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A Tour In Westmorland by Sir Clement Jones, published 1948
HOW, WHEN AND WHERE TO MAKE A TOUR IN WESTMORLAND
When my mother reached the age of ninety she walked up the steep hill at Bournemouth from the beach to the high ground above, with brisk step and erect carriage, and when her son, who was with her, suggested taking a taxi, she said to him: “But why, my dear Vin, are you tired?” My eldest brother climbed to the top of Helvellyn when he was seventy. So when I “struck” sixty-six, although younger and therefore admittedly inferior, I felt it my duty to keep up the family tradition by taking some form of up-hill exercise. The exact time and pace and place of the walk were questions that had next to be decided.
The first half of June, for various reasons connected with long days, birds and wild flowers, has always been my favourite time of year for walking in Westmorland, though I do not forget or dissent from the dictum of Professor Wilson in Blackwood’s Magazine: “What, it may be asked is the best time of the year for visiting the Lakes? Our answer is Any time between the first day of January and the last day of December.” As to pace, in that part of England you can scramble, or ramble, or just amble. You can choose which you prefer; scrambling with a rope tied round your body; rambling with a rucksack on you back; ambling with a walking-stick. I chose, as I have chosen for years, the last of the three. I would amble, and, on looking the word up in my dictionary, I found that it means “any easy pace.” What I contemplated would be no London-Brighton walk such as you may read of in the newspapers, when Mr. So-and-so has “put up a smart performance winning the walk, 52 miles in eight hours, and finishing the last few miles in a strong wind and rain.” Nor would it be one of those feats of fell-walking, climbing from peak to peak, from Scawfell to Skiddaw within twenty-four hours, such as those performances in earlier days by Arthur Wakefield and Wilfrid Broadrick. Still less would it be an attempt to rival Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s famous Canadian journey in 1789 from Frederickstown in New Brunswick to Quebec – 175 miles in 26 days “an arduous and dangerous undertaking entirely through uninhabited woods, morasses and mountains – a route never before attempted even by the Indians – lying out at night in the woods, without any covering except their blanket-coats – attended only by a brother officer and his own servant.”1 No, my walk would be a very different and far less glorious affair, up the fells and down into the dales, with both eyes on the look-out for interesting and beautiful things rather than with one eye on the watch and the other on the map.
For many years there have been many ways of seeing England’ on foot, or horseback, in a gig, by coach, on a bicycle, in a motor-car, in a bus and even by train, for the railway companies have catered for “hikers,” picking them up at a London terminus and setting them down in the heart of Metro-land. Of all these methods the most popular one to-day seems to be by motor-car, and this, in my opinion is quite the worst, because so little of the country can be seen from a car. You can stop, I know, but in fact you don’t stop.
As to the other modes of progress much controversy has raged. Bicycling has its advocates and I have so journeyed for many miles “going places,” but among the fells either the bicycle must be left at a farm, in which case you are bound to return for it, or you must push it up hill over rocky paths and across boggy tops, or, alternatively, as I have seen done, you must drape the bicycle round your shoulders – a well-nigh intolerable burden. So, if we rule out the mechanical aids of train and car and bicycle – and I purposely omit aviation, because that is a form of seeing England in a different sense from seeing the wild flowers and old churches of England, which I was after – we come back to the choice between horse and foot. After reading those two great books “Through England on a side-saddle in the time of William and Mary,” by Celia Fiennes,2 and “Rural Rides,” by William Cobbett, you might be inclined to think that the horse provides the best means of getting across country from place to place, but to-day, owing to difficulties of fodder and accommodation at farms and inns it is not possible to plan a riding tour without a good deal of preparation and expense. Nevertheless there are people who still do manage to make long journeys on horseback and they are, I think, much to be respected and envied.
