The county is in general so mountainous, that the soil of a great portion of it must necessarily for ever remain undisturbed by the plough. The mountains are separated by pleasant and fertile valleys, requiring only a greater number of trees and hedge-rows to compete the beauty of their appearance. The most extensive vales are, that of the Eden, reaching from about ten miles south-east of Kirkby-Stephen, north-westward by Appleby, towards Penrith; and that of Kendal, more particularly southward and westward of that town. Loose masses of rock, of various sizes and descriptions, are scattered over all the lower hills and the champaign parts of the county; and on the southern side of Shap, along the road towards Kendal, different streams, and especially Wasdale-beck, force their passage amidst stupendous blocks of rounded granite. Cross-fell, at the north-eastern extremity of the county, which is the highest of the chain of mountains extending along the eastern borders of Westmorland and Cumberland, rises to the height of 2901 feet above the level of the sea. The other greatest elevations, included wholly or partly within the county, are Helvellyn, 3055 feet high; Bowfell, 2911 feet high 3 Rydal-head, about the same height as the last-mentioned; and the High-street, about 2730 feet high, which derives its name from an ancient road along its summit, and on which the people of the neighbourhood have horse-races and other sports, on July 10th. All these mountains command magnificent prospects; from Rydal-head are seen Windermere, Elterwater, Grasmere, and Rydal-water.
The beautiful lakes that adorn the numerous romantic and sequestered dales of Westmorland and Cumberland, have afforded an abundant theme for description, and have been the subjects of some of the finest efforts of landscape painting. The principal in Westmorland are, Ullswater, Windermere, Grasmere, Hawswater, Elter-water, Broad-water, and Rydal-water. Ullswater, on the north-western side of the county, and of which the higher part is wholly within the limits of Westmorland, while its lower part is divided between it and Cumberland, is about nine miles long, its breadth varying from a quarter of a mile to two miles, and its depth from six to thirty-five fathoms: the lower end is called Ousemere. The shores of the lake are extremely irregular, and from its making different bold sweeps, only parts of it are seen at once. The lower extremity is bordered by pleasant inclosures, interspersed with woods and cottages, scattered on the sides of gently rising hills; advancing upwards towards Patterdale, the inclosures are of smaller extent, and the hills more lofty and rugged, until their aspect becomes wholly wild and mountainous. In its highest expanse are a few small rocky islands. Place-fell, on the east, projects its barren and rugged base into the lake; and on the west rise several rocky hills, one of which, called Stybarrow Crag, is clothed with oaks and birches: these and the other surrounding hills are furrowed with glens and the channels of torrents, causing remarkable echoes. When the sky is uniformly overcast and the air perfectly calm, this lake, in common with some others, has its surface overspread by a smooth oily appearance, provincially called a keld, which term is also applied to the places that are longest in freezing. It contains abundance of fine trout, perch, skellies, and eels; some char; and a species of trout, called grey trout, almost peculiar to it, which frequently attains the weight of 30lb.
Windermere, is ten miles and a half long, and lies on the western border of the county, which it separates, for the greater part of its length, from Lancashire, in which county its lower extremity is wholly included. Its breadth is from one to two miles, and its area is computed at 2574 acres, including thirteen islands occupying a space of about 40 acres, the largest of which, called Curwen's Isle, contains 27 acres. The Westmorland margin of the lake is bordered by inclosures rising gently from the water's edge, adorned with numerous woody and rocky knolls of various elevations and sizes; the Lancashire shore is higher and more abrupt, and is clothed with wood, though not to the summit. A simple magnificence is the chief characteristic of the surrounding scenery. The fisheries, which are rented of the crown, are for common and grey trout, pike, perch, skellies, eels, and more especially for char, the most remarkable produce of the lake, of which there are two sorts, called, from the difference of their colour, silver char and golden char; the former is considered the more delicious, and is potted for the London market. Great numbers of water-fowl resort to this lake, and to a few of the smaller ones.
Grasmere is a particularly beautiful lake, at the lower end of a valley bearing its name; in the middle of it is a small island, and its head is adorned by the church and village of Grasmere. Hawswater, situated in a narrow vale called Mardale, is three miles long, and from a quarter to half a mile broad. About the centre it is nearly divided into two parts by a low inclosed promontory, and the mountains which environ its head are steep, bold, and craggy, but are skirted at their feet by inclosures. On its northern side is Naddle Forest, a steep mountainous ridge in the form of a bow, in which rises Wallow Craig, a mass of upright rocks. The other portions of its scenery are equally interesting. The char and trout of the lake are in great esteem; and besides these, it produces perch, skellies, and eels. Elter-water, at the bottom of Great Langdale, and which is rather larger than Grasmere, is inferior to none of the smaller lakes in the variety and beauty of its scenery. Broadwater, about a mile above the head of Ullswater, is environed by high and rugged mountains, and is viewed to great advantage from a spot called Hartsop-high-field. Rydal-water, on the course of the Rothay, is shallow, and has several picturesque woody islands; it is about a mile in length. The principal of the smaller lakes, commonly called tarns, are, Ais-water, a mile south-west of Hartsop, and about a mile northward of which is Angletarn; Grisedale-tarn, at the head of Grisedale; Redtarn, under the eastern side of Helvellyn, and westward of which lies Kepel-cove-tarn; Red-tarn and Smallwater, at the head of Riggindale, the highest branch of Mardale; Skeggles-water, in the mountains between Long Sleddale and Kentmere; Kentmere, in the valley of the Kent; Sunbiggin-tarn, in the parish of Orton; and Whinfell-tarn, in the parish of Kendal. Along the chain of mountains extending from Cross-fell, in a southern direction, to Stainmore near Brough, a distance of about twenty miles, occurs a singular phenomenon called the Helm Wind, which blows at various times of the year, but generally from October to April.
