Elizabeth Coltman, "Hasty Ramble to the Lakes"

Coltman’s ‘hasty ramble’ occurred in August 1796; considerable details of the trip can be found in the "Journal of Samuel Coltman," Leicestershire Record Office, 15D67/449, and in Catherine Hutton Beale, Catherine Hutton and her Friends (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1895), pp. 97-99. In her “Ramble, Coltman identifies only one companion, a ‘Mrs. H’. This was her friend, Mrs. Jane Houseman, second wife of the Revd Robert Houseman (1759-1838), evangelical Anglican (and staunchly Calvinist) minister at St. Anne’s Church, Lancaster, from 1796 to 1836. It was at Lancaster that Coltman and Houseman joined the main group and proceeded to the Lakes. The travellers in that group were mainly members of another Coltman family (not related to the Coltmans of the Newarke) from Leicester, who lived in St. Nicholas Street and also attended the Great Meeting with Elizabeth Coltman and her parents. These individuals were Samuel Coltman, Ann Coltman (his sister), Mrs. John Coltman (his mother), a Miss Evans, and Elizabeth Coltman’s close friend, Mary Reid. Another member of this Coltman family, Elizabeth Coltman Heyrick (1769-1831), did not accompany the group. She would later convert to Quakerism and become a famous abolitionist writer in the 1820s. The publication of Coltman’s ‘Hasty Ramble’ was heralded by Mary Steele in her poem ‘Occasioned by reading Miss Coltman’s “Journal of a Hasty Ramble to the Lakes.”’ Jane Adams Houseman (1768-1837) was the second wife to the Revd Robert Houseman of Lancaster, who had known Elizabeth Coltman for some time prior to the date of the excursion to the Lakes through his first wife, who was the sister of Coltman's fiance (they never married) of John Audley (1750-1827), a prosperous woolstapler (and later solicitor) in Cambridge. Houseman married Jane Adams in 1788. She had been attendant in an Evangelical Methodist chapel, and her mother was a close friend and godchild of the Countess of Huntingdon and a follower of George Whitefield. Like Elizabeth Coltman, Jane Houseman would later write a popular tract for the Religious Tract Society, Religion without Learning: or, The History of Susan Ward, which went through more than twenty editions by the late 1820s. Contemporary illustrations of nearly all the places Elizabeth Coltman and her traveling companions visit on their ‘ramble’ through the Lakes can be found in Cecilia Powell and Stephen Hebron, Savage Grandeur and Noblest Thoughts: Discovering the Lake District 1750-1820 (Dove Cottage, Grasmere: Wordsworth Trust, 2010).

For biographical information on Elizabeth Coltman, click here; for a selection of her letters, click here; for a selection of her poetry, click here; for her published travel narrative, click here; for her published prose tract, click here.

Journal, written during a Hasty Ramble to the Lakes

“Surely there is a hidden power that reigns

’Mid the lone majesty of untam’d nature,

Controuling sober reason.” –

The very ample and interesting description of the charming scenery of Westmoreland and Cumberland which the public have been favoured with, obliges me to offer the following very very imperfect sketch with diffidence and apprehension. But as those accounts have been presented in a form not calculated to meet every eye, it has been suggested, that to many of the readers of your widely circulated magazine, the Journal of a hasty traveller over part of the lovely region might not (defective as it is) be altogether uninteresting. To gratify profound criticism, or to regale refined taste, is not the privilege of its author. But there are some who feel without being fastidious, and who, amidst the bustle, the cares, or the sorrows of life, are glad to be led to scenes of beauty and of peace, though not traced by the pen of a Gilpin or a Radcliffe. Should these be gratified, or should any be led to contemplate with more attention the book of nature, that “boundless work of God,” the journalist will be amply repaid.

