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Lakes and Mountains in Cumberland and Westmoreland

RASMERE is one of the most beautiful of the lakes - a gem set in a girdle of mountains, solemn, quiet, and pensive. On its north side are Borrowdale Fells and Helm Crag, a hill with rocks crowning its summit, of quaint fanciful forms; on the south the beautiful upland of Loughrigg descends in a sheer precipice to the water; on the west is the steep hill called Silver How; on the east the hills that rise one above another to the top of Fairfield.

Grasmere is a mile long and three quarters of a mile broad; and on the east, where the hills mount up, were once great masses of wood, now cut down. The summit of Helm Crag has been compared to an old woman, and to an astrologer. Wordsworth has taken up the idea and immortalised it in his "Waggoner." He thus describes it:-

"Above a single height
Is to he seen a lurid light;
Above Helm Crag - a streak half-dead,
A burning of portentous red
And near that lurid light, full well,
The astrologer, sage Sidrophel,
Where at his desk and book he sits,
Puzzling aloft his curious wits;
He whose domain is held in common,
With no one but the ancient woman,
Cowering beside her rifted cell,
As if intent on magic spell;
Dread pair, that spite of wind and weather,
Still sit upon Helm Crag together."


There is something hushed and solemn in the impression that Grasmere makes on the mind; it is so shut in from the world, by its hills, and indeed, in the days before tourists came to break the stillness of lakes and mountains, the shores of Grasmere might have been an ideal place of abode for a hermit or a meditative poet. Wordsworth lived here for nine years, from 1799 to 1818. He has told us of this abode at Grasmere in the "Waggoner":-

"There where the Dove and Olive Bough
Once hung, a poet harbours now;
A simple water-drinking bard."

His house was afterwards the home of De Quincey. In the churchyard of Grasmere are the graves of Wordsworth and his family. He and his wife sleep in one grave; to the left of it is his daughter's tomb (Mrs. Quillinan), and near it that of his devoted sister, Dorothy. In the church there is a marble tablet, with a medallion profile of the poet, placed there by his neighbours, with an epitaph. by the Rev. J. Keble, the author of the "Christian Year." A cruciform tombstone marks the grave of Hartley Coleridge, a little behind those of the Wordsworths.

Easdale Tarn is near Grasmere, and over a steep ledge of rock at its head falls, in a sparkling and strong cascade, Sour Milk Force. (Force is the north-country word for a waterfall.) By taking a steep path by Easdale Fall, and then walking for about a mile and a half across the moor, we shall reach Easdale Tarn; and a little higher is Codale Tarn. It is a stiff climb, but the view of the tarn repays the exertion, for it is surrounded by lofty and picturesque cliffs, and is utterly lonely and secluded. To the right there is a branch of the valley called Far Easdale, which is very wild and picturesque. These tarns are full of fish, as are the streams, and the river which flows from Grasmere Lake into Rydal Water.

From the summit of Red Bank a most magnificent view is obtained of Grasmere, of the surrounding mountains, and of Helvellyn and Skiddaw in the distance.

Wordsworth's Wishing Gate is on the right of the Middle road leading from Grasmere to Ambleside. The old gate has disappeared, but a new one marks the spot and bears the initials and names of many visitors. Wordsworth's lyric on it is well known.

Loughrigg is, as we have said, a steep upland from which a fine view can be obtained; from a green bridle path called the Terrace, on its north slope, Grastuere and Rydal Lake can be seen.

"Ascend a lofty slab of rock not many paces onward, and you have lying before you the delicious vale of Rothay, a stream gliding through the greenest meadows, with Fairfield beyond, expanding its huge arms as of a giant's chair." - Talfourd.

From another height we look down on placid Rydal Mere; in its centre is a small island, the nest of herons, and after glancing at Helm Crag and the valley of Grastuere, we behold the vast form of Skiddaw in the distance, and just a glimpse of the summit of Helvellyn.

Rydal Mount was for nearly thirty years the home of Wordsworth. Here the poet died in his 80th year, amidst the glorious scenes his pen has painted in undying colours.

