Wild and romantic: Early guides to the English lake district

Read by Phil Benson

A collection of some of the most significant literary work on the English Lake District prior to Thomas West’s A guide to the Lakes (1778). The poet Thomas Gray takes the reader from Brough south to Kendal on his return from a tour in Scotland. An agricultural reformer, Arthur Young, also returning from Scotland, begins his journey in the northern parts of Cumberland with dry descriptions of local farming, but on arriving in Keswick, his account turns to the picturesque scenery around Derwent Water, Ullswater and Windermere. ‘Wild and romantic’ is Young’s phrase, yet the agriculturalist in him comes to the fore as he declares the enclosed landscapes around Kendal and Windermere to be the most picturesque of all. Thomas Pennant’s account of his journey through the district is cursory, and he seems not have noticed the lakes or mountains at all. West’s Guide quotes Gray, Young and Pennant, and its second edition included the full text of Gray’s unpublished letters as an addendum. It also included four short pieces. John Brown’s letter to his former pupil William Gilpin (who would become the foremost exponent of the ‘picturesque’) connects the scenery of the Lakes to European landscape painting. Experimental philosopher Adam Walker provides a note on a local curiosity, the underground passages of Dunald Mill Hole. John Dalton and Richard Cumberland were among the first in a long line of Lakeland poets to be inspired to verse.>
- Summary by Phil Benson (2 hr 13 min)