August 4th, 1796, left Lancaster. At Hest-bank we joined the postman, and entered on an immense tract of sand, which so recently had been covered by the ocean, that not the smallest trace of human footsteps was visible. At the commencement of this singular scene, the inhabitant of an inland country seems to bid adieu to his accustomed modes of life, to all the little objects by which his eye had been bonded, and to enter on a new region of enjoyment. I could now form some faint idea of travelling over the desarts of Arabia; for here no wanderer ventures alone, but waits to join some caravan, and follows with implicit confidence the direction of him who has gone before. After riding some miles, the united water of the rivers Ken and Winster presents itself, and a guide who is waiting on the other side, and who is allowed a salary by government for the purpose, comes to conduct you over. At some times this water, which mingles with the tide, is so high, as to oblige the horses to swim; it was considerably lower when we passed, and so novel and so interesting was the scenery around, that we felt no emotions but those arising from enjoyment. A fine bay extends itself to the right, bounded by mountains of considerable magnitude; others range themselves behind, to a height and a distance where the eye is at a loss to distinguish them from the clouds; some of the lower ones are crowned with groves of firs, and the intervening valleys are ornamented with cottages, and some houses of a higher order, though not in a style of pomp sufficient to spoil to the genuine lover of nature the beauty of the scene. In the front, gently sloping grounds and villages meet the eye, while vessels of different sizes, waiting the return of the tide, ornament the beach; and to the left the ocean spreads its awful grandeur. This ample bay extends about fourteen miles across, and as the tide advances, or recedes, alternately displays parties on horseback, and in carriages, with cheerfulness and security traversing its shelly floor, or the fishing smack and the sculler contending with its majestic waves. After riding about three miles over a peninsula, another tract of sand less extensive presents itself: the attendant scenery, probably by being nearer, appears more rich and interesting. Cottages, farms, seats, villages and ruins, are agreeably interspersed, while the Cartmel Fells and the Westmoreland mountains bound and aggrandize the finished picture. An obstructing mist had at first contracted our view to very narrow limits, but the beaming sun soon gave us all the heightening effects of light and shade. The silver vapour gradually stole away down the gentle declivities of some mountains; and dense and solemn clouds on the more tremendous summits of others, slowly arising, and evaporating in lingering columns, produced all the appearance of volcanos. Furness Abbey was the grand object we had to see that day, and thither we hastened after a short repast at Ulverston. As you approach this august ruin, the road winds through a deep sequestered dell, where the mind almost loses its recollection of the busy haunts of men, and where it becomes insensibly attuned to the scene it is approaching. The first vestige of the object you are seeking is a fine arched gateway, overhung with the most luxuriant ivy. Through this you have an indistinct view of the abbey, the effect of which is heightened by the shade of old oaks and sycamores. As the traveller approaches, he is disposed to blame some ill-judging proprietor, for suffering modern houses to start before his view, and to pollute the sombre scene: but on proceeding, magnificent columns and august arches meet the eye, those vulgar intrusions are forgotten, and the mind becomes absorbed in recollections of other times. The seclusion of the glen where this venerable ruin is situated, the sight of mouldering towers and broken arches, shaded by trees which appear to have combated the storms of a century, all dispose to that contemplative silence which loves not to be interrupted; and our little party insensibly found itself separating, each individual choosing his own way amid long dank grass and pathless fern, to that part of the hallowed pile where he could best indulge his own reflections: nor were we in much danger of encountering each other till curiosity had satiated itself, or reflection was weary; for so large is the space occupied by this edifice, that there was a full scope for the wandering of each. I had with some difficulty clambered to an apartment, which perhaps appeared more interesting from its being less accessible. Beneath one of its arched door-ways, involving darkness and mystery, and deeply overhung with ivy, lay half concealed in grass and fern a large skeleton, while, unconscious of disturbing either the living or the dead, an owl started from the ivy above me,

“Where shelter’d from the blaze of day,

In solitary gloom she lay.

Beneath the time-shook tower,”

and convinced me that I had obtruded on both. I hasted from this scene of loneliness, to what appeared to have been the principal aisle of the church, where the long perspective of retiring arches is heightened in its effect by appearing to terminate in surrounding woods. I do not regret that the age of superstition is departed, but I could have wished for a moment to have recalled a procession of monks and tapers, and to have heard the deep tones of the organ, reverberating from arch to arch, and gradually melting away in those soft notes,

“Which take the prisoned soul, and lap it in elysium.”

Here imagination was left to do its utmost, and the effect of the whole ruin was probably heightened by having no one with me who could assign the original destination to its particular parts. A few ill-carved monumental figures and some mutilated inscriptions still point out the receptacle for the dead: but as neither name nor date are discoverable, they only serve to shew that “the place which knew them, knows them no more!” What is called the school-house, is detached from the principal building, and is in higher preservation than the rest; it has a stone bench extending round it, and a low stone pillar in the eastern corner, probably for the use of the teacher. Imperfect as are most of the apartments, enough is left to convince the beholder that the whole was on a scale of magnificence and grandeur, which few of our ruins have left vestiges of; but that grandeur now only serves to feast the admiration of the passing traveller, and is become the undisturbed abode of owls and jackdaws! After indulging in our various wanderings, our little group assembled on the eastern side, which affords the finest view of the abbey; and seating ourselves on one of those little knolls formed of crumbled towers and fallen arches, we renewed our delight by communicated remark and participated emotion. Opposite to us was the grand frame or stone-work, which had surrounded the principal window of the church, “Majestic though in ruins!” beyond is seen a perspective* of the choir, and of distant arches; southward from the window extend beautiful pillars, and arcades of chapels, not deformed, though somewhat defaced, by time, the chapter-house and cloisters continue the range; and beyond all the school-house. To the north, the whole is terminated by stupendous towers. We bid adieu to this interesting scene with extreme reluctance, and returned to Ulverston to sleep. The next morning we set out early to go to Coniston, which we were told was only eight miles off, to breakfast. The road soon loses all appearance of common turnpike; it becomes narrow and varied, sometimes leading us near the windings of a rapid stream, rolling fantastically amongst clusters of little islands, and refreshing on its margin plots of tolerably rich pasturage; while mountain scenery bounds you on either side. It is so sequestered, that we could not trace it many yards before us, and when it led us amid the pigs and poultry of a farm yard, we began to question whether we had not mistaken our route. At length we had a glimpse of Coniston water, from whence the stream we had accompanied proceeded. Winding through a wood on the margin of the lake, interesting views of which are afforded by the most judicious openings, we began to feel that glow of delight which this scenery is calculated to inspire, and wondered not that the lakes had either been so much talked of, or so often visited. On our right was one stupendous line of mountains, rising from our feet, ornamented with fine woods. The road is formed amid a deep shade of oaks and alders, the latter fringing the border of the lake. On the opposite side of it, a long range of magnificent rocks, of widely different forms, extend a grand inclosure, to which almost every turn of the wheels gave some varying appearance; and as we approached the head of the lake, a vast amphitheatre of mountains appeared, inclosing others of less magnitude, but of more grotesque forms, while the fields sloping to the lake were ornamented with neat white houses. On the margin of the water stood the ruins of a mansion, one side of which, with its massy chimnies, was covered with a thick shade of ivy. A little farther on stood the village of Coniston, the church forming a beautiful feature in the picture, though almost diminished, from the contrast of the surrounding mountains, to the size of a child’s toy. We passed several houses sweetly sequestered on the side of the lake, but saw no appearance of an inn; and although we were obliged to drive on round the head of the water, the road was so interesting, and the scenery so grand, that we almost forgot time and distance. On entering the small house of entertainment, we found that we had travelled more than twenty miles, and that is was one o’clock! On one side of our stone-floored parlour, appeared to be a range of cupboards; but on opening the doors we found two comfortable looking beds, similar to those of a cabin; and the traveller who could not dispense with a more luxurious dormitory, scarcely deserves to visit lake scenery.

