Recently at the Red Rose Library we had the pleasure of receiving copy of an article**(1) written in 1820 describing the authors visit to Casterton Fell in that year. The full article makes a fascinating read, of his perambulation to Witches Cave, the Easegill Kirks and Bull Pot of the Witches.  The final section of the article is of particular interest as it, in all but name, predicts the existence of the “Three Counties System”.  (Dave Brook famously made a similar prediction in the 1960’s - which proved to be correct!).  The article commences with a detailed description of the authors arrival at a knoll somewhere at the southern tip of Casterton Fell, describing in some detail what is still very much the same vista today. A wonderful description of cave exploration follows which our editor I am sure would crave, in articles presented to him nowadays. Read on …, you’ll not be disappointed.

Note:- Every effort has been made to leave spelling and pronunciation as originally written, which itself is interesting, as in 1820 Easegill beck itself seems to be called Eller Beck!


As is generally the case with all sentimental tourists, the morning was remarkably fine, when—as no man ever goes alone on an excursion—when we commenced our pedestrian excursion to the Witch Holes. I trust the reader will not suppose that the first step landed us upon Casterton Fell—but, as nothing—as the readers of Newspapers say—worthy of notice occurred before we reached a fine green knoll, constituting the southernmost extremity of Casterton Fell, I shall begin cur memoranda there.      .   The green knoll invited us, as eloquently as a knoll could invite us, to take a seat. Having toiled up the steep acclivity at the expense of a considerable quantity of sweat, we willingly complied with the “silent summons,” and sat ourselves down. And now, as the Novel writers say, for the pen of a Mrs. Radcliffe—but as I should say, for the pen of Sir Walter Scott. For he alone could do justice to the “sweetly varied scene.” To the right lay Kirkby Lonsdale, on whose light blue slate the sun beams—

As a boarding school Miss might say—were waltzing delightfully. The brilliancy of these scintillations gave a brightness and a glow to the surrounding fields and groves, which—like a love tale—may be better conceived than described.

Beyond the verdant eminence which overlooks the Town—like aggregations of mist—we could just discern the summits of the Lake Mountains; among the most conspicuous of which we could easily distinguish the mitre-apex of Langdale Pikes—an object which so often been eloquently portrayed by my friend Green, whose faithful and lively representations, shall live and be esteemed, till the hills themselves shall decay through age.                                          .

To the south was expanded before us the fertile vale of Lune. The meandering river, sometimes hid, sometimes visible, appeared like serpentine ingots of liquid silver, carelessly thrown on a large Brussels carpet. The villages, the farm houses—But, the reader will perhaps fear that I and my friend have forgot the Witch Holes, and are going to spend the day upon the green knoll—I will assure the reader, if he be a reader of taste—and I am informed that none else read this Magazine—that I viewed the prospect with delight, and left it with regret; forming a sincere but silent promise, that many moons should not wax and wane before I paid it another visit. 

It may perhaps—but I love to be minute, It is the fashion for travellers now-a-days, witness the cartloads of quartos which tours through France alone have produced—it may perhaps be unnecessary to remind the reader that it is not half so far down, as it is up the hill; at least we found it so. We were scarcely arrived at the “foot of the hill,” when we found ourselves in the rugged vale of Easegill. This dell is contracted at the bottom, to what the country people denominate a mere Beck-race. Down a channel, as rough as rocks can make it, pours the maddening current of Eller Beck, happily for our auricular nerves, the hot weather had “consumed the stream ;“ and no sound was distinguishable but the rattling of a small subdued brook, and the solitary notes of a lingering cuckoo in July. .                             .   .