Keswick lies almost under Skiddaw. It has long been famous for the manufacture of lead pencils, great numbers of which are made here. But it is still better known as the abode for thirty years of Southey, the Poet Laureate, one of the very best of men, as he was one of the most industrious. He was seldom seen without a pen in his hand, and by his generous labour he was the support of the greater number of his relatives. Southey's poems are no longer popular, but some of his prose works have become classics, especially his "Life of Nelson," which is a splendid piece of biography. His home at Greta Hall was a most picturesque and lovely one; the Greta flowed past it, and from his garden he had a glorious view of mountain and river. He is buried in Keswick churchyard, and has a monument with a recumbent statue on it, erected by public subscription, and the following epitaph by Wordsworth:-

"Ye vales and hills whose beauty hither drew
The poet's step, and fixed him here, on you
His eyes have closed! And ye, loved books, no more
Shall Southey feed upon your precious lore;
To works that ne'er shall forfeit their renown,
Adding immortal labours of his own-
Whether he traced historic truth, with zeal
For the State's guidance and the Church's weal,
Or Fancy, disciplined by studious art,
Informed his pen, or wisdom of the heart,
Or judgments sanctioned in the Patriot's mind
By reverence for the rights of all mankind.
Wide were his aims, yet in no human breast
Could private feelings find a holier nest.
His joys, his griefs, have rankled like a cloud
From Skiddaw's top; but he to heaven was vowed,
Through a life long and pure; and Christian faith
Calmed in his soul the fear of change and death."

Derwentwater and Skiddaw

Derwentwater (formerly called Keswick Water) is not more than four hundred yards from the town of Keswick, and though not as large as Windermere, is the most beautiful of the lakes, from the lovely islands on it, and the grand hills that encircle it. Amongst these are Skiddaw and Scafell; and in the south a range of pointed and irregular heights. Beautiful Derwentwater is for ever associated with the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater, who suffered for having taken part in the Jacobite rising of 1715. Lord's Island belonged to him, and the house is said to have been built out of the materials of a larger house at Castlerigg, which the family left for Dilston in Northumberland, when their heiress intermarried with a Radcliffe. The ruins of their house, or at least the foundations of it, can be still seen; but no one now inhabits the island, and the strange mournful "caw" of the rooks sounds like a wail over the lost race. A ravine of Walla Crag is called the Lady's Rake, for by it, it is said, the Countess of Derwentwater escaped from the enraged tenants of Lord Derwentwater, when they heard that their adored chief had been taken prisoner; for to the lady the joining of the unfortunate earl and his friends with the rebels was justly ascribed. He had been brought up with James II.'s son, and was devotedly attached to the Stuart family; but both he and his friends saw that the time for asserting their lost rights was not then, and that only failure could be txpected. Lady Derwentwater, enraged at the hesitation shown, with a woman's enthusiasm, and, alas! a woman's want of judgment, reproached him and his friends with cowardice, and flinging her fan at his feet bade him take that and give her his sword. The earl bravely picked it up and returned it to her, and drawing his sword cried, "God save King Tames."

There is a strange tradition that at periods of great peril or importance to the family of Radcliffe, a supernatural figure used to appear to them and warn them of the approaching fate. Such a figure appeared to Lord Derwentwater as he was wandering one evening in the solitude of the hills, clad in the garb it always wore - a robe and hood of grey. The visitant from the spirit world reproached the earl for his delay in joining, the rebellion, and gave him a crucifix which was to render him proof against bullet and sword. As he received it, the appearance vanished, and he was alone. He joined the insurgents under Mr. Forster; they were defeated by the royal troops, after a heroic resistance, at Preston, and the earl, with the other leaders, was taken to London and committed to the Tower.

He was tried and condemned to death for treason. Every effort was made to save him; his wife implored George I.'s mercy on her knees, and Sir Robert Walpole declared in the House of Commons that he had been offered £60,000 if he would obtain Lord Derwentwater's pardon. But all efforts were vain. He died by the axe on Tower Hill, Feb. 24th, 1716.

The earl's brother, Charles Radcliffe, was executed for the same offence thirty years afterwards, having escaped at the time from prison. The male heirs of the family be came extinct in 1814. Their lands had passed in 1716 into the hands of the English Government, and were conferred on Greenwich Hospital. Our readers will probably remember the claim made on Government for the estates by the soi-disant Countess of Derwentwater, some years ago. But they had been forfeited by high treason, and not by default of heirs.

