A Rough Crossing Without A Guide

Climbers on the Napes Needles including women in long skirts: About the turn of 20thcentury. Photo: Abrahams Brothers/ FRCC

Firstly, some background. My Dad, Bernard was born in Lancaster. His parents both died quite young. I never knew his Dad, like him called Bernard. His Dad, also Bernard, was killed at Ypres in 1915, just a few months before his kid brother. Their father, Bernard (You’re begining to spot a trend here…) a Shankhill Catholic had retired to Belfast after a distinguished career in the army. As my Dad has pointed out, the Dalys may have been brave professional soldiers, but they were pretty unimaginative with their childrens’ names.

Anyway, my Dad’s Dad served in Africa during the Second World War. Back here in Blighty he drove the family Bakery van, and was then a conductor on Ribble buses. My Dad’s Mum was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and then Hodgkinson’s Disease. I was born about 2 years before she died, but of course, have no memory of her.

The point is, my Dad and his parents lived with his Mum’s parents in their big old house in Bowerham, Lancaster. In fact, the house wasn’t their’s at all. It was bequeathed to them by an old school mistress to whom they had been in service, for the term of their natural lives – something my Dad didn’t know about until after his Grandmother, who outlived her husband, had died…. and the house had been emptied and most of its contents, including family possessions had been auctioned off.

It is of this house that I have some of my earliest memories.

Ethel (or ‘Tompt’) as she was known, was my great grandmother, and as I remember her, dressed in black bodice and big skirt, her hat held with pins, born in 1881, she was the genuine article: a Victorian Woman She could be stern at times, and certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly and would occasionally silence a room with her coarse sayings and bawdy jokes – ‘straight out of a Millom iron ore works!’ as my Dad remembers.

Her husband was Thomas, after whom I take my middle name. He was from Walney Island off the coast at Barrow. A pattern maker at Waring and Gillow, he was a kind, gentle man. Also known as ‘Nandy’ due to the fact that as a child, this is what my Dad, unable to say ‘Grandad’ called him. He almost always wore a flat hat, starched collar, braces, pin-striped jacket and had a bushy moustache. I was his favourite! He used to come down early in the morning to light the fires. I was the only soul allowed down. I helped/hindered him clearing out the grate, then intricately folding sheets of newspaper to make long-burning, almost ‘double helix’ shaped firelighters. He would always make two mugs of tea. One for him one for me. After stirring, he would drink his with the spoon still in – and so that’s how I drank my tea.

So many legends seemed to hang in the heavy air of their house in Lonsdale Place (Like the story of the mysterious ‘Mediterranean Blood’ in the family. This, on investigation has proved to be no more than a muddling of my paternal Great Grandad’s wedding, which took place when he was stationed in Gibraltar, and the birth of his first child, this time when stationed in Barbados) One of the most oft-repeated yarns was the great story of the perilous Lake District crossing in atrocious weather from Eskdale, Skirting Scafell Pike down to the Wasdale Head Hotel in the summer of 1904. A cautionary tale, it was felt to be sound advice from ‘Those that Knew’ to get the listener to look before they leapt.

Apparently, in the July of that year, my Great Grandmother, Thomas (who was courting her) along with her parents, two sisters, Molly and Annie: possibly also with escorts and a ‘mystery man’ from Kent had decided to take a trip over the fell from Eskdale down into the adjacent valley (admittedly with some quite rough terrain and steep drops for the unwary or those unwilling/unable to read a map) As was the case in those days, a guide was appointed to see them over. For some reason, on the morning in question, he did not appear, but the party decided, perhaps unwisely, to go ahead anyway.

For no sooner had they begun than the weather began to close in. It got cold, wet, rocks began to get slippery. Visibility was reduced. Suddenly every now and then, the impenetrable mist would swirl violently and clear to reveal some yawning chasm or steep drop below or equally without warning, damp rock walls would loom up at them from the depths, blocking their path. It must have been quite hair raising at the time, but they were made of strong stuff. They arrived safe, if cold, wet and not a little shaken; my Great grandmother extremely vexed (as she used to say) with those who persuaded her against her better judgement to take part in what she referred to everafter as “That Rough Crossing Without A Guide”

Well, it comes about that one Easter – 29th April 1983, to be exact, I find myself with my Dad and my brothers at the annexe to the Wasdale Head Hotel. It just so happens that my Dad, and brothers are keen climbers and, as such hold membership of the British Fell and Rock Club; who it transpires have organised an exhibition of climbing photography and videos to commemorate the centenary of the first ascent of the ‘Napes Needle’, a particularly spectacular climb in Wasdale. Members had been asked to give up their time to provide invigilation for the exhibition on a rota basis. As I was home from University and kicking my heels, I decided to join them.

