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The Lakes of Lancashire

ROM Peel, a little cape where the boats arrive from Fleetwood, is a delightful route to the Lake District, because, in the first place, it gives us a short time on the water, secondly, because it is the best approach to Duddon Bridge, where the coast of Lancashire ends. The Duddon has been immortalised by Wordsworth's series of sonnets, and is worthy of the fame he has given it. By the bridge we approach Black Combe, the most gloomy and stern-looking of the Cumberland mountains, 2,000 feet in height, and affording from its summit most wonderfully extensive and grand views.

Wordsworth has thus described the view from Black Combe:-

"Here the amplest range
Of unobstructed prospect may he seen
Which British ground commands: low, dusky track,
Where Trent is nursed, far southward! Cambrian hills
To the south-west, a multitudinous show;
And, in a line of eyesight linked with these,
The hoary peaks of Scotland that give birth
To Teviot's stream, to Annan, Tweed, and Clyde;
Crowding the quarter whence the sun comes forth,
Gigantic mountains rough with crags; beneath,
Right at the imperial station's western base,
Main ocean, breaking audibly, and stretched
Far into silent regions, blue and pale;
And visibly engirdling Mona's Isle."

"On the east side of the mountain," says Murray's Guide, "is a craggy amphitheatre which some geologists have thought to be the crater of an extinct volcano, from a curious cone-shaped mound that rises in the centre of the hollow. Some of the rocks have the appearance of vitrification, but there is no reason to suppose that any active volcano has ever existed here. The lower side or edge of the basin is broken off, and an extensive porphyry dyke runs down into the vale at the south."

The railway conveys us to Coniston and to the foot of the Old Man, a mountain 2,649 feet above the sea-level, and of so peculiar a form that it is easily recognised (when once pointed out) from the crowd of other heights. The path up the Old Man is not at all difficult, and the view from its height is superb. The whole of the Furness peninsula, Morecombe Bay, with its glittering water and fatal sands, the estuaries of the Duddon, Leven, and Kent, Walney Island in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, and a long line of coast broken by capes and promontories, are seen. Over the Leven one can just catch sight of Lancaster Castle. But these grand prospects can of course only be seen in clear weather, and mist and vapour too often envelop the mountain.

Coniston Water - what a sweet name it is! - is six miles long, but in no part of it a mile wide. A lovely little lake, with greenest banks, brown heathy slopes and winding ravines, its pure waters sparkling in the sunlight, and around it the glorious heights.

The view down the lake is very fine from the grandeur of the surrounding mountains, especially the Furness Fells. Coniston has on its tranquil bosom two little islands, one of them, which is a perfect grove of Scotch pines, is called Fir Island. Many small streams feed Coniston, the two largest being Coniston Deck and Black Deck. The Crake river flows out of this lake at Nibthwaite. At Tent Lodge near the lake Tennyson once lived, and Brantwood is the abode of Ruskin. Peel Island stretches boldly to the western shore, beyond which are green scattered woods and rocks, fishermen's cottages and farmsteads, and the Yewdale Crags, and the great Old Man mountain rising over them, and shutting in the scene.

The Duddon - the river Wordsworth has immortalised in his sonnets - may be seen from the road leading from Coniston to Broughton, which is over high Ground. The scenery is beautiful. From the river the fair and fertile lands of Lancashire and Cumberland stretch on each side from its margin in hill and dale and stream till they are lost in the heights of Black Combe and the high lands between Kirkby and Ulverston.

