Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Mai

5.10. Mountain and Cultural Aesthetic
Herausgeber | Editors | Éditeurs: Charles I. Armstrong (University of Bergen, Norway) / Juri Mosidze (Tbilissi)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

'Get Thee Up into the High Mountain': The English Lake District as Virtual Landscape

C. W. R. D. Moseley (Hughes Hall, Cambridge) [BIO]



This paper discusses two topographical works: Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes, which some regard as the best guidebook to that region of England ever written, and the extraordinary series of guidebooks to that area written and drawn from the 1950s onwards by Alfred Wainwright. Wordsworth's book may be admired less, perhaps, for its accuracy of detail than for its anticipation - even creation - of an attitude to physical presence in (rather than mere observation of) scenery. It is that attitude which is argued eventually to demand a new form of writing and utterance, best represented in Wainwright's meticulous MSS, reproduced exactly as books, which describe routes of ascent, traverse and descent for each of the hills in turn. Wainwright's intimate style creates a relationship with his individual readers, premised on their sharing the same 'no-nonsense', democratic, anti-authority values. Wainwright's quirks are no more hidden than they would be in conversation, and are literally inscribed onto the landscape he depicts.


The Prophet Isaiah's (xl.9) injunction to 'get thee up into the high mountain' was to enable the expression of joy at good tidings... Perhaps this constitutes high authority for the centrality of mountains in our cultures.

There are two poles to this talk: Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes and its cultural context, and Alfred Wainwright's series of Pictorial Guides to the Fells of the English Lake District, recently saved from premature putting out of print. Those two works - from say 1820 to 1960 - bracket a period of immense change in attitudes to the countryside and mountains, which in part they precipitate. They also mark radical changes in the way Europeans write about and apprehend mountains, which our mediaeval and eighteenth century forebears regarded with distaste if they could not reduce them to allegory - Petrarch ascending Mont du Ventoux - or sensible cultivation.

When Wordsworth wrote, the Lakes had already been a tourist centre for 50 years. There were innumerable Tours and Descriptions in the period 1750-1800, and some excursions - by pony - had become standard visitors' attractions - e.g. up Skiddaw. The first 'Guide to Lakes' was published anonymously in 1778 (actually by Thomas West, SJ), and William Gilpin - who invented the term 'picturesque beauty' - in 1772 wrote Observations on the Picturesque, drawing heavily on his tour in the Lake District. (He is deservedly satirised in Rowlandson's Tours of Dr Syntax.)

In all these works, there is a stress on the visual 'Picturesque' - and this is reflected in how tourists wrote. Gray's fine journal, for example, describing Blencathra, shows no sense of the ground underfoot, only of the views. 'Romantick' visions of landscape dominate: set out the best viewpoints for the tourist (which are also noted on maps like that by Crosthwaite of Derwentwater, published in1783). All these guides and maps are designed for use with the Claude glass - the tinted convex mirror that most people of taste and means carried. (One might remark in passing the huge influence of Claude le Lorrain on polite perceptions of landscape). Indeed, the very word 'scenery' is a new invention: OED gives it as = 'a landscape or view, 1777', 'general appearance of a landscape regarded from its picturesque point of view, 1784'. This emphasis is noticeable even in the maps which begin to be produced for tourists and travellers -one of the most interesting, and earliest, examples is Smith's New and Accurate Map of 1800, which, linen-mounted, in a slip case for the pocket, is the remote ancestor of today's Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure map. But all the routes it gives are valley routes, specifically to viewpoints for the 'picturesque', from which the eye can compose the landscape into artistic form that will elicit refined feelings of awe in the viewer. It is interesting how often these guides refer to Claude and Salvator Rosa, and how revealing that is about the economic and cultural context of their expected readership. 'Experience-in-landscape' is being converted into something else: the 'picturesque' allows the illusion of possession, as of a work of art, but one you have composed yourself: and it is open only to those privileged by leisure and status.