St. Herbert's Island on Derwentwater is said to have been inhabited by St. Herbert. He was the friend of St. Cuthbert, whom he visited once every year; he lived here in a hut built of stones and turf, with a roof of poles and straw; a few remains of this rude hermitage still exist here, and in the fourteenth century many pilgrims visited his oratory or shrine, and masses were celebrated on the island. It is said that St. Herbert and St. Cuthbert died on the same day.

"He had
A fellow labourer, whom the good man loved
As his own soul; and when, with eye upraised
To heaven, he knelt beside the crucifix,
While o'er the lake the cataract of Lodore
Pealed to his orisons, and when he paced
Along the beach of this small isle, he thought
Of his companion, he would pray that both
(Now that their earthly duties were fulfilled)
Might die in the same moment. Nor in vain
So prayed he: as our chronicles report,
Though here the hermit numbered his last day,
Far from St. Cuthbert, his beloved friend,
These holy men both died in the same hour."



The beautiful scenery of the neighbourhood of this waterfall is as remarkable as its own splendid rush of water. Southey has told admirably in his lines - that actually almost imitate the sound of the cascade:-


From its sources which well
In the tarn 1 on the fell;
From its fountains
In the mountains,
Its rills and its gills,
Through moss and through brake
It runs and it creeps
For awhile, till it sleeps
In its own little lake;
And thence at departing,
Awakening and starting,
It runs through the reeds,
And away it proceeds,
Through meadow and glade,
In sun and in shade;
And through the wood shelter,
Among crags in its flurry,
Helter skelter,
Hurry, skurry.

Here it comes sparkling,
And there it dies darkling;
Now smoking and frothing,
Its tumult and wrath in,
Till in this rapid race
On which it is bent,
It reaches the place
Of its steep descent.

The cataract strong,
Then plunges along,
Striking and raging,
As if a war waging,
Its caverns and rocks among;
Rising and leaping,
Sinking and creeping,
Swelling and sweeping,
Showering and springing,
Flying and flinging,
Writhing and wringing,
Eddying and whisking,
Spouting and frisking,
Turning and misting,
Around and around,
With endless rebound!
Smiling and fighting,
A sight to delight in,
Confounding, astounding
Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound.

And thumping and plumping and bumping and jumping,
And dashing and flashing and splashing and crashing,
And so never ending. but always descending,
Sounds and motions for ever and ever are blending,
All at once and all o'er, with a mighty uproar-
And this way the water comes down from Lodore.

The water falls through a chasm between two perpendicular rocks, Gowder Crag, on the east, and Shepherds' Crag on the west; oaks, ash trees and birch overhang the fall.

Four miles from Keswick is the valley of St. John, the scene of the enchantment that held asleep for a hundred years the lovely princess of fairy lore. The castle was supposed to change its appearance to a pile of rocks whenever mortal footstep approached it; and at the end of the valley is still to be seen a crag resembling a castle on a hill, but really a rock on the top of many others symmetrically arranged.

Sir Walter Scott, in his "Bridal of Triermain," has thus described the vale when the destined knight came to break the shell.

"Paled in by many a lofty hill,
The narrow dale day smooth and still,
And, down its verdant bosom led,
A wandering brooklet found its bed.
But, midmost of the vale, a mound
Arose with airy turrets crowned,
Buttress, and ramparts circling bound
And mighty keep and tower;
Seemed some primeval giant's hand
The castle's massive walls had planned,
A ponderous bulwark to withstand
Ambitious Nimrod's power."

Under Saddleback is a farm-house, once called Threlkeld Hall, where its owner, Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, left his little sevenyear-old stepson, for shelter from the Yorkists' vengeance, excited by the Black Cliford's crime in killing Rutland. Here lived and grew the shepherd lord.

Wastwater is a large and gloomy lake, 204 feet above the level of the sea; it is the deepest of the lakes, and the one that most impresses us with a feeling of solemnity akin to awe. On the south-east it has for a boundary a ridge or precipice named the Screes. This ridge has been called "a mountain in decay," and in fact, masses that have long ago fallen from its heights are scattered all over the hill-sides, and pieces of rock still roll from it into the deep waters below, with a sound that can be heard more than a mile off. The shores of Wastewater are bare and treeless, and it has altogether a mournful aspect of desolation. The chief rivers that feed it are Overbeck and Netherbeck, both issuing from mountain tarns. The scenery at the head of this lake is wonderfully fine and grand; we have no other mountain scenery that can quite equal it in our island; here are Great Gable, a fine conical mountain, Kirkfell, Lingmell, and, towering over the last, Scafell.

