, with
the stumpy Naddle fell standing islandwise, for beyond it could be seen
the night mists o’erhanging St. John’s Vale. To our left Blencathra was
the most prominent mountain, its huge mass and sharp, broken contour
showing to great advantage in the starlight, while along the eastern
horizon stood the leviathan Helvellyn range, some five miles away.

A pale primrose light ran along their topmost ridge, flushing the sky
so that for a space the sparkling stars could not be seen. The moon,
we knew, was about to rise; indeed, we had chosen this night for a
stroll because continuous light would illumine our way. It was grand
walking along that hardened road, watching for rifts in the drifting
mist above us, giving us brief glimpses of the brightening quarter of
the sky. But we were within the shade of the mighty mountains before
the moment arrived when the moon would appear over Crossfell, and
flood with bright, uncertain light the upper world of mountains. But
instead of this spectacle we watched, as we groped up the pony-track
in the semi-darkness, the light touch the summits, and then the narrow
‘edges,’ or ridge-approaches, to Blencathra, making every boulder and
cranny on the eastward side visible, accentuating the steepness and
ruggedness by leaving the western slopes in utter darkness.

Perhaps five minutes’ walk below the crest of the pass we stopped to
view the scene at leisure, and to regain our breath for the brief final
ascent. To northward a great ridge of mountains, furrowed with dark
ghylls and decked with great rock-faces and beds of scree; beyond, the
uncertain glimmer of lakes caught through riven masses of mist; still
further away (to westward), a sea of blue mountain-tops. To the right
of these, broad moors and craggy fells, shadowy glens and sparkling
tarns, with here and there a twinkling rivulet. But the finest scene of
all was a crag deep beneath our feet, seemingly

                ‘with airy turrets crowned,
    Buttress, and rampire’s circling bound,
      And mighty keep and tower.’

With the level fleeces of mist kissing its lowest wall of slabs, it
seemed a veritable castle suspended in mid-air, yet so real that we
seemed to listen for the challenging blast of an Arthur’s horn to shake
the echoes of the hills upon which the solid pile of gray would once
again rouse itself to life and light. But even in this hour of moonlit
witchery our senses would not play us false, and carry us back in
spirit to the fabled days of old.

We turned in silence to resume our journey, yet it was not with
cold we drew that sharp breath. For on the bright skyline above us
horses and men were moving. Knights-errant? No, they were not clad in
glistering mail from top to toe, nor carried they the bows and spears
of the men of the Border raids. No, they were peaceful farmers of
Legburthwaite, returning from a sheep-fair in another vale. We greeted
them warmly—Nature at its loveliest, as we see it to-night, yet makes
a man feel lonesome—and after a few words they passed on. But for long
their occasional voices and the ringing of the horseshoes on the stony
track were companionable sounds.

We did not quite ascend to the top of the pass, but just as the
eastward prospect began to open turned southward for Helvellyn. There
was no path, but the ground was fairly even. A flank of the great
mountain cut off the view of dun, coppice-fringed Thirlmere; an outcrop
beneath our feet hid the Vale of St. John. There was but little breeze
on the uplands. The sound of a prowling fox or the bark of a wakeful
dog at a sheep-farm in the gulf beneath again and again came to our
ears as we strode along the grassy brae nearer to the highest peak.

‘Now for a short rush’: for thus years ago was I introduced to the
wonderful view, and I like to re-feel when possible that glorious
sensation. So up to the crest we came. As we stood there in the cold
night air, it seemed to me that in a few yards we had climbed into
another world. Our feet were upon a narrow beach of loose, clinking
mountain limestone. To right and left the ground continued a few paces,
then abruptly fell into depths unseen, and beyond, at a much lower
elevation, the eye rested upon the jagged rocks of Striding Edge and
Catchedecam. That long floating cloud is Ullswater. The confused masses
are raising themselves somewhat, and the narrow waters of the lake in
all their moonlit loveliness are partially to be seen.

Every one of the deep abysses radiating from the ridge on which we
stand is occupied by a wandering patch of white vapour, but, as often
happens, the moist places have by this time ceased their supply, and
the clouds are gradually thinning and will shortly disappear. We felt
as though from some insecure, lofty platform we stood regarding the
creation of a world of giant rocks. Everything seemed so huge, so
primitive, so awe-inspiring. A patch of thin night mist could hide
every vestige of men’s handiwork; but up here works of God’s own
fashioning stood supreme, overtowering the highest banks of vapour, and
sheering in majestic silence their ambitious shoulders far up into the
starlit sky.

For long we stood gazing—first north, to where the view ended on the
plains of Cumberland; southward, over enormous piles of rocks, and over
mist-brimming hollows where we knew lakes were hid; eastward, over a
mass of mountains furrowed with deep valleys; westward, over low moors
to a silvery range of heights.

My eye was perhaps most attracted to a long and nearly level series of
ridges, along which I knew the Romans of old had built a road which
still endures. More than once I had walked there by moonlight, and
noted the giant front of Helvellyn, fenced with crags and strewn with
scree, formidable-looking even so far away. But the chill air of night
compelled us to move, and for an hour along the crest we walked,
skirting cliffs which fell away abruptly to pastoral coves, and coming
at last to where over the dark Grisedale Tarn we came opposite the long
scree-strewn shoulder of Fairfield.

The only sheep we met as we walked along the ridge was most palpably a
‘stray.’ When the flock were driven down from the heights a month ago,
this item managed to avoid both dogs and shepherd. Poor creature! it
hailed us with a loud bleat; but though we had wished to give it help,
we knew not whither to drive it. What happens to such during winter?
The ravens and hawks and foxes squabble over their carcases at the foot
of deep cliffs they have wandered over during time of storm, or in the
narrow ghylls where their bodies lie after the drift in which they
were smothered has melted away. Sometimes also the sheep’s wanderings
are ended by a splinter of rock falling upon it as it threads the path
beneath the precipices. A good many of the ‘strays’ are undeniably
collected by the dread ‘night-shepherds’—sheep-stealers. Anyhow, very
few are folded home or met again when with spring the flocks return to
the uplands.

Now we turned westward, traversing a bog from which a streamlet flowed,
and by the descending course of this we quickly returned to the dale.
From Sticks Pass to the bog we had walked six continuous miles without
coming so low down as 2,000 feet above sea-level. The whole journey was
within the region of barrenness. The ground was strewed with stones of
various sizes, between which bent-grass and occasional mosses—and in
summer a few hardy saxifrages and other alpine flowerets—made a show
of life. Once the hoot of a wandering owl came up from a ravine in
Nethermost Cove. Everything winged had left the uplands on the approach
of winter; the other migrants would come with the snow.

From Wythburn we crossed the fields to the west shore of Thirlmere. The
moon had now risen high above the mountains, making a mellow path along
the waters. It was delightful, and not too cold, to lean awhile on the
wall next the road, look at the long ridge of mountain we had walked
upon, and to watch the flocks of wild-duck and geese quickly moving
about the moonlit bays at our feet. Midnight was past long before we
neared Armboth, where the ghosts of the Lake Country families are said
to meet and hold occasional revel, and in another two hours, after many
a halt to enjoy the glory of the night, we were at that corner in the
long Castlehead whence we watched day fade from the western sky. The
valley beneath was still the haunt of floating mists; at one moment
there was a bewitching glimpse up Newlands Vale, at another we saw the
silver moonlight streaming across Lake Bassenthwaite. Yet after our
ramble of some twenty-six miles we were loath to go indoors, and first
repaired to Friar’s Crag, where perchance the cloud might rive apart
and let us see Derwent Water in all its moonlit unearthly beauty, with
its wooded islets floating like bits of paradise upon its tranquil

The clouds did open while we stood there. Words cannot convey what we



Despite the difficulties presented by the rough surfaces and the
peculiar weather associated with such elevations, fox-hunting is
carried on to a large extent among the fells. The natives are sportsmen
from their wild environment and the opportunities it gives for the
chase. Foxes are too plentiful, their depredations being bewailed by
every farmer, shepherd, and poultry-raiser within the area mentioned.
The farm hands have comparatively little to do in winter, for the sheep
are brought from the distant uplands on the approach of hard weather,
and their attention, therefore, only takes up a few hours of each day.
As the shepherd seldom, even on the darkest mornings, turns out later
than five a.m., it will be readily understood that there is plenty of
daylight left for hunting.

Four packs of hounds hunt the Lake Country, and, circumscribed though
the area is, there is no difficulty in arranging meets. Appointments
seldom clash, for each mountain group has its own foxes and earths, and
it is only when they cannot get to earth near home that they rush away
over miles of crag and grass, in the usually vain hope of outstripping
their pursuers. Many years ago a fox made a circuitous route about
the moors at the foot of Kentmere, then ran over into Longsleddale,
giving a good forty-five minutes round that valley before the kill. Two
packs having joined in the chase, some discussion arose as to which
should claim the fox. Two veteran dalesmen were therefore appointed
arbitrators, and arrived at a satisfactory decision by selecting the
hounds which, in their opinion, had most distinguished themselves in
the later stages of the chase.

The hounds most adapted to this class of hunting are big, strong
animals; in no pack is uniformity a craze, either in colour or size.
Most huntsmen keep a couple of small but exceedingly fast hounds, as
they can help the terriers in some of the wider tunnels in the earths,
where occasionally a fox will lie at bay on a rock-shelf out of reach
of its smaller pursuers. These terriers are very small, hard animals,
pugnacious in their excitement but wonderfully docile both before and
after. They cannot, of course, pass the rough country at the speed
of hounds—barely can they keep up with the humans; therefore the
huntsman frequently gives them a lift in his capacious side-pockets.
The memories of some of the terriers are phenomenal; only let the pack
drive their fox into a particular hole, and its location and interior
arrangements are indelibly fixed in the little dogs’ minds.

The life of a fells fox does not present many new features; from birth
he has to exert all his marvellous instincts for self-preservation. In
spring and summer he lies out for days on the open moors, where the
huntsmen dare not come, for fear of injuring the ewes and lambs. All
summer Reynard is the scourge of the fells, but when wintry days cover
his usual haunts with snow, he is forced to leave for the valleys.
‘Circling round the top of Bowfell were twelve ravens, uttering their
hoarse cries, and diving persistently towards some object among the
rocks. The safety of their carrion breakfast was at stake, for a
prowling fox was evidently the butt at which they were worrying. As
we neared the summit, a deep gully on the Langdale side, full of snow
and with a considerable cornice at the top, showed where Reynard had
escaped his tormentors. The white mantle of snow was covered with the
footmarks of the birds, and backwards and forwards along the very edge
of the precipice the fox had passed and repassed, evidently afraid to
make the plunge. An overhanging rock upon the left, where the snow lay
at a severe angle, had given the chance he sought, and he had jumped
over, going up to the hips in the fluffy drift beneath.’

By this season the packs are again on the alert, and only occasionally
are the foxes given a rest. At a swinging trot the fox gets about
a dozen miles from his earth during the night, and, returning at
daybreak, finds hounds between him and his strongholds. It is easy work
outflanking them, but sooner or later a hum in the rear proclaims that
some wanderer has struck his line. Half an hour’s hard racing finds him
exhausted—his night’s work has already sapped his strength; then on to
the view sweeps the pack. A sharp race forward, a desperate snap at
the foremost hound, a momentary check in the parti-coloured stream, a
loud, rattling chorus, and bold Reynard’s carcass lies still among the

The earths whence the red vermin make their journeys, it may be here
remarked, might be whole districts from their extent. On Buckbarrow,
for instance, standing at the heads of Kentmere, Mardale, and
Longsleddale, the ground is tunnelled for the area of almost a square
mile, one set of holes communicating with another. The miles of
passages generally baffle the ‘cutest of terriers, and the great
caverns have heard the death-shriek of many a fighting dog. If hunting
is being carried on within the valleys mentioned, the escape of the
fox has always to be prevented by blocking the chief entrances to this

The following record of a day’s hunt may show more clearly how the
sport is carried on under the circumstances:

As I came round the corner of Kirkstone Fell from Woundale Moss,
distinct sounds came from hounds from the side of Red Screes, and a
few seconds later my eye was attracted by the huntsman’s red coat
crossing the skyline. The pack had therefore started three-quarters
of an hour ago; but as there might be a delay before a huntable scent
was discovered, I followed at my best pace. Fourteen hundred feet of
grassy slack, crag, and scree had to be ascended, to the point where
hounds had gone out of sight. In my eagerness, when threading the
tortuous way among the crags, I made a wrong turn, leaving the grass
benks for a more direct but steeper route. At one point I was climbing
a rough ironstone gully, with screes shelving precipitously below, and
succeeding this were loose stones. Twenty minutes after leaving the
road, however, I passed the caërn on the summit. Windermere, Coniston,
Esthwaite, and Ullswater were all visible as I glanced around for the
hounds. A faint bay came up the wind, then another; then straight over
Scandale I detected figures moving among the boulders. They were, as
the crow flies, about a mile and a half distant, but a deep valley lay
between. I was not long in getting down the sixteen hundred feet into
the dalehead, and then, for the first time, I saw a number of actively
moving white dots among the crags. When within a quarter of a mile,
the knot of men, who had not moved far during my approach, struck up
the fell, leaving me struggling across the boulders at the foot of the
crags. Gradually the yards separating us shrank down; then they turned
round a crag-end and I lost view. The horn pealed again and again,
and each time there was quite a chorus. Game was obviously afoot, and
my first was likely to be my last glimpse of the hunting. In a few
moments, however, a single hound came into view against the skyline;
then I was standing among an inquisitive, sniffing crowd. The rousing
signals which had so disconcerted me were those calling the pack from a
hopeless scent. Four men followed, and we were heading leisurely back
at a fair elevation above the dale, when one of the leading hounds
gave the unmistakable triumphant ‘find,’ and the whole, dogs and men,
rushed at top speed over very rough ground. Two hundred and fifty
yards further on we recovered the pack around a storm-rent outcrop.
Two terriers were slipped into the entrance to this ‘hold,’ and very
shortly a series of fierce yaps and yells proclaimed that the tenant
was giving fight. Bowman ordered hounds and followers to retire, hoping
that the fox would make a dash into the open. Looking down a crack in
the crags, our huntsman now espied Reynard, and asked us to help clear
a passage. Accordingly, a good many pieces of rock were dislodged; but
the venue of battle rapidly moving, our work was useless. At this time
one of the terriers came out for fresh air, and was immediately seized.
He had been at grips with Reynard. What a moan of delight that little
draggled white creature gave as he was released! He instantly dashed
into the dark opening and rejoined the fray.

As the minutes passed our force was augmented, till over a dozen men
stood on the hillside. Bowman was desirous of digging the fox out, but
there were no tools within miles. But wasn’t the rock broken enough to
be removed with pick and spade? In a short hour five or six tons of
rock had been torn out, and a nine-foot-deep shaft sunk far towards
the scene of conflict, where Jack and Nip had driven their fox to the
extremity of its habitation. The wind was bitterly cold; on the bleak
hillside there was no shelter from its pitiless sweep, and as afternoon
wore on its current became charged with moisture. In the excavations
matters were more lively than without. Eager, strong hands were passing
out huge pieces of rock. The cliff had gradually been undermined some
feet, and there was grave possibility of its splintered crest suddenly
collapsing. After more tearing up of long narrow slabs of rock, a
cavern was found, in which Bowman caught sight of one of his terriers;
and he was kneeling over the tunnel, encouraging them, when a portion
of the overhanging rock gave way. Every further effort was nullified by
a shower of stones. Reluctantly the huntsman gave the word to come out,
taking the terriers with us up the hillside. ‘Give it a chance to come
out;’ but I detected in his voice that the fox was unlikely to do so.
As a last resort, he picked up several boulders, and hurled them down
the slope one after the other on to the roof of the fox’s refuge. The
first fragment bounced clear of the platform, but under its successor
the top of the tunnel crashed in. At its next bound the rock struck the
corner round which we had dug, and shattered it.

After another short wait we returned to our shaft, but found that
another long toil was before us if we were to force the fox into
the open. It was now quite certain that he would not do this till
positively compelled.

‘Let’s hae t’ terriers in agen, an’ he’ll happen stir.‘

The splintering blow which had wrecked our work had apparently made
no difference inside the earth, and Reynard was inaccessible as ever.
There was nothing but to leave him in possession. But what had he
suffered whilst our terriers beat him from pillar to post?

After this termination of the siege, the hounds went over the fell to
Kirkstone, I following the valley to Ambleside, and so home. We had had
four and a half hours’ work among the rocks, but could not claim a kill.

Such a day of disappointment is occasionally inevitable, but the
hunting more often suffers from the excess of events. When foxes
returning from their night’s prowl are converging on the main earths,
it becomes a question, with so many afoot, which to follow first. The
difficulty of keeping a pack together where scents are crossing here,
there, and everywhere is very great. Often at the end of the day hounds
are hunting in groups of four or five, each portion being followed by a
section of ‘the field.’

For hunting we prefer the spring to autumn, as in the former period
the ground is less liable to be sodden, and the mists are seldom so
thick and persistent. Of course, deep snowdrifts are often lying in the
northerly ghylls, and near these the going is heavy and unpleasant.
We met at Sacgill, a picturesque cluster of old farmhouses at the
head of Longsleddale. It was not yet daylight; stars glinted above in
the clear, cold sky; a silvery crescent hung in the west; all round
the dark hills sheered up skywards. Though the hour was so early, the
people were up and doing the necessary day’s duties by lantern light.
As the first gray streaks of dawn rose in the east, the shepherd
sallied out into the intakes to his flock, and the idlers adjourned to
the temporary kennels. In a few minutes the door was opened and the
hounds skeltered into the daylight, making the dalehead ring as the
huntsman gave his preliminary wind of the horn. Then the shepherd came
down the intake, and, as he got near enough, shouted that there was a
big fox coming round the end of Dixon Crag—a mile and a half off as the
crow flies. Having got so near home, it was more than likely that the
redskin would risk all on his outpacing the hounds in the four miles to
Buckbarrow. We toiled up a long ascent, near the top of which hounds
struck a scent, and a wild crash of music proclaimed it red-hot. My
old friend faced the slope no longer, but ran along it with a long,
shambling stride.

‘By gum!’ he panted, when I got up to him, ‘t’ ahld divvil’ll be in
affor t’ hooals er blockt’ (the old devil will be in before the holes
are blocked).

My attention had perforce to be confined to the ground we were
crossing. It was like the débris of some huge cathedral piled block on
block, and overgrown with parsley fern—so rough that in cooler moments
I would have looked to avoid crossing it. A big ghyll furrowed the
side of the fell, and away near the skyline the pack were pouring into
it, and in a few moments climbing out on the further side. We had to
cross the stream. The slope behind us made it difficult to leap, and
the only hold beyond was on a slippery spur of rock. When we reached
the hillside again the hounds were but a memory. Among dead bracken and
across scree we ploughed determinedly, and in a few minutes reached
a corner of the fell from which we caught a distant glimpse of the
hounds in full cry. The huntsman was waiting here, and the whips.
My companion, however, told me that the fox was now going to some
‘stopped’ holes, and would doubtless return quite close to hand.

After a seemingly interminable wait, a draggled fox, with back up,
darted round a corner of the hill in front, and crossed the brook. A
terrier was let loose. For a moment Reynard hesitated, then galloped
forward; but the pugnacious animal was on him, worrying and snapping.
The fox turned to his tormentor, but in a few seconds a loud chorus
from the pack, which had been at fault, maybe, a moment, proclaimed the
‘view.’ The hounds seemed to shoot over every obstacle, and a turmoil
of black-and-tan and liver-and-white, showed the death. The brush was
rescued, but the head had been crushed out of all semblance by some
iron jaw.

The next move was into a valley-head, where at every step a muddy
fountain spurted over our boots from the spongy moss. From the east
a dense white mist had been creeping over the mountains, completely
hiding everything not close at hand. We heard, rather than saw, hounds
pick up another trail, and soon the rousing calls of the hunt died
away. The dalesmen with our party plodded along—tireless hunters they
are—in the direction of the dying sounds. We were struggling along a
rock-strewn gully, when the hounds again came faintly within hearing.
There was an immediate rush across the craggy hillside; then the
unmistakable sound pealed from below, its sharpness intensified by the
mists around. At the foot of the rocky slope we ran into clear air, and
saw the hounds lacing along an uneven grass plateau. In a few minutes
their quest apparently decided to take refuge on higher ground, so the
pack again dashed out of view in the fog-banks. We had been moving in
so many different directions that I had long since lost every sense of
locality, and was forced to follow the others. The huntsman said the
hounds would be found again when the mist blew up. The wind had been
freshening all the morning, and was now hurling the unwieldy folds
of mist forward; hill-tops rose boldly through the whirl, then were
hidden as the next wave of cloud came along. Gradually, however, the
veil dissipated, and the familiarity of the opening view struck me.
When the last rag of vapour rolled from beneath, I saw Sacgill and
the head of Longsleddale at our feet—we were standing near the grassy
slope from which our hounds had chased their first fox. Again and again
the huntsman sounded his horn; the hounds would make answer if they
heard. Then we made back into Goat Scaur—a grand line of precipices
near Buckbarrow—hoping to get a few together as we did so. The whip
ultimately issued from a glen in Gray Crag as we came opposite. He had
turned back with about half a dozen hounds after running a fox into an
impregnable heap of boulders. In a while we heard another call—a trio
of shepherds before whom five hounds had driven a fox round Branstree
and into the Gatescarth, where they lost the scent. When a fair number
of hounds and men had rallied, a visit was made to a benk where an old
stager was in the habit of lying.

I had had enough of racing over sloppy grass and rough boulders, so
stayed with another to watch for any stray hounds, which we were to
take down the head to Sacgill. The horn echoed among the hills for
awhile, gradually becoming fainter; then came a babel of distant sound
and a speedy silence. Something that could run had turned up. In about
an hour we had nearly a dozen hounds lying or sitting round us. ‘It
would be grand to have a hunt,’ repeated my friend as he reviewed the
dirty canines. ‘Hark! holloa! ther’s summat cummen across t’ pass
yed!’ It was a fox, and apparently in a desperate hurry. 'Git t’ dogs
tagither.’ The redskin was within five hundred yards before he became
aware of any presence; then he pointed to go round us. ‘He’s followed,
he’s followed! Hurray! yon’s Cumrade—Cu-um-ra-ade!’ Our tiny pack had
not yet seen the fox, but they were all excitement. Then Reynard, in
diving down a slack, revealed his lean body, and hell for leather they
pelted over grass and scree, through narrow ravines and over tiny
cliffs, up, down, and across becks, we following for all we were worth.
The fox was now over the skyline, and we recovered our hounds as they
were getting on to the trail. A bay from behind: Comrade still had it,
and he—the stoutest dog in the pack—showed the way. In a moment our
dogs were tearing along for very life or death. Again we put our best
foot foremost, but became finally at fault near a small waterfall. The
shepherd sat down to eat the meagre lunch in his pocket, for, said he,
‘they’ll not go far away, I’ll warrant.’ After our meal we made to the
nearest hill-top. We reached the summit about two p.m., and immediately
my friend found a clue—we overlooked a basin, in which was also a good
deal of crag and stony ground. ‘Buckbarrow earth,’ said my companion;
‘and yonder’s old Fishwick.’ I followed the direction, and saw a tiny
column of smoke rising from behind a crag. Yes, Fishwick had seen the
hounds, and they were in Goat Scaur now. ‘Jack, git ower to Nan Bield;
they’ll come that way oot.’

