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Thomas Wilkinson

Thomas Wilkinson was a quaker who lived at Yanwith near Penrith and was a friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Thomas Clarkson, the quaker campaigner for the abolition of slavery and also the talented Elizabeth Smith. She was another writer, who also loved scrambling up and down "rude mountains, roaring torrents and rocky precipices" of the Lake District and Thomas Wilkinson gives details of his expedition with Elizabeth and her two sisters in his Tours to the British Mountains, published by Taylor and Hessey (London) in 1824.

His writings inspired William Wordsworth to write the poem The Solitary Reaper, published in 1809, which was suggested by a sentence written in his manuscript, later to appear in Wilkinson's Tours to the British Mountains :

"Passed a Female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse as she bended over her sickle; the sweetest human voice I ever heard: her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious, long after they were heard no more"

Tours to the British Mountains also includes a description of a visit Thomas made to Settle, from where he visited and described Gordale and Malham Cove:


THE neighbourhood of Settle has stores for the admirer of Nature. We rambled to see Gordale; and in our way, in a high, wide, pastoral situation, we met with Malham Tarn, a sheet of water perhaps two or three miles in circumference. Swans were sailing on its surface, which seemed to add to its tranquillity. Lord Ribblesdale has built a handsome hunting and fishing-seat on its margin. This little lake ought to be recorded for having the best Alpine trout to be met with in England : — tradition says, the monks of Fountain Abbey went to Switzerland and brought over the breed; and that they put them in possession of Malham Tarn: which possession they have kept ever since, and thrive as well as any family of fishes that is known.

We now went to explore Gordale, of which I had formed a very erroneous idea ; but that idea is cast out by the reality, and utterly forgotten. Its first appearance from an eminence was that of two vast rocks, perhaps more at their summits than a quarter of a mile asunder, and at least a himdred dred yards high: their foreheads were finely tur- reted with rock; and, far up these stupendous masses, I saw magnanimous sheep feeding and in motion, their size and appearance like moving mushrooms.

We now entered between these enormous masses, which more and more approached each other, and became more and more perpendicular. The colour of things also changed: we were retiring from a verdant world into a contracted region, and that region was of darker hue. I advanced till I was at length involved in a labyrinth of dark rocks: they seemed closed behind me, and apparently inclined to meet over my head; for though, perhaps, almost a hundred yards high, they did not seem more than eight or ten yards asunder at their summits.

I now met the diminished Waterfall, and was glad of the absence of its streams: though the drought had deprived me of the foam and the fury of a rushing torrent, and had bereft me of the thunder of its descent amid opposing rocks and their scattered fragments, yet the absence of so animated a feature in Gordale afforded me an opportunity of scrambling up its channel, which at other times, even if I had been a fish, I could not have effected. The day was warm, and I left my hat and my staff, and proceeded; for I could not afford to lose a glimpse of any object, seeing the lower world was shut out, and I saw but a small portion of the sky; and as to my staff, my hands were more to be depended upon among the rocks than it.

I was soon lost to my guide, who hallooed after me, and I shouted a reply. I had now scrambled to where the cataract first bursts on the solemn scene from its dark prison, which event is said to have first taken place about sixty years ago. I kept ascending, when a black rock (perhaps eight or ten yards high) now rose before me, and, leaning forward, appeared to frown on my approach : his menacing attitude seemed to say, Proceed no farther. However, as he would not give way to me, I therefore, like a reasonable being, gave way to him, and quietly passed on one side; and verily believe I should have made my way through this interesting chaos quite out at the top, but I did not know how my guide and I could then have got together again : — besides, I was scrambling among small stones which had fallen from above; and they and I all came down together. I was amused with the turmoil: but when the fray ceased, I looked around me, and began to contemplate the vast masses of dark rock with which I was surrounded. These massy columns were entire from their base; not built of different strata, as by the hand of art. The character of the objects wherewith with I was now surrounded, was that of gloomy grandeur: I seemed imprisoned on either hand by a vast wall of dark adamant. The frowning rock before mentioned appeared to bar my escape upward; and below me, these awful rocks seemed to wind precipitately into some profound unknown abyss. If I had been brought here in my sleep, and had awoke within the jaws of these terrible monsters before my scattered spirits could have been duly rallied, I should have been sadly frightened ! — I now beheld Gordale without dread; and, with higher feelings than tranquillity, I surveyed its terrible magnificence.

Gordale Scar


ON our return from Gordale we visited Malham Cove; where, without danger or apprehension, I set my foot at the base of a perpendicular rock ninety-six yards high, whose summit extended perhaps to the width of three or four hundred yards, while its bottom was not more than a fourth of that compass. The surface of this vast rock is bordered on each side by green hills, which might suggest the idea of a narrow valley, in some of the convulsions of Nature, or in her more gradual processes, having been filled with this mighty mass of marble. The front of this bold rock is a singular scene : arches bend over marble doors, perhaps some ten, some twenty yards high. Imagination might suppose these doors would be the entrances to subterraneous wonders; but all is solid, impenetrable rock: and though a decanter, apparently ten yards high, offers itself to the observation of the traveller, yet I believe it does not contain a thimbleful of any cheering beverage that we know of. However, it is worthy of remark, that the river Air (whose winding course I once traced from Leeds) first issues from the foot of this rock, and perhaps its reservoir is Malham Tarn.

When we again approached Settle, we descended into a beautiful verdant vale, surrounded with picturesque hills — or more properly rocks — whose sides were covered with herbage that afforded rich pasturage for sheep. Their summits were finely broken, while caves at their base invited our search. Settle is, indeed, the region of rocks and the land of caves, which add an interesting variety to the scenes scattered over our happy island. On my returning north from Settle, an abrupt rock of some miles' extent stretched on my right. I alighted at the ebbing and flowing spring; but having inspected it before, I did not remain long enough to ascertain how high it arose, and how low it fell.

You can down load a PDF copy of Thomas Wilkinson's Tours to the British Mountains from GoogleBooks.External Website logo

Read the accounts of other 18th & early 19th century visitors to the Malhamdale area.


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