After a repast of eggs, tea and milk, rendered delicious by hunger, we set out to see a waterfall about a mile distant, and were highly gratified, though its grandeur was not equal to what it often is, from a scarcity of rain. It sometimes falls perpendicularly twenty yards into a sort of reservoir of its own forming in the rock, and then tumbles with wild impetuosity over irregular masses, till it hurries on to its attendant lake. On one of our party observing, “It must be very grand in a wet season,” one of the miners with whom we conversed, replied, “Ah madam, it’s a cruel mad beck!” Some of our party were desirous of entering the copper mines we were now within reach of; but as I can grovel when I cannot soar, and as ascending was new to me, I determined, if possible, to see from whence the water came, which I could trace through a long ascent, without being able to discover its source: accordingly I parted from my companions at the entrance of the mine, some were to descend, some to wait the return of the adventurers, and I set forward alone. The acclivity was steep, and I soon lost all traces of a path. Loose soil, which surrounded an old entrance to the mine, considerably higher than the former, rendered it extremely difficult, and I sometimes slipped back several paces, with my feet buried in the soil: but novelty and expectation aided the enthusiasm of the moment, and I determined to proceed. I had not even a sheep-track to guide me; and sometimes having reached with my hands a projecting crag for support, I was obliged to pause in trembling suspense, in order to contemplate where I might next venture. The view downwards was grand and tremendous, but from such a situation not long to be contemplated; and I cautiously aspired to the next friendly crag, till I reached a more gentle ascent, where with firm foot I could stand: but on proceeding to its summit, how was I astonished to find a mass of water measuring its waves at my feet, while a tremendous misty darkness concealed the scene before and around me! On looking more intensely, I perceived a lake, surrounded with grand mountains, whose summits were hid in impenetrable clouds, and the hovering gloom acquired a fuller grandeur from being reflected by the darkened water. A solemn awe possest my mind, I seemed on the verge of creation, I had read that “clouds and darkness are round about him,” and I knew not but the veiled pavilion of Deity was before me. Every faculty seemed suspended, and my whole soul absorbed in the sublimity of the scene. So few are the people, not to say who can share, but who do not deride, such emotions, that the first moment of recollection produced thankfulness that I was alone. But how were my sensations changed to delight, to transport, when, on turning from this darkness, which seemed to involve storms threatening destruction, I beheld the distant valley illuminated with glowing sun shine, and could trace the current, whose source I had now reached, through all its wanderings, to the distant lake, which expanded itself before my eye. Alternate light and shade heightened the effect of intervening objects, and compleated the scene. When I was at leisure to feel the necessity of rejoining my companions, I found the descent too perpendicular to be ventured, and after winding round another side of the mountain, and with cautious eye examining where I might safely venture, after some time I perceived their diminutive forms, which but for the motion of waving handkerchiefs would not easily have been discerned, and gladly hastened to rejoin them.

