An Ascent of Ingleborough in 1818

William Pearson
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

- reported in the Westmorland Advertiser and Kendal Chronicle, December 12th and 19th, 1818

David Mills is the Great-great-great-great nephew of William Pearson who wrote an article about his ascent of Ingleborough with a friend Tom Smith in the autumn of 1818. David Mills holds the original manuscript of the article; the newspaper version is reprinted here, with its original detailed punctuation. William Pearson (1780-1856) was the son of a yeoman farmer from the village of Crosthwaite, near Kendal, in the Lake District. Educated at the local school he showed above average intelligence and secured a job with a bank in Manchester where he worked for 17 years. Whilst continuing with a self-taught education, perhaps with the studious use of the few libraries available in this era, he achieved a knowledge of nature and the countryside well in excess of the norm. However, his love of nature and poetry, (he was a friend of William Wordsworth), eventually encouraged a return to the Lakes where he purchased a small farm and settled down. During his time in Manchester he met a poor silk weaver named Tom Smith and they became firm friends for the rest of their lives. Both having a love of nature and literature they often toured the countryside together. The Ascent of Ingleborough describes one such excursion.

The Ascent of Ingleborough - Being an extract from the M S Journal of a tour through the Deanery of Craven

La chose que je regrette le plus dans les détails de ma vie, dont j’ai perdu la mémoire, est de n’avoir pas fait des journaux de mes voyages. Jamais je n’ai tant pensé, tant existé, tant réçu, tant été moi, si j’ose ainsi dire, que dans ceux que j’ai faits seul et à pied.
               J.J. Rousseau

[The thing I regret most about aspects of my life, is not having written diaries of my travels. Never have I thought so much, gained so much or really been myself, dare I say it, than when travelling alone and on foot.]

Verily there are many advantages in travelling on foot over other modes of locomotion. The pedestrian tourist can set out at a moment’s notice; his movements are not delayed by the indolence or ill-humour of a footman, ostler or postillion; nor depend on the concurrence or good behaviour of the poor quadrupeds that are doomed to drag along his richer fellow-creature of the human species. He is not pent up in a close vehicle, carrying with him the eternal rattle of the wheels; - he is abroad in the open air, with an eye and an ear for every delightful sight and sound. His humble approach excites no envy, and the kindness he meets with is unmixed with servility. The veil that is spread before the eyes of the prouder traveller is drawn aside for him, and he sees as it were, more into the heart of the human character.- And as to his communion with nature, it is far more independent: -

               - he can where and when he will sit down,

Beneath the trees, or by the grassy bank of highway side, or he can leave the common track, and seek her more concealed beauties - he can tread the woody glen, or trace up the brook to its retired birth-place, where, in the fine conception of one of the first of our living Poets,

               “The Mountain infant
               Comes forth like light from darkness.”

These are some of the thoughts that were suggested to myself and friend, as we set out at six o’clock on a fine morning, (the 8th of September last), from the neat little Inn, the Joiners’ Arms, at Settle, with the purpose of visiting the summit of Ingleborough. On passing the village of Giggleswick, we could not forebear turning aside to have a nearer view of the School, of which the father of the celebrated Dr Paley, had been master for 47 years, and where that eminent and useful individual had been taught the elements of learning. The Paleys had been long inhabitants of the neighbouring village of Langcliffe - the grandfather of the Dr. being what is called a Statesman, or a cultivator of his own Estate, a condition of life, tho’ neither elevated, nor often attended, with much intellectual enlargement, yet, from its independence and freedom from anxiety, perhaps, more happy than any other. As a native of this part of the Country I could not but feel a little proud on reflecting that it had given birth to two eminent individuals - Watson and Paley, who have rendered greater services to our common religion than, perhaps, any other writers of late years.