Wasdale. Looking up the valley to Wasdale Head

Wasdale. Looking up the valley to Wasdale Head

On arrival, I had a good look round at the exhibits. There were great large format ‘box camera’ photographs, some by the famous Abraham brothers which were simply stunning. Crystal clear, tonal tours de force. Then there was Bonnington and Whillans filmed on Dovedale Groove; but the one thing that caught my eye was the open visitors book dated 1902 – 4 from the Wasdale Head Hotel. Open, because it contained the signatures of a group of famous pioneer climbers, the Slingsby family and friends. Of much more interest to me, however was what was written on the opposite page, dated July 17th 1904 in a confident, though slightly shaky hand:

“J C Dawson, J J Dawson, E Dawson (my Great Grandmother) P Dawson, A Dawson, M Dawson (and their place of birth/residence: all of Millom) T. Townson, Walney (My Great Grandfather) P Priest, Liverpool, M Wall, Millom, M Borrow, Dover. A rough crossing without a guide!”

This is a copy of a scan my father did recently of the ‘Dawson’ page after being given permission to record the document by the hotel’s owners. Sadly, it had been allowed to deteriorate significantly since 1983; so much so that it was almost unrecognisable as the same image.

Click on image to scale it up.

© Andy Daly 2015

Pull The Udder One – A Ghost Story

Now I don’t have much truck with ghosts and all that shite.

But I do know a good ghost story. And I know it because it happened to me. Let me take you back to the summer of 197thingumy jig in the Lake District, where I then lived.  It was that magical summer which seemed to stretch on forever, after which, we would all be going our separate ways to University, Poly, College, Israel to work on a Kibbutz or to learn Thatching. I had been offered two ‘E’s to do Fine Art by the Admissions Tutor at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (which just serves to underline how serious was the drugs problem in Higher Education at the time.) But I digress.

My Mate Miles who lived in  a house whose name, Peel Place, Noddle, Eskdale made it sound like a family of Hobbits ought to be living there, had a party. And it was at this party that I found myself starting a conversation with a girl called Helen, one which lasted the whole of that summer. I clearly remember Miles’ Mum playing the chaperone role. Keen to preserve decorum and protect Helen from any unwanted advances, she kept jumping onto the sofa, between us when she thought we were too close. She need not have worried, Helen was more than capable of looking after herself.

Helen had been in my English group and was very bright and good looking, and we talked long into the night and early morning. I’ve no recollection of how I got home. If indeed I did.

‘Home’ was Seascale. Former proposed ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Furness Railway’s 1860’s expansion plans. It was to have been a town to rival Blackpool. Perhaps handing over planning (and this is true!) to someone whose previous experience was the design of a graveyard in Barrow was not such a good idea. In fact, it was simply that for the average Victorian traveller it was just that bit too far from everywhere, while in terms of topography and climate, just that little too wild. Since then with its seaside crescents of bleak and imposing former hotels and guesthouses which just peter out so suddenly it seems almost rude, Seascale has had trouble rivalling so much as a  Blackpool bus stop.

Then of course they built Calder Hall next to it, then Windscale/Sellafield, the AGR reactor and the Thermal Oxide Reproccessing plant. They might as well have dug a big deep hole and poured millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down it .

Bower House Inn (As you can see)

Being with Helen meant the pubs in Eskdale, where she lived, The Bower House usually, but sometimes the George IV,The Bridge at Santon Bridge and the Gosforth pubs; Horse and Groom (or ‘Hearse and Gloom’ as it was known) Gosforth Hall, the ubiquitous Globe, and the Lion and Lamb (where I grew to love Nat King Cole but not Jim Reeves.)

I spent much of the last few weeks of that summer with Helen and as I didn’t yet drive plus an absence of all bar the most basic timetabled public Transport, being with her meant hitch-hiking there and back or, (and this was almost always the case for the return journey) ‘using Shanks’ Pony’ or in other words, walking; which from Eskdale was near enough 8 miles – so it wasn’t near at all.

It was all very innocent stuff. We would arrange to meet up at one of our venues – sometimes in the company of other friends, but more often than not on our own, chat and giggle. At the appointed hour Mum or Dad would come in the car to collect her; unless we were already in Eskdale, in which case I would walk her home. Then about turn, whereupon I would begin to gather momentum for the ascent of Irton Fell and the rest of the long, long, lonely road to Seascale.

