Friday, 22 April 2016

Despair on Bowscale Fell.

The summit cairn on Bowscale Fell, looking to Blencathra.

The Lakeland fells are renowned for their beauty as a means of enriching the souls of the viewer or participator of some activity associated with them. Some souls feel however that they are beyond enriching and the fells can be places of desolation, like some souls.

To mention Bowscale Fell and what it is well known for would be to conjure up tales of immortal or undying fish rolled into the folklore of the fell and its namesake tarn; also tales of The Shepherd Lord, mentioned in William Wordsworth's poem 'Song at The Feast of Brougham Castle Upon the Restoration of Lord Clifford' (War of the Roses). There is a darker yet not as well known tale for the fell, one that leaves an impression, but an uncomfortable one; still, history is history and can't be undone.
Bowscale Fell with Blencathra at the back, viewed from Carrock Fell.
In August of 1912 Thomas Williamson, a shepherd from the hamlet of Bowscale itself, was tending his flock on the high reaches of Bowscale Fell  when he saw something unusual on ground very near the summit. He went to investigate and was horrified to find a decomposed body which had clearly been there for a period of some months. The decomposition was to such an extent that it was little more than skeletal remains which the police, after being notified, attended and brought the remains down in a basket. An inquest was held at Mungrisedale by the East Cumberland Coroner on Friday 16 August where evidence was given that the body, which was of a man, was found fully clothed in a dark grey suit, a blue striped shirt, brown socks and strong laced boots. The dead man was  lying face down and when moved, underneath it was a blood stained knife. The head was separated from the body but this was believed to be as a result of decay, not a foul act. When the pockets were checked a folding road map of Scotland was found. Superintendent Barron of Penrith gave evidence that written on the map was the following harrowing words:

'Premeditated! Burn my body. I was a mean man, a wicked sinner and a disgrace to my country. All through drink and bad company'.

The only real clue to any identity was the 'signature' R. J., nothing else. A Dr Haswell who gave evidence at the inquest stated that the male would be have been aged between 30 to 40 years of age.
The verdict at the inquest was an unsurprising one of suicide and the identity of 'R. J.' remains a mystery to this day and will now never be discovered. I cannot discover whether he received his dying wish of cremation as opposed to the much more common burial of those times.
 The death gives an insight into the life of the fell with just over 100 years separating the event from the present time; could you for instance imagine how long it would take before the body would be found if it occurred now, especially in August? The probability would be within say an hour if in daytime and the next morning if it occurred at night; no later.
Next time you ascend the gradual slopes of Bowscale to spend a leisurely walk here and view the Back O Skiddaw, stop a while and give a sympathetic thought to 'R. J.', whoever he was.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Langstrath Beck Rigby Memorial bridge at Low Ghyll Pot

The head of The Langstrath Valley, Looking to Esk Pike

 Near the head of the Langstrath (Long Broad) Valley there is a bridge used by many walkers to cross Langstrath Beck at (what used to be known as) Low Ghyll Pot, or as marked on the OS maps, Tray Dub. Nothing is marked on the bridge, nothing denotes it as anything other than a crossing on a public footpath on the Stake Pass route from Langdale to Stonethwaite, yet the bridge is a memorial bridge to a man who passed away, not by some ill-fated error on the fells, but in service to his country.
I first became aware of the bridge's significance through a discussion with Tanya Oliver of the Fix The Fells Project and writer of the lovely book 'From High Heels to High Hills' and blogger . The discussion started me off researching this to try and find other details and to that end I will try and give as full an account here for the bridge, though full acknowledgement has to be attributed to Tanya.
On 31 July 1942 a Lockheed Hudson took off from RAF Stornoway taking a route over North Minch near North Harris. It appears that the conditions were misty, the aircraft descended too low and flew into the mountain at Fiar-Chreag at roughly map reference NB364075, south of Loch Sealg on the east of the island. There were three crew members and the pilot was a F/O John Derek (Derry) Brearley Rigby, aged 22yrs, of 500 Squadron, RAFVR. I remember reading an account where the plane was not immediately located but after requests for other aircraft to keep observations, the plane was eventually spotted, but due to the isolated location and poor weather, the bodies remained at the scene of the impact for a period of weeks and it was only the protests of local people that finally led to their recovery for a humane burial. I add caution in that this information I cannot now locate, but recall reading it.
Rigby and P/O Frank Richard Hancock are buried at Sandwick Cemetery and Sgt Bernard Frederick Charles Rixon is buried at Hoddesdon Cemetery, Hertfordshire.
The remote crash site
Returning back to the Langstrath bridge, John Rigby's home was at Croston Towers, Cheshire, the family house. In January 1945 John's father, Mr J. Kay Rigby erected the bridge at Low Ghyll Pot in memory of his son who loved the lake district, spending whatever time he could among the fells. This bridge acted as a replacement for one recently washed away from Blackmoor Pot, or what is now referred to as Black Moss Pot, further down Langstrath Beck.