In my childhood in the eighteen eighties almost everyone, coming from London to Westmorland, travelled by train. There was, however, one exception in the person of the then Warden of Merton College, Oxford, who always arrived on horseback accompanied by his groom. I can see him now with his hard, “pot” hat, his tail-coat with side pockets, his riding breeches and box-cloth gaiters. On Sundays he would come into church with his hands behind his back, stooping, his head thrust forward, with his conspicuous red beard and prominent teeth. “Mr. Brodrick” to us children; “The Warden” to his friends; “Curius dentatus” to a host of graduates and undergraduates. In the secrecy of the nursery we would try to imitate his gait, his speech, his phrases, all of which struck us as quite unlike those of anyone else; once, when he arrived on the day of our village Gala and Flower Show, he insisted on coming to see the swings and roundabouts, and delighted us by referring to the former as “Swing-craft” – a word we had not heard before. But the Warden of Merton was unusual and out of date in his method of moving about the country, and one must look much further back for the great days of horse transport.
A hundred years ago, before hay and housemaids became scarce, it was easy enough to ride from one part of England to another. There were plenty of grooms and rooms then, wherever a man might want to stop. Indeed up to the beginning of the twentieth century when petrol and the internal combustion engine started seriously to ruin our old civilisation, you had only to ride into the stable-yard of an inn and call “Ostler,” and somebody came at once and led your horse away. To-day if you were to go into the back parts of a country hotel and shout “Ostler” no-one would come and few would know what you meant. As a friend of mine truly observed in 1938: “Gone are the days when you said to the coachman after breakfast: ‘I’ll ride Crusader at eleven.’ ”
On the choice between riding and walking, opinions have always been divided. In studying their different tastes in this respect I have taken at random the recorded habits of four different men who were alive at the same time. Though they were not exact contemporaries their lives overlapped during the period 1750-1850 and they may be taken as representative of their time. They were Professor John Wilson (1785-1854), William Cobbett (1762-1835), William Pitt (1759-1806), Thomas De Quncey (1785-1857). Of these Professor Wilson (Christopher North of Blackwood’s Magazine) expressed himself on the subject with his usual vigour and exaggeration. “If we were about to pay a visit to the Lakes,” he wrote, “how should we travel? Why in a gig or chaise to be sure. A pedestrian is a great ass. Feet, it is to be hoped, were given us for some better purpose than walking upon.” Cobbett, on the other hand, held that there was no pleasure in travelling except on horseback or on foot; carriages only took you from place to place; if you wanted merely to be conveyed they were good enough for that, but they gave you no chance of seeing or knowing anything of the country through which you passed.3 William Pitt, like Cobbett, had a taste for riding. In November, 1805, at a large country house party, Mr. Pitt used to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day “and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef steak or mutton chop ready at some place fixed beforehand.”4 Now, as then, it is a good plan to make provision ahead for meals, though in 1947 the meat ration does not always make possible such a luncheon as Mr. Pitt would have liked.
Thomas De Quncey must be reckoned among the walkers for, at the age of seventy, in spite of his opium-eating past, he was still an active walker and considered fourteen miles a day as a proper allowance. As a resident in the north, where he was for a time editor of the Westmorland Gazette, and as a member of the so-called Lake School, he had ample opportunities for walking. But probably to the present generation he is best known for his description of the four-horse coach and, therefore, had there been in his day an annual edition of “Who’s who,” he might truthfully have entered under the heading Recreation the words “Walking and Driving.” He has perhaps written more and better accounts of coaching than anyone else. In a chapter called “Going down with Victory” in his “English Mail Coach or the Glory of Motion,” he describes the perfection of the horses, drivers, carriages and harness; the guards, as officially His Majesty’s servants wearing the royal liveries; that was how the news of victory was brought from London to the country during the decade from Trafalgar to Waterloo.
Pennant, in an amusing digression, in his account of one of his Tours,5 describes what he calls the “Old Fashion of Travelling,” which was even more old-fashioned than the look presented during the Napoleonic wars. “In March, 1739,” he writes, “I changed my Welsh school for one nearer to the capital, and travelled in the Chester stage; then no despicable vehicle for country gentlemen. The first day, with much labor, we got from Chester to Whitchurch, twenty miles; the second day to the Welsh Harp; the third, to Coventry; the fourth, to Northampton; the fifth, to Dunstable; and, as a wonderous effort, on the last, to London before the commencement of night The strain and labor of six good horses sometimes eight, drew us through the sloughs of Mireden and many other places. We were constantly out two hours before day, and as late, at night; and in the depth of winter proportionately later.”