View of River Duddon

But Wordsworth is of opinion that the traveller would best see the Duddon who should approach it by the road from Coniston over the Walna Scar. "First," says the poet, "descending into a little circular valley, a collateral compartment of the long winding vale through which flows the Duddon. This recess, towards the close of September, when the after-grass of the meadows is still of a fresh green, with the leaves of many of the trees faded, but perhaps none fallen, is truly enchanting. At a point elevated enough to show the various objects in the valley, and not so high as to diminish their importance, the stranger will instinctively halt. On the foreground, a little below the most favourable station, a rude foot-bridge is thrown over the bed of the noisy brook foaming by the wayside. Russet and craggy hills of bold and varied outline surround the level valley, which is besprinkled by grey rocks plumed with birch trees. A few homesteads are interspersed, in some places peeping out from among the rocks like hermitages, whose site has been chosen for the benefit of sunshine as well as shelter; in other instances the dwelling house, barn, and byre compose together a cruciform structure, which, with its embowering trees, and the ivy clothing part of the walls and roof like a fleece, call to mind the remains of an ancient abbey.

"Time, in most cases, and nature everywhere, have given a sanctity to the humble works of man that are scattered over this peaceful retirement. Hence a harmony of tone and colour, a consummation and perfection of beauty which would have been marred had aim or purpose interfered with the course of convenience, utility, or necessity. This unvitiated region stands in no need of the veil of twilight to soften or disguise its features. As it glistens in the morning; sunshine it would till the spectator's heart with gladsomeness. . . . Issuing from the plain of this valley, the brook descends in a rapid torrent, passing by the churchyard of Seathwaite. The traveller is thus conducted at once into the midst of the wild and beautiful scenery which gave occasion to the sonnets from the 14th to the 20th inclusive. From the point where the Seathwaite brook joins the Duddon is a view upwards into the pass through which the river makes its way into the plain of Donnerdale. The perpendicular rock on the right bears the ancient British name of the PEN; the opposite one is called Walla-Barrow Crag, a name that occurs in other places to designate rocks of the same character. The chaotic aspect of the scene is well marked by the expression of a stranger who strolled out while dinner was preparing, and at his return, being asked by his host, 'What way he had been wandering?' replied, 'As far as it is finished.'

"The bed of the Duddon is here shown with large fragments of rocks fallen from aloft, which," as Mr. Green truly says, "are happily adapted to the many-shaped waterfalls" (or rather water-breaks, for none of them are high) "displayed in the short space of half-a-mile." That there is some hazard in frequenting these desolate places, I myself have had proof; for one night an immense mass of rock fell upon the very spot where, with a friend, I had lingered the day before. "The concussion," says Mr. Green, speaking of the event (for he also, in the practice of his art, on that day sat exposed for a still longer time to the same peril) "was heard, not without alarm, by the neighbouring shepherds."-Notes to the River Duddon.

Windermere is more than three parts in Lancashire. It is the largest of the lakes, being ten miles and a half long by water, and thirteen by its shores. Its breadth varies, but it is never more than two miles broad. It is from five to thirty-seven fathoms deep. Its circumference is twenty-six miles, and its waters cover am area of from four to five thousand acres. Its chief feeders are the Rothay and Drathay, which unite at the landing-place. A stream from Trontbeck enters the lake at Calgarth Park.

The waters of this lake keep nearly always the same level, whether there is rain or not. They flow out by the river Leven and fall into Morecambe Bay. Trout, pike, eels, perch, and char abound in the lake, and all kinds of wild fowl resort to its islands and secluded bays.

'The islands are clustered together in the middle and narrowest part of the lake.

Windermere is the deepest of the English lakes, except, we believe, Wastwater; but its water is so clear that at some parts of it the bottom can be plainly seen, and the fish darting about in it may be watched easily.

The best land view of the lake is from the east side, but fine views may be obtained from Langdale Pikes; as seen between Waterhead and Bowness, from the islands looking down the lake, and from the head of the lake.

Of the numerous islands Belle Isle, or Curwen's Island, a very sequestered spot, and Lingholm, two miles from the ferry house, a small rocky island covered with wood, afford some fine views.

Belle Isle is nearly opposite Bowness. It is prettily wooded, with a mansion in the middle of it. It was a stronghold of the Royalists during the civil war, and belonged to the loyalist family of Phillipson, an ancient Westmoreland family.

It takes some time to explore the bays and promontories of this lake. "Live by it fifty years, and by degrees you may come to know something worth telling of it," says Professor Wilson (Christopher North), from whose grounds at Elleray the whole of Windermere Lake can be seen.