In the evening we walked to the ruin on the border of the lake: some rooms we found still tenanted, though the greatest part is open to the storm, a mere shelter of fallen roofs and solitary birds. On saying to a girl near the door, “You live very pleasantly here, dont you like your habitation?” She answered, “Nee, we da na leke it much, they say there’s a boogie!” this we afterwards found was the phrase for a ghost, and thus in every scene mankind suffers themselves to be haunted out of enjoyment. After loitering in the little sequestered meadows which surround this habitation, and adorning our straw hats with wreaths of the most luxurious wildflowers, all of which we could not suffer to “waste their sweetness on the desart air,” we slowly and reluctantly returned to our inn. We purposed going to Ambleside to sleep, and, while the sun was yet gilding the mountains, set forward. Soon after quitting the head of the lake, the road leads up a tremendous mountain, so steep, that a mind not occupied by the grandeur of the scenery would be filled with the idea of the carriage rolling back every instant; it seemed with the utmost difficulty that the horses kept on their feet, and that the least pause must inevitably have hurried us to the bottom; but the sublimity of attendant objects well compensates for the ascent. Other stupendous mountains rise around, and the uncommon radiance which shone from behind some awful clouds resting on one of them, heightened the grandeur of the scene, and seemed to give a glimpse of the glory of brighter worlds. As we lost these, other hills, other vales, and other lakes opened upon us, till the shades of evening limited our view. Sometimes we were led down steep declivities, through deep woods; and as we had only the light of Jupiter, throwing a faint gleam on the surrounding mountains, imagination was left to “body forth the forms of things unseen;” and had the tower where the banditti were sheltered presented itself, the scenes described so inimitably in Udolpho, had been realized. The miles seemed long to part of our party, till faint lights glimmering in distant cottages, now vanishing, and now re-appearing, seemed to promise us Ambleside. At length its cheerful inns appeared gayly lighted, the windows were flung open, and groups who had thrown off care were recruiting for the pleasurable fatigues of a new day. This was not to be our fate at present, for no accommodation was to be obtained, either for ourselves, or our horses; and we were obliged to proceed to Low wood, uncertain whether we could be taken in there; fortunately we found room, though during several weeks before not a bed could have been obtained at that hour. The ample comforts of an English inn were perhaps never more fully felt; and the next morning proving wet, we sat down content and passive; the day however clearing, we set forward for Grassmere. This lake did not strike us as Coniston had done; it is in a stile of milder but perhaps more finished beauty. Its island, containing about six acres, is a lovely ornament, “just touched, not spoiled by art.” The church and parsonage are beautifully situated at the northern end of the lake, and it is impossible not to imagine the little dwellings which ornament this lovely vale the abodes of peace. The house of entertainment is just of the order one would wish an inn to be amid such scenery; and Newton, its host, is a pleasant intelligent guide. After rowing on the lake, we wished to ascend Helm-crag, its highest attendant mountain. Though not much encouraged by our guide, who had never before been solicited to conduct females thither, we set out; and from the scenery that opened on our ascent, did not regret the attempt. In some places it was steep and difficult, and obliged us to climb on our hands and knees. In our way we were glad to pause, to contemplate one of the tarns which helps to supply Grassmere. These small lakes, at the summit of mountains, and surrounded by others, have a very singular appearance, and to the eye not accustomed to them form one of the greatest wonders of the scenery. The upper part of this mountain is rifted into very singular chasms, its utmost summit is an immense pointed crag, which forms a grand finish. In the middle of this is a large cleft, through which you can look into a deep tremendous chasm, which would contain some thousands of people. What we had seen, and what we had yet to see, of this world of wonders, here lay stretched before us: Grassmere, reposing in tranquil beauty on our right; a long valley, guarded by majestic mountains, with proud Helvellyn towering o’er their rear, extended itself on the left. Through this we could just discern the road we had to traverse, winding like a thread at their base, and promising to lead us to new scenes of grandeur, to new shades of peace. We descended with less fatigue than we expected; and as the shadows were now lengthening, set off immediately to go to Wythburn, where we were told that we could have accommodation for the night, as it was too late to go to Keswick.

By the time we reached the destined spot, we could scarcely see any thing, and on being informed we could have beds, gladly alighted. The mistress and the maid, without gowns, and without shoes, were jointly finishing the business of the day, and although not eight o’clock, we found they were preparing for bed, saying, “We mun be up, and seedle the huse be lete cum!” The turf was soon lighted, and we got some tolerable coffee, amidst accompaniments which perhaps heightened its zest; but on opening the doors which secreted the beds, sights and scents presented themselves, which we were not disposed to encounter. On going to see how we could be accommodated above, we found an old woman, the mother of our hostess, and a great lad, her grandson, had been hauled out of one bed, and another was shewn us with not a bit of curtain, while the damp mould from the wall hung over the pillow; a third however was much more tolerable, and the woman assured us we should have new blankets and clean sheets; this was accordingly prepared, and kindly assigned to Mrs. H. and myself. Fatigue left me no fastidiousness, and I should have slept soundly but for the serenade of the sign, creaking just against our window. We felt however the full value of common comforts, and rose, if not more refreshed than at home, at least more thankful for its accommodations. The iron-pot with whey porridge, and the stick in the centre erect against the pot-hook, did not tempt us to stay to breakfast, and we set out very early. We found the scenery that surrounded us, wild, dreary, grand: the pasturage less beautiful, less luxuriant. Dunmail-raise, a rude mass of stones thrown together to commemorate the defeat and fall of the last king of Cumberland, marks the boundary of the two counties; and as it was too dark to notice these the preceding evening, this was the first opportunity we had of marking the precise features of Cumberland.[xiii] Clouds gathered on the mountains, and the storm surrounded us: but the view on which we feasted, after ascending the hill, a mile before we reached Keswick, would have compensated for any storm that had not endangered life. The most glowing rainbow, of the most perfect form, and of a breadth much more expanded than any I had ever beheld before, flung its airy arch compleatly over the town, resting one of its points on the adjacent lake, and the other at the foot of the opposite mountain. In the centre you beheld the town, beyond the church, and Bassenthwaite water, the whole environed by stupendous mountains, with the august Skiddaw in their number.