The environs of G[iggleswick] are mountainous and romantic - the lofty scar extending on our right for about a mile. The celebrated ebbing and flowing well is near the bottom of the brow, as we ascend towards Clapham, close to the road, on the right. A neat stone trough has been made to receive it, with an aperture on each side, within six or eight inches of the top, sufficient to permit the escape of the water, except at intervals, when it overflows. We could perceive from the wetness of the stone, that it had just been at its height, but, from its known caprice, we had no great expectation of being gratified with a sight of it. We were, however, in high luck, for, in a short time, it bubbled forth very copiously, and, in a minute or two, filled the cistern, and ran over at the top. We were so fortunate also as to see it overflow on our return. Seeing it begin, we beckoned to a gentleman who was approaching with four or five ladies of the Society of Friends, to make haste;- when he told us, that he had come (from Settle, we supposed) no less than 7 times, during the last year, with company to see it, and had always been disappointed! This well seems to differ from one we have seen in the road from Chapel le Frith to Castleton, as it never entirely ceases to flow, while the other, between the fits, (if we may so express it) appears quite stationary. As we stood now on high ground, in looking back on the valley, the white morning mist had covered it from our sight, causing the appearance of a large lake with its varied shores - in some places receding into bays, in others shooting out into promontories: this, to my companion, who had never seen one of these beautiful waters, was a pleasing sight - a kind of shadowy and fading resemblance.

We met a number of the country people on the road, it being market-day at Settle. Their provincial dialect, to which I had been unaccustomed for years, seemed to me like the voice of friends or kindred. I could have believed that I had personally known them all at some time or other. We could not but notice the civility and readiness with which they answered our questions, so different from the manners we met with in manufacturing districts. On reaching the hill, a lad, driving some carts, advised us “to tak’th aald rooad, as it was mich bainer, it would saaive us hoaf a mile.” By and bye we had a fine prospect, in the direction of Clapham, of the wide open valley stretching away to the left, thinly sprinkled with farm houses. In front the village of Astwick; while, beyond, we had full view of the majestic Ingleborough towering above his neighbours:- to the right, to the N.E. was the round peak of Pennygent; and, behind us, to the S. E. was to be seen the large mass of Pendlehill, standing alone, at more than 20 miles distance. From this point we could now see three famous mountains, according to the old rhyme -

               “Pendlehill, Pennygent and Ingleborough,
               There are not three such hills England thorough.”

We soon reached Clapham, a rather neat village, with two or three genteel houses in it. - We ordered breakfast at the Black Bull, to which we had been recommended, and whilst it was preparing, we sallied out in search of the village barber - he was not at home, but his wife dispatched a messenger in all haste after him saying “that he was at the Ludge, but would soon be here, if he wasn’t ganin with the Gentlemen to’th moor a shutting.” We waited with as much patience as could be expected, considering that we had walked 6 mile that morning, and had not yet breakfasted, but no barber made his appearance. The good woman seemed as much disappointed as we were, till asking for the shaving implements, and finding them in good order, we performed the operation on ourselves, which being followed by the same reward as if Strap had been there in person, gave equal satisfaction to all parties. And what an excellent breakfast awaited us in the little stone-floored parlour at the Black Horse (Bull?) - its blue stone floor, ornamented with white curled lines, with the regularity and flow of an expert penman:- “the fragrant berry sun-burnt Mocha bears” - the buns and muffins, with sweet mountain butter - the new laid eggs - the delicious yellow cream;- recollect our long walk, and then think of our enjoyment. For my part, I love these plain, neat, Country public houses - their parlour kept apart, its walls covered with the 12 golden rules - Joseph and his brethern, or other Scripture pieces. The flower-pots in the window - the mahogany cupboard in the corner, its door left ajar, with harmless vanity, to display the store of glass, china &c. contained in it: the kind, officious landlady who can never do enough to oblige you, nor get you good enough fare, and is more pleased if you praise it than with all her profit. I love them, for they remind me of excellent old Isaac Walton, his innocent mirth, his “bottle of Sack too good for any body but Anglers, or very honest men”, and I thank Heaven that I am myself a “Brother of the Angle.”

Thus refreshed, we left the Black Bull, and after keeping the turnpike for about a mile, turned off at a lime-kiln and began to climb the mountain. The ascent of Ingleborough, from the south, is easy and gradual. We passed a large heap of stones, which must have been brought from a distance, probably the cairn or monument of some ancient Chief. The surface, as we ascend, consists of black turf, boggy, and partly covered with heath. We spring the Moor fowl in great numbers; they are, most likely, pertinaciously preserved from the attacks of those who are too dull to perceive property in any animal that will neither come at a call, nor can be confined within definite limits.