To Nan Bield was a good hour’s walk, and we stood near the caërn till
the sun prepared to sink behind Coniston Old Man. The shepherd grew
impatient. Perhaps the hounds had killed, or had turned down the
valley. My friend was stamping about among the snow to get a little
warmth, when he espied a fox moving over the hills towards High
Street. ‘That beggar’s black-wet! Whar’s t’ hoonds?’ In a few minutes
we heard the hounds coming along, but on the wrong side of the hill.
The shepherd cursed sonorously; our hounds had left the trail of the
fox they had chased so far and bravely to respond to their huntsman’s
call, for he was also coming at a fair rate in the same direction.
To tell how the new fox led us a dance round the head of Kentmere,
how it paused on the very crest of High Street, and looked and longed
for Swarthfell, then turned down the scree of Nanny Gap and made for
Hill Bell, would be a long story. I shall ever remember that blind,
blundering rush down the scree, when the loose débris rattled behind
us. But the climax was reached soon after that. After negotiating
some steep pieces of rock, the fox crossed the summit and dodged his
followers. In a few seconds we saw him crossing a shoulder of the hill
deep below. Down the scree dashed the hounds and one or two men whose
blood was too hot for caution, and as we reached the bottom we found
our fox had turned for the huge terraces of Rainsbarrow Crag.

His next move completely surprised us, for, instead of trying to get
either above or below the cliffs, he took a line across the most
dangerous portion. He had been viewed by the hounds, and they would
follow to the end now. The snow lay deep and wind-plastered on every
ledge and choked up every crevice. Comrade and Rattler in the van
dashed after the fox; we followed, but the going was too dangerous. A
few traversed a long series of ledges, kicking off the caked snow and
ice; but it was slow work, and the hounds were far ahead. Accordingly,
we turned back till quite clear of the cliff, then climbed to the
summit. Fox and hounds were still darting about among the rocks,
leaping and running hard where a man could scarce have crawled. One
hound slipped, and its body was picked up two hundred feet below;
another had to be rescued with a rope, having got jammed behind a
rock splinter. The sun set before we reached the top of the Yoke, but
we managed to get a peep in the fast-waning light of hounds lusting
for blood tearing across the bottom to Crag Quarter. Weary with our
exertions, we yet mustered a run down. As we came among the rocks
again, the huntsman’s horn was winding away on our left. Hounds had
killed in the meadows in front of Kentmere Hall. Dearly would we have
liked to see the final scene, when the fox which had made so unique a
run had come to his end. Hounds were collected at Brockstones—in all,
one-third of the number which had left the kennels in the morning—then
we made up the slack for Sacgill. With a pack of tired dogs and not
less tired men, our progress was slow; but we were in good spirits—the
hounds gave tongue as gleefully as ever, and everyone satisfied himself
with the remembrance that he had played a part in _the_ run of many

There are other chases on record which have continued many hours—one,
indeed, which lasted through a long winter’s night. Hounds struck
the trail of this giant fox just as day was dying, and could not be
whipped off when time for ‘kennels’ came; therefore the members of the
hunt were forced to go home without the pack, which had long since
disappeared into the thickening gloom. At intervals throughout the
night shepherds occupying isolated fell-head houses were aroused by
the chorus of hounds across the silent wastes. Once the hounds dashed
past the farm where their disconsolate huntsman was sitting up; he
had steadily refused to go to bed without some news of their welfare.
As he rushed into the starlight, the leading bunch came right through
the fold (farmyard), and he followed them as fast as his strength
permitted. Then he sat down to recover his breath on a boulder in the
narrowing glen, and listened to the occasional sounds ringing down the
crags and screes. At daybreak a tired fox, followed by a few spent yet
determined hounds, struggled across the head of a far-off dale, and
were lost to view again among the fells. Whether old Cæsar escaped or
died game will never be known. If it were not for admiration of his
grim, relentless pursuers, we could wish this plucky fox a longer life.

Collecting the pack after such a run would be exceedingly difficult
were it not that hounds, when benighted, always make for the nearest
lights. Many a time the dales farmer is called from bed in the small
hours by the baying of a stray hound outside his door. He may not
previously have been aware that hunting has been afoot in his vicinity,
but the animals, as long as they are able, struggle down in full
confidence of a warm welcome.

Quite recently the Ullswater pack had a tremendous run. During the
day they routed a fox out of a rocky ghyll on St. Sunday’s Crag. It
immediately made over Fairfield, and, chased hard, turned to Helvellyn.
Here it temporarily baffled the hounds, and turned again along the
side of the mountain to Fairfield. The pack were now keeping it so
actively employed that it could not get to earth, and had to run over
Red Screes, passing the Kirkstone road near its summit. There were only
three hounds in the pursuit now, and one of these but a young one.
Away over Kirkstone Fell and John Bell’s Banner, across the rough
Stony Cove and up High Street, the unattended chase went on. At the
summit of the last-named fell the young hound had to confess defeat,
but the other two kept up the pace, and finally killed their fox in
Mardalehead. I am sorry that the exact mileage and total altitude
cannot be established from the data to hand.

There is a very distinct element of danger in fox-hunting on the fells:
a slip in crossing the screes at speed may mean a severe dislocation,
and is almost certain to result in contusions of a more or less serious
character, whilst a fall from any one of the crags crossed in a day’s
hunting is certain death. Many years ago a run was proceeding along
the narrow ridge of Striding Edge just where it leaves the bulk of
Helvellyn. Just as a particularly precipitous point was reached, one
Dixon missed his footing and fell many yards. He was picked up quite
dead. Still further into the past—about the middle of the eighteenth
century—there occurred another accident, this time luckily not fatal.
Hounds were slowly puzzling their way across the weatherworn face of
Blea Water Crag in pursuit of a fox they had driven out of Mardalehead.
By descending one or other of the steep ghylls, the more venturesome of
the followers hoped to observe the hounds at work, and possibly head
off the fox. Dixon (a common family name in the dales) essayed down a
very crumbly watercourse, but lost his footing. Down he came with an
awful smash, his body rolling and bounding down the rocks to a great
depth, finally wedging itself into a corner of a ledge. Dixon never
lost consciousness of his position, nor interest in the sport on hand,
for, seeing the fox escaping out of a gully towards High Street, he
called out to his comrades above:

‘It’s cummen oot be t’ heigh end! Lig t’ dogs on, lads!’ (It’s coming
out by the high end! Lay the dogs on, lads!)

Often the hunt gets into risky places. A little while ago, at the
break-up of a frost, there was a considerable rock-slip on Helm Crag,
in the Grasmere Valley. Among the débris a fox made its home, and its
depredations soon made it the terror of the countryside. When hounds
next met in the valley, the huntsman was directed into the redskin’s
haunts, and a rare run ensued. Leaving the meadows, the scent lay
up the intakes and into the screes beneath the great cliffs. It was
soon apparent that hounds had no chance of overhauling the fox—he had
had too long a start—but the hunt was pressed, in the hope that he
might be turned out of home at length by a terrier. The pack finally
stopped by a big heap of boulders, which it was difficult for a man
to get near; the recent slip had made the rock around so loose that at
any moment hundreds of tons might hurl themselves down the hillside.
Nothing deterred by the danger, the huntsman coolly scrambled into
Reynard’s fortress with his terrier. Small pieces of crag kept rolling
down as the scree beneath was loosened by the approach of the man, and
his position at length became untenable. Lancaster did not retreat,
however, till quite sure that his terrier could not drive the fox from
his tunnel home.



An idler on the landing-stage pushed the rowlock with his foot;
the boat welted away a yard or two; the right oar fended us from a
maze of moored skiffs; then, as arms and body swayed into rhythmic
pendulations, we drew toward open water.

‘Now, Jem,’ said my companion to the walnut-bearded boatman, ‘what’s
the likeliest bit for trolling?’

‘Millerground Bay for a start, then down the Belle Grange side awhile,
and finish about t’ Ferry.‘

My intention in coming off this particular afternoon was to watch my
companions’ work. The angler was a big man, robust in muscle and rosy
in face. The lake possessed few secrets from him; with Jem at the oars,
he had fished every shoal and round every islet and bay. Char and
trout, pike and perch, on occasion provided him sport, and the worst of
days was never wholly unfruitful. As an angler he might have faults:
non-success was not now among them. Jem the boatman was a character in
his way, and, chiefest interest to me, he was esteemed a first-class
handler of a fishing-boat.

As the boat rattled through the wavelets I looked round. Maytime in
Lakeland! Great boles and branches of thousands of forest trees almost
hidden in a smother of green foliage, with here and there huge sprays
of milk-white blossom where wild-cherry and crab-apple, whitethorn
and blackthorn, grew. The fields between the woodlands were tenderly
and vividly green, while shadows of verdure climbed up the swelling
mountain-slopes away on the horizon. This scene to the right: on our
left and in front the waters of the lake sparkled, dotted with two
or three islets green-crowned over a profusion of wild-flowers, and
further away stood the dark fir-woods of Claife. We were now rapidly
leaving the crowded bay, heading for where one or two boats slowly

‘Those chaps are fishing with the fly,’ said the angler. ‘After all the
rain yesterday, they’ll do fairly well if they’ve plenty of time. But
it’s slow work with the fly with a bright sun like this; and yonder, in
the shelter of the trees, there’s hardly a ruffle on t’ water.‘

The afternoon was drawing to a glorious close; the sun had receded
far. Quoth Jem, ‘We’d better be starting,’ as the boat approached
within fifty yards of a little headland. At this the angler turned
out a couple of rods, one for either side our craft. In a minute the
lines were fixed. After allowing about forty feet he placed a switch,
to which by lengths of gut were attached two spinners baited with
perchlets. The angler drew my attention to the fact that trout find
these little creatures more inviting when the strong pine-fin has been
cut away. ‘A perch in fighting trim is avoided by all sensible trout.’
By this time Jem had the boat’s head round, and we were facing a fair
breeze from the south-west. The sun had plunged behind a heavy mass of
cloud, and a shadow darkled across the water.

‘Good!’ chuckled the angler. ‘Now, Jem, with a bit of luck we should do

A dull, warm day with a fair ripple, I was given to understand, is
ideal for the troller.

Immediately his lines had floated overboard the angler riveted his
attention to the nodding rod-points. The oarsman continued to pull.
He never made a splash sufficient to startle the shoals of fish in
the depths beneath us. His strokes were just more than sufficient to
counteract the drag of the ripples. Slowly, therefore, the boat crept
on, its course nearly parallel with the shore. My attention wandered
as I looked over Calgarth’s cylindrical chimneys to the groves of
Troutbeck and the eternal fells. Jem, with eyes apparently shut, was
plying his blades with stealthy touch and slight depths. The angler was
intent on the lines trailing astern.

Then the angler moved at his vigil post astern. His practised hand was
at the fastenings of the rod. The line jerked a little; then a portion
of its length stretched taut and clear of the water—a bite at last. W——
was on his feet in a second, the rod freed in his hand. Jem ceased to
row, and as the boat slowly drifted the contest between man and fish
began. As the line slackened, W—— wound in warily, for he had felt that
this was a big trout. The rod-top bent suddenly; his hand clapped a
strain on the line. The trout was fighting steadily, and the long line
was at first in his favour. At last I saw the top of a ripple ten feet
away break, and a dark curling body came into view. Three seconds later
an exhausted trout was squirming in the landing-net I held for its
reception. A fine dark-coloured fish it was, too—one and a half pounds
by the scale.

After this the boat was floated close inshore for half an hour without
success till Jem rebelled, pointing out that we were nearly back at
Bowness Bay. The boat was accordingly turned to cross the lake. As we
glided along, lines towing astern, W—— lit his pipe and began to talk.

‘It was just in mid-lake here three years ago that I caught a very big
trout—over five pounds, and strong and lively in proportion. It was on
an evening such as this. The char were hereabouts that year, too. You
know, the char in this lake keep in shoals, and move about altogether.
Just now they are in the upper basin. They are gradually coming back
to us. But char-fishing with the plumb-line is slow sport at best. How
is it done? Well, like this: Imagine a heavy sinker on a line from
which hang by gut-lengths as many as fifty hooks and baits. That’s your
tackle. You row out to where the char are lying, and drop your sinker
overboard, taking care that your baits don’t foul one another in going
down. Then you await results. If your sinker is too deep or not deep
enough, you have your time for nothing. Hour after hour you sit trying
different depths and places, perhaps to find a couple of small char
caught at the end of a long and trying day.‘

At this moment a jerk at the nearer line brought up this yarn abruptly.
There was a lively bit of play as the trout doubled and dodged, being
backed and rushed in desperation, but finally was played to the
boatside completely drowned. The other line was also taken at the same
time, but this was only a nibble.

‘I like perch-fishing best,’ said Jem, as he leant on his oars. The
last down-steamer was passing, churning the waters into foam and
creating a strong water. ‘Do you remember, Mr. W——, that droppy June
day under the trees at Millerground? We were out but four hours for
over two hundred fish. But, then, bass aren’t worth much, so we were
hardly into pocket.‘

This phenomenal catch, I need hardly mention, was due to my friends
coming across a large school of perch suddenly taken with ‘biting
mania.’ At such time anything is risen at, and the sport only concludes
when the last member of the school is captured. I have watched in clear
water a perch taken struggling wildly from between companions, each of
which, undeterred, took the same bait within a minute.

‘Do you have much trouble with pike?’ I asked, anxious to get their
opinions on each of the important denizens of the lake.

‘Well, no; pike are fairly kept down by using trimmers, and the Angling
Association nets whenever it is possible. There’s not half so many pike
as there used to be.’

‘There’s a story that when Professor Wilson was once rowing near the
Ferry he picked up a couple of exhausted pike. They were of almost
equal size, and one had tried to swallow the other head first, with the
result that the head had fixed in its throat, choking it.’

‘Oh yes,’ responded Jem, ‘I have talked with one of the men who picked
up the two fish. But it’s nothing fresh for two pike to try that game
on. I have seen them myself chewing halfway up one another’s bodies.
Pike cannot loose their jaws after they have once gripped a thing. I
got a pike at Wray once with its teeth still fixed in the body of a
two-pound trout.’

By this time we were progressing in the shade of the fir-woods. It was
grand to hear the breeze whisper just above, and here and there came
the rattle of a rivulet down the rocky bluffs. For an hour Jem rowed
and paused alternately. A goodly haul of fish was present in the well
of the boat at the finish.

With my face over the side of the boat, I looked down into deep, still
water, and, though it was evening, the bottom, scarred with rocks and
tiny cliffs, was in full view. In my idlings I conjured up from this
flat boulder the image of a boat; from that muddied pile of fragments
the semblance of a ruined cottage; here a patch of stoneless lake-bed
stood for a field, with rugged heaps of rock for boundaries. But as
daylight faded away the subaqueous panorama failed me. The sky above
the fir-trees glowed with crimson and orange; the zenith was bright
blue flecked with white cloud-wrack. Then, to the sound of cracking
whips and hoarse voices, to the regular hoofings of horses and the
discordant groanings and shriekings of braked wheels, the wood-waggon
made its difficult, dangerous way down a dell to the narrow by-road.
And further away up the slope the sound of the woodman’s axe died away
as semi-darkness told him that the long day’s task was over.

We had now been afloat over four hours, so that a meal was due to us.
Jem turned over his coat which had laid in the stern, and produced
a large packet from his pocket. W—— had provided a basket of food,
fortunately, so we fell to. I might have said that the meal was
washed down by draughts of clear water from the lake, but the element
upbearing our craft tasted—how shall I say it?—insipid, tasteless,
or, perhaps more accurately, rather flat. After a short interval my
companions produced tobacco and pipes, and a thick fragrance hung in
the air. W—— took up his strain of tutor again.

‘In trolling, the chief things to bear in mind are soundless rowing,
baits on a long line, face the wind if possible. A breeze, take it for
granted, will never blow you exactly along the line you wish to follow.
As to where to fish, round islets and near shoals are the best places,
while about thirty yards from shore, where the lake-bed suddenly falls
away to a great depth, is a very safe place for fish.’

The pipes were puffed pensively awhile after this; then Jem the lustful
spoke out:

‘What a night this would be for lathing! In my father’s time this
boat, instead of hauling four baits through the water, would have had
a hundred or more. Laths, each with six hooks, would have been dotting
the water thirty yards either side of us, and a boat-load of fish would
have been landed.’

Without laths, however, our sport had been deadly enough, and at last,
while the night was still young, the lines were finally hauled in, and
through steely darkness we glided up the narrow sleeve of water between
Curwen’s Isle and the mainland to Bowness and to bed.


During the hot, close days of June there is but one lure which
invariably succeeds when angling in mountain waters, and that is
the bracken-clock—a beetle somewhere about half an inch in length,
possessing tiny wings and sheathed in tough scales, which then swarms
along the hillsides.

We were assured of an ideal day for tarn-fishing when we left our
quarters, and had agreed to stick to the uptrending path till the
tarnside was reached. But our resolution went for nothing, as we turned
to the moorland beck at the first opportunity. Though tempered somewhat
by the breeze, the sun’s power was unpleasantly in evidence. No tree
was there in the whole upland valley large enough to render us shade,
and the companionship of the rattling brooklet seemed to render our
walk cooler and more tolerable. The infant Lowther was as usual crowded
with tiny fish; the few large ones seen here and there among the
smaller fry had apparently run up from the adjacent lake. To these we
would have liked to have paid attention, but in general the water ran
so low and clear that success seemed impossible.

One thing about Mardalehead strikes me as peculiar: you look up the
dale from the hotel or from the side of Branstree, and it seems as
though the descending rivulets are like continuous threads dancing in
the sunshine; but only when you begin to follow the brooks closely do
you find what cunning little dubs and gullies are hidden away among the
rolling hillocks. I knew that one of these concealed reaches held a
deep pool in which were several large trout. Coming down from a climb
of High Street, the steep front-face of which glowers into Mardalehead,
two evenings ago I had lain by the rock-dub and watched the rising
trout. They were then taking some small insects which the current was
washing down.

This morning I approached cautiously. The sun was shining straight into
the narrow gorge, lighting up the veil of spray from the spouting fosse
with brilliant rainbow hues. The bracken fronds, almost dipping into
the waters, were swarming with winged life, the glossy clocks being
most abundant. The then sandy soil also teemed with red ants, while
caterpillars of many sizes hung on the stems of the heather.

‘What shall I put on?’ queried my companion, as he picked up for closer
examination a particularly fine clock.

‘That, of course,’ I replied; ‘and drive your hook well home, for they
are tough customers, and will wriggle off if you don’t mind. The trout
here won’t look at a bare hook.’

J—— got himself into a good position, and after a few attempts dropped
his line where the fish were lying. The distance was short, but the
rock-basin was small and fringed with branches of holly, alder, and
rowan. It was apparent that the trout were going off the feed, for the
sun was becoming more and more powerful, but two or three were not
yet gorged. At J——’s fourth throw, directed towards the bubbles and
ripples around the fall, a fine yellow trout floated up to and annexed
the beetle. I was waiting my turn to cast—for two lines could not be
plied at once in such narrow quarters—so saw the whole struggle. J——’s
line jerked taut, bringing the surprised fish almost to the surface;
then it doubled back towards the foot of the pool, going deeper as the
slackened line allowed it, till when my friend at last checked it; his
line was almost fouled among the heather twigs. There was a fine piece
of play here—through the transparent water every evolution of the fish
was clear to me—but in a few minutes the trout tired and came within
the swoop of J——’s landing-net.

Fishing on unsuccessfully for some half-hour, we had decided that
the next would be our last cast, when a lethargic trout to which I
had already dangled clock and ant was aroused to indiscretion by the
appearance of a fat green caterpillar on the top of the whirlpool,
apparently just tumbled from the swaying rowans above. In a flash the
floating morsel was sucked in, and the hidden barb struck home. So
surprised was the trout at this interruption of his day-dream that I
had him clear of the whirlpools and almost on to the narrow shingle
at my feet before he began to struggle. It was a splendid example of
the brown trout, but I was disappointed at its tame, tardy fight for
freedom. We spent, encouraged by this success, another half-hour by
this force, but no further reward being forthcoming, we decided to make
a move towards the mountain tarn.

Over the lowering crags we could see huge masses of vapour gathering in
north and west, and, as our local oracle promised, these clouds spread
so widely that by noon the sun’s rays were shorn of most of their
radiance. The air, however, became close almost as the puff from a
mammoth oven, and this though the breeze was at this elevation powerful
enough to make a tidy ripple on the tarn’s surface. Walking along
the shore by the outlet, I now observed a common tragedy of to-day
in Nature. There was a whirring of minute wings, and close to my ear
there passed the usual bracken-clock. It was wafted by the wind some
twenty yards over the water before its weak wings refused to uphold its
carcase longer, and down with a faint thud the insect dropped.

The breeze blowing right across the tarn carried it struggling along
for a short way; then there was a glimpse of a curved fin above
the water, an extra dimple in the ripples, and the insect had been
taken down by some voracious trout or perch. In a few seconds I had
another clock on my line and swung it out to near where the previous
one had disappeared. The hook had hardly reached the water before I
felt the jerk of a ‘bite.’ There is no fine nibbling by the trout
where the clock is concerned, and therefore almost anyone can strike
successfully. The fish I had on was a lively customer, and more than
once I feared an escape, but the hook was too deep to be wrenched out
by error of judgment. When at last it came into the shallows and was
netted, I had time to consider. My friend further up the tarnside was
some time in achieving a capture: he was casting too short by far. In a
mountain tarn such as this it is necessary that the fly or bait be cast
as far out as possible. The water goes very gradually deeper for some
twenty yards from the shore, then falls away to great depths almost

Just beyond the point where the deep and shallow so nearly meet the
chief shoals of fish usually lie. In flood-time, and of nights in
summer, they approach the beck mouths for food, and may be here taken;
but during the day the most successful angler is the one who can throw
most accurately to a great distance. To-day there was little difficulty
in seeing where the fish lay; constantly they dashed at the floating
carcases, frequently a double rise occurring when two selected the
same morsel. We angled on for a while, hardly moving from our first
selected stations, and meeting with fair success, till we felt it high
time for something to eat. At our _al-fresco_ luncheon we turned out
our panniers and compared their contents. Though the water is without
preservation, and its outgoing rivulet impassable for trout, this
tarn had for years offered to anglers a fair stock of fish, averaging
three to the pound. In the twenty lying on the shingle more than half
were half-pounders. No other tarn in the same basin could give a
return equal to this, though many are closely watched and their stock
frequently replenished. Moreover—and this peculiarity was uniform to a
marked degree—every fish was covered with large crimson blotches, more
than treble the normal size.