Eskdale. Road to Seascale goes off left hand corner

Well, it was on one such night that my hideous tale unfolds …

It must have been pretty late – perhaps we’d been party to some ‘Late Tasting’ at the Bower, as there was absolutely no traffic on the road. In the dark, once out of Eskdale there was no illuminaton whatsoever. Of course, this meant you could see approaching cars from miles off. Nothing. The last of the drunken boy racers had parked up his escort and was tucked up safe in bed dreaming of the Dukes of Hazzard, while the last drunken Young Farmer had pranged his tractor along the side of the barn and gone to sleep with the pigs.

Now this wasn’t funny any more. I still had about another seven miles to walk. It was cold and the wind was getting up. As the first bit of the road up Irton to Santon Bridge from Eskdale runs below the line of the trees, it was black as pitch I kept walking into the dry stone wall that bounded the steep, winding road, grazing my knuckles in the process.

Finally, I exited the tree cover. As I did so, the cloud which had been covering the moon, and causing my knuckles so much trouble, suddenly dispersed. The road levels out a bit here, before it goes back into the trees again, and the double hairpin. The eerie call of an owl … The moonlight afforded me a view fom the road, taking in the animals’ feeding trough, across the field away to the first of the low rocky outcrops which form the foot of Irton Fell.

It was then that I saw him!

A man dressed immaculately in a black frock coat, white shirt with starched collar, deathly black bow tie, whiskers and a black top hat. He was so, so, so pale as he made towards me. I felt a cry stifle and dry up in my throat … a funereal silence… as he came towards me. He didn’t seem to be walking, but rather gliding over the undulating field with a weird swaying motion. No! This is so wrong! Making no steps. No sound. Squarely, he stared me in the eyes, without blinking.

I heard myself shout out as I found myself doing in two seconds what Lactulose Solution normally takes two days to do; I made to turn and run, at which point the figure, who was now too close for  comfort, let out a long, slow MOOOOO!

MOOOOO?

MOOOOO? Yes indeed, dear reader, for the best part of a gallon of Hartley’s bitter beer, tricksy moonlight and the pattern of markings on the face and neck of a Friesian cow had all conspired to conjure up the image of a deathly pale Victorian funeral director.

Slowly but surely my heartbeat returned to normal. What an idiot.

And I still have six and a half miles to walk!

For MB and HT

© Andy Daly  2015

A rough crossing without a guide

Climbers on the Napes Needles including women in long skirts: About the turn of 20thcentury. Photo: Abrahams Brothers/ FRCC

Firstly, some background. My Dad, Bernard was born in Lancaster. His parents both died quite young. I never knew his Dad, like him called Bernard. His Dad, also Bernard, was killed at Ypres in 1915, just a few months before his kid brother. Their father, Bernard (You’re begining to spot a trend here…) a Shankhill Catholic had retired to Belfast after a distinguished career in the army. As my Dad has pointed out, the Dalys may have been brave professional soldiers, but they were pretty unimaginative with their childrens’ names.

 Anyway, my Dad’s Dad served in Africa during the Second World War. Back here in Blighty he drove the family Bakery van, and was then a conductor on Ribble buses.He’s a bit of a mysterious character to me – he never really seems to ‘fit’ in to the family. My Dad’s Mum was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and then Hodgkinson’s Disease. I was born about 2 years before she died, but of course, have no memory of her. I am told she doted on me and loved the colour of my eyes.

 The point is, my Dad and his parents lived with his Mum’s parents in their big old house in Bowerham, Lancaster. In fact, the house wasn’t their’s at all. It was bequeathed to them by an old school mistress to whom they had been in service,  for the term of their natural lives – something my Dad didn’t know about until after his Grandmother, who outlived her husband, had died…. and the house had been emptied and most of its contents, including family possessions had been auctioned off.

It is of this house that I have some of my earliest memories.

Ethel (or ‘Tompt’) as she was known, was my great grandmother, and as I remember her, dressed in black bodice and big skirt, her hat held with pins, was the genuine article: a Victorian Woman She could be stern at times, and certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly.  (She seemed – to me at least – to berate her long-suffering husband at every possibility) But she had a heart of gold and though very ‘prim and proper’ would occasionally silence a room with her coarse sayings and bawdy jokes – ‘straight out of a Millom iron ore works!’ as my Dad remembers.