We travelled—or had the reader been a beholder, it would perhaps have been—we hobbled up the course of the stream. But, as this is rough ground the sooner we are over it the better; and to prove how much agile I am with my pen than with my feet, I will step over a mile of the brook at a single stride and carry the reader to the Care of the Witches. In order to induce the timid reader to accompany me, it may not be improper to assure him, on the word of a traveller, that all the witches who formerly— haunted this dirty gloomy cavern, are either dead or banished to the Highlands of Scotland; where they frequently cross the paths of a Scott or a Hogg. This cave is nothing but creeks and crannies among the loose strata of limestone. We entered by an irregular arch as Housman would say—that is in English, by an aperture of no definable shape. To be partcu1ar—in order to fill my paper—to the right we found a pool of water, to the left a pool of mud, in the middle a mixture of both. Proceeding farther—as inveterate cave-hunters ought to do—we found the roof sunk to about two feet arid a half high, but quickly rose again to the height of seven or eight yards. In this apartment the floor is composed of loose stones, through the chinks of which we let down a line of four or five yards long, into the watery cavern below—we preferred this plan, to inspecting the cellar personally as the witches had left it full of water. From this apartment we crept though another of Housman’s irregular arches;—and here I would notice for the benefit of the future visitant, that it would not be advisable for persons above a certain rotundity, to submit themselves to this rocky embrace. We now found ourselves in an apartment of larger dimensions, pretty lofty, and of an even surface; but our farther progress was unceremoniously obstructed by a deep black pool, which occupied the farthest extremity of the cave. The low beetling rock sunk to within a few inches of the water, and, prevented our entrance to a cave, as large as fancy had a mind to construct it.                                               .                                                                    .    

Returning from this saloon of the witches, we ascended a rude but narrow staircase to a considerable height. And here we found something to amuse us. The roof was formed of limestone mingled with pieces of shining black marble, sprinkled with small crystals, as thick as hail which glittered in the light of our candles like stars in the firmament. And of small stalactites hung from roof like candles in a chandler’s shop. The place was small, so that that after Purloining a few pieces of crystal from this storehouse, w followed the passage, which led us by a steep descent to the pool of water which we had passed in our entrance. Finding that we had seen the entire cave, we were determined to try its echo; and having provided ourselves with a blunderbuss, we almost. Frightened the rocks ourselves with the report. I had imagined that the echo might surprise me, but I never suspected that it would deprive me of hearing anything else, for nearly half an hour after.                .                                                                    .     

Soon after quitting this gloomy and irregular cavern, we observed an old man on the Fell burning sods. And as Dr. Johnson would have said, we perambulated that portion of the protuberant asperities which nature had obtruded between us and the stranger “Pray friend”—every man, as the reader knows, is a friend if we require his services—”pray friend,” said I, “whence has this dismal spot acquired the title of ‘Witch Holes?” The old man leaned upon his rural trident; and turning up one of those faces which Teniers has so often drawn, replied, “ye mebbe dont believe e witches.” He suspended his voice without bringing it to a close; keeping his droll phiz, firmly fixed upon us, as much as to require an answer without having strictly asked a question. It is unfashionable to believe in any kind of witches, except the Lancashire witches —lads love them!—I therefore equivocated; “I never saw any witches,” said I, “but that is no proof of their nonexistence.” Wyah,” said the old man, ‘I niver sa any witches, mesell, but me granmudder sed et a parshal a witches ust ta meet yance a ear e thor hooals; an mead a girt feast, an neabody mud gang tull it but sic as ther sels”. “Hence”, said I, “you suppose it obtained the name of the Witch holes?” “Its verra likely,” said our informant.                        . 