It was pleasant to turn every now and then, and look on the valley below, as towards Bentham and the Forest of Bolland. Although the morning had been clear and sunny, yet, as the sun rose higher and drank up the dew, we perceived showers forming in different quarters of the heavens. There was one approaching from the west, and being situated so high, we could see long lines streaming from the black cloud all the way to the earth, and shewing by the misty dark hue it threw upon the ground, the exact rate of its advance. This was something new to S. who had not been accustomed to mountain scenery. We had fortunately provided ourselves with umbrellas, which, when extended over our heads, seemed a very surprising sight to some small horses that were driven by the storm to the leeward side of the mountain - they stood gazing at us, and snorting, with erected ears in great wonderment. They perhaps made the same mistake as gave rise to the fable of the Centaur. These showers, though not so pleasant, in some respects, yet by the alternate sunshine and shadow thrown over the landscape gave the prospect, which seemed to widen every moment, a variety which it would not have exhibited in finer weather.

Before we reach the top the ascent becomes more perpendicular for about 100 yards, consisting entirely of small fragments of stone, through which we wind along a narrow path like a sheep track. The summit is nearly circular, 2 or 300 yards in breadth, and almost as level as a bowling green; but, from the coldness of these great elevations, there is little grass growing upon it. It is surrounded by the remains of a stone wall, which has induced the belief that it was a place of defence in ancient times. Of late years, during the alarm of French invasion, we were told some soldiers were encamped near the summit, to watch the beacon which was placed there. We ascended on the south east, and walked over the top to the west, from whence the prospect is the most grand and extensive. It is impossible to convey, by words, to those who have never been on the tops of high mountains, the variety which meets the eye, and the sublime sensations impressed upon the mind. We shall merely copy a few lines, which have, at least, the advantage of having been written on the spot, with this sublime and beautiful scenery before our eyes.

“Pendlehill still towering high to the South East - to the N.E. the conical top of Pennygent, - betwixt it and us, rather more to the east large masses of naked white limestone rock, bulging out into steep bluff heads, to the south. To the north an immense extent of barren moors, with spots of sunshine beautifully interspersed among the dark heath; and these moors containing green vales, no doubt as beautiful, though invisible to us. We can only see one or two glens with houses and green fields, divided by stone walls. Close under the mountain, to the N.W. lies the narrow valley of Chapel-in-the-Dale - more to the right, and on this side of the lofty Whernside, is the village of Wintergill, which, from its cheerless situation, seems a very suitable name for it. Behind Whernside, still further to the west, is Gregareth, a long, ridge-like mountain, but not so high as Ingleborough or Whernside. Turning to the S.W. we look over an amazing extent of rich country, which has the appearance of a flat, (though, no doubt, diversified by hill and valley) - from the great height from which we look down upon it. We perceive the river Lune through a part of its course, as far as Lancaster, - tho’ running through a fine valley, it seems on a level with the surrounding country. - The town of Lancaster, the Castle, and two or three ships in the river beyond it - the sea far to the south, white and dazzling with sun- beams, near what we take to be the mouth of the Ribble; - more on the right, the bay of Morecambe, branching far up the country, and shewing, here and there, a brown appearance, as it peeps out behind points of land, or hills, as it comes up towards Millthrop. The dark round mass of Black Comb is very distinct, tho’ we should suppose it, at least, 50 or 60 miles from us, - it stands out on the left, towards the sea, at some distance from the lake mountains. And more to the right, the mountains beyond Conistone, and at the head of Windermere are seen towering to a great height. We are aware Tourists have talked of seeing from hence the Isle of Man, Anglesey and even into Scotland, - it may be so, - we can tell of no such wonders, but we have said that the day was not very favourable, - showers were flying about, and clouds rested on the distant mountains”.

Amid the shade that covered a great part of the landscape, a gleam of sunshine revealed to us the bold, rocky front of Whitbarrow Scar. The light thrown upon it, when contrasted with the surrounding shadow, made it appear very distinct, and being an object associated with many pleasing recollections of boyhood and early youth, I confess I could not unexpectedly recognize it, after years of absence, without considerable emotion.

