A SUMMER'S EXCURSION
In Letters from a Lady to her Friend in London
The two letters transcribed here are taken from the November and December 1781 issues of the Cumberland Magazine, published in Whitehaven. Beyond what they tell us, the identity of the tourists remains a mystery- it is impossible even to be certain whether "dear Mr. ___" is Lucinda's husband, or, rather more intriguingly in an 18th century context, her boyfriend. Although she expects to visit the friend in London to whom the letters are written, the fact that Warwick is the first stop on the tour suggests that Lucinda herself may have a home out in the countryside to the north of the capital. The inclusion of the date "Wednesday July 15" implies that the trip did not take place in 1781, but probably in 1778.
N.B. The Cumberland Magazine, published monthly from 1778 to 1781, was a general-interest digest, and actually contained very little material specifically about Cumbria.
You injoined me at parting to send you a particular account of our summer's excursion. I obey your commands with pleasure, as I well know what has been so very entertaining to me, will be as pleasing to you to hear of. Without further preface, I will therefore begin with our journey to Warwick, on the 17th of June, in a post chaise with my dear Mr. ____ the morning fair, the roads good, and the country pleasant. Warwick is a neat, regular, and well-built town; but as there is no manufacture carried on there, it appeared rather dull. I thought it a proper place for those who wish to enjoy the conveniences of a town, united with the pleasures of the country; for there you have both in perfection. We were highly delighted with the sight of the castle, a magnificent pile of ancient grandeur; the situation pleasant beyond description; the foot of it washed by the river Avon, which meanders through a very rich country, and forms the finest landskips imaginable. The castle is elegantly furnished, and is the residence of the earl of Warwick, who is constantly improving and embellishing it; a noble example, and worthy the imitation of the great! for how much grander do they appear at their mansion-houses, than either at their villas near London, or mixed with the crowd in it?
Before we quitted the castle, we saw the arms and armour of the famous Guy, earl of Warwick. Surely the race of men are much diminished since those days: but, to our comfort, their noble spirit still remains, and they march now with as much courage to the mouth of a cannon, as they did formerly to attack a giant.
|Although the armour may have belonged to Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick (1278 – 1315), the most famous Guy, Earl of Warwick, was a legendary figure who allegedly lived several hundred years earlier, in Anglo-Saxon times, and whose story was told in a 13th century poem (plus many other later versions)|
From Warwick we proceeded to Coventry, ten miles of excellent road, and through the pretty town of Kennelworth [Kenilworth], where lies in ruins the castle made infamous by the cruel imprisonment and dethroning of Edward the II. I can say little more in praise of Coventry, than that it is a large old town, very populous, and carries on a most flourishing trade in ribbon-weaving and stuff-making. It has a good market, two very handsome churches, and a lofty and elegant spire stands all alone, as a reproach to the inhabitants for not building a church to it. We spent two days with our friends there, and saw the procession of the lady Godina [Godiva] on horseback, accompanied by the mayor and aldermen, and all the trading companies, with pageants and other decorations: a raree-show full as pleasing to the eye as your lord-mayor's shew. We left Coventry as soon as it was over, and drank tea at Meriden, a pleasant place of entertainment, and but four miles from thence; eight miles farther brought us to Coleshill, where we spent the evening and slept. This is a pretty neat built town, situated upon a hill, which commands an extensive view over a rich country, finely wooded and embellished with many gentlemen's seats; full in the view stand the ruins of Maxtoke-priory; and lord Digby's seat is near the town [Coleshill Park].
The next morning we set out for Litchfield, where we dined, and went to see the cathedral; a venerable pile of Gothic architecture, and, though much impaired by time, and the cruel ravages of civil wars, is still a noble building, and well worth seeing. The town is tolerably well built, but lies low; the country round it is fertile, the roads good, and the distance from Coleshill fifteen miles. From thence to Wolseley-Bridge is nine miles, where we spent a very pleasant evening. The houses make no great appearance, but the situation is remarkably pleasant on the banks of the Trent, a fine river, and from the window, where we supped, we had the most beautiful prospect imaginable, over the finest country, and in the finest evening I ever saw. The setting sun gilded every object, and made the picturesque clouds still more beautiful.