We now ascended the bed of’ the stream, but fortunately for us the water had vanished, and left the broken channel exposed to the sun and wind—as the act of Parliament says, high roads should be                   .    About three years since, my friend informed me, a cloud burst over the moors above, and the waters—like Montgomery’s molehill—”collected from ocean earth and sky,” were poured down this rugged rocky channel with a noise and a percussion that shook the very foundations of the hills. The effects arising from this conflict of earth and water, was visible at every step. Masses of rock five or six tons weight, were scattered through the glen like potsherds in a baby house. Every vestige of the soil was swept from the banks of the river, which expressed their craggy jaws, like the remnants of a sheep’s head upon a common. The banks were exceedingly lofty and steep, and it was with difficulty—travellers always meet with difficulties—that we avoided the pools of water which occasionally presented! themselves in the track which we should have trod. In one place a deep circular hole about thirty feet deep, with about twelve feet of water in it, obstructed our farther progress; a narrow ledge of rock, just presenting space for our feet, and overshaded by a projecting rock above it, was our only passage. I beg the readers not to suppose that we felt any fear, on looking down into the deep abyss thirty feet below us. If the reader has ever been in such a situation be may easily picture us, laughing at the dangers which yawned below; and, if his ears be good, he may hear my friend pointing out the security of the gulph as a place of retreat from the Radicals. Leaving this—as Burke would call it—sublime scene, we immediately found ourselves in Easegill Kirk.  A more romantic spot I think I never saw! “Oh!” said I, “that Westall was here; this would be a scene to his mind.” Easegill kirk is a dry hole in the bed of the river: and without the stream be more than usually high, the whole area may be traversed. The kirk has no other ceiling than the blue vault of heaven. Indeed what more beautiful canopy could a church possess! The walls are perhaps one hundred feet high perpendicular or overhanging; ornamented here and there with a stunted ash, or a clasping ivy. The floor is paved in a grotesque manner with freestone and limestone; but not in the Mosaic style; it might perhaps more properly be called the Adamic style of paving.  At the northern extremity of the kirk the stream—when there is one—falls down a broken rock about forty feet high in a fine foaming sheet, at least imagination told us so. Not far from the water fall the Choir of the kirk opens under a fine arch, seven or eight feet high at its lowest part. We entered; and found an extensive vault about thirty feet high and forty long, perfectly light and agreeable. A curious black rock overgrown is with aquatic moss, from the trickling of water which falls from the roof, has obtained the name of the Priest of Easegill kirk. We sat down on one of the stone seats with which this kirk abounds; And my friend drew his pocket a flask. “I always make it a point of duty,” said he, ‘to drink the parson’s good health, whenever I come this way.” “And I shall be very happy to pledge Mr. Stone too,” said I. And we contrived to empty the bottle.

Pleased with our entertainment- at Easegill kirk we ascended a rude winding stair case, in one corner of the choir, which led us to the top of the hill. Pursuing our way up the dell for half a mile farther we were agreeably surprised to find ourselves in another recess of the rocks, similar to that we had left; but upon a smaller scale. We sat down, being tired—as a Roman would hare said—and tried the effects of our blunderbuss. But, though the report was astonishingly loud, it was nothing compared to that in the Witch holes’ cave. We found on making the attempt that we could not proceed. The smooth faced rock, down which the water pours, was too high to ascend, and we were on the point of sounding a retreat, when the face of a friend and philosopher presented itself on the apex of one of the highest rocks. He immediately joined us below, and informed us of some astonishing caverns on the same moor close by. We accompanied him; and quickly found the object of our search. What a field—I should say—what a cavern was here for philosophers to expatiate upon. The place is called the BULLPOTS. But for what reason we could not learn. The opening is nothing more than an irregular fissure in the rocks, about forty yards long, and of unequal width. The deepest part was ninety six feet deep, perfectly dry seemingly pretty level in the bottom. On minutely searching, we found a crevice in the rock through which we descended about thirty or forty feet; and would have gone farther if possible. The cavity here expanded to a considerable extent, and we could discern the bottom—a fine limestone flag. Nearly opposite to where we stood, we perceived a large hole in the other wall of the cavern; into this we threw stones, which slowly rattled down a descent, till the sound died away—and by way of rounding the period, I may add—and we heard them no more. What extent of a cave may be here concealed from human eyes, I cannot possibly inform the reader, but our joint imaginations painted, or rather designed it, a remarkably large one.  Our philosophic friend could see no reason why it should not be connected with the caves at Ingleton, or even in Derbyshire! I could not prove the contrary, and therefore left him to suppose, if the idea pleased him, that there might be a cave in Casterton Fell, above a hundred miles long. I have nothing more to say, than that we got home, a truth which the reader has very probably already suspected,


 **(1)   The Lonsdale Magazine or Provincial Repository. Vol.1  No. VIII  August 1820  pp. 338-341

Mel Wilkinson

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