After our meal we returned to the waterside; the dimples caused by
rising fish became fewer and fewer, and our sport waned. By about
four p.m. the shoals within casting range were unapproachable, though
now and again there would be a sharp sequence of rises further out.
Had I not flogged and played myself tired by this time, I doubt not
that the curious poaching instrument I had picked up from beneath a
boulder would have found employment. The lath, as used on our mountain
tarns, is a short board, its lower edge weighted so as to float the
whole upright, to which are attached several baits on short lengths of
gut. The contrivance is floated out from some point where the breeze
can cause it to move, and allowed to cross the most fishy portions of
the water. Of course, the operator need give it little attention in
transit. He retrieves it on the further shore, and easily lands what
trout there are on the hooks. The method is a most deadly one, and I am
glad that there was no real temptation to resort to it.


About the period when the angler in mountain tarns watches for the
bracken-clock, his confrère by less elevated waters is eagerly looking
for the coming of the mayfly. In pools set like diamonds in green
woods, or in the still reaches of streams, night fishing is now much
resorted to. The gauzy-winged mayfly flutters about as long as a
glimmer of light plays on the face of the waters, while long after
amber night has settled over field and wood and height the trout remain
on the feed.

It is evening. A narrow road carries us rapidly towards fresher and
cooler air. The luscious green of unshorn fields, decked with starlike
forms of white and red and blue, is giving place to the domain of
bramble and gorse and rock scarce veiled with soil. At the summit
of the road the glories of sunset burst upon us. The sun is sinking
between a thin cloud and a line of rugged hill-tops. Through this
interval rays of silver and red and pearl are gleaming, dividing the
blue west as though with ploughshares of heaven’s own fashioning.
But to us chiefest interest lies in the gleaming waters in the middle
distance. A fir-wood bounds their further shore; gorse and whin grows
luxuriantly on the moor around. One or two small islets, hung with
lichen-poisoned sallows, are in the larger section; the merelet is
almost divided by two jutting tongues of scrub.

In ten minutes we are by the water’s edge. The gorgeous lights in the
western sky have dulled; rose succeeds the fiery red, silver turns
to yellow and to gray-blue. The air resounds to the wingings of tiny
insects, yet there is a great peace underneath it all. Broken—yes,
broken by the quavering wail of the plover pacing the grassy marge near
its nest; by an occasional crash, as a heavy trout leaps high and falls
back from its keen pursuit. But stay a moment yet, ere the rod is drawn
out, to watch the ephemeræ dancing just above the surface of the water.
They wheel in scores, they soar by hundreds; yet every movement seems
to bring death close, for one here and one there, in a clumsy swerve,
touches the water: its frail wings are damped so that it cannot rise
again to the airy quadrille of its companions. But they mark not its
absence. The dangerous game is not checked. The fallen insect makes
one or two attempts to raise itself; in wild, erratic circles it spins
round and round, is floated by the faint breeze of eventide toward
the shore at our feet. Yard after yard it gradually comes nearer; then
suddenly we see the triangular back-fin of a trout in close attendance.
A flash—the fin has disappeared; another, and the dark body of a trout
leaps half out the water, and as it supplely curves over the poor
mayfly is forced into a maw already distended with like unfortunates.

Scores of fish are on the alert to-night—‘the water is fair wick wi’
‘em,’ as our companion says—waiting for the downfall of the aerial
rejoicers just out of their reach, though here and there an impatient
one makes a huge leap for a bonne-bouche.

In a trice the rods are out and ready; every moment is of value, for
tarn trout are capricious in their feeding periods, and may suddenly
and absolutely cease to rise to their most cherished atoms. J——
takes left and I take right shore and begin. I am hampered at first
by a series of tiny bogs, but in a few yards reach a gorse-covered
promontory. This proves a capital station for a cast; my line swings
far and true to where I last saw a struggling mayfly sucked down.
My fly—why, a moment ago I picked up and impaled a mayfly, far less
difficult to manage than the armour-plated bracken-clock. In less than
five minutes my first trout was ashore, a monster over two pounds in
weight. But this is a mere of great trout. I remember some six years
ago the bed, which had been drained for some time, being reflooded,
and a large number of yearling trout being turned in. For some seasons
no angling was done. The stock grew great in size, though doubtless,
seeing there are no redds, not even a streamlet passable for minnows,
available, there was no increase in numbers. The feed is abundant,
weeds and other cover plentiful, and, save for the cursory (and cursed)
visits of a swan from a mill-dam some miles away, the enemies to
fish-life are few.

While these observations are being passed, my rod is being plied
assiduously. My fly, planted though it often is in tempting positions
over lurking trout, is again and again drawn out untaken. A sharp eye
has my quest. See! the wings of the fly, though as deftly placed on
the water as my craft finds possible, are bedraggled with constant
immersion, and is therefore considered unpalatable by the fish. It
doesn’t take a moment to change it, and with the next cast—aimed
at that monster in the lee of that islet, behind whose descending
shoulders the parted waters have just gurgled together—comes success.
The faint feel of a bite travels to my hand, and I strike. There is a
sudden slack of the line; then, as the rod-point is raised to continue
the strain, a dead pull; then to right the trout makes a sudden rush. I
scarcely have followed it than forward my fish dives and downward, and
to the resistance is added the entanglement of a bunch of water-weeds.
Carefully I get my trout away from this. There is another run forward—a
more disturbing one this time indeed—followed by a cl’ck backward and
a salmon-like leap a yard out of the water. I am taken aback at the
manœuvre, and _Salmo levenensis_ has obtained some valuable yards of
liberty, each adding to its chances of breaking away; and, sure enough,
with what must have been a double back-turn by the fish, my line is
hitched round a hidden snag, and, as my trout and I put on pressure
from our opposite ends, parts.

What size did it look like as that leap was made? Nay, trouble me not.
The rascal has got a hook and a piece of gut, undeniably my property,
and is still at large, if a trifle discommoded. Well, well! J—— had a
turn with a cunning trout from this point three evenings ago, and was
defeated more ignominiously even than I; so _he_ can’t crow over me.
But that fish knows its way about in a fashion and practises manœuvres
I for one don’t like.

My next trout, obtained after hooking a submerged tree and tangling in
a clump of water-lilies, fights gamely and gives me some breathless
moments. When it comes to the landing-net, I am surprised at its
smallness, considering its splendid defence—four ounces or less. Well,
back it goes! It deserves a new lease of freedom.

Now the gorging trout retire to the middle of the tarn. It is provoking
to watch them rising freely far out of reach. Then the silence deepens;
the sharp splashes and gurgles of rising trout gradually stop. My rod
must be laid aside, for J—— is signalling across the water.

‘Come on round!’ he calls. ‘I want some baccy.’

If J—— is not fishing, he must be smoking; therefore he is perpetually
running short of some adjunct to his passion. We will walk quietly
round to where he is.

From the reed-beds the coot murmurs to its mate; now and again we hear
soft rumblings as they paddle about. A bevy of wild-duck squabble in
undertones at another point. J—— has wandered up the further shore
meanwhile. A plover whirls up from his feet, ‘squealing like a stuck
pig.’ He growls as we fiercely denounce his carelessness.

The soft cutterings in the reed-beds cease as the wild ‘teeu-wits’
re-echo over the tarn; worse than that, in the half-light we see a
small dark body nimbly run along, and without a splash take the water.
It is an otter disturbed from his nightly gleaning of crayfish. Now
we come to the head of the tarn. A wide series of bogs and mud-holes,
with a straggly path over the few sound spits of grass, lie in front of
us. We can see the distant hills limned against the softly starlit sky.
Bay and shore and bush on either side the faint blue water are in fair
sight; but though the fairies have traced it with tufts of bog-cotton,
the narrow track is invisible to us. One or two slight slips,
ankle-deep in a slough, and we are halfway across. Here a stretch of
water, perhaps eight feet wide and a foot deep, interposes—the channel
by which on occasion storm-water drains from the upper bogs. Many a
slab of rock has been placed here to expedite the crossing, but in a
week each has sunk too deep in the soft ooze to be of use. To find the
uppermost of the stones to-night will require nicety of judgment, even
though the landmarks before and behind us are easily recognisable.

‘Nothing venture, nothing have.’ A frolicsome youth essayed to cross
here in broad daylight not many moons ago. He made two steps safely,
then trod on the edge of a stone, which capsized and threw him into
the channel. He was fished out covered with mud and slime. However,
to-night we encounter no such tragedy.

J—— now calls on us to hurry up. We crash through the prickly gorse to
his side.

‘Do you know, you fellows, what I have just seen? A moment ago a big
eel—I could see it clearly in the dark—slid down that grass-track and
took the water. It must have come down from the other tarn’—a quarter
of a mile away.

‘Old Jack Brock tells of meeting an eel sliding one wet night between
Skeggleswater and Longsleddale. It was more than half a mile from a
stream big enough for it to swim in.’

‘Bedad!’ interposes J——, whose knowledge of natural history is full
of strange intervals of ignorance, ‘and do eels swim? I thought they
wriggled along the bottom like snakes.’

These episodes of eel-travelling may be a little beyond the truth,
but J—— doesn’t believe so, giving as evidence against our sweeping
assertions to the contrary some marvellous fish-lore. After that he
clutches the tobacco-pouch closely, and in a few minutes a reek of
pungent smoke tells us that his passion demands whole-hearted attention.

The trout come on the feed again ere morning. They are specially eager
by the shallows, where hundreds of becalmed mayfly corpses await them.
J—— avers at dawn that he saw a trout rub itself against a reed on
which a mayfly hung with such violence that the insect was dislodged,
fell into the water, and was eaten up.


One of our best beats lies between the mill-sluice and the top of
Beckmickleden. The long shallow dam is succeeded by pools to the
old ford, above which is a rocky stretch, and then more pools, some
floored with mud and shingle, others with naked rock. Coppices fringe
one side of the stream the whole way, and the lavish falls from their
overhanging branches go some way towards attracting large fish to these
haunts. At flood-time few anglers are disappointed of heavy panniers,
but the chief repute of the water is for evening fishing. Many a time
alone or with a companion have we wandered along this portion of the

The day had been hot and bright; but at evening a faint breeze stirred
the leaves, and around the declining orb the clouds formed into a solid
bank. I now saw my friend approaching along the riverside, rod in hand.
This lean, alert man was one of the best fly-makers and selectors for
miles around, and the river held no secret from him. Where everyone
else failed he succeeded. He knew where the best fish lay, and the
surest methods to get them. Our greetings were short, for I required
little urging to join in an expedition to the upper waters.

In ten minutes we approached a water-hewn ravine, and shortly reached
the upper mill-dam. Across the narrow stretch of wimpling dark waters,
buried almost by towering elms, was a tiny hamlet, but on our side a
cornfield was fronted with a row of bloom-spangled briar-roses. The
station selected was near the foot of the pool, a place from which we
could throw to the vicinity of the sluice. My companion chose me a
couple of winged flies, and told me to cast lightly, as the water was
bringing down a good many dead insects from the grasses and trailing
bushes in its course. Rod in hand, I stood a moment. The fish were
rising a long way out, and it took time to get the flies so far without
a splash. I had been conceded the best situation, and my friend had
gone some way upstream, where he had located fair sport. It would,
perhaps, be five minutes before I got my line into the right place, but
when I did success came fairly promptly. I was ruefully considering
how long my spine and shoulders would stand the labour, when my fly
was sucked down. I struck, but without success. Sir Trout had selected
a floating body not six inches from where my counterfeit floated. In
the second I had looked round for my companion, my eye had been off
the lure, and it speaks well for the flymaker’s skill that I could not
distinguish my own among the others floating down. I was raising my
rod to try another cast, when the fly was taken in reality—not leapt
at with a sudden splash, but quietly sucked down without its taker
raising a ripple. I could scarce believe it had gone, till a faint
tremor passed up the distended line, and then I struck home. Instantly
I knew that a big trout was on tow, for my rod swayed and bent as I
put on strain. The fish did its little best to get off, but wrist and
eye worked for once in unison, and I speedily was reeling it along the
surface. This proved to be a dark-coloured trout, but the next was a
beautifully scaled one—my friend pronounced it a _Salmo iridens_, the
American rainbow trout, a number of which had some time since been
turned into the river.

The head of this dam has deteriorated from an angler’s point of view
since a family of swans were quartered on it. In my school-days old
Jimmy, our veteran angler, would frequently stand by the mouth of the
marsh drain there, and take his six or eight fish regularly every
evening for a week. A few minutes on, casting at every rise in the
purling dubs, and following down every whirlpool, we come to the old
ford, and then the bridge. To-night the occupants of the deep pool are
not inclined to feed.

Above the bridge the river descends for about two hundred yards over
very rocky bottom, where the stream swirls down without a pool or a
yard of slack water. During the last two years a fringe of wych-elm
has been rooted out on this ride, and a number of good casting-places
opened up, for under cover of frothing waters good fish frequently lie,
and there is great exhilaration in fighting a stout trout on whose
side is the stream commanding a heavy drag on both line and prize.
Immediately we reached this point T—— came up with a fresh fly, a gray
drake. This fly is not very popular with local anglers, but my friend
explained that, after several seasons of close observation, he had
found no fly of equal merit during close, warm evenings on this reach
of rushing water. I had been previously referred to another local
enthusiast for corroboration. ‘Yes,’ said he, in a quaint, homely
dialect impossible to transfer to paper, ‘one night we were coming
down by the Low Barn, and Tom told me of the gray drake. I didn’t
believe in it, so he put one on for me. The water was dashing down and
splashing among the stones, but after a bit I found a fish. And, sure
enough, at the drake it came with a rush. Well, I threw again and again
at different places, getting in ten minutes three of the finest fish
I ever did. Then my luck seemed to change, and though I got plenty of
bites I could never land a fish. Tom at last got disgusted with my bad
work, and prepared to take the rod over, but on examining the fly we
found that the hook had broken off short at the shank. Of course, my
failures were thus explained with honour.’ Our own experience at this
point was much as above; I will not inflict details.

By this time the evening waxed old, the sky grew dusky, the fiery
red in the west faded to rose colour, then died out to a faint blue,
which as the hours passed intensified to azure, to indigo, and to
ultramarine. In the north a pale sheen lit up the sky almost to
the zenith—the night-glow—and here by the riverside, between the
partly-light sky and the mirroring waters, there was no difficulty in
making out any necessary detail. The black gnat had disappeared about
sundown, but my friend was now using large sulphur-coloured moths. As
in coming up we had used three different lures, I asked if any further
variation would be necessary, but the bustard would hold till daybreak,
when the hour for clear water worm arrived. Personally, in fishing
this reach I should have held to black gnat and night-owl only.

On one side of the long pool selected for our evening’s angling the
land rose in a sheer oak-clad bluff, while on the other the coppices,
interspersed with flowery avenues, swelled upward in less abrupt line.
The fishing was delightful; over the mellow rattle of the incoming
stream now and again came the splash as a trout leapt up at the flies
whirling above. Our station was in the shadow, else our movements
would have been clear to the fish. My friend told me a true angler’s
story concerning this dub. After an evening’s angling, he and another
were sitting on a rock smoking and talking in subdued tones. Suddenly
there was a scuffle almost beneath their feet, and Jack struck towards
the scene of the disturbance with his rod-stock. There was a sudden
squeal, and the surprised anglers found that the random blow had almost
decapitated a young rabbit. Doubtless, frisking along as is common
with its kind, it had not noticed the angler’s proximity. After an
hour’s successful work we moved still further upstream, clear of the
ravine. Here the river has worn a narrow channel into the upper edge
of a rock-stream, forming a deep pool, in which iris and long aquatic
grasses flourish. The light here was much better, and I rapidly
reduced my experienced companion’s lead in captures. At about one a.m.
there was a short pause in the fish’s feeding, during which we cast
in vain. My comrade promptly noticed this, and for half an hour we
left the waterside that he might show me the hole in the ground where
some two hundred dead swallows were found after a late sudden frost,
and also to take me to a circle of ancient dwarf crab-apple trees,
planted, he averred, by Druids of old. In this expedition we also came
across a heron, standing poised on one leg in shallow water. Scared
at our approach, it winged away uttering a wild alarum; and we were
surprised to notice three others of its gaunt kindred make away from
near reaches. Of other waterside life, the otter since dusk had been
frequently in sight—he lives without fear of a pack nowadays in our
river; the dipper and the kingfisher had retired at sunset, but the
whitethroat’s song had been constantly in our ears. Game, unseen, had
rustled hither and thither in the coverts.

The sky to eastward was brightening when we returned to our rods. My
companion told me to do my best, for time was passing; but never a bite
came my way. He was more fortunate, for a long cast down the dub was
taken. The fish on feeling the barb, however, went through a number
of desperate manœuvres. I heard the struggle, then noticed my friend
disgustedly drawing in his line. Probably by tangling the gut round
some jagged corner of rock the fish had got away.


Every hour of the short period the salmon spends in fresh water his
life is threatened. The sportsman’s method is by rod and line, but the
poacher kind incline to the net and the fish-spear. The use of the
former has been frequently and fully described; but the spear, not
being favoured by the wholesale plunderers of our streams, has been
less to the fore. The fish-spear, gaff, or leister (practically, if not
quite, identical weapons), is used by the occasional poacher mostly, by
the labourer who cannot resist the temptation to take one or two of the
great salmon occupying the rock-pools in his immediate vicinity.

There was at one time a practice, in the Derwent and other salmon
streams of our Lake Country, of spearing the fish from horseback. The
horse was driven into mid-stream at some shallow where the uprunning
fish were bound to show themselves, and the rider, armed with a long
lance, struck at such fish as he could reach. Apparently some of our
forefathers were very keen on this sport, for over a hundred years
ago a certain gentleman offered a public wager to kill more salmon
from horseback in a stated stream than any comer. So far as records
show, the challenge was never taken up. Clarke, the pioneer of Lake
Country angling literature, states that in his day (_circa_ 1760) many
gentlemen came regularly to Patterdale in autumn to join in the sport
of spearing the great lake trout which had run up the Goldrill from

Dalesmen carried torches at night to the great pools to show the
sportsmen where the shoals of spawning fish lay. The result of this
wholesale destruction was that the monster in question—its weight is
variously estimated from sixteen to sixty pounds and over—gradually
dwindled in numbers, and is now almost, if not quite, extinct in the
great lakes.

My earliest recollection of the leister is also my earliest of anything
pertaining to angling. Below our two-arch stone bridge is a pool,
perhaps twenty yards long and fifteen wide. During great floods in
autumn, salmon very occasionally pass the weirs as far as this, beyond
which they are never seen. There was some little excitement, therefore,
when the blacksmith showed a salmon resting in the bridge-dub, and at
once attempts were made to capture it. But the fish frequented the
rushing waters just behind the cut-water of the bridge, and no one
could get at it. A neighbouring farmer brought his gun, and fired three
shots without effect. I fancy, as I recall the creamy turmoil at that
point, his mark would be a difficult one. Finally the blacksmith forged
a fearful weapon—a hand garden-fork fixed on to a shaft. Armed thus,
he clambered down the cut-water as near as possible to his quarry, and
made several lunges. I remember well, for I was not far away, leaning
over the ledge of the bridge, seeing the square tail of the fish show
through the froth of the ‘rush’ as it turned downstream. But though
this attempt was a failure, the smith and the cobbler and the villagers
assembled noted that, when disturbed from its favourite haunt, the
giant retired to the shade of a big tree just below. With this extra
information, the smith climbed down next day to where the fish was
lying, and, carefully poising his weapon, I watched him plunge it again
and again at an invisible body in the water. Then up he scrambled at
great pace, crossed the bridge out of my sight, and disappeared down
the stile at the other end. I heard a crackling of boughs, and a few
moments later Dove returned carrying the big fish—I remember that its
tail was flapping convulsively—in his leathern apron. Of course, the
whole affair was kept as quiet as possible, lest the water-bailiff,
hearing, should bring the law down on the offenders. Being a very small
child, my presence was unheeded; but, try as they would, the cobbler
and the smith could not persuade me that the heavy burden in the
leathern apron was simply a black river-cobble. I insisted it was the
fish. Years later I was told that my recollection of the whole affair
was quite correct.

The favourite period for spearing the fish is, of course, during the
hours of darkness. More than once I have seen men rendezvous in a
lonely spot near our weir. Many a salmon getting thus far up the river
at nightfall lies in the deep rock-basins till day returns, and on that
his enemies reckon. In the woods fringing the rocks, a close search
will at any time discover three or four leisters hidden by their most
recent users. As dusk deepens into night the poachers come out; only
one is armed with a spear, the other carrying a bag, and the third a
dark lantern. When the water’s edge is reached, a brief ray shows where
the fish are lying. The spearman, picking out his fish, plunges his
weapon. If the stroke goes true, the salmon is rapidly jerked out, to
be killed by the bagman. This goes on so long as a fish can be reached.

At other times, from the windows of a rural lodging, I have watched
just before dawn stealthy lights flickering by the pools in another
river, and two or three hours later have breakfasted off salmon showing
leister-marks. Leistering being, of course, a slow process, the
villagers alone are supplied, but at a rate per pound which seems to
make the game very unsatisfactory from a profit point of view.

I have in my mind’s eye one particular scene. In half-flood the river
is dashing beneath a hog-backed stone bridge; all around is darkness.
The lower slopes of the great braes are invisible, their summits but
dimly in view against the cloudy sky. Now and again a few stars rush
across a rift in the upper blackness. Along the water a dim, uncertain
light plays, showing sharp currents breaking and swirling over unseen
reefs, or roaring in white fury against the dark, unyielding boulders
here and there visible in the bed. After a few minutes’ wait, a
labourer comes panting up; he is a well-known ‘small-scale’ poacher,
the plague of the keepers for miles around.

‘Old Carson is out to-night,’ said the new-comer, ‘but he’s away up
behind the weir.’

