W3C Striding Edge MEMORIES

Striding Edge
Striding Edge and the icy snow at
the top of Nethermost Cove


Striding Edge
Striding Edge



A memorial commemorates the death of Robert Dixon

Ullswater Foxhounds Country

"For Andy, who when we were on the edge one wet, misty Good Friday morning, looked down the thousand feet to Red Tarn when the mist parted briefly and uttered the immortal lines, f*****g hell, I don"t like this".

It was the kind of morning you dreamt of. I'd parked the car and foregoing the rum and coffee at the farm house, climbed high onto the ridge between the valleys. I'd seen the hounds loosed into the intake fields, watched them cross the wall and cast around the bracken beds behind, I began to scan the fell using my binoculars. A movement in the corner of the field of view became, when I adjusted the focus, a fox moving silently up the fell, I kept him in focus for a good six or seven minutes as he moved along the sheep trods and around and sometimes up small crags, crossed small becks and generally tried to put as much distance between himself and the following hounds, who by now had found the line, the music of the hounds animated the huntsman and the sound of his voice and the cracking of his whip carried up to us on the morning breeze. The overriding memory of watching the fox that morning was how unconcerned by the hounds he was, covering the ground in a relaxed trot, pausing now and then to look back. If he knew he was being hunted and understood the implication it didn"t show.

I"m sorry to say my running commentary was not well received by the followers standing in the vicinity.

"I's garn ower t' larl beck," I said.

"Which beck? There"s dozens of the buggers."

It had rained heavily during the previous night and the fell side was awash. The fox moved up onto the high fell and we followed into the bad weather.

The rocky ridge disappeared into the mist swirling around the path. Along the crest the lichen-covered rocks dripped water and shone with the rain, a wind blew intermittently, moving the mist around, and down below to the right was the tarn. But you couldn"t see it. To the left a big drop into the valley below, again hidden. We walked along the crest of the ridge, a large drop on either side. This was Striding Edge on a hunting morning, the hounds had long since gone to goodness knows where, their music carried to us on the wind until it faded as they increased the distance between us and the bulk of the fell blocked the sound, and we were left in a sea of mist. The hounds had un-kennelled a "travelling fox" from another valley which had come to ours with matrimonial intent perhaps the night before. The fox appeared to be travelling right back where it came from and there was little prospect of seeing it anytime soon. We huddled in the lee of a rock on top of the arête for the inevitable discussion about what to do next.

"Have to wait for t' hunting report int' paper," somebody remarked, "full and detailed report!"

It was true no matter how bad the weather or long the run there always seemed to be a detailed account of it in the Westmoreland Gazette the following Friday. This was the late sixties before the paper bowing to political correctness, did away with the hunting fixtures and reports and substituted a picture of a sheep dog at work with an invitation to mark the dog's tail and win a prize. The consensus of opinion that morning was to turn back, too wet to sit and wait to see if anything would happen, for example the hounds would come back and we couldn"t see them anyway if they did because of the mist and Striding Edge is not a place to wander around on especially on a misty wet morning. We descended back to the valley. There was little conversation, each lost in his own thoughts, mine as I remember were inwardly cursing the morning, which had begun so well and just as the prospect of a screaming hunt was about to unfold the weather had closed in and now we were walking down in a mist shrouded world, our boots crunching into the stony track, the click of our metal tipped sticks as they occasionally made contact with a rock.

Striding Edge is the most famous of Lakeland"s "girt drops and bad spots", the one every walker ticks off his or her list of "things to do". It"s a dangerous place especially in the rain and mist and lethal in ice and snow with a wind blowing. The first recorded fatality was the artist Gough who, in 1805, left Patterdale with his dog to cross Helvellyn to fish in Thirlmere Lake on the other side. He fell from the end of Striding Edge probably around his own birth date of 18th April and was not missed for three months until a farmer found his body on the shore of Red Tarn, around July 24th 1805, guarded by his faithful terrier, a memorial on the summit ridge now commemorates this tragic event. It has to be said though that some say the terrier was surprisingly well nourished, apparently the few pieces of gold found with him were given to the poor in Patterdale.

At the time this event caused great sympathy. Wordsworth was sufficiently moved to write "Fidelity" and Sir Walter Scott wrote "Helvellyn" in praise of the faithful dog.

For me though the most famous fatality on Striding Edge was the foxhunter Robert Dixon who on 27th November 1858 fell from the edge whilst following the Patterdale Foxhounds; today a memorial at the spot records the event. Sadly the record of the Coroner's Inquest seems to have been lost, but it isn"t too difficult to imagine what happened. A screaming hunt coming up the valley beneath (the fox probably one of the greyhound types referred to elsewhere on this site), Robert leans over too far and that was it. a long fall from the cliffs onto the rocks below. Suprisingly, he survived the fall and was carried home in a cart only to die about 4am the next morning. He was buried in Patterdale church yard a few days later.

There are still accidents on Striding Edge, even today, sadly on a fairly frequent basis with serious injury and death not unknown, keeping the Patterdale Mountain Rescue team busy throughout the year.

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