The 1st version of Wordsworth's Guide (1810) was printed as an anonymous introduction to Rev Joseph Wilkinson's Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire - views, note. The 2nd version (1820) was annexed to the Duddon Sonnets. The 3rd (1st separate) edition (only 500 were printed; 1822), included Dorothy's account (unacknowledged) of the trip up Scafell Pike. (There were further editions in 1824, and in 1835 - the last in Wordsworth's lifetime). These constant revisions show Wordsworth obviously thought a lot about this work. And it is different from its predecessors: he knew, and loved passionately, the country and its people and their economy intimately - as in the poetry, he is drawing on 'experience'. The values of the work are entirely consistent with those of the poetry: nature as moral force, as sublime:

Although a strong infection of the age,
Was never much my habit - giving way
To a comparison of scene with scene,
Bent overmuch on superficial things,
Pampering myself with meagre novelties
Of colour and proportion; to the moods
Of time and season, to the moral power,
The affections, and the spirit of the place
Insensible' (Prelude XII. 112ff.)

Yet while original, not least in its systematic historical and geographical detail, it shares a lot of motifs, like its itineraries, with its antecedents. Most of Wordsworth's itineraries - again, all valley routes - are premised on the search for views of 'beauty and grandeur'. For example, in the Ullswater section there is the revealing remark: ' I will content myself with one instance of the colouring produced by snow, which may not be uninteresting to painters.'

What is most original is the remarkable and powerful 'Description of the Scenery' as if from an aerial perspective, the description of the forms of the Mountains, the surface underfoot. A fine example of this sensibility is Dorothy's description of the walk to Scawfell [sic] Pike. They go from Rosthwaite to Seathwaite, then to 'Ash-course' [Esk Hause] , and there enjoy the view of Borrowdale, Keswick, Bassenthwaite, Solway in one direction, Langdale and the Duddon Valley in the other, Ingleborough to the east, and Eskdale to the west. (One can work out exactly where they sat - or the more than one place at which they sat!) But the point of view is still painterly: the 'deliciousness of the third prospect (itals. mine) [of Eskdale]...favoured by sunshine and shade'. They were tempted on by the view of Scafell - only to find, like so many since, Mickledore in the way. Contented with the Pike, which was 'estimated as higher', they ascended it with 'much toil, though without difficulty'.

Dorothy gives a detailed and accurate description of light and shade, clouds, plants, rock - she uses close as well as long focus. 'Scawfell and Helvellyn the two Mountains of this region which will best repay (itals. mine) the fatigue of ascending them'... with what?? With views, with the apprehension of 'the sublime' - Dorothy seems to have been completely in sympathy with Wordsworth's mystical response to Nature as a spiritual influence on the discerning mind.

Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes is still arguably one of the best, and most sensitive to the wholeness of the place, of them all. (Matthew Arnold told the story of the man who congratulated Wordsworth on the Guide, and asked him if he had written anything else...)


But Wordsworth is far from populist: the guide was not to encourage all and sundry to visit. He resisted the building of railways in sonnets and in powerful letters to the Morning Post, and, with a sense of the preciousness and fragility of the landscape that is now voiced by bodies like CPRE and the Friends of the Lake District, sought to exclude from the place those untrained in the perception of beauty and consequently unalert to the moral force of Nature:

'...We should have the whole of Lancashire, and no small part of Yorkshire pouring in upon us to meet the men of Durham, and the borderers from Cumberland and Northumberland! Alas, that the Lakes are to pay this penalty for their own attractions!' (Morning Post, Second letter, reprinted in Kendal and Windermere Railway: Two Letters re-printed from the Morning Post, revised with additions: Kendal, R. Branthwaite and Son, 1844);

As a conclusion to the same letter Wordsworth included his sonnet (Miscellaneous Sonnets no. 46):

'...Now, for your shame, a Power, the Thirst for Gold,
That rule o'er Britain like a baneful star,
Wills that your peace, your beauty, shall be sold,
And clear way made for her triumphal car
Through the beloved retreats your arms enfold!
Heard YE that whistle? As her long-linked train
Swept onwards, did the vision cross your view?
Yes, ye were startled - and, in balance true,
Weighing the mischief with the promised gain,
Mountains, and Vales, and Floods, I call on you
To share the passions of a just disdain.'

But by 1848 Bradshaw is publishing Railway and Steamer timetables for the Lake District, with guide and map: the day trip is born. That first cheap access for the populations of the industrial towns, that first Victorian trickle along the Oxenholme to Windermere line, is now a flood, so that there is now talk of restricting car access to certain valleys and the hill paths are eroding badly under the unremitting tramp of walkers' boots.