Blackmoor or Black Moss Pot, the site of the original bridge, looking into the Langstrath Valley.
View of the bridge on the approach from Stake Pass and The Langdale Valley
The bridge was sited and the work arranged by Ashley Abraham of Keswick; it was erected in the face of great transport and weather difficulties, by Harvey Usher a joiner from Keswick, himself a keen climber and fell walker who had roamed the hills with his brother Dunbar Usher. In a very fitting and symbolic ceremony the first to cross it was a young Flying Officer. Mr and Mrs Rigby then presented the bridge to the English Lake District Association.

Many walk this beautiful valley, either directly along the Stake Pass or as a circular valley route from Stonethwaite. They virtually all cross the bridge, yet very few, if any, know of its story. If they read this, any crossing can in future be a tribute to John 'Derry' Rigby's memory.

The Langstrath Valley Hallworth Memorial bridge.

The Langstrath Valley is a beautiful and tranquil valley with its namesake beck  joining Greenup Gill below Eagle Crag, both then becoming Stonethwaite Beck which goes on to join the fledgling River Derwent near Rossthwaite, before this in turn enters Derwentwater.  The gills, becks and rivers flow through the high cragged valleys where the water runs off the fells creating torrents in minutes, where babbling brooks once ebbed and flowed. A lot of the footpaths go through these gills and in the main can be crossed in safety and dryness; but not all the time. There is therefor a need for safe crossing by bridges across these minor waters, once mere planks of wood or a few boards cobbled together. As the tourism trade began to burgeon the need for more robust bridges became ever more evident, yet even this was usually through a grim realisation following events that should never have occurred.
One such bridge is the one that spans Greenup Gill below Eagle Crag at the end of the Langstrath Valley. Half way over the bridge there is a plaque on the east facing rail which reads:
The Hallworth Bridge Plaque at Greenup Gill.

Although the bridge is well documented, little or nothing exists on the internet to explain the circumstances of its presence and significance in the valley. This is that account, largely obtained from evidence given at the inquest of Gordon Frank Hallworth, which took place at Rossthwaite on Monday 9 January 1939.

The bridge viewed from the Greenup Gill track

A similar but higher view showing where all three would have stood on the opposite bank when they realised no bridge existed to cross Greenup Gill.

On Saturday 7 January 1939 a group of 19 Manchester University Mountaineering Club students were on a weekend break, staying at Rossthwaite, Borrowdale. The weather had recently been snow, followed by heavy rain, making the fell conditions arduous and the becks and gills were in spate.  Three of the group set off that afternoon to walk the Glaramara ridge, taking in that fell and Allen Crags, culminating at the farthest planned location, Esk Hause, before a journey back down the Langstrath Valley. The three members were: bothers Douglas and Michael Boyle, of Disley, Cheshire, both of whom were medical students, and Gordon Frank Hallworth 21 years of age, of Hale Cheshire. They planned their trip to last until 5:30 pm and everything went well and on time. It was said by Douglas that Gordon Hallworth had seemed fitter than the brothers, stopping frequently while they caught up and him asking if they were ok? It is not clear what there exact route down into the Langstrath Valley was, but it put them on the Eagle Crag side of Langstrath Beck, heading for its junction with Greenup Gill, both then becoming Stonethwaite Beck; here they intended to cross the bridge over Greenup Gill, this being marked on the Ordnance Survey map, albeit it was out of date. Unknown to the party of three the bridge had been washed away some years previously; one account states 5 years, another 40 years. To anyone who knows the area, this should not have caused a problem to the party as just quarter of a mile further back along their path, there was a further bridge marked that crosses Langstrath Beck and gives just as good a safe route to Stonethwaite. The problem of the outdated map was now compounded by the failure of the torch they carried and they did not spot this second bridge. It would be dark at this time in the sheltered valley and they saw no other course of action than to climb along the side of Eagle Crag, heading up Greenup Gill, looking for a safe crossing.