After a comfortable breakfast, of which we stood in great need, we took a guide, and a boat, and set out on the lake. Its waves were considerably agitated, clouds rested on the mountains, and appeared to threaten storms, but no common storm, no tale of “bottom-winds,” could in those moments of high enthusiasm, which the scene inspired, have awakened any thing like fear; every common passion seemed absorbed, and the soul left to all that admiration and delight could bestow. Even the childish fooleries with which false taste has injured one of the most beautiful islands on the lake, are insufficient for any considerable time to discompose the elevated tone of mind that the scene inspires. The varied view of the mountains, which sailing on this sweetly embosomed lake affords, no pen, no pencil, could adequately describe. We alighted at another spot belonging to P – , less injured than the former. Behind the house, the rock is richly ornamented with wood, through the midst of which nature has formed one of those interesting cascades which add such a noble ornament to this country. Secluded amongst the trees, is a small building, intended for the residence of a hermit, whom, it is asserted, the proprietor of the estate advertised for a few years since; and on whom he offered to settle one hundred pounds per annum, could any person be found who would consent to the conditions, of never shaving, paring his nails, or speaking to any human being, for seven years! But the hermitage is still unoccupied, and its emptiness may remind the owner, that mankind, however defective in the art of promoting each other’s happiness, have not altogether forgotten that “true self-love, and social, are the same.”

We gladly hasted on to Lodoar. The season was dry, and, from the lake, the fall appeared inconsiderable. The little inn is delightfully situated, and the woods, which enrich the mountains at its back, sweetly ornament it. The path which winds round these to the foot of Lodoar, is well contrived to give the fall its full effect. A thick foliage almost wholly secludes it from the sight, while you pass amongst thickets through a small gate to its very base, where a torrent rushes down an immense chasm, whose force has carried with it vast masses of rock, over which it precipitates with a violence and noise which transfix the spectator in mute astonishment.** The rocks on either side of the chasm are nearly perpendicular, and stupendously high; these are enriched with fine foliage, and the mountain ash rears its elegant and ornamental form amidst the thundering cataract, smiling at all its terrors. The upper part of the left hand summit is bare, and time and tempest have thrown the finest tinge of deep grey over it, which gives the happiest effect to the surrounding foliage. When we could tear ourselves from the stupendous scene, we set forward on foot for Borrowdale.

The rocks which guard this interesting valley, open with sublime grandeur, and the windings of the chasm present ever varying views of these magnificent barriers. Sometimes the impending cliff hangs over the darkened path, while an old yew, stretching its broad arms across the threatening crags, deepens the solemn gloom. At others, the mountains receding leave room for little plots of pasturage, watered by the pellucid Derwent, which winds its way along the vale, and empties itself into the lake we had just left. The sequestered village of Grange, situated on one of these, and consisting only of a few small cottages, backed by immense mountains, against whose sides they appear scarcely larger than beehives, arrests the attention, and the mind involuntarily asks itself, ‘Is not content there?’ But it seems that scenery has little effect on the imaginations of these people. – ‘”Your situation is very pleasant there, my friend,” said I, to a poor man whom I met. “Well, it’s middling,” said he, and passed on. We proceeded to Bowther Stone, which is one of the wonders of the place, and on approaching which every wanderer must pause. Its immense magnitude we dare not compute; it was probably hurled from some neighbouring mountain, and we fancied we could discover a sort of excavation from whence it must have fallen, but the extreme height prevents accuracy. It appears somewhat like a vessel thrown on its keel, and, when it fell, must have occasioned a concussion which imagination cannot limit.

From Bowther Stone, we proceeded along this sequestered region, desirous to reach Rosthwaite. All was solemn, secluded, and silent; the gurgling of the stream being the only sound we heard. After a long walk, the dark grey of a few scattered abodes appeared, and we quickened our pace. A narrow path from the lane across the meadows, led us to the desired spot. Rosthwaite appears more shut out from the world than any other village we had ever seen; and its inhabitants less moulded by its forms. A woman whom we met in a garb of wool, whose hue had not been changed since her sheep had worn it, stared at us with mingled surprise and indifference. A few such sort of beings she had seen, but they were but few; they were beings with whom she had nothing to do, and she cared not to see any more! The valley contracts still narrower beyond the village; the mountains on each side appear inaccessible, and their vast projections obstruct any farther view. Wild groups of trees almost cover these solitary dwellings, and heighten the interest of the scene. I fancied that few of the numerous visitors of the lakes reached this spot; but one of its inhabitants assured me, there was “A terrible deal o’ quality o’ late!” I longed for time to trace the wild a little farther, but we were obliged to return, for we had left those at Lodoar, whom we wished not to involve in damps and night, as we had to repass the lake. The evening was cloudy, the water finely agitated, and the surrounding mountains partially shrouded in clouds, whose reflection threw a deep and interesting gloom over the undulating waves. We begged to be landed on St. Herbert’s Island; it is a delightful little sequestered spot, almost entirely covered with firs. A small ruin is still to be traced, which is said to be the remains of the abode of the saint to whom it is dedicated. No sound is heard but the rippling of the waters, and the flapping wing of the returning bird, who has chosen this for her solitary residence. Here I could almost have wished to have been left, “The world forgetting, by the world forgot.” But the curtain of twilight had veiled the horizon, and it was necessary to be gone. Some of the emotions this scene inspired, involuntarily assumed the following form:

Thou dear retreat from life’s tumultuous care,

Secluded, solitary, lone abode,

Perchance a refuge from the fiend Despair,

Where wearied Virtue commun’d with its God:

Thy mossy paths, at twilight’s sombre hour,

With fond enthusiastic step I tread;

Pause o’er the ruin thy old pines embower,

And seem to mingle with the sacred dead.