For a moment we didn’t gather the meaning of this, nor of the
immoderate fit of laughter our acquaintance indulged in. Then it
struck us that, by making a long détour, he had wiled the water-bailiff
far from the series of pools we intended to ‘work.’ In a moment we were
over the wall and were deep among the ash-woods fringing the water,
following the poacher, who trod the narrow, stony path with the ease
and silence of long accustom. In a few minutes he stopped. So intense
was the shadow that we cannoned into him before we knew of his halting.

‘Mind where you are coming,’ he growled, in a whisper. As he spoke we
could hear a faint dragging and a rustling of dead leaves somewhere in
the darkness near his feet. Now we came into the river-bed, where it
was comparatively light. The poacher, we saw, had drawn a leister, as
well as a bag and a lantern, from a secret place in the river-bank. In
a few seconds he prepared for action; then, handing me the lantern, he
spoke in a low voice:

‘You keep close to me, and when I give the word turn the light on to
the slack water. And you’—turning to my companion—‘had better pick up
and bag what fish I stick [pierce].’

Now the three of us crawled stealthily along the rocks bounding the
rushing stream. Slack water indeed! In that tumult of fosse and rock
and rapid it did not seem likely that a yard of smooth surface would
be found. But my judgment was wholly amiss. Here and there, between the
eddying current and the hard shore, were quite long stretches without
a single ripple, and near the head of one such the poacher stopped

‘There’ll be something here,’ he said. At a rustle of his hand I glided
forward. ‘Now show a light on the water just in under my feet.’ I did
so, and there quite half a dozen silver-sided salmon lay, with their
heads upstream, never thinking that that vagrant gleam meant death for
one or more of their number. I saw the spear plunge into the water; the
nearest fish turned, struck through the vitals, floating in the faint
swirl towards the head of the pool. My companion, however, was alert,
and seized the carcass before it was tumbled far away down the stream.
Meanwhile the poacher prepared for another stroke; again I directed my
shaft of light, and again he struck. But the shoal had floated further
into the stream, and he failed to reach them from that station.

Now he stepped waist-deep into the pool, directing me to move so as
to give a very brief flash _across_ the water. I did so, and another
kill was registered, after which the poacher proposed that we should
try another place. Accordingly, we moved downstream, walking wherever
possible in the shadow of the trees.

A great trough between high banks was our next halting-place. Looking
carefully through a screen of bushes, we saw dim figures moving about
the lower end of the level water.

‘Some poachers from the town, I reckon,’ whispered our spearman.
‘They’re fools to try netting here, where there’s hundreds of rocks
on the bottom to tear their net to ribbons.’ Half an hour or more we
stood there watching with all our eyes. But little did we gather,
save that the poachers were not averse to plunging into the ice-cold
stream to release their net whenever fouled by a boulder or a piece of
sunken brushwood. Then, ‘Lie down, quick,’ whispered frantically the
poacher; and though we were standing on a bed of soaking, half-rotten
leaves, down we went. On the moment, up into the sky from a point just
beyond the far end of the pool, soared a rocket. My eyes watched its
flight anxiously, watched it burst into a shower of stars which, slowly
floating down, illuminated wood and water and rock clearly. The keepers
evidently had knowledge of some trespassers. Was it of us or of the
netmen, who at the first roar of the rocket dispersed into the woods,
abandoning their net in the river? The poacher’s sharp eyes had seen
the first spark struck by the keepers, and he had warned us as far as

We were clearly in a predicament. Run for it! No; long ago every
avenue from the woods would be guarded. With the wet soaking through
our clothes, we lay in the thicket. One of the netmen rushed past,
crashing through the dead branches within a yard of us. Half a
minute later there was a shout and the sounds of a scuffle from the
direction he had taken. Another minute, and, horridly suggestive of
personal probabilities, two keepers walked their prisoner past us in
the darkness. Not twenty yards away one set up a shout, inquiring the
success of the carefully-laid trap.

‘We’ve got the lot!’ sounded from across the water—a reply which
relieved us in so far as we now thought no especial watch was being
kept for us. It was a long, weary time before the poacher signified
that it was safe to proceed.

Down the slimy rocks we descended as silently as possible, drawing
towards the head of the long trough. You may be sure that we kept a
very sharp lookout as we moved into the half-light of the river-bed,
but neither sight nor sound of lurking danger was there. At a sign I
turned my shaft of light on the clear waters; the poacher, selecting
his salmon, struck unerringly, and the fish was bagged. Again I showed
the light, but, though the leister poised, the stroke was never made,
for up to the gloomy sky another signal tore. This was for us in very

‘Into t’ water,’ cried the poacher, ‘or we’re caught!’

There was no time for contemplating the darkling stream, or for
shivering on the brink—the terror of the police-court is mightily
great. In the three of us stepped; knee-deep the cold was horrible,
wrist-deep the feeling was worse, but before bottom was touched the
water was neck-high, and the chill seemed to freeze our very marrow.
The poacher we still had confidence in, for he had been in scores of
similar tight corners; with arms outstretched he pressed us close to
the rocky bank, which for six feet almost overhung. When the rocket
stars had faded away, I noticed a light travelling along the water
and the further bank upstream; the keepers apparently knew we had not
resorted to the woods, and were examining the rocky brink. I heard
them moving high above our heads, and saw the gleam of lanterns light
up the running waters almost within arm’s length, then pass on without
a pause. The chill of the water was forgotten in that breathless five
minutes, but it was again racking us when the poacher said:

‘Now we’re safe for a bit. Sink that salmon bag with a couple of
stones, and we’ll make downstream.’

The three of us were fair swimmers, so made little of the distance
to the foot of the trough, where, emerging, we crawled cautiously up
the bank, and by devious ways passed through the wood. Though chilled
through and through, we still had escaped capture, for which we were

The fish! Oh, our poacher must have found his way again to the pool
ere daybreak and rescued the sunken bag, for our landlady came to us
at breakfast—a fine piece of salmon was on the table—bustling with

‘Do you see that salmon? Well, what do you think? I found a whole
big fish hanging up in the cart-house, with all the cats on the farm
watching it, first thing this morning. The keepers must have run some
poacher very hard before he left his fish like that.’

Needless to say, the good lady was unaware that we had spent our night
otherwise than in sleep, and that two wet suits of clothes were being
surreptitiously dried behind a pile of sacks in the boiler-house.


John Bennett, the doyen of English fell guides, gives the following as
one of his most arduous experiences:

‘I left Dungeon Ghyll one wet afternoon guiding a party to Scawfell
Pike. At the top of Rossett Ghyll one of the ladies was too tired to
go further. I did not wish to leave her without a companion, but she
insisted that all the others should complete their walk. We left her
resting by a large boulder, and soon were out of sight in the mist. A
couple of hours later we returned, but there was no trace of the lady.
As it was very probable she had already returned to the hotel, this
circumstance did not then trouble us much. But when we got home the
lady had not been seen, so I set out again up the ghyll to Esk Hause,
and there turned down the head into Borrowdale, as it was apparent that
the lady had somehow strayed from the path. At Seathwaite, Seatoller,
and Rosthwaite I visited all the inns and outlying houses; then, still
unsuccessful, turned up the pass to Wastdalehead.

‘After a seven-mile tramp through very dense cloud, I came to old Will
Ritson’s, but could hear of no visitor. I ascended Scawfell Pike,
and searched closely and unavailingly as I returned. The lads of the
dalehead had been out scouting the hillsides in the meantime, and I got
in just after they had completed their task. It was now past midnight
and a wild night. After some supper—not many in the hotel would go to
bed that night—I made another attempt, almost in despair. There was not
the slightest answer to my calls. I climbed over to Eskdale, hoping
that my lady had found her way there, and with the intention of raising
the alarm thoroughly. At about four o’clock I knocked at the Woolpack,
near Boot, and was told that a lady in a very exhausted condition had
struggled to the door three hours before. She was then in a dead faint,
but I was speedily satisfied that my weary hunt was finished.

‘It appeared that the lady, feeling a little less tired, had followed
from Rossett Ghyll less than an hour after we left her. For a while
she had followed the path with ease, then lost it completely. Whilst
trying to find it again among the mist, she became hopelessly confused
as to direction, crossed streams, climbed and descended huge rocks, and
walked over much rough ground. At length she found herself by a fence,
and, following this a good way, saw the lights of the Woolpack in the

Such an incident is not uncommon even in these days, when
mountain-paths are so well worn that any stranger may keep on them. But
even if the route be lost, there is little peril to anyone who knows
the fells. The only real awkward possibility that I know of is the
danger of coming without warning upon a precipitous descent. Nearly
every accident recorded is due to the fact that most people in such
a predicament attempt to descend the face of the crag, often coming
to grief. On one of his thirty or forty annual ascents of Helvellyn,
for the purpose of measuring the density of its atmosphere at various
altitudes, John Dalton and his companions suddenly found themselves
enveloped in a dense cloud, which had swept up and closed round them
unawares. They attempted to move, and stepped a few feet in advance,
holding by the skirts of each other’s coat, when the old philosopher
suddenly drew back, saying: ‘Not a step more! There is nothing but
cloud to tread on!’ It was true; their unconscious feet were on the
very edge of the precipice which plunges sheer down to Red Tarn.

To those who know the fells, abundant indications give warning of the
nearness of a precipice, as well as, if the route be more familiar, to
determine exactly the position of the rambler. These signs are in the
air; the different notes sounded by the wind to right and left are of
great value. A breeze rushing up or along a wide expanse of grass has a
seething note in it, whereas if rising suddenly from a deep dalehead,
and encountering many crags, there is a harsh roar in the sound.
Once when wandering along Helvellyn, our only proof that we had not
involuntarily taken a wrong direction—by no means unusual in a dense
mist—was the rattle of the wind among the cliffs on the Patterdale side
of the mountain. The edge of a precipice is always heralded by a line
of outcroppings, and when travelling in the mist watch should always be
kept for these.

A shepherd of my acquaintance started from Wastdalehead one wet
afternoon to reach a farm in the Grasmere Valley. His proper route
was by Styehead Pass to Esk Hause, thence to Angle Tarn, when a short
cast to the left would bring him to the caërn at Stakepasshead. A
direct north-easterly course from here would bring him home. However,
after leaving the tarn he failed to touch the caërn, but, keeping on
for an hour, he came across the splintered edges of projecting strata
among the short bent-grass. He guessed that he was too far north, and
standing by a craggy slope of Wythburndale. When, however, the hill
seemed to turn back on his route, he knew that something was amiss.

The wind, happily, was now blowing the masses of mist away, and every
minute the light increased. When the air cleared sufficiently, the
shepherd found himself standing on the brink of Pavey Ark, a tremendous
array of scree and cliff adjoining Langdale Pikes, with the tarn of
Stickle brooding 1,200 feet below, some six miles from his supposed
position. Had he carried out the intention of descending, which he
formed on approaching the edge, he would have undoubtedly gone into
serious danger. Indeed, three years later a fatal accident occurred at
the very same point.

The liability of tourists to go astray among the misty clouds is great,
and one of the few exciting incidents of dalehead life is to be called
upon to join in a search. The number of such hunts, however, does not
represent the total of ‘losts.’ Parties or individuals working from
some hotel, and starting with the avowed intention of returning the
same evening, or sending their luggage beforehand to another hotel,
purposing to follow by a more or less circuitous route, are easily
missed. But the Bohemian of the fells, who defines to himself no route,
is seldom traced. A couple of visitors to the Lake District arranged to
walk from Dungeon Ghyll and Grasmere respectively, to meet on the fells
near Sergeant Man. The day was very wet and misty, but the man from
Grasmere reached the rendezvous, and, after waiting a long time, pushed
on to Dungeon Ghyll, where he found that his friend had started, as
arranged, some hours previously. The tourist searched the way carefully
over to Grasmere, where he stated the circumstances to the inhabitants.
Evening was fast drawing on, and everyone turned out to the quest.
Not till the last gleam of light faded from the skies did the wearied
parties return, when at his hotel the Grasmere tourist found a telegram
from his friend, stating that, after climbing into the mist, he had
changed his mind and struck along the hillside to Windermere. Many
tourists, when lost in the mist, try to await the raising of the cloud
curtain. Certainly this is the safest method, but the fog-banks close
in for days at times, and human endurance is limited. A gentleman and
his sister staying at Mardale essayed to climb Kentmere High Street one
misty day. Soon after reaching the shoulder of the ridge, however,
they got into difficulties, and finally, lest worse should befall,
decided to wait. They were missed from the hotel, and the proprietor
with two or three helpers took different tracks up the mountain. After
three hours’ search, the couple, now half frozen with the chilly mist,
were rescued.

The Scarf Gap district, near Buttermere, with its many rocky hillocks
of almost similar contour, is well known in misty weather for ‘circular
walking.’ Some years ago a party of ladies going from Wastdalehead
to Buttermere were unexpectedly caught in the mist here. For hours
they wandered about the fellsides. One of the ladies dropped her
pocket-book, and recovered it again about two hours later—conclusive
proof that they had been walking in a circle. It is pleasant to add
that when the mist lifted, just before sunset, this party found
themselves quite close to the path they had so long and utterly lost.

Though we have many times had the pleasure of walking on the fells
during dense mists, we have never had the temerity to go crag-climbing
under such conditions. The rocks are usually very slippery, and a false
step at any point of a steep climb would be fatal. There is little
danger of losing your way among the rocks if, in the first place, you
correctly hit off the entrance of the climb, but that is difficult
when there are many similar openings in the cliff. Once fairly on the
right track, however, you can follow the route marked by the white
scratches of the hobnails of your predecessors. The mist, though
burying any distant landmark, seldom interferes with your view of the
work close at hand. People there are, however, who are dead to all
discomfort, and who on occasion go climbing even in the densest mist,
and the account of an ascent of the Napes Needle, a familiar crag on
Great Gable, will be of interest:

‘As the weather was uncompromising and I wanted an easy day, I strolled
out for a solitary scramble towards the Napes rocks, to make a mere
bowing acquaintance with the Needle, and with the virtuous intention of
doing nothing rash in the way of venturing upon a single-handed attack
upon it. At the moment of leaving the grass and taking to the rocks,
I stepped into cloudland, and there came on a miserable drizzle that
was not far removed from rain. There was nothing for it but to get
wet. No one can climb in a waterproof, even though it be only a cape;
and as to any other protection against the weather, you may as well
offer mackintoshes to a family of otters. Somewhere up above was the
Needle, but whether I had passed the place or not I could not tell.
So I ensconced myself in a sort of cave among some huge boulders to
consider the plan of campaign with the aid of a quiet pipe, and had
almost given it up as a bad job and made up my mind to return, when
I heard voices through the mist. Setting up a halloo, and getting a
response, I shouted: “Is the Needle up there?” “Yes, we’re on it—come
up,” was the answer. I had been sitting all the time at its very base;
so up I went, and, scrambling up a steep but easy gully, soon gained
the narrow rock-platform a few feet below the crack which marks the
beginning of the climb of the Needle. I found here two first-rate
climbers who had just been to the summit of the rock, and were
discussing lunch. They very kindly expressed their willingness to go up
again if I wanted to make the ascent.

‘Here was a chance not to be lost, so I gladly accepted their offer,
and we were soon roped and ready: R—— the leader, I middle man, and
M—— came last. The ascents were very difficult, and with muscles out
of training for a gymnastic feat such as mounting the last piece of
the slippery rock—comparable only to climbing and adhering to a narrow
mantelshelf—I was glad to avail myself of a “shoulder-up.” Accordingly,
M—— crouched down on the narrow cornice, and, stepping with my left
foot on to his right shoulder, I mounted in sybaritic fashion on to the
ledge. The mist was boiling up all around us, so that we could see the
foot of the rock-shaft, and R——, who ought to have known much better,
shouted just as I was making the dangerous step up: “Come, hurry up
down there! this beastly weather makes me think of sunnier climes.”
Sidling along, I found round the corner of rock a jutting ledge
eighteen inches higher that offered a good hold for both feet. The next
foothold was for the left foot—a small projection about an inch wide,
and several inches higher on the face of the rock. This was about the
most ticklish part of the whole climb. It is necessary to step with the
left foot confidently up on to this projection, which slopes slightly
the wrong way. To make a false step in doing so might entail serious
consequences, as the hand-support is of the slightest. A boot edged
with good ice-nails would get a firm grip on the projecting ledge, but
my boots were merely studded, and the round leather edge felt insecure
enough on the wet and smooth stone. However, the step was successfully
accomplished, and I was then able easily to grip the right hand and top
edges of the boulder in close embrace. A final pull-up, and I lay on
my chest across the summit, and after a gasp of relief drew my legs up
after me.’

In winter the mists are horrible. I don’t suppose many of my readers
have ever crossed the desolate, snow-covered uplands. It is dreary
enough work when the pallid sun glints along the even surface, lighting
up the air with an unwonted shimmer, and the great crags loom out on
the fellsides. The passes between Buttermere and Wastdalehead—Scarf
Gap and Black Sail—may be a case in point. As the snow is crunched
up towards the narrow depression from which the former is named,
the darkness of the afternoon increases. A foot of snow has already
obliterated the path, and it now seems apparent that there will be a
further fall. In a second the sky seems to fall around us. We barely
feel the extra chilliness of the air before the scene is darkened with
falling particles, and we look around to find ourselves immured in
the gray cloud-walls. A circle of twenty yards of uneven snow is all
we can see, the view of lake and mountain being alike blotted out.
Perhaps for ten minutes we did not realize the danger of our position,
but soon after crossing the ridge towards Ennerdale it dawned on us.
Now, however, retreat was more difficult than advance. With every
danger-signal masked, with the path lost and undiscoverable, and the
wind sending the white storm full in our faces, our position was one
of most extreme discomfort. We threw away all idea of getting near
the caërns and huts at the foot of Black Sail, devoutly hoping to
reach the valley bottom in safety. Drifts of various depths had to be
struggled through, and descents of screes and moraines of boulders
negotiated. It was a most anxious time. A slip on one of those abrupt
breasts of snow might end with us, as with more than one other wanderer
of the fell, in a broken leg. How some poor fellows must have suffered
before death’s kindly sleep fell upon them! Unable to get away, perhaps
with their poor tortured limbs jammed between immovable boulders, they
had simply to freeze or to starve. By carefully following the deepest
drifts, we got on to a corner of rock whence all but a thin coating of
snow had been whirled by the wind. It was no precipice, and, though
the descent was hard work indeed, we could yet see our way, and found
this route much preferable. We got into daylight again at the head of
Ennerdale Valley, and stayed an hour there in the old hut, while the
snowstorm passed. There was nothing to make a fire of, and we were glad
to note the clearing of the pass in front. We just got over the top of
Black Sail before the clouds closed again behind us.



The great mass of the limestone head bounding our estuary to the
southward loomed black and sullen against the delicate pearl clouds,
through which an unseen sun was endeavouring to diffuse some measure
of day to our little valley. To seaward the tide had receded far, and
the chill white lines of water tossed to the wind beyond a wide stretch
of sand. To landward the dun mist of morning hung, blotting out the
distant hills and the woodlands, leaving in view only a stretch of
marshy pastures and the houses of a tiny village. Though we were early
astir, yet others were in advance; the fishermen were going to take up
the spoils which night had brought to the nets fixed on the sand-banks.

       *       *       *       *       *

At eventide a great flock of wild-duck of various kinds settled after
their long flight from the northward upon the moving waters of the
bay. They were hungry, but much noise had been heard as they winged
over the fishing-village. At nightfall it would be safe to venture
closer, and, besides, there would be precious little food to be delved
out of those adamant sands, from which the water had long been absent.
The flock thus sat on the tossing waters awhile, resting. Then a few
detached themselves from the main body, and floated shoreward with the
wash of the tide. They were scouts, to spy out the safest ground for
feeding. Out beyond the gray stump of the ruined Pile, once fort and
port in one, a fiery strip of cloud was losing its glow, turning slowly
to crimson and to violet, after which it lost all that distinguished
it from its vapour neighbours. In the east perhaps the moon had risen,
for, though the great light was withdrawn, a visibility still reigned.
The scouts thrown out by the cloud of duck floated up with the incoming
tide awhile, then turned from its current into the slack waters
widening into a pool near the mouth of a creek. Here, after a cautious
survey of their surroundings, they settled down to feed.

Meanwhile the main body had felt the rising pulsations of Mother Ocean,
and, like an innumerable flotilla of tiny strange craft, they, too,
had been approaching with the inflowing stream. In the soft sand were
numerous worms and molluscs, and those tiny atoms of life which duck
assimilate with avidity. In the faint luminosity prevailing, whether
from a clouded moon or the natural light on the water, their movements
were plainly visible. A duck floating on the surface would suddenly
dip its head beneath the water; then deeper and deeper it went, till
the main part of its body was submerged, and the tail and a pair of
wildly-moving web-feet were all that remained in sight. Further seaward
the duck dived down clean out of sight after the food they were in such
need of, coming up to the surface for a moment, shaking their heads
and necks clear of water, then disappearing in a flash again. Other
birds, more fastidious, maybe, followed in the rising waters, and never
dipped deeper than their neck-length. The duck feeding with peaceable
cutterings to one another made a pretty sight; yet, unknown to the
casual observer, a grim tragedy was occurring right in his sight. Bird
after bird dived down and never rose to sight again. The deep-water
feeders gave no sign as their numbers were diminished by the score;
odd birds feeding in middle depths might have been seen to splash
a little as their tails and web-feet were gradually covered by the
rising water, while among the shore-haunters there was occasionally
a little commotion. Birds were being suffocated on all sides, yet the
survivors heedlessly went on gorging, till——For, pegged flat along
the sand-banks, the fishermen had left their nets, ready for the
ground-loving flocks which would come up with the tide. The duck, in
diving and ‘grobbling’ about for their food, got their heads so firmly
fixed among the meshes of the nets that they could not withdraw them
again, and so were slowly done to death.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not every one of the village fishermen had got out to his nets. We
could hear a ramshackle cart coming clattering down the stony lane
behind us. Immediately the belt of shingle was passed, the solitary
figure in the vehicle put the horse to its best trot over the swelling
sands. It was old Jack, the man whose nets were planted furthest
seaward, and it behoved him to move quickly, lest the tide should
again cover them before he had taken his toll of their contents. As we
rambled further and further out, the shore seemed to rise in altitude,
and the great crag where a brave knight slew the last wolf in the
countryside seemed to raise its bulk to a more commanding height. In
front of us the fishermen’s carts were still far away, and across the
channel daylight showed us the chimneys of a town, backed by a long
sharp line of hills. In half an hour we reached the nearest cart.
Looking into it, we saw a great mass of scales and feathers—the fish
and the duck ensnared during the night. This man had completed clearing
his net, and was busily pegging it down to the sand-bed, ready for
another tide. We would dearly have liked to examine his load, but the
man was too feverishly at work; therefore we looked around to see who
had not yet completed their task, and, of course, first thought of the
old man who in his cart had passed up a while ago. After a moment’s
consideration, we decided to go as far as the point where his nets
were, and to watch him empty them. A stiff breeze was blowing across
the estuary, and helped us to run along to the old man’s netting-ground
more easily. He looked up at our approach, and asked us to lend a
hand, as the tide had turned and time was precious. My friend and
I, therefore, got to work, jerking the fish and fowl clear of the
meshes into baskets, which were emptied into the body of the cart in
one confused mass. ‘There isn’t time to sort them,’ we agreed with
reluctance. In maybe ten minutes we had half filled the cart, and stood
watching the fisherman repegging down his nets. The breeze soughed
coldly across the bleak sands, the sting of the frozen Northland in
it, while the soft rush as the white rollers broke nearer and nearer
on the sand-bank filled our ears. The old man directed us to assist
in stretching the nets. ‘Be sharp!’ he said, without a glance at the
fast-incoming tide. The last rope was stretched and the last peg
driven, and the sea was roaring in a great stream not a hundred yards
away. ‘Into t’ cart, and sharp!’ And on the instant we obeyed.