We walked along the banks of the river to see Whitby-House, once the delightful dwelling of the famous Widow of the Wood, who, for her transgressions, lost this paradise.
|The novel "The Widow of the Wood", by Benjamin Victor, published in 1755, was a thinly-disguised account of a real scandal involving Anna, the widow of John Whitby of Cresswell Hall, Staffordshire, and her complicated marital relationships over the few years following his death in 1750, involving Sir William Wolseley, John Robins of Stafford, and a Mr Hargreave, whose son by a previous marriage, the eminent conveyancing lawyer Francis Hargreave, allegedly attempted to acquire and destroy every copy of the novel. She was still alive in 1781.|
PS- somewhere in the middle of all that fits the Rev. William Corne of Tixall, who reportedly died of a broken heart...
We left this sweet place on Sunday morning, and went to Stone, twelve miles of as fine a road as ever was travelled: it was like a gravelled terras; on our left the river Trent winding through rich meadows, and on the other side of it a rising hill, with hanging woods, and many fine seats and parks that graced its borders, and likewise a navigation in view most of the way. We got to Stone in time to go to church; then proceeded nine miles farther to Newcastle-under-Line, a most detestable dirty town, but large and populous, with a great trade in the pottery-ware. Wedgewood's manufactory is carried on near this town. The earth of this country looks like ashes mixed with brick-dust; and the common people look of the same colour. Here we went to church again: there was a very large congregation, and the ladies were very fine, their heads and heels full as high as your London belles. After tea we went sixteen miles farther, to Holme's-Chapel, on the worst road in England, a causeway paved just like London streets before the new pavement. It was much broken, and in some parts very hilly, so that I thought my bones would all have been disjointed. This part of the country is very disagreeable, and has nothing worth notice, but a seat of lord Gower's at Trentham, a large old house, with very fine plantations round it.
We lay at Holme's-Chapel, and the next morning set out for Warrington, eighteen miles on the same rough vile causeway. There we entered Lancashire, a very fine country, with rich land, good roads, and large well-built towns of great trade. Warrington is a large populous town, and has in it a manufactory of glass, another of pin-making, with copperas works, and sail-cloth making for the navy. There we dined at a very good inn, the Red-Lion, and then proceeded to Wighan [Wigan], twelve miles, a very neat, pretty, airy town: the buildings of good stone, and covered with neat slate; the trade chiefly sail-cloth making, with some toys, busts, &c. made of the cannel coal. Here we drank tea, and from hence to Preston, had eighteen miles of good road, the country pleasant, with a distant view of the Yorkshire hills, or rather mountains, for such they appeared to me then. A mile from Preston stands the village of Houghton, in a most pleasant and romantic situation, with the fine river Ribble running through it; and the houses seem climbing up the hill, on which stands Preston, a noble and large town, the buildings quite elegant, the streets spacious. I was much struck with its appearance; we have no such towns in the South of England. They have here the best materials, and plenty of money to spirit them on to build and plant. We lay that night at a large handsome inn, lately built by lord Derby, at the expence of some thousand pounds. Here is a great trade in coarse cloth, as I was informed.
The next morning we went to Garstang, a pretty little town, where we spent two days with an agreeable friend. From thence to Lancaster is eleven miles: the road dusty, and the weather being then very hot, fatigued me very much; but as we drew near Lancaster, the prospects were pleasing, for on the left side we had a view of the sea, and on the other side the high mountains, towering one above another, made an awful appearance.
[SEE BELOW for a map of the route from here]
Lancaster is a large handsome town, the streets neatly paved, and the houses elegantly built of freestone, and covered with blue slate. No town, I ever yet saw, is equal to it, but Bath. It is situated on a rising ground, and on the summit of the hill stands the castle and the church, and from thence you have a very fine prospect both over land and sea. The tide comes as far as Lancaster, up the mouth of the river Lune, which runs through the beautiful vale of Lonsdale. Here we dined, and then set out for Kirkby Lonsdale; the distance sixteen miles, the road very good and pleasant beyond description. On the left we had a most beautiful, and in some parts, extensive vale of rich meadows, with the fine river Lune flowing through them, and shewing itself to great advantage for near ten miles of our road, and the gently rising hills on each side the vale finely wooded; and, on the right-hand, we had the Yorkshire mountains, with now and then a view of lofty Ingleborough, whose head was capped with clouds. We stopped to drink tea at Hornby, and walked up a steep hill to see the castle. It is finely situated, and is a large handsome dwelling but has been of much greater extent.
