Thursday, 20 August 2015

Wordsworth's Hart Leap Well; Richmond North Yorkshire.

This will perhaps be seen as a deviation from my normal walking area and in fairness, this was not to be a walking weekend away from the lakes. It was a trip to split a journey to Nottinghamshire and spend a few days away in my recently acquired caravan (straight admission, I am now a caravanner!). We parked near Scotch corner in the Caravan Club Park, this being North Yorkshire, but those that know me will know the lakes are never from my thoughts. For a number of years I was aware of a journey Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy took through Richmond towards Askrigg and on through Wensleydale on their journey to Grasmere and home at Dove Cottage.
Five miles out of Richmond on the Barden Fell Road they passed a location and three stones that caught his eye. On speaking to a local Shepherd he was made aware of the story or local legend to this location, that being Hart Leap Well.
The poem is 45 verses long, each of four lines and the poem is in two distinct parts. The first tells the tale of Sir Walter as he chases a magnificent Hart all day wearing out the other hunters, the dogs and three horses. The Hart eventually succumbs and is killed at this location, Sir Walter honouring it through:

'Three several pillars, each a rough hewn stone,
And planted where thy hoofs the turf have graz’d.'

He also erects an arbour and honoured the Hart and the pursuit it gave him until eventually he himself died and was buried in the Vale.
If this seems too gruesome or distressing a topic for some, it is well worth the read as the second part is Wordsworth's finding of this place on his journey with Dorothy across this moor, heading to Wensleydale. In the second part of the poem Wordsworth describes how he found the place and speaking with a local Shepherd is told the legend, that is this first part. He then goes on to describe the landscape and how Nature itself remembers the events of that fateful day:

'I look’d upon the hills both far and near;
More doleful place did never eye survey;'

It must be considered by the reader that anti blood sports is not a new phenomena of 20th or 21st century, but has roots also in the Romanticism period that Wordsworth was a leading light in. He continues to discuss with the Shepherd the air that now exists in this place and I will leave it to the reader to gain fully through that reading of the poem, the full sense of what he felt and how it moved him. The final verse is worth the publishing here as it digs right into the soul of the anti hunt movement:

'One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,
Taught both by what she shews, and what conceals,
Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.'
The 'she' being 'Nature' herself, or at least is my interpretation. Below is the link to the poem:

I went across to Richmond about 10 years ago to try and locate this site but incorrectly took the Swaledale Valley and found three pillars toward the river Swale, although they looked too new for Wordsworth's time. I now know it was not them and the six figure map reference for the well is SE135965. We went on  a cold wet very drab day and initially I was very disappointed with the weather, yet considering the way in which Wordsworth describes it on his passing it now seems the most appropriate weather for it. Nothing now remains of the well or the scene as the poet found it; Richmond being an army town with Catterick Base nearby, this is a tank training area.

 I include below the photographs I took.

Looking South East to the entry to the training area and the top of Barden Fell. The Road to the left is to Richmond, to the right Askrigg.
The concrete area viewed above, possibly the drain had something of the location of the well?

The view to the right

Turning round and looking across Swaledale

The view of the road as Wordsworth journeyed toward the well, note the abandoned tank on the fell top.
I do believe I found the scene more desolate than even Wordsworth did; it would appear Nature still hasn't forgot the day of the hunt.

It seems strange to me that the people of North Yorkshire and especially those of Richmond have not in some way marked this location as the scene of a poem which is from the father of Romanticism, even at the Tourist Information centre, now in Richmond Library, the people were unaware of it's location nor had any knowledge of it, though in fairness it is run by volunteers now, as I am led to believe. Somewhere on the internet I would have thought some local person/historian would have made this place memorable, but there is very little except for writers of a bygone era. For a much researched poem, having discussion pages to it's name, pouring over each lines very meaning, nothing notes it in the landscape, nor is it shown on the OS 1:25000 Explorer map. It is referred to in a book by Edna Whelan 'Holy Wells of Yorkshire' with the map reference given, so it is there.

Nothing remains of the well or the features Wordsworth found, but that does not mean it should be forgotten. I don't live in Richmond or North Yorkshire so I hope some resident in the reading of this, will pick up the baton and run with it until a more permanent reference is made at the side of the road and in local literature.

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