Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
By Thomas Gray (17161771)
From Journal in the Lakes
8th October 1769.
BID farewell to Keswick and took the Ambleside road in a gloomy morning; wind east and afterwards north-east; about two miles from the town mounted an eminence called Castle Rigg, and the sun breaking out discovered the most beautiful view I have yet seen of the whole valley behind me, the two lakes, the river, the mountain, all in their glory! had almost a mind to have gone back again. The road in some little patches is not completed, but good country road, through sound, but narrow and stony lanes, very safe in broad daylight. This is the case about Causeway-foot, and among Naddle-fells to Lanthwaite. The vale you go in has little breadth, the mountains are vast and rocky, the fields little and poor, and the inhabitants are now making hay, and see not the sun by two hours in a day so long as at Keswick. Came to the foot of Helvellyn, along which runs an excellent road, looking down from a little height on Lees water, (called also Thirl-meer or Wiborn-water) and soon descending on its margin. The lake from its depth looks black (though really as clear as glass), and from the gloom of the vast crags, that scowl over it: it is narrow and about three miles long, resembling a river in its course; little shining torrents hurry down the rocks to join it, with not a bush to overshadow them, or cover their march: all is rock and loose stones up to the very brow, which lies so near your way, that not above half the height of Helvellyn can be seen.
Passed by the little chapel of Wiborn, out of which the Sunday congregation were then issuing. Past a beck near Dunmailraise and entered Westmoreland a second time, now begin to see Helm-crag, distinguished from its rugged neighbours not so much by its height, as by the strange broken outline of its top, like some gigantic building demolished, and the stones that composed it flung across each other in wild confusion. Just beyond it opens one of the sweetest landscapes that art ever attempted to imitate. The bosom of the mountains spreading here into a broad bason discovers in the midst Grasmere-water, its margin is hollowed into small bays with bold eminences: some of them rocks, some of soft turf that half conceal and vary the figure of the little lake they command. From the shore a low promontory pushes itself far into the water, and on it stands a white village with the parish church rising in the midst of it, hanging enclosures, corn-fields, and meadows green as an emerald, with their trees and hedges and cattle, fill up the whole space from the edge of the water. Just opposite to you is a large farm-house, at the bottom of a steep smooth lawn embosomed in old woods, which climb half way up the mountains side, and discover above them a broken line of crags, that crown the scene. Not a single red tile, no flaming gentlemans house, or garden walls break in upon the repose of this little unsuspected paradise, but all is peace, rusticity, and happy poverty in its neatest, most becoming attire.
The road winds here over Grasmere-hill, whose rocks soon conceal the water from your sight, yet it is continued along behind them, and contracting itself to a river communicates with Ridale-water, another small lake but of inferior size and beauty; it seems shallow too, for large patches of reeds appear pretty far within it. Into this vale the road descends: on the opposite banks large and ancient woods mount up the hills, and just to the left of our way stands Ridale-hall, the family seat of Sir Michael Fleming, but now a farm-house, a large old-fashioned fabric surrounded with wood, and not much too good for its present destination. Sir Michael is now on his travels, and all this timber far and wide belongs to him, I tremble for it when he returns. Near the house rises a huge crag called Ridale-head, which is said to command a full view of Wynander-mere, and I doubt it not, for within a mile that great lake is visible even from the road. As for going up the crag, one might as well go up Skiddaw.
Came to Ambleside eighteen miles from Keswick, meaning to lie there, but on looking into the best bed-chamber, dark and damp as a cellar, grew delicate, gave up Wynander-mere in despair, and resolved I would go on to Kendal directly, fourteen miles farther: the road in general, fine turnpike, but some parts (about three miles in all) not made, yet without danger.
Unexpectedly was well rewarded for my determination. The afternoon was fine, and the road for full five miles runs along the side of Wynander-mere, with delicious views across it, and almost from one end to the other: it is ten miles in length and at most a mile over, resembling the course of some vast and magnificent river, but no flat marshy grounds, no osier beds, or patches of scrubby plantation on its banks: at the head two valleys open among the mountains, one, that by which we came down, the other Langsledale in which Wrynose and Hard-knot, two great mountains, rise above the rest. From thence the fells visibly sink and soften along its sides, sometimes they run into it, (but with a gentle declivity) in their own dark and natural complexion, oftener they are green and cultivated, with farms interspersed, and round eminences on the border covered with trees: towards the South it seems to break into larger bays with several islands and a wider extent of cultivation: the way rises continually till at a place called Orresthead it turns south-east, losing sight of the water. Passed by Ings chapel and Stavely, but I can say no farther for the dusk of the evening coming on I entered Kendal almost in the dark, and could distinguish only a shadow of the castle on a hill, and tenter grounds spread far and wide round the town, which I mistook for houses. My inn promised sadly, having two wooden galleries (like Scotland) in front of it. It was indeed an old ill-contrived house, but kept by civil, sensible people, so I stayed two nights with them, and fared and slept very comfortably.