I had not looked landward for some time, and was surprised to find
that our spit of sand was now cut off by a slowly-widening arm of the
sea. If this was deep and we could not cross it in the cart, if it
became furrowed with strong water and our cart was overwhelmed, then
we would be in a dangerous strait; for swimming in the chill waters of
a December tide is not to be contemplated without misgiving. But old
Jack, with a word of encouragement to his horse, drove straight at the
water. My feelings as I looked over the side of the cart were uneasy,
and I watched the water rise upward from wheel-rim, by the thin spokes,
to the axle, and higher and higher, till I heard it wash in the bottom
of the cart around my feet. Our horse was plodding steadily away,
though breast-deep in the tide. Deeper we sank, and deeper still, till
our spoil of the nets was hidden in the flood, and the horse’s head and
a strip of its back was all that was visible of it. Still on the game
old animal steadily waded, and it became apparent that the perils of
the passage were over. Immediately we came on to firm sand, old Jack
leapt off the shaft on which he had stood, and called us to get out.

‘Now we must run for it The water’ll be pretty deep just outside the

The old mare appreciated this remark as well, for it broke into its
best lumbering trot, dragging the lightened cart, from which the
sea-water oozed, at a fairish pace, to which we three kept up. A
quarter of a mile in front was the shore, but a fast-running tongue
of sea-water cut us off. Again we mounted the cart as the water was
touched, and the blue-jerseyed fisherman drove straight ahead. I
was not prepared for what now followed. A powerful undertow whirled
us—cart, horse, and men—bodily seaward, while the swift stream striking
the oaken sides of the vehicle threw spray right over us. But old Jack
had been cautious in his selection of a point to pass the current, and
the eddy of the fierce undertow brought the horse where it could take
footing again, after which it speedily drew up into safety.

Of course, our first action, after changing our soaking clothes, was to
examine the load of duck and flooks we had helped to bring to land. I
had prepared myself for disappointment, but surely these damp, muddy,
ruffled balls of feathers were not the same as the brightly-coloured,
carefullypreened uniform of the ducks which had swum to the sand-banks
when the moon was clouded o’er last night? The varieties we had
looked to see—the scaup, the teal, the widgeon, etc.—were hardly
distinguishable to our novice eyes, and ere long we gave up the attempt
in despair. But one bird did interest us, and that was a neat-feathered
northern diver, which is a rarity to the fishermen. As to the others,
we did not feel it incongruous to their estate to hear them hawked
about in the adjacent town that afternoon by old Jack to a sing-song of—

    ‘Fine fresh flooks alive, alive oh!
               Alive oh, alive oh!
    Fine fresh flooks alive, alive oh!
               Alive oh, alive oh!
    Now, my old lasses, come out with your dishes,
    And I’ll fill you them full for a trifle.’


One incident in the life of George Moore of Cumberland has always
struck my imagination, and that is his narrow escape from drowning when
crossing Morecambe Bay by the oversands route.

Outside the estuaries of the rivers Kent, Leven and Winster, sand-banks
stretch almost level seaward for miles, and as the tides recede these
soon become clear of water, and in the course of an hour have settled
so firmly in most parts that heavy traffic may readily pass. And from
the days of Roman legions marching across till the era of railways this
was the crossing preferred by all traffic to and from Furness and West
Cumberland. The way was fraught with dangers: sometimes a strong wind
from the south-west held back the ebbing of the waters for an hour
or more, and forced up the succeeding ‘flow’ long before the normal
time. On many a stormy day the rush of a single comber blotted out,
with a depth of blue water, acres of bare sand. Any conveyance midway
on its journey would be simply washed away with such an eight-foot
wave; horses and men encountered would be borne over without chance of
escape. The channels of the rivers, being below the general sand-level,
also constituted a peril. The banks were constantly crumbling under
the action of salt water and fresh, and the direction and depth of the
current at any given point varied much from tide to tide. At a point
where last ebb the eau or river of the sea was fordable, now there
might be a deep cavity filled with water, in which, should the driver
venture, horse and man and conveyance might be easily lost. That such
a thing has happened over and over again is the story told by hundreds
of epitaphs in the burying-places of the surrounding countrysides. The
third danger was that of quicksand—a terribly remorseless enemy to the
traveller; while in misty weather and during the hours of darkness
it was possible to lose all sense of direction over the bewildering
level waste, and to guide your horse, perhaps, straight out to sea.
Case after case could be cited of men going several miles out of their
courses from such an accident: the number of mysterious drownings on
the sands never to be properly traced gives the impression that those
who escape after such mistakes are in a terrible minority.

George Moore reached Cartmel towards evening. He did not take time to
inquire as to the state of the tide, but drove off at once towards the
sands. It was a reckless undertaking, as he soon found out, for he was
scarcely halfway across before he saw the tide was turning. The man
who was with him in the carriage jumped out and went back. But George,
believing that he was on the right track, drove on. The water was now
approaching like a mill-race. He flogged his horses as he never flogged
them before. The sand shifted beneath their feet, so he turned aside
and drove where foothold still held. A mirage rose before him, and he
seemed to see the land. But it disappeared and reappeared again and
again. The situation became terrible.

At length he heard a loud shout from some person to the left. One of
the mounted guides had seen his peril. The man spurred his horse into
the water, suddenly turned round, and waved him to come onward in that
direction. Moore understood his position at once, and pulled his horses
round by sheer force towards land. By dint of flogging and struggling
the horses at length touched the ground, dragged the carriage up the
sands, and Moore’s life was saved.

Other equally exciting incidents occur to me as I write. Once the
mail-coach when far out on the sands was struck by a powerful gust of
wind, and blown bodily some hundred yards out of its course, where it
capsized. The horses and passengers made for the shore as quickly as
possible. Some days later the great vehicle was found near the tideway,
and, after re-upholstering, was again put in use.

The dangers of the sands were so well known from the earliest times
that the abbeys, and after their dissolution the Crown, were charged
to maintain men whose duty it was to vigilantly study the tideway and
conduct passengers safely across. The post of guide on the Kent sands
was held by one family for over five hundred years.

During my wanderings in the districts near the sands, I have come
across many who had stories to tell of perils braved or witnessed.
What more perilous than to have, when your cart is far from shore, a
wheel break under a sudden strain put upon it. Yet this happened when
a family, some quite young children, was crossing the Leven sands. Two
men set out for the nearest village to have the breakage repaired,
leaving the women and children to make the best of it during the chilly
night. It was several hours before the repair was completed, the tide
had long turned, and the wheel was fixed against time. The delayed
cart was saved with difficulty, for so high had the water risen that
the horses were almost swept off their feet by the force of waves which
again and again broke against the carts.

The story is told of a funeral crossing the sands being caught up
by the tide; the coffin had to be temporarily left to the mercy of
the seas. Another cortège, when halfway across, had to hasten to the
shelter of Holme Island—not then, as now, connected with the mainland
by a causeway—and from the rocky shores of this they watched the
raging sea close over their tracks. More than once the mail-coach has
struggled to this refuge when, after passing one of the river channels,
the other was, through a sudden rise of the tide, found unfordable, and
advance or retreat by the direct route was equally impossible.

But the narrative of one who crossed the sands in his early years—the
old man has been dead some years now—is, even among such episodes as
already mentioned, worth placing on record:

‘It was mid-afternoon when the gentleman for whom I was working as
groom decided to pass from Lancaster to Ulverston. The month was
February, and a faint griming of snow covered the land. The day
had been hazy, and the weather-wise said a storm was brewing in a
villainous-looking patch of clouds hanging out to sea. Of course I had
to go, though I urged the undesirability of driving the horses through
the cold waters of the channel. At half-past four we were at Hest Bank,
having driven quickly over the frozen roads.

‘The folks at the inn advised us to stop there for the night, as it
was growing dusk and the wind was rising. But on we went. The guide
accompanied us to the Keer, and saw us safely across, then told us that
by following a line of bushes planted in the sand we would in about
a mile fall in with the Kent guide, who was mounted. We had scarce
left this man, whose repeated warnings made me more uneasy, when from
the sea there crept up a thick gray cloud, which so enveloped us that
I had to dismount and lead the horses, for from our seats we could
not see from one small tuft to another. I was thus puzzling out the
route, when we came to a pool of water, at which the gray mare shied
and then bolted. The loose rein was wrested from my hand, but as the
carriage swept past I leapt and clutched the back. The horses ran for
fully a minute—the distance was impossible to guess in the dusk of the
cloud—before they could be stopped. And when at last they came to a
standstill, imagine our plight! We were far out on those bleak sands
without any knowledge as to where sound land lay; turn as we might,
the open sea was a perilous thing to risk. The tide had turned, and
would now be running in at a tremendous rate. Even should running
waters be met with, these would give no clue as to direction, for they
might be a river-current or a mere eddy of the waves. Then, too, the
wind was rising higher, and from afar we heard the growling roar of
the sea. “What shall we do?” said the master. I would not reply. The
moment of indecision in his mind passed, and he continued: “John, this
is one way to die. Let us drive onward somewhere. If so be that we take
a wrong turning, it will be but a quicker ending.” I said now: “Let
the horses try; they will turn for the land surer than we.” Well, the
horses had by this time in some manner realized the danger; they stood
shivering and pawing the sands, looking first to seaward, whence the
subdued thunder was proceeding, then at one another in silence askance,
and to us. At the word they walked steadily forward, bearing, as it
seemed to me, somewhat to the left. “If this direction is correct, God
help us!” I thought. I spoke to them again, and they quickened to a
trot. The sound of their rapid hoofs for a while drowned in my ears
that dull, insistent roar, to which, as my senses indicated, we were
gradually coming nearer and nearer. Pool after pool of water was run
into, but the horses were steady now.

‘All this time the cloud had been blowing along the sands, never
lifting a fathom, but allowing some three lengths’ clear view ahead,
and the wind blew still harder. Dusk it had been when we lost our way;
it was almost pitch-dark now. Time and again I thought voices came
through our enveloping shroud, but though I called often there was no
reply. Sound did not carry far, and our loudest shouts seemed to be
stifled on our lips. As I looked steadily ahead into the flurry of
snowflakes, which accompanied a stiffer squall than usual, I thought
the chestnut’s ear twitched as though sensitive to something occurring
not far away. Then the gray cheered up—it had been doggedly pressing
against the collar for some time, as though the previous terror had
sapped its strength—and I turned to the master at my elbow. His face
was lit with expectation, tempered with doubt. He forestalled my
question. “Do you see that? I have been watching for a few seconds,
though I didn’t speak, for fear it might be a delusion.” But our
animals broke into a canter, and shortly the air around us was filled
with the sounds of cracking whips and shouting men; and it didn’t take
more than a second for us to realize that we had fallen in with a band
of carriers laden with goods for the Ulverston market. Where we had
been in our perilous wandering will never be known, but we returned to
safety quite close to where the Kent was to be crossed. The carriers
had planned to stay the night at Cartmel, and to cross the Leven sands
after the morning tide, so we stayed in their company. During the
night, however, the threatening storm burst; and at daybreak the sea in
the channel raged so wildly that not one would venture, and all made
the détour over hilly roads to Newby Bridge, and so to our journey’s



It is always with exhilaration that the sportsman hears the first
wing-rush of the season, and sees his first covey of grouse whirl along
the heathery waste. The gun is thrown up, and on the instant the bird
is singled. At the report a few feathers are struck up from the winger.
Almost instantly the fury of its pinionings ceases, its flight droops,
and becomes more and more unsteady, till with a thud it reaches the
grass just as your retriever gets within distance.

In our district of rough shootings, the twelfth is the only festival
the gunner observes, for the grouse is our stable game-bird. But though
restricted in its variety of sport, ours, also, is one of the few areas
in which genuine old-fashioned shooting is to be had. The exigencies of
falling revenues has stopped the heavy stocking and close preserving
formerly the custom, and our birds are almost always wild—wild with
the freedom of the spreading moorland, not with the wildness of terror.
Beating is rarely resorted to by the occupiers of our shootings, for
men are scarce in upland valleys.

The evening of the eleventh closed down over the steeps in lurid
fashion, and at dark a storm was whistling along the nearby braes. Our
keeper, however, held that by sunrise the worst of the tempest would
be spent, and that a clear day was in store for us. However, when we
arose the gale still shrieked along the uplands, driving huge banks of
cloud before it. The rain had ceased some hours before, but every dell
was occupied with a roaring flood, and the bosky places were palpably
saturated. The keeper, who appeared to have spent the whole of the wild
night patrolling the only route by which poachers could reach the moor,
was decidedly of opinion that, bad as the weather was, it was still
improving rapidly. The clouds, whirling ghostlike in the uncertain
light, were less frequent, and did not fall so far down the slopes. Now
and again the surf of billowy white passed clear of the fellside for a
few seconds.

Up and be doing was advised; and, as we were in friendly rivalry
with the holders of the other moors as to whose gun should fall the
earliest bird of the season, in a few seconds we were striding through
the woods, listening to the eerie voice of the gale in the reeling
pine-tops, or to the gushing down secluded ghylls of creamy torrents.

In ten minutes we were on the bleak moor; the pressure of the wind was
so strong that we could barely keep our feet. The grass was beaded with
raindrops; the tangled bushes through which here and there we had to
force a passage shook drenching showers upon us. Walking along some
half-mile, we got into the shelter of a great rib of mountain; and here
the keeper anticipated sport. So far not a bird had stirred, or even
called; whether they had deserted the exposed brae or were unwilling to
rise, I cannot say.

Now, looking across the deep, narrow valley, we espied at a great
distance another shooting-party passing through the heather in extended
line. Our keeper chuckled:

‘T’ Ferns folk’ll not git t’ first birrd to-day.‘

I was not so certain, for I had seen two wee puffs of smoke rise from
the centre of their line. But though the slow advance checked, there
was no crowding together to congratulate a successful first shot.

The presence of rivals spurred us on, but, try as we would, not a bird
could be found in the wet, quiet hollow; then, worse than all, a fine
gray veil drew itself between us and our distant view, growing rapidly
more dense, till we could see but a few yards.

‘Ferns wins,’ groaned I; but the ever-confident Jack claimed that it
would require a finer shot than any of theirs to down a bird on that
gusty moor. ‘But what of the flukes—eh?‘

‘We’ve as much chance as they. Keep a sharp lookout as we come opposite
to these screes, and fire at the first thing that moves.’

Of course, this was what we were bound to do. In a few minutes the
cloud blew aside, and just as its final skirts were rushing from the
heather and scree in front, up rose with wild clamouring a covey of
grouse. There was a sharp crackle as four guns belched forth together
on them. Down went three birds. Whose was the first? Well, each claimed
the honour, but the gamekeeper, as final referee, laid down that when
shots are simultaneous the order of birds reaching the ground must
count. The scene of this informal court was dramatic: the weathered old
man, his kindly face lit up with delight at our referring the matter
to him; the three splendid dusky-red birds laid neatly in front; the
dogs wandering around, probably contrasting this delay with our usual
pushing habits; and our four faces showing varying degrees of anxiety
as we awaited the veteran’s decision. For a minute he sat silent and
motionless, his gray-clad body standing out against the dark heather
and gray-lichened crag of the rolling, windy moor, and when his first
point was again agreed to, he declared that the cock was the first
down. As I was the only one who had singled him, it was _my first

Now half an hour more we waited for better light, with a possible
lifting of the mist-curtain sufficiently high for sport to be more than
intermittent. And after a while things certainly began to be brighter.
As we patrolled along, the birds rose better and the guns got into
better use. But all day the wind remained powerful enough to aid the
birds’ escape.

Another year the circumstances of shooting were easier, the weather was
fine, our stock promising, and our first bird was got very early. One
of the dogs ranging in very delight in front flushed a small covey from
a dot of heather just beyond the garden palings, and our youngest gun
dropped a straggler. The chances of a kill at the long range were so
remote that no one else attempted a shot.

Than the moors on a fine September morning I cannot conceive a fairer
space. At midsummer the bees drone sleepily over the blooming heather,
the little runnels murmur distantly from their grass-hidden courses.
Of bird-life little is to be seen; the grouse cower among the heather
until near sundown. As we stand by the weedy tarn this morning,
however, there is ample evidence that the spreading mantle of chocolate
and green is thronged with life. Here the path crosses a boggy tract
where dirty jets of water spurt over our boots; now we encounter
bouldery ground, and the path winds among the greater fragments. Anon
we brush through a narrow channel running athwart a waste of heather.

‘There they go!’ There is a sharp rustle among the grass, some hurried
wing-beats and a hoarse call ‘come-back, come-back,’ and a splendid
covey of grouse sail away from us. But not a gun is raised, for the
gamekeeper has expressly stipulated that in this basin of green swamp
and sparkling dot of water, chosen haunt at all times of wild-duck, not
a shot is yet to be fired. Regretfully we trudge upward on the rugged
path to the top of the slope.

Now the dogs are released, and the line of guns shakes out. The old
keeper, as a special favour in return for early summer inquiries about
his broods, walks close beside, constituting himself my loader. I know
this moor well; for several years I have watched the seasons pass over
its face of spreading bracken and stiff, erect heather; otherwise I
might be impatient.

‘It’s a bit noisy for t’ birds here,’ is an apology hazarded by the old
man; ‘a good many sheep have been driven across there this last week.’
('Across there,’ indicated by a sweep of his arm, is a moorland road,
lonesome-looking enough to-day.)

A gun is discharged at the far end of our line—I cannot see exactly
by whom, as we are in a slight fold of the moor, then quite a small
volley. A covey has flown right down the line of guns. In a moment the
birds whir across my line of vision, but they are too far away for a
shot. This glen illumined by the morning sunshine is like a piece from
fairyland. Sphagnum in all stages, golden and white and green, and
gray-green bent; tinkling streamlets and moss-hung rocks; every blade
of grass, every branchlet of heather, every frond of fern and bracken,
is decked with beads of dew, and the sunshine revels in each and every
drop as though it were a crystal prism, throwing off glories and halos
of rainbow hues.

In a minute we clear this little gully and are again level with the
others. Each man carries his own game-bag (save myself, whom the
veteran serves), and will do his own loading; but game is sparse, and
for five brace apiece we may have to tramp as many miles. However,
there is always magnificent scenery and bracing air, and now and again
there will be lively incidents—sequences of shots as rapid as you can
fire and exchange shells. ‘Nerves’ on such occasions are almost sure to
leave you with an empty game-bag.

So along we tramp, shooting where any opportunity arises. The dogs go
through their work thoroughly and cheerfully; we guns are young and
athletic, so that the long walk does not tire us. At lunch-time we are
close to a disused sheepfold, in the lee of which our meal is spread.
During the half-hour rest we indulged in we got the old keeper to tell
us stories from his own experience. He has been on various estates,
and commanded all sorts of shooting; but with middle age the homing
instinct turned him to the land of the fells and lakes again. He had
amassed what was to him a competency, but his hands could not drop the
gun altogether, and he gladly accepted his present position—a lucrative
pleasure, not a labour to him. And this was the story he told us,
between puffs of a black clay pipe, as he sat on a lichened stone with
his back against the wall of the sheepfold:

‘Many years ago, near one of the best shooting estates in the Fells
Country, there lived two poachers. Their ancestors had been frugal
and thrifty, so that a small farm—twenty or thirty acres, maybe—and
a cottage were left to these two. To meet them on the country roads
or in their fields, they were simple, slow-speaking farmers like
their neighbours. But to see them making nets and snares when the
storm howled round the little house—as I have done—they were smart
craftsmen. And in the dark woods and leas, or by the salmon streams,
the most alert watcher could never find Dick and Ned. They could
thread the worst-tangled glades without a sound, for they knew every
inch of them. As to game, whether fin, fur, or feather, Dick and Ned
were sure somehow to get a large share of it. Their house and bit of
land lay between two wide sheep-farms. Their only sister had died
when the lads were sixteen, their parents some time before, and after
that bereavement the only companions they took were a dog and a cat.
Concerning which there is a story.

‘The two men were sat at breakfast, when Dick said, in his chanting

‘“Ned, thoo likes thy dog.”

‘“Dick, thoo likes thy cat.”

‘And at this the two joined battle. And when at last a chance caller
at the house intervened and drew them apart, both men were dripping
with blood. As quickly as they had fought they fell back to the old
intimate intercourse, Ned alone remarking:

‘“Well, ah’ll hae to kill thee some day, Dick, and ah’ll might as weel
ha’ done it noo.”

‘They were always like that, a word and a blow, till the keepers for
miles around were almost all afraid of them, and purposely timed their
beats to avoid the men. Ned, after a three months in gaol secured him
by the old Lant Braithwaite, was one day working by a peat-pot [a
bog-hole, generally partly filled with water], when that keeper came up
and spoke cheerily to him. For reply, Ned—a stout man he was, and hard
as an otter—gripped Lant, and after ten minutes’ hard struggling threw
him into the water. And, not content with that, the villain actually
leapt with both feet on to the prostrate man’s chest, and held him to
suffocate beneath the shallow waters.

‘Luckily, however, the struggle had been noticed by other men at work
on the moor, and the poacher was by main force pulled away from a
brutal murder. Of course, even in that slack time, when a policeman
was never seen outside the county town, such a thing as this had to be
looked into. Ned the poacher was arrested and thrown into prison. When
he came before the magistrates, one of them hailed him with:

‘“Well, Ned, Lant has got you again.”

