Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Lakeland’s Weirdest Monument?

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On Saturday I finally found something I’d been looking for, on and off, for the past 20 years: Longmire’s Rocks. I’d heard they were somewhere on the eastern shore of Windermere, near Whitecross Bay, and I’d mentioned them in my Literary Guide to the Lake District, admitting that I hadn’t seen them myself, and suggesting that readers try to find them. But I’d never tracked them down, and no one else seemed to know where they were, or even if they still existed.

Carved rock. with wooden steps from Cragwood behind

The path from Cragwood comes down wooden steps at back; note carved rock in foreground

But with a revised Third Edition of my Literary Guide to prepare for publication this spring by Sigma Press, I decided to make one more effort. I put out a call for help, and it was former Lake Ranger Tony Hill who told me where to look. So on Saturday I went to see them. Longmire’s Rocks are a group of natural rock slabs on the lake shore. In the 1830s an eccentric stonemason from Troutbeck, John Longmire, used to spend his spare time carving beautifully-lettered inscriptions about all kinds of things into these rocks.

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You can just make out Wordsworth’s name, and what looks like ‘John Bolton, Storrs Hall’ on this rock

There are people’s names – poets (Wordsworth, John Wilson, Walter Scott), inventors (James Watt, Dr Jenner of vaccination fame), and political slogans about the national debt, the Corn Laws and other topics. All perfectly carved in letters as big as your hand or bigger but jumbled together higgledy-piggledy with no particular order. You get to them, it turns out, by taking the path towards the lake from the back of the car park at the Cragfoot Hotel (the owners don’t mind if you go quietly through the grounds following the path, but please park at Brockhole Visitor Centre unless you’re staying at the hotel). When you get to a low wall with a gap, take the left fork in the path and you will reach the lake shore by some wooden steps. The inscriptions are there.

'National Debt £800,000,000' - inscription with encroaching leaf debris

‘National Debt £800,000,000’! But you can see how the carvings vanish under leaves and debris. See lower down for Tony Hill’s photo of more of this rock, clarified with chalk!

Many of them are now covered with fallen leaves, moss and other natural debris, but you can still see enough to get the idea. A few volunteers with stiff brooms and carefully-wielded trowels could unearth a lot more, I’m sure. Apparently the rocks were quite a tourist attraction in the Victorian period but have been largely forgotten since. Anyway it was well worth the visit. Bizarre, beautiful and a bit eerie, these slightly crazy, lovingly stone-cut words in their lonely setting by the Lake are a strange and evocative sight. Let’s hope they are not completely forgotten, and that someone will occasionally give them a cleanup.

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Parry, the polar explorer, is commemorated here, along with poet John Wilson and others I couldn’t manage to read!

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The ‘National Debt’ rock, photo courtesy of Tony Hill, who added chalk to make it clearer. There is much more, but it is all gradually being buried by natural process.

 

2 comments to “Lakeland’s Weirdest Monument?”

  • Don Morris

    20.05.23

    Hello mr Liondop
    I have a first edition of your Lake District Guide which, ages ago, i greatly enjoyed

    In your web article on the Cragwood Stones you mention you believed they were an
    attraction for Victorian visitors. I just wonder if that was an hunch or whether you have any evidence for that statement . I have quite a large collection of Georgian and Victorian Lake District guides. I am only aware of one guide that mentions the stones,Mackay’s 1846 Scenery and Poetry of the English Lakes. Are you aware of the stones being mentioned elsewhere? If not, how did the tourists learn about them ?
    Just out of interest I have just written an article on the Names on the stones for the Staveley and District local History Society, and it this that has furnished my interest in this question
    Best Wishes
    Don

  • Grevel

    21.05.23

    Hi Don, Many thanks for this interesting comment. Your question is quite a challenge as my Guide, with its first mention of the Stones – which I hadn’t yet located – came out in 1994. I found a reference to them in some book or pamphlet in the Manchester Central Library, where I was checking every single book they had on the Lakes. But I have a feeling I was told by someone locally that Victorian trippers had been taken there by boat – it might have been the retired former Warden, the same person who at last told me where the Rocks were to be found. I fear none of this is any use to you; but it does strike me that if the Stones are listed in one 1840s guidebook, they were surely known to other people in the local tourist business. I wish I could tell you more! Thanks anyway and all the best – Grevel. PS I’d love to see a copy of your article some time if that might be possible! Thanks anayway. GL

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