BB1415 : King Domnhail and the Parting Stone

Thursday 23rd April 2014

William Wordsworth:  Reckoned to be one of England's great poets and regularly used to promote the Lake District.

But how many lines from his poems can you actually quote?

You will probably remember:

I wandered lonely as a cloud... something something...... host of golden daffodils.

You might recall the line :

Earth has not anything to show more fair

but probably didn't remember that it came from the ode Upon Westminster Bridge.

And if you have been drinking in Grasmere, there is a fair chance of having seen this line from The Waggoner:

Who does not know the famous Swan?

But I will bet that's your limit.

Well, today, you can look forward to not one but two more sets of Wordsworthisms.

Our story starts not at The Swan in Grasmere but at the Traveller's Rest, a little further up Dunmail Raise (more of which later).

The objective was for Martin, Tony and me to help John bag another Wainwright, the dreaded Seat Sandal. Dreaded as the effort / reward ratio is weak.  It is not that it is a bad hill, it's just a slog to get up and then all you can do is come down again.  A bit Grand Old Duke of York like (not a Wordsworth poem, by the way!).

A Thirlmere pipeline gate

Little Tongue respite

Rather than take the brutal direct ascent from the top of Domnhail - oops, sorry - Dunmail Raise as in BB1240, we took the easier option of Little Tongue up to the Hause just above Grisedale Tarn (more of which shortly).  

Grisedale Tarn, Dollywagon Pike ahead, Sunday Crag peeping middle, Fairfield on the right

Here we turned left and began the ascent of Seat Sandal proper.

The lower part is quite testing. Steep and with a loose, scree-like surface.  Then it eases off somewhat and the top is gently rounded and provides a good panorama.  To the west, way below you, is Dunmail Raise and to the east, not so far below you, is Grisedale Tarn.

The scree ascent

Tony, post lunch

Now for the history lesson.

Domnhail, the last king of Cumberland (and the name from which mine derives} was killed in battle against the armies of Edmund 1st of England and Malcolm 1st of Scotland in 945 A.D..

One version of history says that he was laid to rest where he fell in the pass that is now named after him between Grasmere and Whythburn. Dunmail Raise.  A cairn was raised over his body and his crown taken by his faithful warriors to be cast into Grisedale Tarn for safekeeping until such time as Domnhail should return.

Each year, it is alleged, his warriors revisit the tarn, recover the crown and take it back to Dunmail Raise on which they knock with their spears. So far, the response each time has been:

Not yet, wait awhile, my warriors

You have already seen, or maybe remembered, one line from Wordsworth's poem The Waggoner. Within this epic, he also wrote about our sleeping King:

They now have reach'd that pile of stones
Heap'd over brave King Dunmail's bones,
He who once held supreme command,
Last king of rocky Cumberland.
His bones and those of all his power,
Slain here in a disastrous hour.

W G Collingwood gives a somewhat different account of Domnhail's fate in his saga Thorstein's Country.

He contends that, at the top of the pass, Domnhail met a fairy maid, Aluinn, who led him up to Grisedale Tarn where she flung his crown into the water.

He vanished into the mist, possibly to survive for another thirty years as Dyfnwal ab Owein, the King of Strathclyde.

We dropped down to the tarn but today there was no sign of the crown, nor of warriors returning to search for it.  However, we did find more evidence of Wordsworth's involvement with the area.  

This time it related to a death much closer to him; that of his brother John.

Near the outfall, at the Patterdale end of the tarn, is the Brothers' Parting Stone.

This is where, on 29th September 1800, William and John last saw each other.

John was the Commander of the Earl of Abergavenny and was drowned along with some 260 other crew when, in 1805, she grounded on the Shambles, two miles off Portland Bill and subsequently sank.

Eighty years later Canon Rawnsley, the founder of the National Trust, had William's memorial poem inscribed on what is now known as the Parting Stone.

Here did we stop; and here looked round
While each into himself descends,
For that last thought of parting Friends
That is not to be found.

Brother and friend, if verse of mine
Have power to make thy virtues known,
Here let a monumental Stone
Stand -- sacred as a Shrine.

Comitibus :  The Parting Stone

Grisedale Tarn outflow

Poetry and history lessons completed, we returned by way of Tongue Gill.  Just before we rejoined what had been our upward path, we passed a mysterious set of stone circles.  There were no young maidens wafting to be slain so we did not examine it closely.  Instead we continued descending, passing what seemed to be a new mini-weir across the beck.

The stone circles

The mysterious weir

Lower down we discovered its purpose.  A micro, water-powered electricity generator is being installed. The owner seemed happy to tell us all about it, encouraged no doubt due to Tony and John having some relevant interest in the topic- the former having a friend who has done the same thing at Coniston and the latter being involved with such a project near Killington.

The generator

Who does not know the famous Travellers Rest?

Much to our surprise, the anticipated rain did not appear so we were happily dry when we arrived not at the Famous Swan but at the now, thanks to this report, even more famous Traveller's Rest.  Here, at least, this Domnhail had returned.  When the boys knocked on the stones with their spear-like poles, I said the magic words:

Wait no more, my warriors.  
It's time for a pint.

Domnhail, 24th April 2014




Thursday 24th April 2014

Distance in miles


Height climbed in feet



Seat Sandal, Grisedale Tarn, King Domnhail
Brothers' Parting Stone


Don, John Hn, Martin C, Tony

BOOTboys routes are put online in gpx format which should work with most mapping software. You can follow our route in detail by downloading bb1415 .

To discover which Wainwright top was visited on which BB outing - although it may not be that up to date - see: Which Wainwright When?

For the latest totals of the mileages and heights (ditto) see: BB Log.

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