THE END OF AN HISTORIC WOOD
(From a Correspondent)
Penrith Fell, or Penrith Beacon, its more familiar designation, is fast becoming as bare of the wild green beauty of timber as it was more than 108 years ago, before the LOWTHERS planted it, or in those still earlier days when warning fires of danger were lighted on the pike.
Lumbermen have been employed felling the trees for months past, and the pine-clad hill, so noticeable a landmark among its austere and barren brethren in the Eden Valley, has been doomed to the axe.
Less than a year ago, the upper part of the red sandstone hill, on whose side is irregularly scattered the historic little town of Penrith, was clothed with tall Scotch firs, straight, ruddy stems and heads of dusky foliage suggesting line after line of pillars of fire crowned with indigo clouds of smoke. Their ranks were broken by a few larches, and some oaks, beeches, and Spanish chestnuts. In the open spaces grew clumps of rowan bushes; heather, bilberry, and bracken, the wealth of the moorland, covered the ground, except where deep-quarried dips revealed the crimson earth beneath.
On the crest of the Fell, where the beacon fires used to blaze, is a grassy platform on which there is a small stone turret. From here, it is even said, one can see, on clear days, the Solway.
The rugged backbone of the Pennines, dominated by the flattened summit of Crossfell, forms the eastern boundary. Over the town and the belt of cultivated fields, a great wedge of shining silver pierces through the ring of hills: Ullswater, shyest of English lakes.
In the valley rise the white towers and turrets of Lowther Castle. Many mountain kings can be picked out in the landscape: Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Saddleback, their pikes pale and remote if the weather is settled; solemnly dark and near in a damp atmosphere; wearing glittering helmets of snow in winter.
From the Beacon Pike, last summer, one plunged downwards into a tangle of green aisles and leafy bowers, a pleasure place, where all could wander at will.
When the Beacon was only a rough fellside, the free haunt of all, WORDSWORTH as a boy was lost upon it with an old servant; the pair came unexpectedly upon a decaying gibbet and imagined a dead malefactor was still hanging to the chains. At a later date, after a walk on the Beacon with MARY HUTCHINSON, a resident of Penrith, WORDSWORTH wrote: ......................................
And over the Border Beacon,, and the waste
Of naked pools and common crags that lay
Exposed on the bare fell, were scattered love,
The spirit of pleasure, and youth's golden gleam.
On Penrith Fell, in 1715, occurred a scene which is a disgrace in Cumberland's history. According to CHANCELLOR FERGUSON:............................................
Twelve thousand men were mustered on the high ground about Penrith, consisting of the whole posse comitatus of Cumberland. . . . . . . .From Brampton the Jacobites marched to Penrith Fell, where the posse comitatus. . . . . . . . . armed with guns, scythes, and pitchforks, awaited them under VISCOUNT LONSDALE and BISHOP NICHOLSON, who was on the field in his coach and six. As soon as the Highlanders appeared, the posse comitatus went away; in plain words, they skedaddled, leaving the two commanders and a few of their servants. LORD LONSDALE presently galloped off to Appleby, and the Bishop's coachman, whipping up his horses, carried off his master, will-nilly to Rose Castle. It is said the Prelate lost his wig while shouting from the carriage window to his coachman to stop.
But the past grows more remote, since the present is fast destroying the Beacon wood. The birds have been silenced by axe and saw, an engine puffs its smoke into the pine-perfumed air. Men are busy all day felling the timber and preparing it for transport. Their horses and sledges cut deep into the earth. Round the wood huts have been erected, temporary homes for temporary inhabitants, with dainty cotton curtains at their mica windows.
When the bustle of work has ceased, and nothing is left but the everlasting view of lake and fell, the town talks of acquiring the Beacon with the object of eventually replanting it as a perpetual memorial to the lads of Cumberland who have fallen in the war.
A new generation of humanity may one day walk and rejoice beneath a new generation of trees, and may remember the call for sacrifice which destroyed and immortalized the older one.