‘“Ay, reet enough,” was the off-hand reply; “but he wodn’t [wouldn’t]
if ah’d hed t’ peeat speead in me hand.”

‘What a present-day bench would say to a bloodthirsty address like this
from a poacher, I don’t know, but keepers’ lives were held cheap in
those days. Magistrates who would hang a man for stealing a sheep only
inflicted a short sentence on the killer of a keeper. However, this
time some big man took an interest in getting the poacher his due, and
Ned finally got ten years’ transportation.

‘While he was away Dick was constantly in gaol. Perhaps he was less
desperate than his brother, but I don’t know. Two water-bailiffs once
came upon him laden with salmon, fresh netted, on a bridge. They tried
to arrest him, but he was a strong man, and threw first one and then
the other over the ledge. It was a sheer forty feet, and a horrible
flood was dashing through among the rocks. But if keepers were cheap,
bailiffs were cheaper. Both men managed to struggle out of the torrent
many yards lower down, one with a broken arm and a badly cut head, but
nothing was said about it.

‘Dick passed in and out of gaol till Ned’s long term was up. One wild
February morning the gray castle gate opened and the poacher walked
out. He was a hardened and unforgiving beggar; for the first thing he
said, as he fixed his eyes on the bleak sunrise, was:

‘“Well, ah’m oot again, and noo Lant Braithwaite an’ thoo be alive,
I’ll kill thee afore this time to-morn.”

‘At mid-day a great snowstorm closed down, and hourly became worse.
At about four o’clock a knock came to Lant Braithwaite’s door; it was
opened by his grandson. An elderly, rough-looking man asked:

‘“Whar’s old Lant?”

‘And the wide-eyed youngster replied: “Why, he’s gone up ower t’
fell-end to Tom Brackenrigg’s. He wain’t [will not] be back till varra
laet [late].”

‘“All right;” and the questioner, moving away out of the fold, was soon
lost to view in the driving snow. After, these long years Ned had at
last located his victim, and now, with long-stored rage in his heart,
he made up the snow-covered moor-path. “Me legs aren’t as stiddy as
they used to be,” he muttered to himself, as he stuck fast and then
collapsed into a deeper drift than usual. But, determined on his evil
course, though he was still racked with weakness and gaol-fever, he
straightened himself on to his feet and pushed on into the whirling

‘About the same time old Lant Braithwaite at the moorland farm threw
down his hand of cards.

‘“Bejocks, Jackie!” he said to his partner, “ah’ve clean forgitten to
look at them traps doon be Blin’ Tarn edge. Ah’ll away.”

‘And, despite all arguments to stay, the old man—he was now upwards of
seventy—set out. He spoke to a shepherd who was forcing his way against
the seething gale to attend to his flock, and that was the last time he
was seen alive. Next morning a search was made, and old Lant was found
frozen stiff in the green copse you can see the tops of from here.‘

‘And the old poacher?’ a voice queried.

‘Ned was found dead, an awful baffled look on his face, crouched up
among the heather just this side the ridge—near that big boulder above
the beck course. Though within half a mile, he never found his enemy,
after all.‘

‘And Dick?’

‘Well, Dick hung about in a shiftless way for a while, then went clean
away, and one fine morning, when the lilies bloomed among the rocks
around, he was found drowned in the Fairy’s Kailpot down the next dale.’

As the old man concluded his gruesome story, he rose to his feet
and whistled the dogs together. A minute later the line of guns was
spreading anew across the moor. ‘Watch for hares,’ was the veteran’s
instructions, but, alas! puss is becoming rare with us, and we never
saw a scrap of fur. The old keeper likes to have the harriers once a
year across the moor, because, he says, as the visit is planned late,
the noise scatters the birds, and prevents too much in-breeding. How
far his idea is correct, I cannot of course say. The birds rise very
slowly on this part of the moor, but they are strong, and your gun has
to be deftly and rapidly used when they come.

‘Stop!’ said the old keeper suddenly, as we stood on a rise overlooking
a tinkling streamlet. And as he spoke the dog in front flushed a bunch
of birds from the outskirts of some heather. I fired rapidly, both
barrels, and had the satisfaction of hitting each time. One bird was
knocked over and over by the impact, and fell immediately, but the
other on stiffening wings sailed away for thirty yards or so. The other
members of the family with wild calls whirled out of sight over the
next ridge.

‘Quietly,’ said the old man; ‘we must have another shot at them.’ And
we had; before we had gone a hundred yards they rose in a bewildered,
scattered flight, and, to my delight, down to the heather thumped
another brace. These were my last shots that day, though we ranged the
moor a couple of hours longer. The total bag averaged three brace per
gun—not bad, considering the sparseness of game and the fact that two
members of our party had discharged but a single cartridge apiece.


The morning was dull but clear. Behind us a lonely wayside station,
with an overtowering background of mountains; in front a grand piece
of rolling country, with a far-away line of blue peaks. It was early
October; the march of autumn following on a wet summer had been so
slow that as yet hardly a tree was shedding its leaves; the hedgerows
were dense and mostly green, and, as we passed from the road, the
grass, both permanent and aftermath, was long and tangled. For a mile
we walked by field-paths and through sunken lanes, spongy and rutted,
damp with the exudations of countless hidden springs. Three of us, two
gunsters and a rambler, and a dog. At the end of much seemingly aimless
tramping we reached the boundary of the small shooting.

‘Now,’ said the principal to his fellow, ‘you take those fields to the
right, while I try around the marshy pasture on this side.’

I put the leash on the dog and followed with caution. Rough was black,
white, and tan, and of the rough, genuine beagle type. There was
nothing of the harrier or miniature foxhound about him. Also he was a
show dog, with a proclivity for not looking his best on the correct
occasions, therefore with his perfect shape and colour adding to his
master’s store of ‘commended’ certificates.

Our premier gun was a slender, erect man, one who possessed a thorough
knowledge of many kinds of outdoor sport, linked with a shrewd faculty
for observation. He was a first-class shot. Means and manners of fur
and feather by wood and water and lea were as an open book in his
sight. Every nook and cranny of the two farms was known to him, and
he had already reckoned out the possibilities of our day’s work to a
nicety. His companion, though keen on sport, was possessed of ‘days.’
At times he would bring off with ease almost marvellous shots, to
fail on the following day in an almost elementary style. He was a
well-set-up man and accustomed to work requiring organization and
patience. Surely shooting rabbits as they run from feeding-ground to
burrow would test this latter.

Down the dewy grass in the shadow of the hedge the principal stepped in
silence, his gun ready, watching and listening acutely for the rush of
the first rabbit. But it didn’t come at present. Rough walked steadily
in the leash, and a moment after was loosed. Away he went, ranging the
hedgesides thoroughly, but not a stray rabbit could he find. All four
fences of the small pasture were visited. Rough’s tail was indicative
of eager anticipation, but his tongue was silent. Down the chief
ditch where a patch of ragged-robin grew he passed slowly, carefully.
Rabbits had been astir here, but not recently enough to make the scents
workable. We turned down a ghyll, a declivity with steep grassy banks,
just before the other gun, with a rabbit dangling in his hand, joined
us from the other pastures.

The steep field to our right, bounded by thick wattled hedges, was a
known haunt, and dog, guns, and the wanderer alike were on the alert.
But though we scanned the breadth of windswept ‘fog,’ not the slightest
indication of fur was there. Rough, ranging down towards the foot of
the glen, began to quarter the tiny level beneath the rise, and almost
immediately up jumped a big rabbit. For a few seconds its rushing
form was seen through the topmost ash-stems fringing the stream which
drained the ghyll; then, as it ran above them, there was a double
crack, both guns firing at once. The furry body rolled over and over,
then came to rest just as the pursuing Rough galloped up. Now, a beagle
is not, like a trained retriever, to be commanded with a word at a
moment like this. It runs up to its quarry, and, should it not be dead,
worries it till satisfied. This penchant, though in Rough almost small
enough to be innocent, caused one or other of us, after each shot, to
‘pick up.’

A minute or two later the leathern bags to contain the day’s shoot,
and our present instalment thereof, were being deposited in the stable
of the farmhouse, after which we moved on again. Right opposite us,
when orchard and cottage were cleared, was a steep bit of bank, where
freshly-moved earth showed that rabbits were in active occupation.
There was no chance of approaching this stronghold unseen from our
present direction. It was a place for ferreting, rather. We now neared
another rivulet. Rough was all excitement, straining to the limit of
his leash, yet not violently rebellious of restraint. The principal
motioned his friend to advance towards a gap in the thick sycamore
hedge. Gun at the ready, he crept forward. We watched alertly. Beyond
the hedge seemed to be a small field. The swelling ridge we had been
passing here broke into a sheer front, not rocky, but grassy, and
decked with hazel and oak and ash, pitted here and there where the
soil perpetually frittered away. This face of the bluff was likely to
be honeycombed with burrows, and the natural feeding-ground of their
occupants would be the narrow level W—— was reconnoitring. I saw his
gun go up, there was a couple of sharp reports, and W——, jamming fresh
cartridges into the breach, was plunging across the stony beck course
in the hope of getting a parting shot at some outlier. But if such
there were, it did not come within our range of vision. W—— mounted
the gap and walked out to ‘pick up.’ With Rough now at liberty,
questing bramble and bush in a systematic manner in front of us, we now
negotiated the very wobbly gate (or hurdle) which divided us from the
coppiced bluff. The principal now turned to me.

‘Stand well back, and call if Rough drives anything among the bushes.’

The angle of the short rise was so severe that I could not do this
properly till I had retreated into the bed of the streamlet. Rough was
ranging, often hidden from sight by intervening bushes, halfway up
the slope. From his excited movements, game had apparently been astir
not many seconds ago. Trail after trail he struck, but each time the
makers were safe aground. A moment of silence, then he gave tongue—a
wild, musical clarion-call to the chase—and with head down and stern
up flashed in and out among the bushes. A rabbit had crossed the brae
in front of him toward the cluster of burrows opposite which W—— had
posted himself. The sudden intrusion of a bustling enemy roused the
rabbits sheltering in the further half of the coppice, and Rough’s
grand voice rang out again and again as he galloped about.

‘Mark, to your left!’ The fur was making a dash across a narrow gap
commanded by the distant gun. W—— slewed around quickly and fired. His
eye was barely off the rolling body ere there was another sharp rustle
among the grass. A rabbit was descending the brae in a frantic attempt
to reach its hole. The shot, though at very short range, was not easy,
for the rabbit presented a very foreshortened length, and was moving
with the added impetus of the steep slope.

Rough was still frantically busy among the undergrowth in the closest
part of the coppice. Rabbits were being dislodged without doubt, but
they were able to get to earth without coming into our sight. One
essayed to break in our direction, and the beagle, after a sharp
backward glance, allowed it. The principal was ready the moment cover
was left, and did not miss. The rabbit, though far up the slope when
hit, rolled an inanimate corpse to within my reach.

It was now apparent that the occupants of the bluff-end coppice were
thoroughly aroused to their danger, and that scant further toll would
be extracted for the present, so we turned back—Rough most regretfully,
and only in obedience to many calls and whistles—and surmounted the
wobbly fence. At the crest of the bluff we walked across an intervening
field to a dense-bottomed hedge, haunt of various outliers from the
colony in the wood. One gun took each side the fence, Rough working
ahead of them, and myself wandering a bit wide in the hope of flushing
a ‘clapped ’un’ from the sodden long ‘fog’ grass. At first Rough didn’t
seem very willing to work the hedge, probably because no game was
there, contenting himself with trotting alongside. But before he had
gone thirty yards he was all keenness, wriggling through the smallest
smoots (tracks) to change fields every few seconds.

But not a rabbit would budge. For several hundred yards Rough wriggled
and scampered, then paused with his nose scenting the air opposite a
clump of impenetrable thorns, whimpering, and his lean body quivering
with enthusiasm. But I guess this was the haunt of a cute old rascal
who, from the secure mouth of his hole, was enjoying Rough’s quandary,
and every few seconds exposing enough of his unreachable self to taint
the air for the beagle’s nostrils to snuff. Quite a minute this
probable by-play went on, and at the end our white companion moved on
again by the hedgeside.

‘Stop!’ said the principal, close to whom I was walking. Throwing his
gun up, he stepped backward some ten yards, his eyes all the while
intent on something among the tushes of grass. Then he fired. There
was a convulsive moment as a white body rolled over and over. The
rabbit was but a small one, and as it lay had quite escaped my notice.
Probably forty yards on the same incident occurred, but this time I
sighted the frail, white-lined ears like two dead leaves above the
grass. It is wasteful to shoot such tiny padders, but as they sit among
the grass, with only a pair of ears visible, it is impossible to hazard
a guess as to what size the creatures really are. To flush them and
give them law in a field full of curious heifers means losing them, or
risking serious damage to the bovine spectators.

The hedgerow finished, we turned farmwards, walking fairly wide apart
to beat up as much ground as possible. Rough’s restless movements on
the left sent a big rabbit leaping right across our front. Moving at
speed, a rabbit presents much of the poetry of motion. How regularly
its limbs curve and straighten, and its lithe body bounds in response
to muscles hard as steel hidden beneath the soft gray-and-white fur.
Yet this one, though blessed with abundant energy, did not get to cover
before the principal’s gun spoke.

At the homestead, as it was not yet time for lunch, we deposited our
game, and examined the vegetable-garden. It is surprising how often
during the noisiest hours of the days rabbits may be flushed from
harbours where they must lie in daylong peril from the small host of
sheepdogs ranging all over the place. But to-day Rough pushes through
tufts of raspberry-canes and beds of cabbage without a sign of success.
Next to the field behind the farm, marching across the tangled tussocks
and examining the hedges without raising a flutter. Then down to the
barn, where we sat on the hay-seeded floor (for furniture there was
none), with the fragrant ‘mow’ for back-rest, and lunched off an
enormous pie.

While this duty was being attended to, the next move was also
discussed: the principal, Rough and I were to take another turn at
the beckside coppices, while the other gun would try up the glen to
the marshy field, our opening place. At the gate out of the fold we
separated, but, instead of keeping below the bluff, struck upwards,
to where it fell away abruptly. As we stood there, partly hidden by a
thick veil of full-leaved sycamore, we had an almost bird’s-view of
the little feeding-ground W—— had so completely raked from the beckside
two hours agone. Beyond the hedge, betwixt wood and field, was a little
reddish-brown patch—almost out of range. If, as to my eye seemed most
probable, this was merely an upturned sod, to fire would be to startle
the outliers to the burrows. If the patch was really a rabbit, so near
to the coyer of the hedge was it that its slightest leap therewards
would cause it to be lost to us. I was thus undecided; but the
principal, more accustomed than I to the vagaries of furred creatures,
raised his gun. There was a very slight movement of the reddish-brown
spot—it _was_ a rabbit; the high-pitched crack of smokeless powder
echoed along the hillside, and the patch had disappeared. Hit or miss?
The fence at the top of the brae was a stout one; its top being wattled
into an unbreakable bullfinch to capering heifers and young horses. I
handed the gun over, then followed suit. Four long, sliding strides
carried us down the worst pitch, and in a few seconds we were by the
watercourse. My companion lay his gun down and climbed over the hedge
to seek his rabbit, a search I prosecuted among the rank nettles and
long tangled grass on my side, but for some little time neither of us
succeeded. The principal, finishing his side, began at the opposite
end of my more difficult beat. At that moment a rabbit, its eyes
glazing in death, rolled out from among the evil-smelling garlic into
the beck course not two yards from where I stood. The long shot had
therefore gone home.

While we were thus employed, the beagle was enjoying a very lively time
on the coppiceside; twice I saw him scurrying in hot pursuit in a thin
scrub of oaks. Our rabbit found, my companion again took up his gun and
posted himself on a tiny rise in the path along the beckside, watching
where Rough was working. It was, perhaps, three minutes before, with
a rush, a rabbit broke cover from a tangle of grass right about our
heads; veiled with bushes as the hillside was, the shot seemed almost
an impossible one, but it was essayed. The dull sheen of a clouded sun
dwelt upon the slender uplifted double tube of steel; the muscles of
the lean face bending towards the stock of polished wood stiffened;
his keen eye seemed to flash from trigger-lock to sight, and, passing
through the thin air, lighted upon the little animal—gray, with white
underparts showing as with strenuous haste it trod, perchance for the
last time, the well remembered smoot among the tussocks. The glance
seemed scarce to have reached the rabbit ere, with a sharp explosion,
a tongue of flame spurted from the bright steel chamber. The dead gray
stems of grass crushed and broke as the quivering body stumbled,
checked, then rolled over and over down the slope. The next rabbit
stole softly down the hedgeside when we had moved to the limit of
the brae. Rough, ranging beyond the fence, was having our keenest
attention as he hunted and whimpered round a dense clump of alders. I
was standing some yards back, when I heard and located the stealthy
rustle. My call, ‘Mark, this side the fence!’ brought the gun round
promptly; but the rabbit cast all attempts at stealth to the wind, and
scampered straight in our direction. In a moment it was so near the gun
that a shot would have blown it to pieces. But when it came within a
couple of yards, the furred one whisked sharply into a smoot through
the hedge, and, without again showing itself, found harbour. Its escape
was deserved for the sharpness of its manœuvre.

After this Rough’s chases began to take him further afield, and
sometimes he ran quite out of our sight: we could hear his grand voice
going away along the hidden fields. But his journeyings were fruitless.
If the scents he was following were fresh, the rabbits merely ran a
circle over the tussocky grass before taking to the depths of the
warrens. Yet his courage never faltered, and he returned to search new
brakes of bramble and hazel with never-failing patience. Sundry calls
and whistles brought him within reach, and, as no other way of getting
him away from the coppice offered success, the leash was put on, and
away he trotted quietly by my side. But on the outskirts of the woods
he was set at liberty again, and marked the period by immediately
rousing a somnolent rabbit in the hedgerow across the brook. With
glee he chased it up and down, but Bunny did not intend to seek the
open. We could hear the crackling of dead twigs as it dashed about the
dense tangle, and Rough’s quivering body showed us where approximately
it was; but though up and down the hedge it ran, the sharpest eye
could not sight it. Rough never despaired till the rabbit got into
some burrow and scent failed. In answer to our call, he then left the
hedgeside, and was trotting across the stony bed of the rivulet towards
us when several wide-mouthed burrows attracted his attention. In a
flash he was struggling into the dark depths, his voice coming back in
strange muffled tones as he, scarce a yard within, came to passes so
narrow that even his small white body could not advance. In and out,
every time with more red soil adhering to his fine coat, right and
left, he visited each hole in turn, settling down at last to scratch a
way into the wider tunnel. His voice seemed to be constantly ringing
the entreaty, ‘Why, why don’t you come out?’ but the rabbits, shivering
in their furthest recesses, did not respond to the urgent cry.

Finding anything short of violence useless to remove the beagle, we
‘left him alone in his glory’ and returned to the farm.

‘I wish Rough would be coming,’ said my companion a few minutes later,
after settling the routes for himself and the other gun for the rest of
the day, and even as he spoke the beagle scrambled through the lower
bars of the fold gate. Oh, where was the pretty coat of this morning!
It was damp, and the sandy soil was smeared over every hair, while
muzzle and paws were clotted with light red mud. But Rough’s work
had been so good that nothing could be alleged for a few such minor
indiscretions as this.

The leash was put on, and we left the farmyard. We struck in a
different direction this time, following the course of the little
stream. Here and there alders spring from the water’s edge, and
beneath their shade rabbits are fairly sure to be found. My companion
approached with caution, and, before I had time to get up, fired. I saw
the rabbit roll over, but, acting on instructions, did not cross the
stream to pick it up. Two score yards lower down, just where the beck
ripples from its shady pools down a long shelving shale, a party of
rabbits were feeding in fancied security. The gun was levelled, and, as
the released Rough gave tongue in wilful glee, two short flashes and
reports heralded two more successful shots. Not a miss yet to this gun.
The long flats were unproductive of sport, but after a while we came to
where the bluffs, standing some yards back from the water, were adorned
with a sprinkling of gorse.

‘We’re sure to have some fun here,’ said my gun, ‘when Rough begins to
rustle the whins.’

When my companion had taken up a position oil the brink of the rise
commanding its whole breast, I let the beagle go. For a few minutes
he ravaged fruitlessly about—‘not at home’ at every seat and smoot.
Suddenly Rough, in a ranging rush, balked. There was something alive
in a whin in front of it. One moment its eyes scanned the tangle, and
located the rabbit more closely; next it turned its head, to assure
itself that its master was in position; then, with head lowered, it
rushed into the bush. Of course Bunny bolted instantly, laced in and
out among the remaining bushes, then broke into the open. A few yards
with Rough chasing pell-mell in the rear, then the fugitive seemed to
curl up in its mad career, and the dog had gripped it in a moment. It
was quite dead by the time I got up. As Rough seemed to be unwilling
to work the whins further, we turned aside, crossing the stream and
climbing the steep bank beyond.

We crossed the crest and took the lee of the hedge for some way, till a
gap where another fence struck at right angles presented a chance for
another shot. Turning to the left, we approached the best series of
whins on the whole shooting. But here luck deserted us. Rough, hunting
among the long storm-broken grass, roused a ‘sitter’ to flight, and
pursued. He was a beagle: calls and whistles did not check him in full
chase, and his quarry leapt up quite out of range. Rough’s alarming
notes had their expected effect. When we came to the edge of the whins,
we could hear him ‘towrowing’ at an unseen distance among the bushes,
and there was not a rabbit to be seen. Nor did the partridge, of which
for years a covey had inhabited a corner of the next field, appear.
We called at several likely places on our return journey to the farm,
but every animal was secure in its burrow, and Rough’s most agonized
searches of hedge-bottoms and becksides was of no avail.

When the morning’s bag was reckoned up, we found that nineteen rabbits
in all had fallen to our share—not bad for a farm where no kind of
preserving is carried on, and for a district where poachers are not


At sunrise on a summer morning the dewy grass shows where wild game has
passed during the hours of darkness; but, though eloquent, these signs
speak a language unknowable to the casual observer, and you rarely meet
a man so talented as to be able to say with certainty what species have
brushed these moist tracks, whose perception is keen enough to note the
difference between the traces of rabbit and hare, and who can tell what
winged occupant of the preserve alighted here and there. It is only
after a thick fall of snow that Nature reveals itself by footprints to
anyone who can enjoyably spend an hour or two in the frosty air.