This last is the grandest of the English mountains, and the central mass from which the Cumbrian ranges branch out. It is, at the part overlooking Burnmoor and Eskdale, 3,161 feet above the sea level. Its highest summit is the Pike; Great End, the most northerly point, rises above Sty Head, and Lingmell above Wasdale. A deep gorge, called Mickledore, divides the two heights; this gorge is easy to cross, but the ascent of the rocks on the Scafell side is difficult climbing, except to natives of the spot: there are two or three paths to choose from. The Chimney is a narrow gully below the ridge, not easy to get through; the "Broad Stand" route starts at a narrow vertical fissure below the ridge, and then three high steps of rock have to be ascended.

The third way is longer, but easy to climb; still the ascent of Scafell is more difficult to strangers than either Skiddaw or Helvellyn, and should not be undertaken, unless in remarkably clear and fine weather, without a guide. This third route descends on the Wasdale side of the ridge to a gully called Lord's Rake; when one has ascended this, the great ravine of Deep Gill, flanked on the north by the Scafell Pillar, rises on the left.

A pile of stones on the Pike marks the summit of the mountain; it was placed there by the Ordnance Surveyors. The summit of Scafell not only commands a most glorious view, but it has singularly beautiful lichens and mosses of the most brilliant colours, growing on and amidst the huge blocks of stone lying on it. It is worth making the ascent to see these mossy gems, while one is also rewarded for the exertion by beholding all that is most grand and beautiful in the Lake District; lovely valleys as those of Borrowdale and the Duddon; the Ennerdale mountains, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, the Scotch mountains, sometimes even the sea.

Ullswater is more like the Swiss lakes than most of the others. It is a grand piece of water, though not so large as Windermere; it is seven and a half miles long, and varies in breadth, always, however, Within a mile across, 210 feet is its greatest depth. It unites the beauties of all the other Waters, being as gaily beautiful as Windermere, and as grand in its mountains as Wastwater.

From Hallin Fell there is one of the most perfect views of Ullswater, and here is a pillar erected in honour of Lord Brougham. Proceeding through Sandwick by a path just above the lake, and passing under Birk Fell and Place Fell, we reach Bleawick; but the path is narrow, and in places very steep, and requires great care, in traversing it, lest we might make too close an acquaintance with the lake; and one has need to be the more careful, inasmuch as one is constantly tempted to gaze about one on the lovely scenery. The mountain glens round Ullswater are very romantic and beautiful, and there are lovely flowers here. The daffodils that waved their golden heads on the banks of the lake in spring suggested a poem to Wordsworth; in Patterdale the botanist will find Polypo-dium phegopteris and Anagallis tenella and other plants he will value.

Three miles from Patterdale is Lyulph's Tower, situated about 100 yards above the lake. It is fitted up as a hunting and shooting lodge. In the park some charming spots are to be found, beds of various ferns, hawthorns and hollies wreathed with honeysuckle and wild roses; trees and mossy banks, and all sorts of wild flowers in the thickets. There are fallow deer in the park also, and the lake is seen below, sparkling in the summer sunshine.

Another fine view of Ullswater is had from Gowbarrow Park, across which a path leads by a deep winding glen to Ara Force. one of the loveliest of the waterfalls. The water falls perpendicularly from a height of eighty feet, through a chasm of the rocks. At the top the stream is divided by a narrow ridge, but before the two streams have fallen far, they unite, and, forcing their way over a projecting rock, they expand into a great sheet of foaming water; a cloud of spray rises from it and drops into the chasm.

Ara Force is the scene of Wordsworth's poem "The Somnambulist."

The sound of the falling water is like very solemn music, and we can, as we listen, better comprehend the truth of the lines:"

List ye who pass by Lyulph's Tower
At eve, how softly then
Doth Ara Force, that torrent hoarse,
Speak from the woody glen!
Fit music for a solemn vale,
And holier seems the ground
To him who catches on the gale,
The spirit of a mournful tale,
Embodied in the sound."