Harriet Martineau's - Wordsworth knew but did not particularly like her - Complete Guide to the Lakes of 1855 is the first work to guide the artisans and tradesmen - those Wordsworth had sought to exclude - with itineraries, maps, outlines of mountains and geological descriptions. She encourages the novel idea of fell walking and climbing if accompanied by a guide - almost hill walking as we understand it, rather than genteel picnicking high on the hills, as in Thomas Allom's (the most indefatigable walker of all the illustrators) famous print (1832) of the Langdales:

Illustration 1: Allom's print, looking over the head of Langdale to Bowfell: in Thomas Rose, Westmorland, Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland,(London 1832)
(Wordsworth's copy of Rose is still at Dove Cottage, Grasmere.)

By 1930, the day trip was common: the railway went to Keswick, to Windermere, to Cockermouth, to Furness, to Ravenglass. Innumerable coach parties made loud the vale, and the day of cheap cars was yet to dawn.

Already in the 20s and 30s, walking prodigious distances over high hills had become one of the things young, often radical, intellectuals did: a combination of muscular agnosticism (if not atheism), the Cultivation of the Body and Triumph of the Will.

And where Wordsworth's proposed reader was a person of substance, enjoying cultured leisure, free from the exigencies of ploughtail, counting house, or shippon, 'Wainwright' is essentially the guidebook for the leisure generation that developed during the years of affluence after the 1950s, whom the intricate timetable of Ribble buses brought to all parts of the Valleys. Alfred Wainwright's (1907-91) seven books, each for one division of the Lakeland Fells, cover in all 214 hills. (The books are listed at the end of this article). These meticulous MSS, reproduced exactly, have greatly influenced other writers of guidebooks to other parts of the UK, though few equal Wainwright's detail or match the elegance of his occasional acerbity. Wainwright did not like people: he depicts a landscape without people, or if there is a figure, it is turned away, perhaps smoking a pipe - Wainwright drawing himself out of the picture. Book 5 is dedicated to 'those who travel alone, the solitary wanderers on the fells, who find contentment in the companionship of the mountains and of the creatures of the mountains'. Wainwright shunned celebrity, avoided casual acquaintance. There was time when walkers in pubs at the end of the day reported 'sightings', but few reported 'speakings'. The wealth the books brought him was in the end left to an animal charity in Kendal, where he had had a humble clerk's job all his life.

Illustration 2: Book 2: The Far Eastern Fells: Harter Fell 10)

The books describe routes of ascent, traverse and descent for each hill, giving maps and identification sketches of the views. Emphatically not rockclimbing guides, they are for the humble (and proud of it!) walker, and Wainwright's intimate, familiar, conversational style creates a relationship with his individual readers, premised on their sharing the same 'no-nonsense', democratic, anti-authority values: Manchester Corporation is a particular bête-noire. Wainwright's personal likes are no more hidden than they would be in conversation, and are literally inscribed onto the landscape he depicts.

Illustration 3 (Hawes water: Book 2, Far Eastern Fells, last page)

In these books, for the first time, a large area (over 2000 km2) was thoroughly netted with exhaustive description and mapping:

Illustration 4: Book Four, The Southern Fells: Scafell Pike 7/8:

(I have chosen to illustrate mainly Wainwright's Scafell Pike pages, as that is what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote about.)

Wainwright maps most of the possible pedestrian routes, ignoring almost completely the usual structuring of the man-made landscape by roads and towns and villages: settlements are nearly always off Wainwright's maps, indicated only by an arrow and a distance. - as we can see from

Illustration 5 Book Four, The Southern Fells: Scafell Pike 17

That same illustration shows Wainwright's much loved propensity to include in the practical guiding material chatty notes or vignettes at the side of the routes, and, as on

Illustration 6, Book Four, The Southern Fells: Scafell Pike 24

they highlight Wainwright's own personal delights in micro-features of the landscape

Illustration 7 - Book Four, The Southern Fells: Scafell Pike 12

and the books rapidly developed a public and a readership who would never walk the majority of the routes, but who came to 'know' the Lakes as a text and to enjoy them in a literary diversion. I have 'read' all 214 hills: I know - have walked on - about 40 of them. About the only things Wainwright did not give you were colour and weather.