Three inches of snow masked meadow, moor, and mountain, and showed
through the acres of leafless coppice. The gamekeeper had prepared for
a long tramp, and we proposed to accompany him part of his journey.
Though well advanced in middle life, he could still outstride us
juniors on the rougher ground, while abrupt ascent or descent, or
progress through tangled heather or thicket, taxed him far less than
us. As we had the run of the shooting, we took guns with us on even
our shortest jaunts; for though game was not abundant (measured by so
many head an acre), there was often a curious animal or bird to be got
for preservation. In the lane the snow crunched pleasantly beneath
our passing feet; but when we began to cross the meadows travelling
became heavy, for clods of snow, three inches or so thick, adhered to
our boots at every stride. The keeper alone stepped with ease, and we
groaned to hear him say that he had taken the precaution to oil the
soles of his boots at starting. Our progress was so slow now that we
readily agreed to his pushing on, leaving us to follow at our leisure.
We touched the first wall a little below its junction with the boundary
of the woods. The smooth surface of the field was dotted with long
lines of footprints. Rabbits and hares had, in the few hours which had
elapsed since the cessation of the storm, been afoot, and here and
there little cavities showed where wandering animals had nosed their
way through to a few succulent plants available for food. The morning,
which had been somewhat dark so far, brightened as the day approached;
a stronger light seemed to be spreading along the valley-sides, and
the mists which had dimmed the distant lowlands began to rise and
recede seawards. At about seven o’clock full day had come, though the
sun still tarried; a rosy light was visible even over the head of
the great fellside on which we were. The scene was one in which wide
snowfields and dense woodlands, shaggy coppices and huge naked rocks,
made splendid contrasts; while the ice-covered pools in the valley
beneath took on all the varying, ever-changing tints of the sky above.

My companion had eyes for other things than the exquisite beauty of our
surroundings, and as I turned I noticed that he was intently looking at
a trail which wound aimlessly in and out among the bushes fringing the
main wood. The tracks were deep in the snow—obviously, the animal was
of more than the usual weight of the woodland denizens; the prints were
joined, as though the foot that made them was not lifted high, but,
rather, shuffled from one contact to another. What was it? Last year,
the keeper told us, there had been rumour through the countryside that
some strange animal occupied the Craigside woods. This was the first
sign we had had of the mysterious visitant. The footprints were deep,
the marks were connected: a closer look showed that the spoor was that
of a small plantigrade—the badger. Here and there in the open rides we
came across labyrinths of footprints: the badger had wandered through
one clearing, the tiny paws of the squirrel had pattered along the snow
at another place—see where his tail had brushed aside a little ruffle
of snow as he passed along. But most of our judgments as to what birds
had been present were mere speculation; and in a short time even my
enthusiastic friend took his eyes from the evidences of past presences
to look through the groves and up the hillsides for those creatures of
which glimpses were now and again to be had. Wild pheasants in their
brave plumage called as they ran out of sight or flew up among the
trees, a jay screamed as it winged away, and here and there a magpie
chattered. Craigside Woods hold game, but much feathered vermin finds
home there. It is impossible for the keeper to keep their numbers
down without help. Think of an area three miles long and five miles
wide—woods, moor, fell, and dale—in the charge of one man, and he
hampered by having to rear a thousand pheasants per season. The smaller
birds hop sadly from twig to twig, dislodging tiny puffs of snow
every time they perch. They, poor things! suffer during this sort of
weather severely, not only from want of food, but from the persecutions
of buzzards and sparrow-hawks and others of the falcon kind. At
other seasons the lesser birds are able, by reason of corresponding
so closely in colour with their environment, to escape serious
diminution, but now, when everything is backed by white, there is no
such protection. Indirectly to-day the hawks’ keenness for harrying
brings them little good, as both J—— and myself are able to get good
shots and effective. Viewed closely, alive and dead, the sparrow-hawk
is a neat bird; its gray-brown and white feathers harmonize quietly
and well, and the poise of the body and wings, when alive, are pretty.
Then, the speed at which they pounce down on a bird they have selected
is worth watching. In the dense larch coppice we hear the cooing of
many cushats, but they do not come in sight. In the very darkest dell
a rowan-tree has established itself, and on its slender branches still
hang a few clusters of what were in autumn bright golden berries, but
which by this have lost their lustre. But the tree is alive with the
forms of birds, which keep up a low cuttering the while they strip the
fruit from the swaying stems.

Beyond the dark wood is a narrow belt of furze and cevins; and at
our entering into this domain there is a tremendous rushing of wings
as a covey of grouse takes the air just out of effective range. The
moor-birds on the most exposed shootings regularly at the approach
of the winter famine migrate temporarily to lower and more fruitful
grounds. The next incident was the crossing, within a hundred yards of
us, of a fox. It leapt out of the wood, and, dodging through the whins,
was away for its distant borran [pile of stones] before we had time to
move. But as it crossed the hollow in which we were standing we had a
good view. At a steady gallop the redskin skimmed along, nor seemed
barely to touch the frozen snow; at the edge of the ravine he hesitated
a moment, then in two bounds was down the declivity, and nimbly
balancing himself on a boulder in the bed of the ghyll. Here he hardly
seemed to pause to gather his limbs beneath his body, but without sign
of effort jumped well on to the steep bank opposite. As he regained
the level of the moor, he resumed the swinging stride which mayhap had
during the night carried him a dozen miles away.

The wan sunlight was now streaming over the great scaur on our right;
on every foot of the many miles within sight frost spangles glittered;
the river pools gleamed like polished silver. On the higher ground
the wind had piled many drifts; every rock was plastered white; every
bed of heather which had resisted the wind’s sweep was swamped in
it. Yet from many a long spit of even grass the hindering mantle had
been swept, and we walked with more ease than at any part of our
journey. To break the death-like stillness of a frozen moor any sound
is welcome—the croak of a raven, the bleating of a stray sheep, or the
wild skirl of a heron or curlew. It was the first-named sound which
attracted our attention. No such bird was visible; the sound seemed
to come from over the hillock we were ascending. In a few seconds the
bird of ill-omen was viewed by the beckside, busy at some carrion
meal. ‘Quietly,’ whispered my companion. ‘I want a raven for my
collection.’ The dusky one was so intent upon satisfying its appetite
that we got well within range before it rose. We had both prepared
to fire, though J—— was to have first shot. I kept my eye on the big
bird slowly gaining its regular flight, speed, and rhythm; my friend
hesitated—perhaps, as he afterwards said, he was in the midst of a
shivering bout, and did not care to risk a miss. Probably it was in
despair that he discharged one barrel at last in the direction of what
was fast becoming a quickly-moving black dot on the white mountainside;
but the result was startling. There was a sharp rustle of snow, a
crisp crackle of heather branchlets, and a covey of fine grouse shot
away, keeping low as they went. They, however, did not get off without
paying toll, as both my ready barrels got home, and J—— ’s single
chamber brought down a bird. Habit, I suppose, made me exchange the
empty shells for full ones at panic speed (considering the numbness of
my ungloved hands), but the habit was justified by results. The noise
of the routed grouse started the whole stock of game in the dell: a
stray rabbit scurried away towards the warren five hundred feet lower
down—the choke barrel stopped it, just as I feared distance was going
to bring immunity; a pair of snipe whirring up from a sphagnum morass
got my other shot. The effect was somewhat curious, for both birds
fluttered away at a slow, painful pace, evidently hard stricken. The
cock-bird came to earth sixty yards away, but the other, after a period
in which it seemed likely to fall, gradually regained its customary
wing-power, and we saw it no more. A curlew shot wailing upwards,
several plovers added their querulous cries, and long after we had
passed from the glen the excited bird-calls rang through the clear air.

Meanwhile, scrambling on hands and knees up the stiffest parts, we
had scaled a slack between two precipices, and by dint of hard work
reached the summit of the mountain. This was not a very great height,
yet commanded an extensive outlook. To northward lay a rolling moor,
its white expanse broken here and there by gray, where the heather
was only partly buried in the snow, by sharp-cut lines of occasional
larch plantations, or by blurs of clustering cevins. Beyond, against
the brilliant blue of the sunlit winter sky, stood a great disconnected
sea of mountains, their pure white garb varied by irregular blue-black
masses—great cliffs on which the snow could find no lodgment. Through
the glasses, however, the cliffs were broken up by snow-floored gullies
and rock-splits, and traversing ledges carrying fleecy loads, till it
seemed as if a white lacework had been drawn across the bold steeps.
One peak stood out from the sea of mountains, lording it over a series
of minor but rugged hills. On both sides, deep below, were snow-bound
valleys, and in the distance, dark and leaden, beyond the brightening
power of the winter sun, the sea. On isolated shoulders of the moors
one or two bright dots showed mountain tarns not yet frozen completely
over, and like ribbons of silver the main streams wound down the
valleys. On this upland the air was still, and hardly a sound came to
our ears. At any other season the rivulets dashing and fretting down
their rocky courses would have been easily heard, but now they were
frozen. At any other season the numerous sheep grazing about the hills
and slopes would have sent up occasional bleats; but these were now far
away— driven to the valleys on the approach of winter. Gone, too, were
the hawks and ravens and foxes, and the other wild creatures of the
uplands, nearer to the haunts of men, where the means of subsistence
were procurable.

Our glasses ranged over the wide area in view: little dots in far-off
meadows enlarged into men and animals, the shepherd dragging the small
hay-ration from the stackyard to his flock, the other servants doing
the various offices of the farms. One house seemed to be the rendezvous
for men and dogs slowly dragging across snow-covered fields. When
a small crowd had collected, we watched it leave the farmyard and
strike into the belt of larches, above which, somewhat scattered, it
appeared, moving faster and apparently without any canine following.
Instantly it came to me what was occurring—we were witnessing one of
the ruthless informal fox-chases for which the district is famous. A
fox had been plundering hen-roosts in its bloodthirsty fashion. A pack
of canines—collies, hounds, bobtails, cross-breds, terriers, of all
denominations and sizes, anything that could scent and run—had been
collected, put on the red-hot trail, and were now streaming somewhere
in front of those careering dots, pursuing the redskin, who, after a
night’s blood orgie, was at a terrible disadvantage. But, though again
and again we swept the bare hillside with our glasses, the scratch pack
eluded our vision, and it was not till they had gone some two miles
that we detected them. A number of restlessly moving dots was dashing
about a big borran or moraine of stones in which, seemingly, the fox
had taken refuge. They were almost opposite us, across the gulf of the
dale, and in full sight. We watched the men come up at their best speed
and examine the heap of stones. Apparently the chief entrance was on
the side nearer us, as they clustered mainly in that direction. Man
after man knelt down among the snow, and through the still air came
faint echoes of their shouts encouraging the terriers presumably at
work deep below. But now the men come away from Reynard’s fastness,
and we watch anxiously to see him, worried by his enemies, make a bolt
for life. But this he does not do, and a few minutes later a figure
detaches itself from the group and moves swiftly along the ridge,
disappearing from ken near the top of a sharp peak. His comrades stand
idly about the borran, save one or two who return to the opening among
the rocks to egg on the unseen terriers. It is quite a long time before
the man we watched away returns with what appears to be a stick in his
hand—a crowbar, by means of which the stones of the fox’s fortress will
be prised asunder. Instantly the whole company is at work, two working
the lever, the others throwing out the stones dislodged. Ten minutes’
frenzied labour sees a huge gap in the heap of stones; there is a
sudden movement among the men; their dogs, which have been lying in odd
hollows in the snow, cast themselves into the group; the air is rent
with a wild yell. Then all is peace to us, but an oscillating, tearing
patch of dog-flesh marks where Reynard’s carcase is being fought for.
‘Chopped at a borran’ is the fate of many a redskin wanderer of great
and evil repute among the mountains.

We have stood so long watching the events of this fierce hunt that our
limbs (unbeknown to our excited selves) have long been gripped by the
frosty air; our attempts at walking bring excruciating pains, which
gradually lose sting, however, as the stagnant blood is forced through
the veins of leg and arm and shoulder.

We had completely banished our chill, and were walking along the
hillside, gradually trending downwards, when I was surprised to note
a little mountain tarn almost at our feet. So close enfolded was it
in the swelling ridges that we had not suspected its existence. But
pleasure was added to the scene by the fact that on a small patch of
unfrozen water were several dark moving bodies—water-fowl of some
sort inviting a stalk. We turned abruptly down the slope, going far to
the right in order not to disturb our game. When beneath the level of
the tarn, we turned into a dell, where rattled a meagre rivulet—the
escaping surplus from the lakelet above. In the shelter of this
watercourse we hoped to get within shooting distance, but after a
hundred yards we had had enough of the scramble. The gully was floored
with huge boulders, which, now sheeted with snow and ice, presented
slippery faces in every direction, and every foot and handhold had
to be carefully scraped. The problem which finally baffled us was to
compass a pool occupying the whole width of the ravine, while from its
brink the cliffs rose sheer, presenting not a vestige of hold. I tried
a dozen methods to circumvent the cornice, but failed. It was quite
anxious work descending the ice-sheathed rocks, but after some twenty
minutes we were on the whitened hillside again, greatly chagrined that
the ducks were to escape. I persisted that another approach to the
tarnside more feasible than the river-bed might be found. It was in
half-despair that we skirted the ridge bounding the tarn-basin, but
in a minute or two my companion, whose high spirits had been somewhat
dashed by our failure, jerked my arm. Carefully reconnoitring from
the shelter of a summit, he had noticed a shallow furrow in the snow
which promised an approach. It did not take more than five minutes for
us to reach its depths, when we found that the hollow reached quite
down to the water’s edge, and that our advance would in large measure
be covered by boulders and dense bushes. We were within fifty yards
of the water when all shelter was passed; in front lay an unwrinkled
drift. I opined that, by crawling along to where a low wall had been
erected for more luxurious and leisurely shooters, we would be able
to get to the waterside. It was chilly work and tedious: care, above
all, had to be taken of our guns, for a speck of snow in the barrel
might mean a dangerous burst. Anyhow, half frozen to the elbow, we had
almost worked to our desired haven before the sounds of duck came to
our ears. The birds were feeding in the next bay to that we were so
toilsomely approaching, and our present goal would be of little use to
shoot from. Therefore we patiently skirted the snow-filled wall and got
to the side of a little ridge dividing their bay from ours. J—— was in
advance, and moved so incautiously that he had exposed his presence to
the birds before I got near. I heard a sharp clan-call, a splashing and
a rustling of wings, and the flock, I knew, were away. J—— fired twice,
and, leaping forward—caution was useless now—I espied the birds in
time to add a shot. However, only one bird fell, and it lay on the thin
ice edging the water. To retrieve it was a task requiring great nicety
of movement, and after many failures the ice immediately round the body
was separated from the sounder surface, and floated to within reach of
a rock not far from the side. This trophy secured, we were again afoot.

The day which broke so fair and bright was now becoming cloudy; the
mists gradually crept into the distant mountains, and descended to
one peak after another, till it became apparent that the ground on
which we were standing would ere long be enveloped in shifting gray.
This was the more disquieting because we had rambled far from the
direction we had intended, and a lofty ridge stood between us and our
home. It was imperative that we should pass this before the clouds
fell so far, so up we climbed, making for where we thought the path to
our valley lay. Long ere we reached the crest of the slope the dusky
masses had fallen around us, and we walked in semi-darkness. At first
we could still see some fifty yards through the creeping mist; then it
closed down further, and everything beyond a radius of a score yards
was blotted out. When, however, the breeze began to be filled with
fine snowflakes, this tiny circle was narrowed till my comrade, two
gun-lengths away, was little more than a darker shadow. We tramped
upwards for forty minutes; then the slope changed direction—we had
passed the ridge, evidently—and we turned to the left. Some half-hour
later we judged that we should be in the proximity of our path and
clear of the cliff, so we attempted very, very cautiously a descent.
The slope was steep, and careful stepping was required to guard against
slipping. We had perhaps ventured thirty yards, when the angle of
descent became dangerous, and I called a halt. J—— asserted that our
valley was right below, and we would soon get to less abrupt ground. I
had my doubts as to the latter point, and emphatically refused to risk
reaching home by way of a three-hundred-foot drop down the rocks. We
argued the point; then J—— gave way. Further and further to our left we
patrolled without much success, then rested a moment in the whirling
snow. We were inordinately puzzled as to our whereabouts, for we had
expected to find here a wide, easily-falling sweep of hillside instead
of a rocky precipice.

‘Why, we must have been wandering in a circle!’

Yes, there, not ten yards below, the thickening mantle of snow had
not yet completely blurred our footprints of half an hour agone.
We were surprised indeed. Now carefully checking our progress at
every few paces, we soon came to easier ground, and at last reached
the mountain-path we were in search of. It was level with snow, and
somewhat bad to follow, yet it served to shortly bring us below the
clouds. A thin snowshower was passing up the valley, dimming the
distance, but this was soon over and the sun shone out anew. But the
clouds clung to the upper slopes of our mountain for the rest of the

Our bag weighed somewhat heavily ere we covered the three miles to our
quarters, but we regretted this little. When we came below the clouds,
the first living thing in sight was a raven, next a curlew, and then a
flock of wild-swans swooping down to some unfrozen marsh. After this
we cleared the snow carefully from our gunbarrels, and nothing more
important than a blackbird was seen.


Day after day the cold increased. The lake-shore was fringed with ice;
in the thin sere woods the trodden leaves crackled crisp underfoot.
Then one morning the landscape was blotted out with a slow whirl of
white, hastened by scarce a breath of wind. It was delightful to climb
up to the moor as the white fleece piled up by inches. The larch-wood
at a hundred yards was a dim meaningless shadow, yet we discovered
unexpected beauties. During the night the snowfall ceased; the moon set
as the day broke. A freezing breeze crept over the miles of snow, and,
as it met tarn or beck, congealed their surfaces. On the broad lake
the ice-sheet thus encouraged spread even at the height of noon, while
after the sun set, and while the bright silent stars looked down, the
frost realm extended apace.

Next morning the air was clear. Miles upon miles of white
mountain-slopes extended along the horizon; woods and fields alike
were buried in snow. Everything seemed pure against the steel blue
of the ice-bound lake, or the lighter blue out there where the ducks
disported in water as yet unapproached by Winter’s fetters. The ice,
though in places sound, was still unsafe where the tiny mountain
streams poured in. Yet, with caution, we skated on mile after mile, the
sound of steel now ringing through the snow-floored woodland rides,
now echoing away across the wide area of ice as we ventured further
from shore. An island was now in front, crowned with dark spruces save
on the north-west corner, where many centuries ago, some Norseman
cleared a space for his habitation. The erection had gone long before
the earliest histories were written, but the location was proved by
the stray scraps of iron which the builder had used to bind the rough
timbers together. As we swing along the smooth ice, always keeping
outside the narrow snow-covered ribbon, we think of the Norseman’s iron
nails, then of the bloomeries (small smelting furnaces) established
by these shores centuries later under the supervision of the Abbot of
Furness—in days when it was profitable to bring the iron ore to the
woods, to be purified with charcoal. The industry seems not yet to be
extinct, for as we glide round a rocky naze into a large bay, the faint
breeze carries into our faces a pungent burden of wood-smoke. And
there ahead are half a dozen eddying columns rising from as many pyres.

Charcoal-burning is still an active industry in several of our
old-world countrysides. The coppices are allowed to grow for fifteen
years, at the end of which, the chief stems being some four inches
thick, they are felled. The woodcutters divide the trunks into short
sections, which are peeled of their bark, and laid while still
moderately green in cone-shaped piles, hollow to provide for a draught.
When the cone is completed, it is thatched with turf, all air being
excluded except from the centre, where the fire is kindled. When this
has thoroughly got ‘hod,’ as the woodsmen say, the ventilating-shaft is

The fire within now smoulders away, throwing off dense volumes of smoke
through the interstices of the sods. Thus, the oven will go on for
several days, during which period considerable vigilance is required.
At times, fanned by the wind, the buried fire gains power, and, if
not duly checked, is apt to burn through the coating of sods and send
out a ruddy tongue of flame. This activity causes a chemical change,
rendering the contents of the oven valueless as charcoal. To prevent
these outbreaks, the charcoal-burner keeps on hand a number of damp
sods, which he places as required upon overheated points. The other
extreme, preventing sufficient ventilation, is quickly marked by a
decreasing spiral of smoke, noting which the burner simply removes a
turf or two from the covering of the pile till the fire has regained
power and heat.

A call brings the charcoal-burner outside the rough hut of poles and
brushwood from which he is watching his fires. In a few minutes our
skates are off and we are climbing the steep to him. He says that since
our last visit two of his ovens have died out; combustion has ceased,
and a quantity of charcoal is fairly won. From this open-fronted
hut—he has several, to protect him from changes of the wind—he can
see every fire. ‘I’m frightened that one there is going to get into
a low [flicker of flame],’ he says as, sod in hand, he goes to the
cone in question. The man speaks in a grand native dialect, without
pride or apology in his words—a burly man in middle life, tanned and
weather-beaten, roughly but warmly dressed and shod. In his face is the
good humour of a heart where reigns perennial spring; his voice is full
and resonant; his eye beams with health and the contentment of outdoor

He is loath to speak of the romance of his own life. ‘Nay, nay,’ he
will reiterate, ‘there’s naught new in the woods. Year after year
goes, and not an alteration, save that coppices spring and are felled,
and men grow older.’ But he can be more easily drawn to speak of Lanty
Slee, the last known illicit distiller among the mountains, and how he
oft escaped capture; of the many ‘mains’ of cock-fighting still to be
seen from the retirement of a charcoal-burner’s hut. The Hermit of the
Woods forty years ago was a friend of John’s, and he still treasures an
oak staff which that curious character presented him. A broad spiral of
black, perhaps ‘done with smoke,’ as Friend John thinks, decorates it,
proving that the Hermit was not without knowledge of some secret crafts.

The charcoal-burner is a keen naturalist in his way. It was John who
for a number of years held to the statement that the badger frequented
our lonelier woods. His observation is now conclusively proved, and
to-day he shows us a dell where a plantigrade has been recently
afoot. ‘I heard a wild swan, whooping, this morning,’ he adds with
marked satisfaction. ‘There’s a stiffish frost astir when they come
so low.’ But the charcoal-burner’s craft he will say little of, and
what wonder, if he cannot raise enthusiasm on it? For hours during
the recent snowfall he was patrolling round his fires, checking this
and encouraging that to greater heat. Even now, in his airy tepee of
brush, he is at the same moment chilled with the frosty air and warmed
with, the fierce heat of the fire whereon a battered black kettle is
beginning to boil preparatory to the noonday meal.

