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Becks and Gills of the Northern Fells
Becks and Gills of the Northern Fells
The becks and gills of the Northern Fells are unknown territory. To follow them upstream is to voyage through a tapestry of interest and beauty and delight.
The obvious feature is the watercourse itself, and that simple element proves what a variety of effects it can achieve as water plays with the unerlying geology and the surrounding vegetation.
Waterfalls and cascades pour themselves into pools of infinite variation.
Like fingerprints, no two could be identical.
They may be dark and mysterious with peaty water, or gleaming with a slew of golden gravel under the pellucid flow.
148mm x 210mm paperback
The Northern Fells other than Skiddaw and Blencathra are little visited. A walker striding over High Pike or Carrock will meet few others and one who chooses Knott or Great Calva may find he has the day and the distant prospect to himself.
The explorer who would discover the intimate landscape of the fells rather than its sweeping skies and grand vistas should quietly ascend the becks and gills. There he will find a different world. He will “voyage through a tapestry of interest and beauty and delight”. Like fingerprints, no beck or gill will be identical. He will make his way through an enclosed world, climbing where there are no paths, uncertain of the hidden pleasures that lie ahead. His beck “may be dark and mysterious with peaty water, or gleaming with a slew of golden gravel under the pellucid flow”.
He will be alone. In all the many days that Robert Drake spent exploring these forgotten watercourses he met no fellow enthusiast for the black and silvery tracery that divides the fells. “In Wet Swine Gill I came across a fairly fresh boot print, which raised the expectation that there might be another human up ahead of me, but I saw no-one.”
Robert has followed the course of every named gill and beck that flows across the common land of the Northern Fells.
Dale Beck is “a lusty thing”. In Ingray Gill “the chuckle of crystal water descends over mossy cascades fringed by straggling beards of golden saxifrage, into shallow pools in which every pebble is plain to see”. Hay Gill is “boisterous”.
The last fifty yards of Long Grain is “marked by two lovely waterfalls”. At the upper one, “a grey wagtail flies out of the bank beside the pool, and up to the top of the fall, striding about in agitation”. The “steep and steep-sided Beck Gill has cut itself a course between rock-outcrops and scree-slopes”.
Clints Gill takes its name from the Old Scandinavian word for a rocky place. It is the site of the Mexico Mine which failed to flourish in the nineteenth century and a place that has been much despoiled by the activities of mineral collectors. Along the steep sides of Roughten Gill old mine workings “offer black portals into hard rock”. On the right bank, partly silted up, is one of the “coffin-levels” worked by the German miners in the sixteenth century. It was so-shaped to give the maximum amount of access with the minimum of cutting into the hard but useless rock.
Silver, Swinburn, Wet Smale and Ramps Gill complete the litany of waters that are one with Dale Beck. Carrock, Caldew, Glenderamackin and Glendereterra, Hause Gill and the River Ellen are all nourished by their underlings that make their rapid or tortuous ways through the fells, each with a name and character of its own.
For Robert there were fourteen stations, two to each watercourse, which seemed to possess a special magic, places for rest and contemplation. In Long Gill is an old oak tree, “its limbs all elbows and twists and forks”. The walls of the sheepfold by Sinen Gill, once packed with “a steaming flock . . . hold nothing but rushes now”. And the cascade and pool on Charleton Gill offer “a place for a dip on a hot day”.
“Becks and Gills” is not a guide book. Everyone who would come to know the intimate landscape of the fells must find their own way, must learn to know and love this undiscovered landscape for themselves.
Robert Drake tells us, almost as quietly as the waters themselves, how we might learn to hear their music.
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