When fled associated error’s frown,

Say, injured spirit, did’st thou taste repose?

Did truth’s pure light thy pray’rs, thy musings crown,

And peace thy desolate last moment close?

O then, lone isle, thy resident I’d be,

Where truth and peace are, there is heaven to me.

The next morn, our fellow-travellers had agreed to ascend Skiddow to see the sun rise. Mrs. H. and myself were too much fatigued the preceding day to undertake this pilgrimage before breakfast, and did not set out till nearly the time we expected their return. The guide we had employed the day before was gone with the rest of the party, and it would be as well to think of crossing Arabian desarts alone, as to ascend Skiddow without a conductor: we therefore took a little lad, who had been twice at the top, and set out on this laborious expedition. The immense mountain lay before us, unornamented by a single bush, and unrivalled by surrounding hills. We dared scarcely flatter ourselves with the hope of being able to reach the stupendous summit, while our attendant assured us, he had attempted it with many, who, when they had reached the first station, were content with being able to say, they had been on Skiddow, and gladly returned. We soon perceived at a great distance two diminutive figures moving along, who we hoped might prove part of our party: these we longed to meet, in order to hear tidings of the difficulties, and the recompence, but they were soon lost to us by intervening irregularities. A group of figures, of no very gentle demeanour, with enormous sticks in their hands, soon strode above our heads, hallooing most vociferously. These were workmen from Keswick, “shouting their boisterous joys,” as they went to make holiday on the mountain; and as if the unbounded range before them had given freedom to their faculties, they seemed to “swallow the ground with eagerness, and to mock at fear.” Though the benevolent heart gladly participates in the gaiety of rustic mirth, this was rather too riotous for our more temperate emotions, and we were glad to see them march before us. The former figures now re-appeared, and we were pleased to recognize our old companions on their descent. We were soon seated on the grass, and began to inquire the wonders of the place, and the dangers of the way; we found the latter insufficient to deter us, and, after refreshing ourselves with a draught from a mountain stream, we set forward with new alacrity. On turning to take a retrospect of the scene we had left, villages, lakes, and mountains lay scattered as on a map at our feet, and the view we already had, lent new vigour to our efforts to see more. A gentleman had taken his stand a little below us, and was heightening his enjoyment by means of a glass: he soon overtook our feebler footsteps, and offered to enlarge the sphere of observation. Access was not difficult, for amid such scenes he who feels averse from participation and sympathy, has few of the better feelings of humanity about him. We proceeded on our march together, and from this stranger we learned the names of the objects that most forcibly arrested our attention. The ascent was long, and would have appeared tedious, had it not been beguiled by interesting conversation. The world, and the lakes, men and books, made us forget the time we had been in reaching the summit, for the summit of Skiddow we did reach! But no pen, no pencil, could give any adequate idea of the scene we commanded. Mountains eighty miles distant were perceptible to the naked eye; an innumerable multitude of lesser ones lay beneath our feet. The beautiful Derwent-water spread its whole length before us, and the tremendous Lodoar was just perceptible, – a narrow stream. The jaws of Borrowdale expanding to receive the terminating lake were still grand, though diminished; while the surrounding seas of mountains, too numerous to number, stood like transfixed waves, the shadows of their summits giving an inexpressible softness to the intervening declivities, and adding new beauties to the lake they embosomed. On the west, the ocean spread its glories to our view; the Isle of Man ornamenting the scene, and Scotland with its distinguished towns and hills aggrandizing the north. So vast is the range and so numerous the objects, that the eye was glad to close, and repose itself for a moment, while the mind involuntarily breathed,

‘Visions of glory, spare my aching sight!’

We turned from this stupendous scene of grandeur with regret, and would gladly have stayed longer, but the air, although in the valley the heat was so intense that we could with difficulty proceed, is so extremely cold and piercing, that it is dangerous to remain long at the top. Parties have sometimes been so completely enveloped in clouds, as to be rendered incapable of finding their way down, and been reduced to the necessity of passing the night on the summit of this august mountain! Fortunately for us, the day was remarkably clear, and few are the adventurers who are favoured with a more extensive view. Other guides and other wanderers approached the top while we were on it, and each seemed glad to communicate emotion, and to participate enjoyment; and we began our descent with the consciousness of ample recompence for our labour. When we had reached the inn, we found we had been seven hours in making this pilgrimage of ten miles, though our loiterings had neither been long nor frequent. Benevolent and interesting stranger, though we have parted from thee for ever, yet so long as Skiddow can be recollected, the society which rendered its ascent delightful shall not be forgotten! – The next day we left Keswick, and retraced our road back; but so different a view does this enchanting scenery present, when contemplated from different aspects, that we found it as interesting as a new ride. The first range of mountains before us had acquired an aweful darkness by the shadows of impending clouds, though not at all veiled in their mist, as we had often seen them; a range beyond were gilt with glittering sun-beams, while their summits were just dimly seen through seas of silver vapour. The eye unaccustomed to this scenery can have no adequate ideas of the variety, the beauty, or the grandeur produced by light and shade on these magnificent mountains.