I was told it was once the residence of the noted colonel Chartres, who won it at play from some of our noblemen. I beheld it with concern, and execrated the pernicious vice of gaming, the bane of this nation, which frequently transfers property from noble families to the basest wretches, overturns all order and distinction, makes gentlemen beggars, and beggars gentlemen.
|"Chartres" was Colonel Francis Charteris (c1640-1732), whose gambling success against fellow-officers led to a court-martial but made him so much money that disgrace was irrelevant. He acquired Hornby Castle in 1713.|
We spent two days at Kirkby Lonsdale, a pretty little town, and pleasantly situated: from the church yard you have a remarkably fine prospect of hill, dale, and valley, bounded by lofty mountains, and look down upon the rapid river Lune, foaming over rocks. Here we visited some few old friends, with great pleasure, during our stay; and went from thence to Kendal, over moors, hills, and mountains; the roads good, and the face of the country so different from any I had seen before, that it was very very pleasing to me. Kendal is a large town, and, like the rest in the north, well built: it stands on the banks of the river Kent, and has a castle on a hill near it, which is now in ruins. Their chief trade is in tanning leather, and weaving and knitting stockings. Here I began to be tired, and thought I must have stopped for some time, but in the morning, finding myself much refreshed, we set out for Ulverston, twenty-two miles, through the most romantic country that can be imagined, over what they call fells, and I call mountains, and surrounded with mountains, some cultivated, others covered with wood; some rocky precipices that look tremendous, and between them pleasant vallies, lakes, and rivers, with here and there a gentleman's house well built, farm houses, and pretty neat cottages, all so delightfully situated, that it was quite an enchanting scene. It would require Pope's genius to describe it properly: I can only say, it was so new and surprizing to me, that I was all astonishment, and sometimes in raptures, particularly at my first view of Windermere, from the top of Cartmell-Fell. I often got out of the chaise, to walk down the hills, and enjoy the fine prospects. From Penny-Bridge, within four miles of Ulverstone, the road lay close by an arm of the sea, over which we had a view of distant mountains, and broken cliffs, which afforded a variegated scene, very pleasing, and on the other hand a rocky hill of immense height above our heads.
I found Ulverstone a pretty little market town, and received great civilities from many of its inhabitants. They carry on a good trade to the West-Indies; and have large iron works not far from the town. We made several excursions to the villages in the neighbourhood, which are all in the romantic stile of beauty; and from a hill called Barking [Birkrigg?], we had such an enchanting prospect as exceeds all description.
Next week we begin our excursion to the Lakes, which will afford matter for another epistle to my dear friend, who will, I am sure, excuse all defects in stile and manner, and kindly accept a true account of every thing just as it appeared to me. I promise myself a still greater pleasure, at our first happy meeting, in telling you a thousand things I have omitted, for fear of being thought tedious. Rejoice with me, that health and peace have been the constant companions of
Your affectionate friend,
My dear Friend,
From the foot of Skiddaw, whose lofty head rises above the surrounding mountains, I write this letter; and could I paint to you the wonderful sights I have seen within these four days, it would astonish you as much as it has done me. All the flights of fancy, and romantic ideas formed in a poet's brain, are here realized. This is a country so entirely different from all others, that, tho' I cannot give you a true idea of it, yet I must attempt to describe this world of mountains, of all shapes, and of all forms. Some of them are clothed with wood, and others are dressed with sweet inclosures; some are rocky precipices, that look like the skeletons of mountains, and others are so rugged, that the rocks are sticking out of them as big as houses, or churches, nay, even St. Paul's would seem but little amongst them; in short, it looks like the ruins of the antediluvian world, but still great and majestic in its ruins, and beautiful beyond expression; for between these stupendous heights, you have the most beautiful vallies in the world, well inhabited, and watered with the finest lakes and rivers.
The gentlemen's seats are, in general, well built, and the farm-houses and cottages are of the best stone, and covered with blue slate, the produce of the country, and are so neat, and so pleasantly situated, that there is not one of them but looks as if happiness dwelt there. And, indeed, all that I conversed with, own themselves contended and happy; for they have all the necessaries of life, and are yet untainted with the luxuries of it. The gentry live at their halls and mansions in great hospitality and friendly intercourse, and treat strangers with the greatest civility and kindness. Grand equipages do not sute this mountainous country; and gaming is a vice not practised amongst them. They are well educated, and have a good taste for reading; and I was vastly pleased, as well as surprized, to find, at several places where we called, monthly book clubs, not made up of trifling temporary pamphlets, but of the very best authors, and most curious and expensive publications. After all the advantages I have mentioned of this wonderful country, I must tell you of one thing they want, and that is good bread; they eat in common oaten-cakes, thin as a wafer; they have nice rolls made of wheat-flour; but I did not see any wheaten loaves amongst them.