During summer, he states, the life is grand. For weeks on end John
camps in the woods, a free gipsy. A flitch of bacon, a bag of flour,
are provision for a month. If the woodsman needs variety, there are
plenty of trout to be caught with a night-line in the nearby streams.
It is in late autumn and early winter that the charcoal-burner is most
busy. His wreaths of smoke climb upward from the bare spaces once
occupied by flourishing woodlands. The march of the seasons in the
woods and by the lake is closely noted by John, whose naturalist ear
notes which birds trill and which are silent, whose eye sees the coming
and going of the migrants. The pipits and the thrushes leave the moors
and the bushes, the wagtails the watersides, and in their places, from
the far north-east, come the snow-bunting and the fieldfare and various
species of duck.

John is now ready to patrol his circle of fires. By the side of the
first, however, we pause a moment, for it is laid on the flat crest of
a sharp rock-spur. To right and left the slopes are bleak and dismal;
the mask of snow cannot hide the scar of the woodcutter, the stumps of
sapling oak and hazel and ash. At our feet the lake extends, a long
narrow sheet, its head far away in the lap of the snowy mountains.
Three more of the charcoal-ovens are on this level. John strides on
ahead through the clinging snow, and is attending to the second fire
by the time we reach it. Between this and the third we cross a small
brook just below a waterfall. John says that the scene from this point
was a favourite with the Hermit of the Woods, who on more than one
occasion painted it. But we are perhaps more interested in the doings
of a tiny dipper which, alarmed at our presence, flirts hither and
thither about the pool beneath the fosse. One moment it dives, to
reappear right among the frothing, tumbling waters. Next it dances,
about a snow-covered stone almost level with the pool, finally, with an
impatient trill, it wings its way upstream to where strangers do not

John, like other wood and dale dwellers, cannot understand the
greatness of that philosopher (John Ruskin) who for so many years was
his neighbour. The musings and wanderings of that master mind were
beyond him; yet, if the mind was incomprehensible, I think the man was
frequently understood. John tells one story which cannot be too often
repeated. One hard winter a labourer, having to provide for a large
family, went to the Master of Brantwood to seek some little job till
the frost broke. The Professor received the man kindly, and, after
giving him a meal, took him to a little flat just above the level of
the lake. ‘Dig here,’ he said. The man got tools and commenced work,
and for several days he kept on digging. When the hole got too deep for
him to throw the soil and stones out, he got a ladder and a bucket, and
so kept on, bringing up the loose stuff in driblets. At last, when he
had got down some thirty feet, he reached bedrock. He then went up to
Brantwood, and reported the circumstance to the Professor, who returned
with him to the lake-shore. The great man looked into the dark hole
a moment, then turned to the labourer, and said: ‘Very good; fill it
up again.’ John, the charcoal-burner, can think of no reason for the
Professor’s strange fancy, but he applauds the action, for it kept the
poor labourer at work during a long spell of frost, and prevented the
poignant misery which ‘out of work’ entails on such a man’s family.

As John concluded his simple story we came to the last of the ovens,
and here we parted, the charcoal-burner to return to his vigil-hut on
the rocky spur, we to resume our skates for the five miles’ homeward

A year later I was in the neighbourhood of a large and somewhat
inaccessible mountain tarn. A spell of dry frost had set in, and as
yet no snow had fallen. On the first evening of my sojourn I left my
lodgings about six o’clock; it was quite dark in the hollow, and where
the trees thronged I had difficulty in keeping on the open road. In ten
minutes I had emerged from the lower ground, and was striding along a
moorland road, crossing a tongue of high ground which divided upper and
lower valleys. The stars shone bright above, the regiment of massive
fells bounding the dale was capped with frost-rime almost as pure as
snow; here and there, contrast to the swelling, soaring contours, were
tumbled rocky bields; a hundred yards beneath my path, at the foot of
a steep slope covered with tangled frozen bracken, rattled the stream
in its bouldery course. The great gulf of the dale ahead was filled
with a gray gloom, which the tiny lamps of heaven could not dispel.
My path gradually descended to the level of the stream, fording here
and there courses from which the torrents had ebbed. A crash and a
tinkle of shivering ice told me when I met these skeletons of former
greatness. I had got three miles up the dale, and had banished by
exercise the cold from my limbs before I came to my objective. A
single stone arch spanned a rock-chasm at the bottom of which a deep
pool churned and gurgled. So deep was the dusk reigning here that only
when an upspringing jet caught the vagrant starlight could I accurately
determine the depth. Here and there, in the recesses of the rocks,
the spray had formed huge icicles; one was shaped, as it seemed to
me, like the fantastic wraith of an enormous man. From this bridge I
had intended to return but ultimately decided, as there was plenty of
time, to go forward some little way. I walked sharply—the freezing air
permitted no loitering—and, between a couple of big boulders, rounded
the corner, and in a few minutes was out in a level hollow.

The scene in front was quite the wildest I have met with: save the
stream gurgling over a bed of shingles, there was scarce a sound to be
heard. The folded flocks were silent, the ‘low, continuous murmurings’
of the fellside torrents were hushed, the very air was held in a frosty
stillness. But the sky—here at last was a clear view to where the
primrose of the aurora gleamed and faded and gleamed anew. The whitened
mountain-peaks seemed rimmed with a wandering, golden irradiance for a
moment; then the hues died away, leaving a chilling aspect before my
eyes. Eastward, lo! along the hill-tops ran a line of fire, and the
sky above was glowing. Moonrise! Now backward to quarters as smartly as
foot can spurn the iron road.

Next morning, skates in hand, we took the direction of the mountain
tarn. For nearly two miles our way held up a side-valley, in which were
two or three sheep-farms. Here the shepherds were at work carrying
huge bundles of hay to their flocks. Now we reached the open moor.
The frost-rime lay thick on every blade of grass, and as we climbed
higher the air seemed to turn colder. The path was so littered with
loose stones that we shortly abandoned it, and struck up the steep
slope more directly. In half an hour we stood upon a shelf in the
mountainside which commanded a full view of the glen, and of miles
of gray-white mountains around it. The worst of the ascent over, we
struck across the frozen bogs, and very shortly stood by the mountain
tarn. Seen from the beach near its outflow, it was a splendid sheet of
ice, without a crack or a flaw anywhere. Its bluish surface seemed to
extend a great distance into the lap of some great rocky bluffs. In a
few seconds our skates were fixed on; our hands, unspoiled by the false
luxury of gloves, were not numbed and nerveless. Despite the cold air
circulating about us, we were distinctly warm with the exertions of
our brisk climb. How the echoes resounded the ringing sound of steel
meeting ice! A buzzard hawk, perched on the tip of a crag five hundred
feet above us, took fright and threw itself into the air. For awhile
it seemed as though other bird-life was absent. We coasted along
cautiously a hundred yards to prove the soundness of the ice; then, as
our confidence rose, extended our journeyings, though still keeping on
the lower section of the tarn. The only island on this water is a small
outcropping patch of rock, without a bush, but the inland home and
breeding-place of a family of gulls. We skated out to this and passed
around it. So far we had not seen the trace of a skate-track; we were
the pioneers here, and, if I knew the dalesmen aright, no other skaters
were likely to enjoy this delight.

Fully satisfied as to our security, we now set out to skate right
round the sheet of ice, my friend leading. Now and again we passed
over areas of Jack Frost’s most delicate tracery in hoar: thin white
lines joining the most elaborate little ‘knobs’ of frost-rime, which,
examined closely, bore close relation to the beautiful structure of a
flower. There was a subdued croaking going on in front; the still air
carried sound so well that we skated with the utmost care forward.
Both of us hoped to see a raven and were not disappointed. As we
swept into a shallow rock-fringed bay the bird rose with rapid wing
from his feast of frozen mutton. A dead sheep lay within ten yards of
the shore, gnawed and torn by a dozen tribes of mountain-dwellers.
Occasionally from a spot like this a winter wanderer may scare a fox,
but generally Reynard eats his fill during the hours of darkness and
in some snug corner of the rocky hillside above is sleeping. Our run
up the shore of the mere was fairly rapid, but I did not expect our
view to have changed so completely. We were now in the upper part of
the tarn; two jutting crags approached and narrowed its centre. The
hillsides were strewn with great blocks of stone, tributes from the
huge cliffs overhanging them. A deep narrow glen ran up some way from
the head of the tarn, then suddenly ceased as a mountain-front arose.
Feeding in the burn were birds—a gaunt heron the chief. The little knot
of wild-duck did not take alarm till we had run close enough to admire
their gorgeous sheeny plumage and soft contours. At the opening of one
bay I halted a few seconds and looked through the clear ice beneath me.
An unseen current was moving a tangle of yellow water-weeds and, almost
touching them was a large pike. A sharp tap on the ice with my skate
sent him sheering out into the deep waters. In shallow dubs I have
frequently seen the same thing, but not on large tarns; For some time
we had been striking in the direction of a high front of rock which
rose sheer from the water. Its front, seared with a vein of brilliant
white felspar, had been a landmark to us. Isn’t it curious to stand
on a sheet of thin ice and look down into the inky depths? There we
could see, for twenty feet, ledge after ledge and slab below slab, but
not the foundation of the rock itself. The ice all round had been in
splendid condition, and now we simply flew along beneath the frowning
scaurs towards the beach we started from.

Arriving here, skates were doffed and we made down the rugged path
again to the dale. Our experience had been an enviable one: there had
not been a single drawback. The travelling was rugged enough to keep us
warm, the skating glorious. When shall we have such another time?


The whole district of Craven, in North-western Yorkshire, is
honeycombed with innumerable earth-chambers. Ribblesdale, Wenningdale,
Wharfedale, and half a score of other dales named after their
respective rivulets, are undermined and tunnelled for miles by the hand
of Nature, and beneath their surfaces flow ‘sunless streams,’ no one
knows whither, and measureless to man. Often, in wandering over the
mountains there, we hear voices and gurglings from torrents which never
find their way at all to the upper world, and from out one cavernous
mouth in the hill Whernside flows a stream which in flood-time washes
out periodically old silver coins of the reign of Edward I., from some
long-lost treasury.

Near Giggleswick Scar is an ebbing and flowing well of exceedingly
irregular habits. If you lay your ear to the ground at a certain spot
in Ribblesdale, you will hear how the water comes down at Lodore in
fairyland, although not so much as a rivulet is to be seen outside of
Robin Hood’s Mill. Sometimes tremendous funnels, 200 feet in depth,
lead by a very direct route, and one which would take no time at all
to traverse, right down upon these mysterious streams. Black and deep
enough the water seems, as we peer over the edges of the ‘pot’ at it,
nor does it make one at all ambitious for subterranean exploration.
Hellen Pot, which contains in it an underground waterfall of no less
than 40 feet, has been descended to the depth of 330 feet, where the
black river revolves in a quiet pool, and does not reappear to mortal
eye for more than a mile. Some few of these ‘pots’ have fish in them;
large black trout abound in Hurtle Pot, where the boggart, in rainy
weather, is heard to threaten and fret, and are also found in less
quantity in the chasm above it, though the upward force of the water
is there so strong as to cast up stones of considerable size to the
surface, and even on to the bank.

These are some of the wonders within reach of Ingleton: Yordas Cave is
perhaps the most wonderful of all. If you are awheel, you turn westward
from the village to Thornton-in-Lonsdale. At the church here—note the
ancient stocks still standing at the crossways for the punishment of
malefactors—your road turns northward up a formidable hill. As seen
from the summit of this, Kingsdale presents a wild, and to some folks
a dreary, appearance. On the occasion of my visit mist-clouds hung
low, and even the lower hills about the valley could scarce be seen.
The lower part of the descent is easily rideable, and ere long you are
pedalling along a fair moorland road. Around you belts of limestone at
regular intervals seam the hillside, while closer are the dry brown
stones of a river-bed. This is but one of Ingletonia’s many freaks;
a mile back were anglers plying their craft. After a wet period this
river-bed flows with a torrent, but in a few hours the overplus has
dwindled away. The becks on all the surrounding hillsides disappear
down rock-chines as they near the dale, to rise to the surface again,
perhaps, a couple of miles away.

Opposite the first house in the valley is a notice-board, ‘Apply here
to view Yordas Cave.’ I crossed the fields to Braida Garth House in
accordance. Here I found Mr. Batty willing to guide me, and to give me
any information in his power. Various photos and plans of the cave were
shown me, and it was only after an hour’s interesting chat that we got
under way. My cycle was now left behind, and we made ‘crow-drive’ for
a larch-plantation a mile away. As we passed along the fields, mine
host pointed out the locality of various ‘pots’ on the opposite fell.
Rowton Pot, he assured me, was the deepest yet discovered among the
Craven hills. From the ground to where its tributary rills sink out
of sight and sound it descends 365 feet! It starts on the top of a
ridge, and its bottom is 20 feet below the level of the stream in the
valley beneath. About 100 feet down, Mr. Batty informed me, there was a
natural bridge across the chasm.

After crossing the fields we reached the dale-road, leaving this at
last opposite the larch planting. A wide gully, bristling with rocks
and fairly steep, leads you toward shadowy sylvan recesses, and just as
these are closing round, Mr. Batty turns to the left with a ‘Here we

In the cliff you note a receding gap where the stone has crumbled away.
This is the entrance to the cave. As you approach closer, you discover
that a way has been dug here. There are steps, and at the foot a cave.
Standing there, awaiting the naphtha-lamp Mr. Batty is kindling, you
hear the mysterious droning voice of the great giant Yordas calling you
to beware. But when, with a tallow candle in your hand, you pass the
opened gate, the great Norwegian has withdrawn, though signs of his
recent presence are with you for a long time. The throat of the cavern
is some twelve feet wide, and perhaps six to ten feet high. There is
no crawling to be done between dripping rocks and slimy floors. But a
word to anyone who goes cave-exploring: the mud you are footing is very
slippery, and care must be constantly taken to prevent downfall.

Mr. Batty ceases swinging the guttering light as he stands opposite a
curiously-shaped rock. ‘This is the Flitch of Bacon,’ he said. Probably
the giant was too much disturbed at our ingress to remove it, I
thought; but on touching it, alas! it was of stone. The wily Norwegian
did not trust Yorkshiremen or chance intruders. In rapid succession the
Brown Bear and the Organ-Pipes were discovered, some distance apart,
and with—greatest find of all—the Giant’s Hand between. Now I paused at
all this, and pondered how such things could be! Yes, surely the giant,
at the first distant sound of our approach, had been grinding out a
tune that his pet bear might dance before him. Then, when the clashing
of the sundered bars aroused him to his danger, with his left hand the
full power of his patent refrigerator, and so instant was that power
in action that Bear and Organ and Hand that had just left the gleesome
turning of the handle were solidified ere another movement could be
made. Then, as befits the grim ogre of a fairy domain, he abandoned the
useless limb and fled.

But while I am piecing the story together my companion is detailing
another labyrinth of evidence: The White Bear perilously anchored to
an iceberg; a Lion—or is it a wolf?—ranging in stalactitic majesty
along the cave wall. While Yordas was directing his circus, this
stony-hearted beast was arguing which way the river flowed with a white
lamb (the story is ancient, ergo the lamb has become an aged Horned
Ram). But at the alarum of our approach the debate was adjourned _sine
die_, probably because the Ram took refuge beneath the Canopy, while
his tormentor chased in the direction of the Chapter-House (which,
had he had his way, would speedily have become a charnel-house). The
next relic, Mr. Batty informed me in an awed voice, is the Pulpit, or
Throne; it is yet dinted with the impression of Yordas’s feet, for here
he stood till the storming of the cave began.

From gay to grave, from the realms of fairyland to the hard facts of
cave scenery, is always a difficult transition in such a locality
as this. We are now standing in the Chapter-House. The light of the
naphtha-lamp rises high, but not high enough to discover the roof.
At a neck-tiring angle you watch fluted walls rising into far-away
darkness. How wonderful is this modelling, done by Nature’s own forces!
Water, holding lime in solution, trickles plentifully down the rocks.
A crevice, a protrusion, however small, arrests its course, and a load
of white molecules is deposited as drop by drop percolates down, till
a crust of creamy white rounds off the awkward angle. The smallest
obstacles cause the magic flutings. A thousand minute springs are, as
we stand, busily extending the columns of the Chapter-House. Large
ledges are coated with limy deposit; the outward extensions, as their
foundations fail, droop over and fall into such formation as a fair
representation of a bunch of bananas (christened two centuries syne
the Hive of Bees). Through the gap between the Pulpit and the other
wall we look into outer darkness, where the rays of our lamp are
seemingly swallowed up. Then Mr. Batty kindles a piece of magnesium
wire. In a moment the gurgling, yellow naphtha glow is transcended by a
bright flare, which discovers, as you watch, pillars and encrustations
suspended on the ones you have admired. The blaze rises higher, and the
roof of the Chapter-House, some sixty feet above the damp floor, is
seen. What a mysterious vault this must have appeared to a traveller
of a hundred years ago, whose power of lighting was limited to a dozen
tallow candles like the one in your hand! Every yard of the cliff is
coated with creamy lime, on which, like diamonds, the sliding droplets
reflect the intense light. Again and again the coil of wire is resorted
to, and the eye wanders toward the gap to the greater cave. The top
stone of the Pulpit throws a gaunt shadow across a bed of sand and
shingle, in the midst of which a rivulet babbles briskly along. The
strong shaft of light also reveals a dim, mysterious distance, where a
congregation of rocks rises up to a world of gloom.

Mr. Batty’s pyrotechnics being completed, he leads towards the dark
rivulet, which to me rather gives a sombre thought. Coming in full
vigour from a crevice in the rocks, with a hurrying, worrying gait it
crosses that leviathan room, and a screen of rock acts as a barrier to
those who would see whither it is hastening. How like to the fretful
rush of every-day existence! By a plank we cross the stream and make
toward a hole in the limestone wall.

All the time we have been in the cavern the sound of rushing, falling
waters has been in our ears. At first it rumbled in a quiet monotony,
fraught with a crashing note of warning; now the sound seems changed to
the loud threatenings of some ancient Druid—of Yordas, maybe, hero-god
of the dale. Three steps lead into a recess. Down my neck a copious
splash of water pours. The ‘inner circle’ of the cave’s delights is
guarded after rain by a veil of falling drops. Then walk along a wood
bridge, and look up. Mr. Batty’s naphtha-lamp illumines a narrow rift
in the bowels of the mountain. In front from an unseen height a stream
is rushing down fifty feet of rock. The air is filled with spray as the
curtain of water is torn and buffeted by rock ledges, and thrown out
of its course. The whole ‘Chapel of the Force’ is not ten feet square
at its base, and the great converging slabs of rock continue up and up
till they seem to meet in darkness. Why cannot we be content with the
lights of our forefathers? Had the ceilings of the Chapter-House not
been revealed by the brilliance of modern fireworks, how imposing the
recollection would have been! And here, where the water spouts from a
dim height, churning down among fragments half unseen, the same thing
occurs. It shows a great interval riven between two huge columns of
rock, and that the leaping torrent issues from upper blackness through
it—shows that even this cleft has a visible roof fifty or sixty feet
away. But if magnesium’s steady combustion destroys delusions of
immeasurable height and breadth, it also accentuates the beautiful
gouge-marks on the damp walls, the proofs of an age’s activity by the
cascade. I cannot describe the scene: for a moment the roar of the
torrent seeming to slacken, then bursting into a climax of rattle and
splash and tinkle almost before the ear had noted the slackening sound;
the stream dashing headlong, and jetting from fragments and ledges into
a continuous pearly mist; the grim, immovable seams of tough limestone,
with here and there a splintered fissure or cornice torn away.

After a long pause we turned away, passed down a narrow pathway, and
reached the floor of the cathedral cave again. Our lamp seemed to
dwindle in importance, feebly illumining the grotesque stones on the
far side of the vault.

‘How grand this would seem if the whole cave could be lit up at once!’
I remarked to Mr. Batty.

‘I’ve seen it properly lit,’ was his reply; ‘but it’s many a year
ago. A few younger dalesmen hauled an empty tar-barrel from the farm
into the cave. On a bonfire in the middle we placed it, and while
the timber and tar lasted the light was splendid.’ Ah me! I remember
the flickerings and booming explosions of light attending such a
burning. How the great leaping flames would gild that giant dome, and
send fugitive shadows dancing in mad riot among the pinnacles and
pendant stalactites around! Mr. Batty showed me the Dropping-Well and
another allegorical limestone—to me it seemed like the contour of a
virgin, backgrounded by a gouge-work reredos. Then we came to the
rivulet again; and here, nearly on a level with the sand-floor, my
guide pointed out a confusion of paint-marks. Little colour there was
left, but the paint had preserved the stone from the usual washing.
‘... Painter, Burton-in-Lonsdale, 1812,’ is, after much adjusting
of light, finally shadowed on the slab. In ninety-one years Yordas
Cave has presumably become one-sixteenth of an inch wider, for the
paint-preserved portions are embossed to half that extent. The rivulet
sinks out of view behind a lowered portcullis of rock; there is a large
flow to-day, else, Mr. Batty assured me, we could have crawled down a
mile of tunnel to open air. Baffled here, we retrace our steps to the
bridge, cross the stream, and slowly make for the throat of the cave.
Mr. Batty hangs up the pole he carries to elevate his lamp to the level
of the chief encrustations, and as he does so he turns the light on to
a medley of uncouth paint-marks.

‘Wait a minute! I can read them,’ I remark, for the slant of light
brings them up clearly. ‘Initials, and date 1730.’

To Mr. Batty this is news, for no other date than that by the waterfall
has been noted. My tallow-dip is pretty soon glancing a feeble ray
against the smooth rock. About eighteen inches above the present floor
is a jumble of hieroglyphs of various ages—1730, 1675, and, earliest
of all, 1653. The last date had been the handiwork of one Robert
Whitandal. (Quoth Mr. Batty: ‘The Whitandals once were well known in
this valley; a family lives nearby even now. They are said to have held
much property here once, and within my recollection one of the name
was steward for this estate.’) Robert Whitandal had put some labour
into his handiwork, an attempt at a double triangle and an ornamental
initial I being added. Another dales family was represented by the name
of Robert Foxcroft; the rest were either indecipherable or initials
only. Most of the cuttings are now level, or even above the level of
the stone; the chisel or knife has pressed the yielding stone to a
somewhat tougher consistency than the surface around.

After this my guide departed, and I returned alone to Braida Garth,
remounted my wheel, and returned to Ingleton.

Naturally, I was proud of my discovery of the new dates. The last
flood in the cave had probably washed the accumulated grit away and
allowed me the honour. But on looking into an old book of descriptions,
published by Thomas West in 1795, I saw the following:

‘_The Western Side of the Cave._—This is a solid perpendicular rock of
black marble, embellished with many rude sketches, and names of persons
now long dead, the dates of some being over two hundred years old.’

                                THE END


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