– – “Who can paint like nature?

– – Can imagination boast,

Amidst its gay creation, hues like her’s?

Or can it mix them with that matchless skill,

And lose them in each other?”

By quitting the road, and walking through a narrow lane, we gained a good view of Leathes-water, which we had only had a transient gaze at in going. About the middle, it is intersected by two peninsulas; the shepherds have united these, by piling heaps of loose stones, and laying planks from one to the other, thus forming a bridge suitable to the genius of the place. Near this is an interesting old house on the margin of the lake, over which the windows of its Gothic parlour open secluded from all human observation, and secluding every object but the water and its surrounding mountains. This habitation is completely sheltered from the view of the traveller along the common road: it seems a “shelter from the blast,” and an inviting abode for him “whom nature’s works can charm.”

We gave our horses water at the cottage ale-house we had slept at in going, and felt rejoiced that it was neither night nor dark to oblige us to sleep there again. Helm-crag soon attracted our attention; it appeared more tremendous this way than it had done the other. The vast chasm or crater near its summit was more perceptible, and the projecting cliff on its point looked like an enormous giant guarding his tremendous domains.

At Rydall we stopped to see the waterfalls at Sr. Michael le Fleming’s. Rude winding paths conduct you through the wild undress scenery of nature to that which is most remote from the house, till, from a considerable elevation, you discover it rushing amidst ornamental thickets through a sort of arch of its own excavating, down a precipice, into an ample reservoir its force has formed, from whence the feathery foam rises in the finest particles, and fills the adjacent atmosphere with a transparent silvery shower. From this reservoir it rolls magnificently over beds of fractured rock, to a distance far greater than the hasty traveller is suffered to trace it. You are led back again to the road, and after a few paces re-enter the inclosure, into a more ornamented part near the house, and from thence descend into a dark walk, inclosed by a deep shade of firs from every object below and around you. After making a sudden angle, a little rude building, which bounds the view, seems to obstruct the path; the guide goes forward, enters it, and when you have approached, suddenly pushes back the door, and a sight presents itself which fills the gazer with delight and wonder. Opposite the door of the building, which is dark, gloomy, and unornamented, is a large opening through which is discovered the water we had before quitted rushing over fantastic forms of rock in the wildest grandeur. At some distance is flung over it a bridge, consisting of one fine arch of dark-grey stone, wihch greatly heightens the effect; and its descent to the building from which you contemplate it, is ornamented with wild luxuriant foliage, while some old grotesque trees fling their broadarms over the riven rock, and add a solemn grandeur to the scene. Perhaps a more favourable moment could not have been enjoyed: the body of the sun was concealed behind the eminence we looked up to, but the richest, deep, crimson radiance diffus’d an inexpressible glory amongst the dark shades of the trees, which was reflected by the most prominent parts of the water; the dark-grey rock, and the whole scene, assuming that rich tint which is so much admired in the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. We quitted this spot with regret, and proceeded to Low-wood, the fashionable station for Windermere; but not a room was unoccupied, and we hastened to Bowness, a more central point, and to us a preferable one. The ride to this place is highly delightful, amidst impending woods, through which you occasionally gain fine views of the lake, and its attendant scenery. Rayrig, the seat of Mr. Le Fleming, on the border of the lake, is said to resemble Ferney, the residence of Voltaire, near that of Geneva. The evening was calm, and we hasted to contemplate the beauties of Windermere, on its margin. Our party thought it too late to venture on the water. To me the hallowed hour of twilight, the calm unruffled surface of the lake, the deep shadows of the surrounding woods, and the reflection of a few scattered stars, rendered it the more interesting, and I determined to secure a pleasure which might not again be afforded.

Opportunities for securing important advantages, or exquisite enjoyments, occur but seldom; when once presented, and we are for postponing “till a more convenient season,” they are gone, and gone for ever! Boats are constantly in waiting, and never was indulgence more grateful, to that sort of melancholy which softens, not subdues the heart. He who is not disposed to be soothed and gratified by the present, has profited little by the past, and deserves still less of the future. This enjoyment ought to have inspired somewhat better than the following:

O venerated scene! O hallow’d hour!

Dear are your calm delights to sorrow’s soul;

For here the erring world resigns its pow’r,

And erring passions, here, their wild controul.

I thank thee, mildest regent*** of the night,

That thy bland radiance gilds the sombre scene,

Throws on the wave its silver line of light,

And tips with softer shades the wood’s deep green.

How dear that silence, when no sound is heard,

Save the slow measur’d dashings of the oar,

And the tir’d wing of that sequester’d bird,

Who seeks his covert distant from the shore!

If on that isle the human form might rest,

Poor persecuted heron, I would share

Thy wild retreat, and soothe thy ruffled nest

With all the ardour of a sufferer’s care.

For I have borne the blast, and felt the storm,

And pant to lighten all the woe I see;

If mortals scorn my aid in every form,

I should derive a bliss from blessing thee.

