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.

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