“The single gentlemen, then a hardy race, equipped in jack-boots and trowsers up to their middle, rode post through thick and thin, and, guarded against the mire, defied the frequent stumble and fall: arose and pursued their journey with alacrity; while in these days their enervated posterity sleep away their rapid journeys in easy chaises, fitted for the conveyance of the soft inhabitants of Sybaris.”
I am grateful to have been alive before the last of the Royal Mail coaches were finally pushed off the Westmorland roads by motors; I am grateful for many a ride as a passenger on the box-seat – that coveted place of honour – beside the driver in his scarlet coat and grey top-hat, behind four splendid horses, in the coach from Windermere to Grasmere; and I am most grateful of all to my cousin, Charles Cropper, one of the finest horsemen and whips, for taking me in his coach – the “Merry-go-round” as he named it – to memorable picnics and parties, in lovely places, to climb fells, to watch sports, to skate on Rydal and then to return home at night-fall under the stars by the light of the coach-lamps with the music of hoofs and jingling harness. Those were the days.
Charlotte Brontë has given us her views about travelling in Westmorland. She went, in 1850, to stay with Sir James and Lady Kay-Shuttleworth who had taken a house near Windermere called Briery Close, situated high above Lowwood overlooking the lake. They took her for long drives, in order to show her the neighbourhood, but she wrote afterwards:
“Decidedly I find it does not agree with me to prosecute the search of the picturesque in a carriage. A waggon, a spring-cart, even a post-chaise might do; but the carriage upsets everything. I longed to slip out unseen, and to run away by myself in amongst the hills and dales. Could I have wandered about amongst those hills alone, I could have drunk in all their beauty.”6
Finally we come to the gig which Wilson recommended, though that is also hard to find nowadays. The pony trap had a brief war-time revival it is true, and I even saw a Hansom in Whitehall during a blitz, but these were merely the last roses of a Summer that was over. If we are to judge from that delightful book “Through Connemara in a Governess Cart” by Somerville and Ross it must have been a good way to explore the country in former times.
There is, however, another method of travelling which might be called “Combined Operations,” of which a modern version may be seen in “hitch-hiking” – not that there is anything particularly new about it, for that was how Martin Chuzzlewit journeyed from Salisbury to London many years ago, after he had left Mr. Pecksniff. This plan of combining a walk with a lift is not necessarily the choice of a sluggard. There is much to be said for using a car or a bus to take you to the place from which you want to start your walk. I remember being told by a friend of mine, a Cambridge man, himself a great walker, that what he found most useful about a car, after he had got one, was that it enabled him to get out of Cambridge to the starting place of his walk in the country and then the car would pick him up again later on at the finish. That is, I think, the ideal arrangement and that is what my wife and I were lucky enough to have, when our cousin, Margaret Cropper, said she would bring her car and join us in our tour in Westmorland partly on foot and partly by car. Not only did she provide the car but later, after our tour was ended, she provided the poem which this book is lucky enough to include.
Having thus settled the questions of the “when” and the “how” of our journey the remaining problem of the exact “where” had to be decided. Somewhere in Westmorland was the answer, but which part? The majority of those who have been brought up or lived in the neighbourhood of Windermere will probably agree that they are aware how limited in their knowledge of the other side of the county to the east between Brougham and Brough. Similarly the dwellers in Appleby or Kirkby Stephen are apt to be quite ignorant of the whereabouts of Stavelely or Underbarrow. To parody an old quotation:
“How little they know of Kendal who only Kendal know.”
That was our situation. At different times, by instalments, my wife and I have walked every yard of the way across Westmorland from Wrynose Pass on the Cumberland border through Langdale, Ambleside, Troutbeck, Kentmere, Burneside, Selside, Grayrigg, Firbank – to Sedbergh in Yorkshire, and I could, I think, pass a fairly stiff examination in the geography of that cross section, but there remained a large and interesting part of Westmorland to the north-east, of which I was almost wholly ignorant. Once I had bicycled to Ravenstonedale and Kirkby Stephen; once I had visited Appleby, but of other places rich in history, with glorious names, such as Mallerstang Forest, Pendragon Castle and Stainmore Common, I knew nothing. It was in order to fill these gaps in our knowledge that we wanted to explore the eastern part of Westmorland that lies along or near the county boundary line.