O pause not on thine oar, but row through night,

Nor let that oar e’er rest, that night e’er close;

The shore, the day, for me have no delight

Dear as this sabbath of serene repose!

In my way to the inn, with the apology of begging a moment’s rest, I called at a little cottage. The man was just returned from his daily labour; the woman had prepared a bowl of beans for supper; spoons were arranged amongst them for all who were to partake: her eyes gladdened with delight, whilst she placed them before her husband, and her children gathered round to share the frugal repast. I was invited to join them, and, in order not to interrupt the harmony of a scene it was so grateful to witness, I readily took my spoon. The good woman offered to butter my share more plentifully; but the heart cannot be much interested where the appetite’s very dainty, and this I would not permit. I had often heard and read of cottage felicity, but I never saw the content, health and chearfulness of rusticity exhibited so pleasingly before.

No locks, no bolts, here guard superfluous gold.

No pamper’d slave curses the pomp that feeds him;

No jealousy, no fear, dims the fine eye

Of rustic health and female loveliness:

No lordly domination clouds his brow,

To blast the blossom of domestic peace;

Each is the other’s world; and confidence,

And smiles of kindness speaking all the heart,

Is love’s exhaustless store, on which they live,

The hope of meeting gilds the parting hour;

And cares hang light, borne for a dearer self.

On the unguarded sill the children sit

To watch at welcome eve their fire’s return,

’Till the loud barking of the well-known dog

Rouses their little feet; the winding lane,

Uncheck’d by length’ning shadows, quick they trace;

Soon the tir’d arm forgets its weariness,

And bears the prattler home: all toils are there

O’erpaid, for love and peace are waiting there;

– ’Tis all the virtuous dare to ask below.

These people lament much the influx of gentry amongst these scenes of nature and of peace; though it is not the guest that “tarrieth but a day,” whose presence they dread, but the gentlemen who build houses, and reside amongst them. One of the inhabitants of these abodes monopolizes corn for his horses and his poultry, which would make a whole parish comfortable. During the scarcity of last winter (1795-6), twenty of what they term loads, at twenty shillings per load, were consumed by the poultry at a neighbouring seat. The man I conversed with appeared about thirty years of age, and he could recollect the time when not a single chaise was ever seen in the place, or could have approached it; and now the common phrase is, “There is a terrible deal of quality!” – The next morning, our whole party set out on the lake; the scene was highly beautiful, and finely contrasted that of the preceding evening. The sun shone with unclouded lustre, the lake perfectly serene and transparent, every object was reflected with the most exact minuteness, and the mossy beds, over which we sailed, appeared as vivid as though there had been no intercepting medium. We sailed to Low-wood. The scene contemplated from the bowling-green is rich and beautiful. Windermere extends from north to south about twelve or fourteen miles, and is in breadth from two to six; it assumes a curving line, which adds greatly to its beauty; and is ornamented with nine islands. Some of the scenery on its banks is enriched with wood and scattered habitations. We returned on the opposite side of the lake, and landed on Curwin’s Island, which occupies about thirty acres of ground, and is the largest in this little Archipelago. The trim and neat appearance of its borders seems scarcely in keeping with the surrounding scenery, and I felt half afraid of landing. But it is a delightful little paradise, and will become more interesting every year from the growth of the plantations: these are already highly ornamental, and there are a few venerable old trees, which add dignity to groups of a modern growth; and when I heard that a yew, which caught my attention, had been remembered by a man of eighty, in the state it then was, ever since he could recollect, it was impossible not to feel respect for the hand that had left it untouched; though perhaps no genuine lover of nature visits this spot, without regretting that art has done so much. We rowed to Crowholm, a very interesting point, round which the lake sweeps, and almost forms it into an island. A large old farm house, overhung by tall trees, which skirt one half of the peninsula, ornaments the scene. The cows were waiting around the door to be milked, and we gladly took our station on some faggots by the margin of the lake, waiting to partake the delicious beverage. A postman arriving at a spot apparently shut out from the habitable world, would have surprised us, had we not known that it was the point from which passengers are ferried across the lake to the Kendall road. The ferryboat gives interest to the scene; and while the shades of evening drew around us, we saw its last cargo set sail. The back ground to this little secluded spot is formed of irregular majestic rock, some of whose points are enriched with the glossy holly, and the deeper shades of the venerable yew. We bade adieu to this spot with regret, and sailed towards Bowness reluctantly, as it was our final enjoyment of lake scenery; the next morning being fixed for our return to Lancaster. We ascended the bleak, barren, dreary hills on Kendal Moor, with sensations somewhat similar to those of the heroes we had so often attended in our juvenile years in their visits to the Elysian fields, on re-ascending to the abodes of human care; and should hardly have borne the change, had we not, like them, hoped to return, when we might be permitted to make a longer stay.

*This perspective of the ruin is said to be two hundred and eighty seven feet in length; the choir-part of it is only twenty-eight feet wide, but the nave is seventy: the walls are fifty-four-feet high, and in thickness five. Antiq. of Furness.” [Coltman’s note.]

**The height of this fall is about 200 feet: that of the highest cragg is 500 feet from the level of the lake. [Coltman’s note.]


Text: Monthly Magazine 10 (August and September issues, 1800): 11-16; 119-23; for the complete annotated text, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 4, pp. 239-55.