Monday, 28 December 2015

Hindscarth, a gentleman of Keswick and Mount Pisgah

People love journeying to the lake district for a fell walk, this usually entails an exerting walk up a ridge, hopefully taking in the views of the surrounding fells and lakes. Some ridges are sought out for the exhilaration and perception of danger, Striding Edge, Swirral Edge, Sharp Edge, or Hall's Fell Ridge, these being the popular iconic ridge routes. Other ridges are more rounded and one can spend greater time in the company of companions, walking and viewing the area with little risk of a serious fall, yet beautiful in its opening vistas. One such ridge among others, is the footpath from Little Town to the summit of Hindscarth, especially so if walked in autumn when the fell is clothed in the deep purple haze of the heather. This fell has the added advantage of a view into Goldscope mine, where the early German miners cut into the mineral vein for its rich deposits of copper and lead.

The vein of Goldscope Mine, Hindscarth

You can branch off and walk into the mine. It is dark, but relatively safe with no drops or branch-offs, (though do your internet research) but you will need a torch. If you carry on up the ridge it is initially steep but flattens in places to make a reasonably hard walk with excellent views of Keswick when you turn round to monitor your progress.
Goldscope (Scope End) Ridge, the first cairn just in view

The view back down Scope End ridge, looking to Keswick
 Above my wife is beginning the last push to the first cairn which Wainwright refers to in book six as:
 'a big circular cairn of some antiquity, the Ordnance Survey maps giving it distinction by the use of the lettering reserved for objects of historic interest. This is the cairn predominantly seen from Newlands and it commands the finest view from the mountain.'

Looking back to Keswick, the first cairn (referred to as above by Wainwright), in view

It is at this point I have come across something to add to the knowledge of Hindscarth, which was always rather barren in historic references. It by no means clears up absolute facts, but certainly adds to its interest as a point of discussion and debate. 
The summit cairn
I came across a newspaper article from 1807 that mentions Hindscarth as follows (and I quote in full):
'Mount Pisgah - A gentleman now (and for a long time past) resident in Keswick, began a few years ago to erect a carrack, or pillar of stones (without masonry) on the summit of Hindscarth; a mountain well known to tourists, as well as the inhabitants of the neighbouring parts. This he undertook to rear a Monument of Esteem for the dwellers in the Vale of Newlands, with whom he had formerly lived with much comfort, whilst a boy. His mode of constructing it is singular. He devoted one day in each year, only to its elevation; when, being well respected by his neighbours, he has the assistance of as many of them as he thinks necessary.     
-The pillar (if it may be so called) is of a pyramidical form; and from the repeated annual accumulation of stones, it has now become a very prominent object, altering in some respect the appearance of the mountain; which is at the head of Newlands. It is now 40 feet in circumference, at the base; 15 feet in height; and is to have another days labour bestowed upon it. The founder (and builder) has denominated it Mount Pisgah, from the circumstance of his having it in view from the windows of his present residence - In other respects, Mount Pisgah commands a most delightful prospect of the Vale of Keswick and Under-Skiddaw.'
The perplexing aspect to this is that it throws up many other questions that may never be able to be answered:
  • Who was the unnamed Keswick gentleman resident?
  • If the first 'cairn of some antiquity' is the one referred to, it is not the summit, yet the best view from Keswick. It is certainly not now 40 feet in circumference and 15 feet high - if it is the one referred to.
  • If this is the cairn then why is there no debris field around the small hollow specimen that remains?
  • If it is the second cairn on the actual summit, is what lies strewn around a 'debris field' of the original and now only masses of grassed over boulders?
  • If either is correct, why was the cairn so comprehensively destroyed?
  • Who destroyed it?

A check of Cumbria Archives shows no early reference to Hindscarth or Pisgah, including this unknown reference to the Pisgah name or the known one on Pillar Rock.

The boulder field around the summit cairn

With reference to Pillar Rock in the Ennerdale valley, knowing the view from this and Hindscarth, the explanation contained within the below biblical quotation is obvious for their original source.
 "Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4;

See below for the 'whole of the land' view from Hindscarth.

The view down Scope End from the first cairn.
Perhaps a further explanation could be obtained from a close aerial photograph of this fell, a drone or microlight aerial view. By analysing these images we may see the trace of the original cairn, rather like hidden Roman forts or road systems buried in the landscape yet shown in relief in a low sun or drought. Such an image may show the scar or give clues to the destruction and laying waste to the original cairn, but sadly I cannot add to this any further; it is so close to any walker, under their nose, that I personally cannot see it, but it should be there. The boulder field at the actual summit has always struck me as not sitting entirely in a natural landscape with a sudden demarcation to pure grass; this seems too artificial a line; but is only my personal view. These boulders are well buried into the ground, but so is the white cross on Blencathra, and that has existed for less than a 100 years in the landscape.  If you visit Hindscarth in this new knowledge I would be happy to here your observations.
One aspect to the article is that it was not an old tale retold by the writer; the references to '.... it has now become ....' and '.... is to have another days labour bestowed upon it.' show it to be present at the time of the authors article. That it has now disappeared just raises a debate, namely the mystery of the lost cairn on 'Mount Pisgah'.

***02.01.2016 Update***

Following the publishing of this article on social media, Andy Beck (a knowledgeable person on The Lakes) put on a comment that he believed this to be the lower cairn which is marked on the OS maps and also pointed out my schoolboy error of referring to the circumference as the diameter(my old engineering foreman would have turned in his grave). I initially disagreed with Andy, yet on reflection I believe him now to be correct on the cairn's location and I thank him personally for moving the subject on.
 The one currently there would be about the right diameter, given that the initial writers may have exaggerated the cairn circumference, yet it won't be too far off the mark. The height I believe now to be much reduced as it was reported as '.... altering in some respect the appearance of the mountain' yet the current one is difficult to pick out from Keswick or Derwentwater and is hollowed as a shelter. The original height may again have been exaggerated, but as it was reported to be 15 feet high it should at least have been well over the height of a person and I would have expected at least twice a man's height. It may be it fell over with constant snow, or it may have been robbed to form the current cairn on the actual summit. However, since Pisgah is all about a view, this lower cairn location is THE view of Keswick from Hindscarth and not the actual summit. 
So it appears we know, with some informed speculation, what happened to it, why it was built and when; the question still arises as to 'who' built it. We are nearly there on this cairn, but not quite yet.


  1. Very interesting. Thanks. I can remember the first time I passed this cairn I thought it was rather oddly situated. I love this sort of thing.

    1. Paul, look through the rest. I only really put stuff up that is 'different' from the rest. Quite a few more to come.