One Sunday, some time before we made this tour, I had read in the Observer a short paragraph: “Those who know the furthest tip of Yorkshire where it meets Durham and Westmorland on the heathery wilderness of Wemmergill and soars by Mickle Fell to the tumble of the Tees in its great forces, know England at its royal best.” This was an invitation – “one clear call for me” – that could not be declined. That decided it. We would follow the boundary line that separates Westmorland from Yorkshire and Durham and we would see it from both sides.
From earliest times men have been engaged in the defence of their own boundaries and in attacks upon those of other people; there have been frontier wars and border raids beyond number; in international affairs, in parish councils, in private property, the embers of a boundary dispute may flare up at any moment. The “neighbour’s landmark” may be a mighty river or a range of mountains; it may be a stone or a bit of barbed-wire, but there it is, and “Thou shalt not remove it” without impunity. Those who have taken part in Peace Conferences are acquainted with the vast amount of labour and patience required in the adjustment and correction of frontiers in settling competing claims. And so it is in our own country. Commissions and committees follow one another dealing with parliamentary boundaries, local government boundaries, ecclesiastical boundaries; reports are published and we can read how wards and divisions and boroughs have been altered beyond recognition; we learn how it is proposed to separate Southgate from Wood Green and give the latter two wards taken out of Tottenham.
There is, however, one boundary in London that never changes. At Temple Bar, whenever the King goes to visit the City, a purple cord is drawn across the road as a reminder of the City’s rights and privileges. Here the Lord Mayor, accompanied by aldermen, sheriffs and common councillors, waits to grant permission to the Sovereign to enter their city. The royal carriage stops; the Lord Mayor offers the symbolic sword to the King, who accepts it, and then returns it to the Lord Mayor for safe keeping; then the royal procession passes on; all very proper and picturesque.
In other and less stately circumstances boundary lines are apt to rouse strong feelings and the readjustment of frontiers can be the cause of much trouble. The removal of a fence or footpath may embitter the life of a whole parish, for old tracks and dotted lines on maps are very sacred things. Indeed, throughout our lives from the day when as children we learn to play “Tom Tiddler’s Ground” until we approach the final frontier of the River Styx, directly or indirectly we come in contact with boundaries. The subject of boundaries is therefore one that should provide an interesting study for all of us. The ancient custom of boundary riding in Westmorland has died out in most places, but there are records that it existed for a long time in Kendal. “On the 22nd March, 1714,” we read, “the boundaries, precincts and territories belonging to the borough of Kirkby Kendal were ridden by the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses and several hundred of persons. They stopped at various places on the way, at each of which the Mayor did publicly declare in the presence of great numbers of people that the rights belonging to the said corporation did reach and extend to the marks and bounds then ridden peaceably and quietly without any disturbance or molestation by or from any person whatever.” And, about 200 years later, in 1902 in the year of the coronation of King Edward VII, there took place the last boundary riding of Witherslack Manor of which mention is made by Mr. William Palmer in “The Verge of Western Lakeland.”7
The chief features of the county of Westmorland are its lakes, mountains, rivers, “forests,” ruined castles and ancient farmhouses. To see them at their best you must go to the border line, for it is there that some of the finest specimens are to be found. For instance, Windermere, the largest of the English Lakes, is situated on and forms part of the western boundary between this county and Lancashire; Ullswater in much the same way in its upper reaches provides part of the northern boundary with Cumberland on the other side, though the whole of the lower reach of the lake lies in Westmorland. Of the mountains Helvellyn and Bowfell on the west, Dufton Fell and Wild Boar Fell on the east are all on the border. The rivers, as we should expect, are largely used for boundary purposes, no less than 11 of them being so employed, namely, starting at the north and coming clock-wise, the Eamont, Eden, Crowdundale Beck, Tees, Maize Beck, Hell Gill Beck, Rawthey, Lune, Leighton Beck, Winster, and Brathay. Of these the Lune forms for about seven miles the boundary between Westmorland and Yorkshire; the Winster for about ten miles of its course, from the village of Winster to Morecambe Bay, is the Lancashire border; while to the north-west the river Brathay divides the counties of Westmorland and Lancashire for about nine miles. The word forest has a different meaning in the south of Britain from that used in the north. In most of our southern forests, such as Epping or Ashdown, the word implies a large tract of land covered with trees – a place to which picnickers will go in quest of shade on hot holidays, but in the north there is nothing silvan or bosky about a deer forest in Scotland nor yet in such forests as those of Milburn or Mallerstang on the eastern edge of Westmorland, where instead of being woody the scenery is wild and mountainous. The county contains several other forests, for example Martindale and Fawcett, but none are grander than those bordering on Durham and Yorkshire.
