‘I WAN­DERED LONELY… SOME­WHERE ELSE’

OTHER HIS­TORIC LITERARY GIANTS WHO FELL FOR THE HILLS.

Trail (UK) - - LAKE DISTRICT -

JOHN KEATS

(1795-1821)

Keats was a younger con­tem­po­rary of Wordsworth, Co­leridge and Robert Southey, though his death from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis at 25 meant he never achieved the prodi­gious out­put he seemed des­tined for. He did, how­ever, pen a num­ber of son­nets while ex­plor­ing the high places of Bri­tain – in­clud­ing an ascent of Ben Nevis on 26 July 1818 as part of a walk­ing tour of Scot­land. It’s thought to be this tour that kick-started the ill­ness that killed him, though not be­fore he wrote his ‘Son­net writ­ten on the sum­mit of Ben Nevis’, which be­gins:

‘Read me a les­son, Muse, and speak it loud Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!

I look into the chasms, and a shroud Vapourous doth hide them, just so much I wist Mankind do know of hell’

GE­ORGE BOR­ROW

(1803-1881)

Bor­row was a de­pres­sive who ob­ses­sively walked to es­cape what he called the ‘hor­rors’ (he once walked from Nor­wich to London in 27 hours) and wrote his most lauded book, Wild Wales, af­ter tour­ing the coun­try on foot. He climbed Snow­don from Ban­gor in a day with his step-daugh­ter Hen­ri­etta, re­mark­ing be­fore­hand:

‘‘Dacw Eryri,’ yon­der is Snow­don. Let us try to get to the top. The Welsh have a proverb: ‘It is easy to say yon­der is Snow­don; but not so easy to as­cend it.’ There­fore I would ad­vise you to brace up your nerves and sinews for the at­tempt.’

NAN SHEP­HERD

(1893-1981)

The Aberdeen-born writer, whose face now fea­tures on Scot­tish bank notes, filled her 1940s mas­ter­piece The Liv­ing Moun­tain with more beau­ti­fully evoca­tive quotes than its mod­est length sug­gests it could. An ode to hill­walk­ing in the Cairn­gorms – given ex­tra res­o­nance by the free­dom it af­forded her as a woman con­strained by so­ci­ety in ru­ral Scot­land – Shep­herd didn’t pub­lish The Liv­ing Moun­tain un­til 1977, a few years be­fore her death. Since then it has won ac­claim among modern na­ture writ­ers and read­ers alike. Wis­dom drips from the words, but of­ten the sim­plest sen­tences carry the most truth:

‘To aim for the high­est point is not the only way to climb a moun­tain.’

SA­MUEL TAY­LOR CO­LERIDGE (1772-1832)

Co­leridge was Wordsworth’s rather more reck­less, un­pre­dictable po­etic pal who could be con­sid­ered one of the first moun­tain thrill-seek­ers. Ad­dicted to all man­ner of opi­ates through­out his life, Co­leridge took plea­sure in ex­pos­ing him­self to light­ning storms, walk­ing by night on frozen ground, and most fa­mously, de­scend­ing Broad Stand on Scafell in 1802, which many con­sider the first recre­ational rock climb – though it was likely out of des­per­a­tion due to an ap­proach­ing storm. The re­sult­ing de­scrip­tion breath­lessly de­liv­ered in a let­ter to his muse (and his crush) Sarah Hutchin­son is the first piece of Lake­land climb­ing lit­er­a­ture. Fight­ing off a panic at­tack as the stepped ledges of Broad Stand be­came ever more haz­ardous, Co­leridge be­gan to feel some­thing of a buzz:

‘…the sight of the Crags above me on each side, and the im­petu­ous clouds just over them, post­ing so luridly and so rapidly north­ward, over­awed me. I lay in a state of al­most prophetic Trance and De­light…’

GE­ORGE GOR­DON BY­RON (1788-1824)

Lord By­ron spent his child­hood in Scot­land, be­neath the brood­ing cliffs and rounded sum­mits of the Cairn­gorms. By­ron would later go on to be­come a scan­dalous dandy, fa­ther­ing sev­eral il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren and haunt­ing ex­otic Euro­pean cities such as Venice, be­fore join­ing the Greeks to fight the Ot­toman Em­pire, dy­ing there in 1824 from a fever. By­ron never lost af­fec­tion for his High­land home, how­ever – and in 1807 he wrote the poem Lachin y Gair – bet­ter known as Dark Lochna­gar.

‘Years have rolled on, Lochna­gar, since I left you Years must roll on ere I see you again Though Na­ture of ver­dure and flowers bereft you Yet still art thou dearer than Al­bion’s plain Eng­land! thy beauties are tame and do­mes­tic To one who has roved on the moun­tains afar Oh for the crags that are wild and ma­jes­tic

The steep frown­ing glo­ries o’ wild Lochna­gar’

Llan­beris vil­lage in Gwynedd, north Wales, from the south­ern bank of Llyn Padarn and at the foot of Snow­don, circa 1840.

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