 That long-suffering husband was Thomas, after whom I take my middle name. He was from Walney Island off the coast at Barrow. A pattern maker at Waring and Gillow, he was a kind, gentle if sometimes grumpy man (Well, let’s face it, he had some reason). Also known as ‘Nandy’ due to the fact that as a child, this is what my Dad, unable to say ‘Grandad’ called him. He almost always wore a flat hat, starched collar, braces, pin-striped jacket and had a bushy moustache. I was his favourite! He used to come down early in the morning to light the fires. I was the only soul allowed down. I helped/hindered him clearing out the grate, then intricately folding sheets of newspaper to make long-burning, almost ‘double helix’ shaped firelighters. He would always make two mugs of tea. One for him one for me. After stirring, he would drink his with the spoon still in – and so that’s how I drank my tea.

 So many legends seemed to hang in the heavy air of their house in Lonsdale Place (Like the story of the mysterious ‘Mediterranean Blood’ in the family. This, on investigation has proved to be no more than a muddling of my Great great great Grandad’s wedding, which took place when he was stationed in Gibraltar, and the birth of his first child, this time when stationed in Barbados) One of the most oft-repeated yarns was the great story of the perilous Lake District crossing in atrocious weather from Eskdale, Skirting Scafell Pike down to the Wasdale Head Hotel in the summer of 1904. A cautionary tale, it was  felt to be sound advice from ‘Those that Knew’ to get the listener to look before they leapt.

Apparently, in the July of that year, my Great grandmother, Thomas (who was courting her) along with her parents, two sisters, Molly and Annie: possibly also with escorts and a ‘mystery man’ from Kent had decided to take a trip over the fell from Eskdale down into the adjacent valley (admittedly with some quite rough terrain and steep drops for the unwary or those unwilling/unable to read a map) As was the case in those days, a guide was appointed to see them over. For some reason, on the morning in question, he did not appear, but the party decided, perhaps unwisely, to go ahead anyway.

For no sooner had they begun than the weather began to close in. It got cold, wet, rocks began to get slippery. Visibility was reduced. Suddenly every now and then, the impenetrable mist would swirl violently and clear to reveal some yawning chasm or steep drop below or equally without warning, damp rock walls would loom up at them from the depths, blocking their path. It must have been quite hair raising at the time, but they were made of strong stuff. They arrived safe, if cold, wet and not a little shaken; my Great grandmother extremely vexed (as she used to say) with those who persuaded her (one suspects the suitors )  against her better judgement to take part in what she referred to everafter as “That Rough Crossing Without A Guide”

 Well, it comes about that one Easter – 29th April 1983, to be exact, I find myself with my Dad and my brothers at the annexe to the Wasdale Head Hotel. And why there and not propping up the bar?  Well, it just so happens that, my Dad, and brothers are still keen climbers and, as such hold membership of the British Fell and Rock Club; who it transpires have organised an exhibition of climbing photography and videos to commemorate the centenary of the first ascent of the ‘Napes Needle’, a particularly spectacular climb in Wasdale.  Members had been asked to give up their time to provide invigilation for the exhibition on a rota basis. As I was home from University and kicking my heels, I decided to join them.

On arrival, I had a good look round at the exhibits. There were great large format ‘box camera’ photographs, some by the famous Abraham brothers which were simply stunning. Crystal clear, tonal tours de force. Then there was Bonnington and Whillans – ‘I say, Don, have you got that crab?’ ‘Yer-what?’ (Climbing joke)  filmed on Dovedale Groove; but the one thing that caught my eye was the open visitors book dated 1902 – 4 from the Wasdale Head Hotel. Open, because it contained the signatures of a group of famous pioneer climbers, the Slingsby family and friends. Of much more interest to me, however was what was written on the opposite page, dated July17th 1904 in a confident, though slightly shaky hand:

” J C Dawson, J J Dawson, E Dawson (my Great Grandmother) P Dawson, A Dawson, M Dawson (and their place of birth/residence: all of Millom) T Townson, Walney (My Great Grandfather) P Priest,  Liverpool, M Wall, Millom, M Borrow, Dover.

 A rough crossing without a guide!” 

 

This is a copy of a scan my father did recently of the ‘Dawson’ page after being given permission to record the document by the hotel’s owners. Sadly, it had been allowed to deteriorate significantly since 1983; so much so that it was almost unrecognisable as the same image.

© Andy Daly  2010