A young Quaker, with a boy, from Ingleton, as his guide, had joined us. We were witness to a very beautiful Phenomenon, which he was the first to discover, and which, not withstanding the equanimity of his sect, drew from him exclamations of wonder and delight. He ran towards it in his joy. It was a splendid mass of beautiful colouring - all the colours of the rainbow, somewhat of an oblong form, thrown upon the dark heath, at some distance to the northward. It was now about noon, and was probably caused by the sun’s rays striking on the rain drops, in the act of falling betwixt us and the Moors. What was remarkable, was its assuming nothing of the arched shape of the rainbow - it was of no great length, but much broader than the common Iris.

Another singular circumstance, it may be worth while to mention: - a couple of birds, grey Plover, we believe, settled on the summit, not far from where we stood. As, in our present solitude, any visitors were interesting, and as they are, by no means, common birds, we approached to have a nearer view of them - they made no attempt to fly, but ran before us, stopping now and then to gaze at us. S. exclaimed that they were young ones. I thought so myself, and took off my hat, supposing the bird nearest me would permit me to approach so close as to cover it. I actually came so near as to be within the length of my arm before it took wing - but then it sprung up, and was in the clouds in a moment. We might have been the first human Beings they had seen, like the birds we read of discovered on uninhabited islands. We had a pretty strong breeze, and the degree of cold was considerable, which caused us to button up close, and to walk about to keep ourselves more comfortable.

In our descent we met with a shepherd, who took us to a tremendous chasm, called Gapers Gill, on the eastern side of the mountain. It is seven or eight yards wide at the top, and, from some large stones thrown in, which we could hear twice in their fall, at distant intervals, must be of considerable depth. He told us that sheep sometimes fell into it, tempted by the grass that grew about the mouth of this hideous abyss. It receives, at present, a large brook collected from the side of the mountain: previous to the last summer it was absorbed by a chasm a few yards higher up, - but a prodigious flood, produced by a thunder-storm or water-spout, brought down large stones, (which we saw strewed all about) some of which blocked it up. At the same time nearly all the trout were swept away - there were only some very small ones, he said, left in the brook at present. It is a curious question in Natural History, how brooks of this description first acquire their finny inhabitants. As to this, a chasm of such great perpendicular depth renders it impossible to have been supplied by the river below; nor, in a country where trouts are plentiful, is it likely they would be put there by the hand of man, particularly in a place where they will never grow to any great size.

The shepherd took us still further down the mountain side, about half a mile, into a woody Gill where the brook again emerges into day at the foot of a steep rock, from a cavern, into which, he said, he had penetrated, with a light, more than 100 yards, without arriving at the end of it. The upper part of the rock being skirted by wood, which conceals the precipice, renders it dangerous for sheep and cattle. A cow had fallen down it last summer, a distance of 100 feet at least, breaking a tree, which he showed us, in her descent - it is needless to say she was dashed in pieces. There were the bones of a sheep lying, which had shared the same fate. There is another opening under a rock near this, from which issues water of a petrifying quality, as appeared from some sticks put in a short time before, which were already encrusted with stony particles. The farmer told us the brook once had its outlet here.

Farmer W-- is a Westmorland Freeholder, and a man of substance, but, like Abraham, of old, his wealth is chiefly in flocks and herds. He farms 500 acres, besides his sheep-pasture on Ingleborough. We took some refreshment with him on our return. His house stands in an exposed situation, unsheltered by trees, but we could not but admire its native capability of resisting the winter storms - its walls were, at least, three feet in thickness, and the stones cemented together like those of an old castle. A part of the wall, above the porch, bore marks of repair, the history of which is curious. A chink in it had, by some accident, received the seed of a plane tree, or sycamore, which, thus protected, had grown and flourished, till its bole was the thickness of a man’s body - a beautiful tree; - this, and its singular situation, made it the wonder of all that beheld it. But, in shooting its roots downward, as it gradually grew in size, like an ungrateful child, it was insidiously working the destruction of the old wall that had first afforded it shelter and support. The summer before we were there, it had been condemned by the landlord, and cut down without mercy.