Lake District Landscapes


Jonathen Orley’s appreciation of the different landscapes associated with the Skiddaw Slates and Borrowdale Volcanic rocks has been a recurring theme in all subse¬quent writings on the scenery of the hotels in the lake district. It figured prominently in the first official Geological Memoir covering the northern part of the area prepared by Clifton Ward after he had spent more than a decade in the field. The same aspect is dealt with at length in Marr’s classic Geology of the Lake District which, although now over fifty years old, is still the only all embracing account covering the entire area.

Even to the unpracticed eye, the contrasting landscapes associated with the two rock types can be clearly seen, especially when in close juxtaposi¬tion. In the lower part of Borrowdale, for example, where the boundary runs diagonally from below Walla Crag  to Grange (and then up on to the slopes of Narrow Moor , the relatively smooth outlines associated with weathered Skiddaw Slates on the Cat Bells ridge  stand out in marked con¬trast to the precipitous slopes of Walla Crag and Falcon Crag  on the opposite side of the valley.

This is simply a reflection of the difference in charac¬ter between the basic rock types, for whereas the Skiddaw Slates have a fairly uniform composition, mainly shales with occasional grit bands, the Borrowdale Volcanics comprise a succession of toughened lava beds interspersed with softer tuffs. In places however, these tuffs have been altered by igneous activity and then they, too, stand out as sheer rock walls. Where there is a succession of hard and soft beds, the whole hillside takes on the appearance of a gigantic stair¬case where the treads coincide with the more resistant beds. The Skiddaw Slates, in contrast, are much more uniform and tend to weather evenly to give uniform slopes with shaly debris completely masking the underlying solid rock. On these more gentle slopes there is often a complete grassy sward. Seen from afar, like the famous view of Skiddaw looking northwards from Ashes Bridge, the landscape takes on a subdued appearance even though the actual height of Skiddaw itself  approaches that of the highest peaks within the whole Lake District.

Broad generalizations can be misleading, however, for there are areas within the Skiddaw Slates outcrop where rugged scenery is characteristic. In the west¬ern fells, bordering on Crum mock Water  and Buttermere , the presence of hard grit bands and massive flags gives rise to craggy upper slopes with sweeping screes’ fanning out below. A walk up Gasgale Gill from a point near the lower end of Crum mock Water enters an area where rock type, valley side weathering and stream erosion have combined to produce a landscape as forbidding in its grandeur as any associated with the Borrowdale Volcanic Series. The valley itself is V shaped in cross profile with the present relatively small stream threading its way round any rocky buttresses in its path or cascading down over the harder beds in its upper section . Bare crags on the north side of the valley grade almost imperceptibly into a scree of angular rock frag¬ments often considerably dissected by stream courses which cover the hillside after heavy rain. On reaching the col of Coledale House the landscape changes completely.

We are now in the midst of a broad open valley with a small stream passing through a succession of boggy hollows. Above lie the smooth grassy slopes leading on to the flat top of Grasmoor . After the toil up the narrow defile of the Gasgale Beck, the open scenery of the plateau all around is one of commanding views in every direction. From the cairn at the western end of Grasmoor the view to the east takes in the unfrequented country running across towards Newlands Valley and Keswick with isolated knolls like Grisedale Pike  rising above the general level.

To the south White less Pike  in the foreground is similar, but beyond the land falls away rapidly to the over deepened trough which contains Buttermere and Crummock Water. Beyond, Skiddaw Slates give way to other rocks and the majestic ridge running from High Crag  to Starling Dodd, with its great armchair shaped hollows, betrays a change of rock type. On a fine day the view southwards is completed by the fragmented country which ultimately rises to Great Gable  and Scafell Pike.