The second bridge over Langstrath Beck, looking over to the path where the three companions walked by.
It was now, when half way up their altered route, that Gordon Hallworth showed signs of fatigue and distress, the Boyle brothers put their arms around him, then physically carried him up the fell. They stopped frequently, needing to huddle together to fend off the increasing cold and inevitable hypothermia. When they were much higher up the gill they attempted to ford it with the aid of a long stick, the Boyle brothers assisting Gordon. Unfortunately he fell in the Gill and was helped out by Michael, but this added to Gordon's hypothermic condition. In an act of self sacrifice, Gordon repeatedly told his aids to leave him as he was holding them back, but they would hear nothing of it, cheering him with talks of the fine supper they would have back at Rossthwaite village. Inevitably  they were reduced to making little progress and it became obvious that in order to reach the valley bottom they needed to bring urgent assistance from Stonethwaite. Both brothers found shelter for Gordon behind a boulder and they continued on hurriedly for others to assist in the rescue. Even here, Michael Boyle had reached his limits of endurance and he also collapsed, leaving only Douglas to seek ever more urgent help. He made it to Stonethwaite but was unable to raise anyone, having to then continue to seek the aid of their other companions, who were in their beds there; by now it was 1:30am, a full seven hours after their intended end time and in the dead of a cold January night.
 Once the alarm was raised a party quickly hurried back to Greenup Gill, finding Michael Boyle still greatly fatigued; some assisted him down while others, which included Douglas Boyle, continued on for Gordon's much needed aid. Gordon had by this time succumbed to the cold; one of the party was a doctor and they tried resuscitation for three quarters of an hour, but to no avail, Gordon was dead.
The corner questioned the decision to walk in such weather, he himself was a walker, but stated he would not do so in such fell conditions that were present on the Saturday. He pointed out that this was the second tragedy under similar circumstances, the first occurring approximately four years previously. Douglas Boyle replied to the Coroner saying that all had gone to plan and they would easily have kept to their schedule, but for the missing bridge. A verdict of 'Death from exposure to exhaustion and cold' was recorded.

The view of Eagle Crag from Stonethwaite showing how close the three were to safety.

On 4 June 1939 there was an official opening ceremony for a new bridge commissioned by Frank Hallworth, Gordon's father. The ceremony was attended by 40 people consisting of fellow climbers and local people and the opening was performed by Mr G. A. Sutherland, the ex-president of the Manchester University Mountaineering Club, who noted the June tranquillity and commented that it was difficult to imagine how such a tragedy could occur.  He also commented that the bridge would serve a useful purpose and make it impossible for such a tragic event to re-occur. The plaque referred to earlier was fixed to the bridge and a similar plaque was fixed to the boulder up Greenup Gill, near the place where Gordon Frank Hallworth passed away on that freezing January night. So it is that a tragedy led to the re-erection of a bridge and it stands to this day, over 75 years later, giving the safe passage that was not afforded to Gordon and his two companions.

**ADDITION 17.04.2016**

A re-visit the day after I put this account on the internet located the second plaque, which is on the gill side of the footpath at map reference NY279125, for those not conversant with references, on the path below Long Band on the Ullscarf fell. (I now recall I have noticed this before but prior to any local history interest.)  On the pictures below note the wall line and the view of the higher moraines and Lining Crag.

The plated boulder where Gordon Hallworth was leant against by his companions

The plaque from his companions on that fateful walk

Note the plate, the wall line above, the moraines and Lining Crag in sight.

A check of mapping systems plots the distance from where the brothers rested Gordon Hallworth against the boulder, to Stonethwaite, is a distance of 2.3kms; to continue on to Rossthwaite makes it a 4km journey for Douglas Boyle. In complete darkness this will have been at least an hour's journey, to then rouse his companions and set off back uphill, again in darkness, Gordon Hallworth must have been on his own for two hours minimum, perhaps three. It is little wonder that already past his limit of endurance and frozen to the bone, having then fallen in the gill and remained motionless on the fell for those hours, that he died where he lay.

This is one of two memorial bridges in the valley, a further write-up is to follow on the second.