Scafell, as we have said, is higher by ninety feet than Helvellyn, but the latter mountain has long taken its place in the public imagination as the chief English mountain, and it is in truth a noble one, though but a hill compared with the Swiss Alps. The most picturesque ascent is made by Grisedale, a valley that runs from Patterdale up to Helvellyn, and separates it from St. Sunday's Crag and Fairfield. There is a fine view of the mountain as we enter Grisedale Valley, and on reaching the foot we find a fairly good road up to the summit of a ridge that leads to the top of Helvellyn. This must be surmounted, and then the traveller may take one of two roads. The shortest is, however, to ordinary pedestrians a dangerous one, for it is by a path along Striding Edge; and though the pathway is wide enough for a firm footing, it requires a steady head and strong nerves to traverse it safely. Lives have been lost here. There is an iron cross erected to the memory of Robert Dixon, who was killed here while fox hunting in 1858; and Gough, the hero of Scott's touching poem, is supposed to have fallen over the precipice when crossing Striding Edge. He was found with his faithful dog watching beside him close by Red Tarn at the foot of the precipice.

The other road up the mountain is to descend a little way on the other side of the ridge and take the path by Swirrel Edge, which leaves Red Tarn, a tiny lake far above the level of the sea, on the left. A steep climb from this tarn lands us on the top of the great hill; and we find a mossy plain that inclines slightly to the west, but with sheer precipices to the east.

If the day is fine, or the mist that may have marred the expedition should condescend to open, the view from Helvellyn is magnificent. The great hills Skiddaw, Saddleback and Scafell loom out of the mass of mountains in stately pride. Six lakes can be seen; nearly all Ullswater and great part of Windermere, Esthwaite, and Coniston. Derwentwater cannot be seen, Borrowdale Fells conceal it. The prospect extends over the grandest and wildest part of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The rivers Duddon, Esk, Kent, Leven, the Solway Firth, the Scotch mountains, and Yorkshire and Northumberland hills lie before our eyes, and it is said that on especially clear clays the sea line of the ocean has been detected in the east.

The plants on Helvellyn will delight a botanist; some of them are very rare -all, when blooming, lovely.

There is a very cold and pure spring about three hundred yards from the summit, called Brownrigg Well; a stream flows from it down the side of the mountain.

The view, the flowers, the pure bracing air, will well repay the toil of ascending this great English hill, and the light and shade, the sunshine chasing the swiftly fleeting shadows of the clouds that pass over the turf at the summit, are all full of suggestions to thought. There is assuredly a feeling of being nearer Heaven on these heights than on the plains. We seem to have left the dull common places of the world below, and can think clearly and quietly in the eternal solitudes.

And what thoughts of Heaven must have been those that filled the mind of one of the mountain's last victims - the sworn servant of the Highest - when he traversed the heights on which he was to sleep his last still slumber? Holy they must have been, as his life was; and surely angels watched above him and received the spirit that passed from Helvellyn to God.



In the spring of 1805 a young gentleman of talents, and of a most amiable disposition, perished by losing his way on the mountain Helvellyn, His remains were not discovered till three months afterwards, when they were found guarded by a faithful terrier-bitch, his constant attendant during frequent solitary rambles through the wilds of Cumberland and Westmoreland.

I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide;
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling,
And starting around me the echoes replied.
On the right, Striding-edge round the Red-tarn was bending,
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
One huge nameless rock in the front was ascending,
When I marked the sad spot where the wanderer had died.

Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountainheather,
Where the Pilgrim of Nature lay stretched in decay,
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain winds wasted the tenantless clay.
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.

How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?
And, oh! was it meet, that - no requiem read o'er him-
No mother to weep, and no friend to deplore him,
And thou, little guardian, alone stretched before him
Unhonoured the Pilgrim from life should depart?
When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall:
Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly-arched chapel the banners are beaming,
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall.

But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb,
When, wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.
And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying,
Thy obsequies sung by the gray plover flying,
With one faithful friend but to witness thy dying,
In the arms of Helvellyn and Catchedicam.

* * * * * * * *

1. Near Watendlath.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004