Having now given you a general account of this wonderful country, I will proceed to a journal of our progress in it. On Wednesday, July 15, we left Ulverstone, with a kind friend for our guide. The first four miles lay thro' a wild hilly country to Lowick-bridge; there we stopped to see a large forge, where they work the iron into bars. The great hammers, the bellows, and all the machinery is moved by water; and the whole seemed a good representation of Vulcan's forge, where he makes thunderbolts for Jupiter, as described by the poets. From thence we proceeded by Coniston-water: the road, which was very good, lay on the margin of the lake, which is six miles long, and a mile broad. On the right-hand we had a hanging wood, through a part of which the road lay, where it bordered the lake, and which it sometimes concealed from us; but ever and anon it would open to our view again with fresh beauty. On the left hand we had the lake, smooth as a mirror; and, on the other side of it, lofty mountains, with a striking view of the rough, ragged, rocky Coniston-fells, for four or five miles together. Between the feet of those and the borders of the lake are rich pastures, groves, and inclosures, interspersed with white farm-houses and cottages; and, at the head of the lake, on a rising hill, stands the village of Coniston, which overlooks and completes this beautiful landscape.
From Coniston we had rising ground for some miles, the descent from which brought us to Hawkshead, where we dined. From the church-yard we had a good prospect over a valley, and near it a distant view of some stupendous mountains, called Langdale and Cawsey-Pikes. Our road from thence was very pleasant, and for a little way, by the sides of Esthwaite-water, a lake about three miles long. From hence we travelled over high ground for five miles, which brought us on a sudden to the point of a rock on the very brink of Windermere, a most striking object, a lake ten miles long, and exceeding broad, and surrounded with mountains variously decorated. In this lake are many islands, well wooded, and on the largest [Belle Isle] is a new mansion-house, lately built by a Mr. English. Here our friend left us; and taking a boat at the ferry-house, after visiting the largest island, we landed on the opposite shore, and spent the night with an old acquaintance, the worthy rector of Bowness, where we were most kindly entertained. The next morning we had a most agreeable ride, by the side of the noble lake, to Ambleside, a pretty little town, and once a Roman station. In the evening I climbed two miles up the side of a mountain, to see a fine cascade [Stockghyll Force?]; which well rewarded me for all the toil and fatigue I underwent. Next morning we had a fine ride to Keswick, eighteen miles of excellent road, and thro' the most romantic country imaginable. We stopped at Rydal-hall, the seat of Sir Michael Fleming; the mansion and gardens are old and much neglected, though it has a grand situation, opening to the south, and commanding a charming view of Windermere. There we had a sight of another fine water-fall. Proceeding on our road from thence, our eyes were feasted with all the various beauties of nature. We passed by the lakes of Rydal-water, Grasmere, and Leathes-water, or Thirlmere, inclosed by a range of tremendous mountains on each side for many miles, and terminated by the sweet, little, sequestered vale of St. John's, which seemed to have ben closed up by the broad side of lofty Saddleback. I thought, at the first appearance, we could have gone no further; but the road turning short over Thwaite-bridge [Wanthwaite Bridge], brought us up a steep hill, and over high ground, till we came within two miles of Keswick, where we were surprized at once with the sight of two lakes, Derwent and Bassenthwaite, the town of Keswick, the river, and the church and village of Crostwaite; making altogether one of the most beautiful, astonishing, and picturesque scenes that ever was beheld.
We slept at Keswick, and spent the next day on the lake, formerly called Derwent-water; where, on an island near the shore, once dwelt the last earl of that name, who, by entering into the rebellion, in the year 1715, lost this sweet place and his life together. We went in a barge, the day serene and bright, and were rowed quite round the lake; landed on some of the islands, and, at Lodore, viewed a fine cascade, dashing from between the tops of two perpendicular rocks, in a fall of near two hundred feet high. The lake is environed with high and craggy cliffs and mountains, and above them all, Skiddaw and Saddleback rear their majestic heads with grandeur. I was struck with awe at the sight of Borrowdale; it seemed to be the retreat of some enormous giant, or the haunt of wild-beasts.
|The 3rd Earl of Derwentwater was beheaded for high treason. In 1735 his forfeited estates in Cumberland and Northumberland were donated by the Government to fund the Greenwich Hospital.|
Argus's eyes would have been all employed with pleasure amongst such enchanting scenes.
|There was a giant called Argus in ancient Greek mythology with a hundred eyes|
Here will I quit my epistolatory descriptions, as we shall set out tomorrow towards home, where I promise myself a peculiar happiness in amusing you with a thousand curiosities which I have not here mentioned: till then, believe me, with all the sincerity which true friendship inspires,
Your ever affectionate