Early in the year 1900, when the Boer War was at its blackest and the prospect very gloomy, with Ladysmith and Mafeking still unrelieved, the pessimists and “Little Englanders,” as they were called, predicted the end of England’s greatness and the speedy break-up of the British Empire. I was an undergraduate at the time and I remember a witty don at Cambridge saying to me, more by way of a joke at the Jeremiahs than anything else: “Never mind, it will still be very pleasant here; England will become a sort of quiet show-country like Holland, and people will still come over from America to see our ruined abbeys and churches.” Today, nearly half a century later, after two more and far fiercer wars, we are still using our ruins as bait for visitors, for I notice that among the posters issued abroad by the Travel Association to attract tourists is a well-known view of Whitby Abbey. In Westmorland we have only one ruined abbey, namely Shap, but I fear it would not draw many crowds of foreigners or much of their currency, seeing that most of the dressed stones of the building, except the west tower, were removed years ago by the owner, Lord Lonsdale, to Lowther Castle for building purposes. We have, however, three examples of ruined castles situated on the county boundary – Brougham on the north; Pendragon Castle, the manorial seat of the forest of Mallerstang, on the east; and Arnside Tower on the south-west. Of our historic farmhouses, “in which Westmorland can hold its own with any rivals,”8 there are several of them all within easy reach of the boundary. To choose but three, Wharton, Middleton and Beetham Halls are good examples. The Romans made and left their mark in three places on the county border; at Ambleside in a field not far from the river Brathay, where there are the remains of a Roman station; at Brough (the Verterae of the Romans) there was a camp; and at Brougham (Brocavum) another camp by which ran the Roman road from London through Brough to Carlisle. Lastly we come to what used to be called, in old County Directories “the Principal Seats of the Gentry,” and of these there are three on the border – at Witherslack, Underley and Newbiggin, though how many of them will survive existing taxation, or who will “sit” in them are questions for future solution.
Having shown in brief outline how many of the chief features of Westmorland are to be found on her border, the time has now come to start our journey.
For years I have wanted to make this tour of the eastern part of the county that lies near the boundary; I have always had the desire, though sometimes I thought it very unlikely that I should ever be able to carry it out. Now the time has come. I can never have such another opportunity; certainly I shall never be here again at sixty-six and in good health!
When I told a friend of mine that I was planning this tour he first asked me how old I was, and then added: “Well, you’d better hurry up.” how right he was! As the King of France says in his warning against delay, in “All’s well that ends well”:-
“Let’s take the instant by the forward top;
For we are old, and on our quick’st decrees
Th’ inaudible and noiseless foot of time
Steals ere we can effect them.”
1 "Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald" by Thomas Moore, 1832.
2 A new edition of the “Journeys of Celia Fiennes,” by Christopher Morris, has been published by The Cresset Press, 1947.
3 “Travel in England,” by Thomas Burke. Batsford, 1942.
4 “Wellington,” by Richard Aldington. Heinemann, 1946.
5 “Journey from Chester to London,” by Thomas Pennant, 1782.
6 Extract from “The Life of Charlotte Brontë,” by Mrs. Gaskell.
7 “The Verge of Western Lakeland,” by William T. Palmer, p. 200. Robert Hale Ltd, 1941.
8 Foreword by Mr. Oliver Stanley, M.P., to “Historic Farmhouses in Westmorland.” Published by Westmoreland Gazette Ltd., 1944.
Thanks to Diane Coppard in Leicestershire for transcribing this! Reproduced by permission of Tim Clement-Jones.