I’ve long taken a great interest in the way the Victorians climbed the mountains of the Lake District, for it was in that period that Lakeland achieved its first great burst of popularity. Inspired by Wordsworth and the Romantic poets, Victorians – well, the well-heeled ones who could afford it – came in their droves.
And being Victorians, a lot of them wanted to get to the top of the mountains. And so they did, on foot and by pony. And as Keswick developed as a resort Skiddaw came high on their list.
I’ve written before here, and in more detail in my book The Compleat Trespasser, how the Victorians staged mass trespasses when the Spedding family, local landowners, closed the popular path up Spooney Green Lane to Latrigg Fell. But their real objection was that this was the most popular route up to Skiddaw as well.
Happily, the mass trespasses served their purpose and we can walk in their steps up to the summit of the 3053 feet summit of Skiddaw. In fact, some writers of the twentieth century, as Wainwright noted, tended to scoff at Skiddaw as a “tourist mountain”. And so it had become and still is, but why not?
Victorians thought differently. John Barrow in his 1888 book Mountain Ascents thought it quite wonderful and he had considerable experience of mountain ranges around the world.
It’s a magnificent walk and still popular. And the whole massif is quite beautiful, not only when you are up there but from all around.
We avoided the crowds the other day by going out early, following in those Victorian footsteps. A quite beautiful day of clear blue skies and distant views once the cloud inversions of the autumn morning had vanished – and it’s always sad to see them go.
Once past the monument to the Hawell family of shepherds erected by Canon Rawnsley – one of the heroes of the Mass Trespass movement – and up the steeper zig-zags of the path, the way levels out with wonderful views across the Skiddaw Forest, that grand stretch of enticing walking country.
And the long and rocky top of Skiddaw is splendid, with such terrific views. Being early, there were just a handful of fellow fellwalkers to share it with. Not a difficult walk, even for old codgers like me, which also probably accounts for its popularity.
Going to one top on the massif is not enough, so we went down via Skiddaw Little Man and Lonscale Fell, both wonderful viewpoints. Wainwright thought the view back into the Lake District from Skiddaw one of the very best. He was right. So many familiar fells, such grand vistas over Derwent Water.
And the knowledge you are seeing much of the same scenes that those Victorian pioneers would have relished.
As we descended we passed a number of walkers heading up. And it became clear that several of these were new to the whole business of hillwalking. For one of the remarkable things to come out of the whole recent business of the virus, is the rediscovery by some people with wild nature.
I hope they keep it up and enjoy many walks in the future.
And that they campaign, as those Victorian Mass Trespassers did – and many of us since – for the Right to Roam, the protection of our countryside and the right of all those who walk this precious land.
(c) John Bainbridge 2020