"Here," says Channing, "the land gently swells into the lake, and there the water seems to seek a more deep repose in bays and coves which it has formed by a kindly soliciting influence from the land. There are occasionally points of boldness enough to prevent tameness, but the land and water seem never to have contended for empire." The woods above and round the lake are very thickly massed, and the light and shade on them are extremely beautiful.

Calgarth, on Windermere, has a singular ghost story attached to it, and a prophecy perfectly fulfilled. They have been related by an early writer on the Lakes, and recently by Mr. Moncure D. Conway, in Harper's Magazine, in a series of admirable articles on the English Lakes.

Calgarth is am ancient farm and roadstead on the northward part of the Lake; its woods, seem from Miller Brow, form a foreground to a landscape of great beauty, including the whole of the upper reach of the lake, Coniston Old Man, and Langdale Pikes.

Mr. Conway ought to tell his story in his own words.

"It" (the legend) "runs that Calgarth (which seems to be from Old Norse kalgarde, a vegetable garden) was a bit of ground owned by a humble farmer, named Kraster Cook and his good wife Dorothy. But their little inheritance was coveted by the chief aristocrat and magistrate of the neighbourhood, Myles Phillipson. The Phillipsons were a great and wealthy family, but they could mot induce Kraster and Dorothy to sell them this piece of ground to complete their estate. Myles Phillipson swore he'd have that ground, be they 'live or decad;' but as time went on, he appeared to be more gracious, and once he gave a great Christmas banquet to the neighbours, to which Kraster and Dorothy were invited. It was a dear feast for them. Phillipson pretended they had stolen a silver cup, and sure enough it was found in Kraster's house - a 'plant,' of course. The offence was then capital; and as Phillipson was the magistrate, Kraster and Dorothy were sentenced to death. In the court-room Dorothy arose, glowered at the magistrate, and said, with words that rang through the building, 'Guard thyself, Myles Phillipson. Thou thinkest thou hast managed grandly; but that tiny lump of land is the dearest a Phillipson has ever bought or stolen; for you will never prosper, neither your breed; whatever scheme you undertake will wither in your hand; the side you take will always lose; the time shall come no Phillipson will own an inch of land; and while Calgarth walls shall stand, we'll haunt it night and day - never will ye be rid of us.'

"Thenceforth the Phillipsons had for their guests two skulls. They were found at Christmas at the head of a stairway; they were buried in a distant region, but they turned up in the old house again; they were brazed to dust and cast to the wind; they were several years sunk in the lake; but the Phillipsons never could get rid of them. Meantime old Dorothy's weird prophecy went on to its fulfilment, until the family sank into poverty, and at length disappeared."

When Bishop Watson, of Llandaff, was residing at Calgarth, he exorcised the skulls, to satisfy the household, and they have not appeared of late years.

The Phillipsons resided, as we have said before, on Belle Isle, or Curwen's island, and the side they took was that of King Charles, in the civil wars. Dorothy's prophecy in this instance was remarkable. It was a member of the family who rode into Kendal Church, as we shall find in the sketch of that Westmoreland town; an incident of which Scott made use in "Rokeby."

The third of the lakes claimed by North Lancashire is Esthwaite, a small lake not quite two miles long and three furlongs wide. We approach it by being ferried across Windermere, and then, as we mount a path overshadowed by trees, the lake suddenly appears before us - a quiet silvery water, immortalised by Wordsworth, whose boyhood was passed in some measure upon its shores. Its effluent, Cunsey Beck, falls into the Windermere Lake.

The scenery here is very soft and peaceful. The road follows the shore, and rounding a little pool, brings us to Hawks Head. The scenery here is lovely, but not grand till the borders of Lancashire and Westmoreland are reached; then come into sight the Langdale Pikes, with mountains of varied forms. Everywhere oak and ash trees spread their branches of foliage, and the sweetest wild flowers grow beneath or twine round them.


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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004