For many years The Nab, at the heart of the Martindale Deer Forest, was the Wainwright you weren’t supposed to visit, lest you disturbed the hunting preserves of the Martindale Deer Forest owners.
The myth was put about that it was the deer they were all keen to save from disturbance. It was never true. It was the value of the sporting estate that was at peril. Heaven forbid that the peasants should try to roam around its closely-guarded acres.
Even Wainwright urged caution; under pressure he suggested that walkers shouldn’t intrude, but then went on to include the route description in his The Far Eastern Fells book, admitting that he’d trespassed there itself, getting away with it “due to his remarked resemblance to an old stag”.
But then came the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW), which gave a right to roam across this sacred fell. And yes, there’s been not the slightest indication that the deer have been much disturbed by the visiting ramblers. In truth, the herd was never much up on The Nab itself, preferring the woodlands around the Rampsgill Beck, where walkers seldom tramped.
Even early last century, the deer forest proprietors were iffy about the common herd (us) coming for a stroll in this part of the Lake District. The Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944), who liked to bill himself as England’s premier sportsman, went positively apoplectic at the thought of any feet but his own treading this ground. In a lifetime devoted to ostentatious pleasure, a rambler or fellwalker was obviously Lonsdale’s particular bete noire.
On my bookshelves, I have a charming little volume entitled Wayside Pageant by W.L. Andrews and A.P. Macguire, which is full of the joys of exploring the English countryside. It was published in 1933.
The authors obviously thought it a good idea to invite Lord Lonsdale to write one of those nice introductions to their book, the kind which famous men contribute from time to time to enliven such works. They probably regretted the invitation. The Right Hon. The Earl of Lonsdale KG GCVO sent them back a furious screed condemning all fellwalkers as trespassers and upstarts who vandalise and set fire to the countryside.
His lordship gave ramblers the kind of write-up the early Vikings might have got from displaced locals when they first raided the vales of Lakeland.
The authors, perhaps in a spirit of ironic contempt, published his lordship’s views as they stood. Reading it today you have to chuckle. It’s a wonder Lord Lonsdale didn’t burst a blood vessel.
Not that everyone was unwelcome in the vicinity of The Nab. Just before World War One, they had Germany’s Kaiser Bill over to stay, so that he could take pot shots at the deer. The bungalow he stayed in is still there, below The Nab. You can rent it if you have pots of cash.
All this by way of introduction, for on a glowery day we walked out from Harstop and climbed Rest Dodd before taking a gentle stroll down the ridge to The Nab. We sat at the highest point and looked down at the bungalow where the Kaiser stayed. A splendid if uneventful walk. It would have been even nicer to dodge keepers and gillies, but that’s the price of progress.
The views, down Martindale towards Ullswater, are staggeringly dramatic. The Nab is certainly a hill that all ramblers should seek out and visit. It’s rather beautiful in itself too, particularly when you view its bulbous mass from the vicinity of Hallin Fell.
And nice that we’ve progressed so far that the barbed wire and “Keep Out” notices of Wainwright’s day are no longer there as a blot on the landscape. Distant memories of a darker age in the Lake District.