But the books were used on the hills: 'what does Mr Wainwright say?' my children often asked, and certainly the routes he recommends became (so to speak) institutionalised, with resulting erosion from heavy use. By an irony he would not have enjoyed, the books of this private, solitary man, who abhorred the organised and the group, drew people into the hills, and made into places loud with talk and bright with hi-tech shell clothing, those spots where his tweed-clad figure smoked his pipe in silent, almost religious, contemplation of the mountains. He loved mountains, almost vivifying them as Wordsworth did in the Prelude: The mountains become personified, owners of the valleys.

Illustration 8: Book Six: North Western Fells: introductory essay)

Yet the priority his books have given to certain routes have made other parts of the hills less trodden, less known, than they have been for many years - perhaps for centuries, as the farming of this landscape takes yet another downward turn with the long depression in sheep farming, exacerbated now with the aftermath of the foot and mouth epidemic.


Compare the narrative of Dorothy Wordsworth with the pages illustrated in Figurs 4ff again. For Dorothy, the view is sublime; for Wainwright, the minutiae of bodily effort and the texture, so to speak, of the hill are the key things. Wainwright's writing invites us into the physical space, but, paradoxically, in so doing displaces the places into remembrance , at least, of its description. We see within the framework of what we have been told to see. Yet his books permanently altered how at least one generation perceived the landscape of this part of England, how they behaved in and reacted to it. They affected, indeed, not only the patterns of leisure use, but also the actual physical landscape itself. Some of Wainwright's routes are now so heavily used that their erosion is critical, and parts have had to be fenced off while others have had to be paved.

Guidebooks translate experience into paper: they record, as well as prejudice, what their reader will see. But it is only with the advent of the paperback that the guidebook has become really portable, not just a thing to be consulted in the planning of a journey. And just as we today see so many tourists contorting themselves to see everything through a camera lens, so it is common to see walkers progressing reading their Wainwright, rather than looking at the rocks and stones and trees in earth's diurnal course. The landscape becomes its description and one must ask: can one know a landscape without living it? In time, in dwelling in it in sun and shower? But that is another story.

© C. W. R. D. Moseley (Hughes Hall, Cambridge)


Anon. [Thomas West, SJ]: Guide to the Lakes (London, 1778)

William Gilpin, Observations, Relative Chiefly To Picturesque Beauty, Made In The Year 1772, On Several Parts Of England Particularly The Mountains And Lakes Of Cumberland And Westmorland (London, 1772)

W. Combe and T. Rowlandson Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, (Ackerman, London, 1809)

Smith's New and Accurate MAP of the LAKES in the Counties of CUMBERLAND, WESTMORLAND and LANCASTER (First edition, London 1800)

Wordsworth: Guide to the Lakes

1st version printed as anonymous intro to Rev Joseph Wilkinson's Select Views in Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire (Ackerman, London, 1810).

2nd version 1820 annexed to the Duddon Sonnets (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London 1820)

3rd (1st separate) edition (only 500 printed) 1822, with Dorothy's account (unacknowledged) of the trip up Scawfell [sic] Pike (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London 1822);

4th edition (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London 1824);

last version (Longman, Moxon and Co, London 1835)

Harriet Martineau, Complete Guide to the Lakes (Garnett, Windermere, 1855)

Thomas Allom, in T. Rose, Westmorland, Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland, Illustrated (Fisher, Fisher and Jackson, London 1832)

A. Wainwright

Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells

Book 1: The Eastern Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1955)

Book 2: The Far Eastern Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1957)

Book 3: The Central Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1958)

Book 4: The Southern Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1960)

Book 5: The Northern Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1962)

Book 6 The North Western Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1964)

Book 7: The Western Fells (Westmorland Gazette, Kendal, 1966)

(Pages are not numbered throughout, and reference is to numbered pages in each section of a hill. These sections are ordered alphabetically by the name of the hill.)

5.10. Mountain and Cultural Aesthetic

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For quotation purposes:
C. W. R. D. Moseley (Hughes Hall, Cambridge): 'Get Thee Up into the High Mountain': The English Lake District as Virtual Landscape. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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