Notwithstanding the inclosures and improvements that have taken place since the commencement of the present century, the cultivated lands hardly amount to one-half the whole extent of the county. The greater part, amounting to about three-fourths, of the inclosed lands, are always under grass, particularly in high situations; and as the farmers, during the summer months, can keep almost any quantity of cattle on the commons, &c, at a very little expense, their chief object is to get as much hay as possible from their inclosed lands against the approach of winter. There are few counties where, in proportion to their size, more milch-cows are kept than in this, and where the produce of the dairy is an object of greater importance: large quantities of butter are sent to the London market, in firkins containing 561b. net. Not less than 10,000 Scotch cattle are annually brought to Brough Hill fair, whence great numbers are driven towards the rich pastures of the more southern portions of England, though many are retained and fattened in Westmorland.
In some parts, considerable tracts are covered with coppices, consisting chiefly of oak, ash, alder, birch, and hazel. These underwoods, particularly in the barony of Kendal, are usually cut every sixteenth year, hardly any trees being left for timber; and their produce is converted partly into hoops, which are made in the county, and sent coastwise to Liverpool; and partly into charcoal, which is in demand for the neighbouring ironworks. Timber is chiefly found in the plantations, which are numerous and, at Whinfield Forest and around Lowther Hall, extensive: the larch is generally the most flourishing tree, though indeed most of the woods spring with a degree of vigour hardly to be expected from the bleak and exposed situations which many of them occupy. The extensive wastes are partly subject to common right, constituting a great part of the value of many farms, to which they are attached; and partly in severalties and stinted pastures. A few of them consist of commons in low situations, possessing a good soil; but by far the greater number are mountainous tracts, called by the inhabitants fells and moors, which produce little besides a very coarse grass, heath and fern, provincially called ling and brackens: the soil of these is generally a poor hazel-mould and peat-moss. The higher wastes are principally applied to the pasturage of large flocks of sheep, which, during the winter, are all brought down to the inclosures: by the end of April they are sent back to the wastes. Numerous herds of black-cattle are likewise to be seen on the lower commons: a few are of the breed of the county; the rest are Scotch.
The mineral productions are various, and some of them valuable. They consist chiefly of lead, coal, marble, slate (the finest in England), limestoue, freestone, and gypsum; and every part of the county presents an interesting field of study to the geologist. The principal Lead mines are those at Dunfell, which are considered to be nearly exhausted; at Dufton, where they are unusually rich; at Eagle Crags, in Grisedale, a branch of the vale of Patterdale; and at Greenside, near Patterdale. A small quantity of this metal is also procured in the hills above Staveley, and large loose masses of ore have been found in different other situations: a very rich and productive vein at Hartley ceased to be worked about the commencement of the last century. Copper has been wrought to a limited extent at Limbrig, Asby, and Rayne, and is obtained in small quantities in many other parts. Coal is neither abundant nor of good quality; it is wrought only in the south-eastern extremity of the county, on Stainmore heath, and in the neighbourhood of Shap. In the vale of Mallerstang a kind of small coal, chiefly used for burning limestone, is procured. Bordering upon the river Kent, about three miles below Kendal, a bed of beautiful Marble, of a white colour, veined with red and other tints, was discovered in 1793, and quarries were immediately opened. Near Ambleside, and between that town and Penrith, is found a marble of a dusky-green colour, veined with white; a black sort is obtained near Kirkby-Lonsdale, and another species at Kendal Fell.
The western mountains produce vast quantities of Slate, various kinds of which are used in the surrounding districts for covering buildings, while the best slates are conveyed by sea to Liverpool, London, Lynn, Hull, &c, and by land into Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, and Lancashire. The general colour is blue of many different shades, sometimes having a greenish cast: one kind is purple; and another, used to make writing slates, is nearly black. The best sorts are obtained at the greatest depth. The prevailing strata in the southern and eastern parts of the county are Limestone and Freestone, together with a soft laminous schistus, horizontally stratified. The western and northwestern mountains, besides the slate before mentioned, consist of masses of the trap genera, chiefly basalt, commonly called Whinstone. Around the head of Windermere, and for some distance eastward of it, lies a straturn of dark grey limestone, which is occasionally burned into lime, or polished for tomb-stones and chimneypieces. Wasdale Crag is a mass of coarse flesh-coloured granite; and higher up the dale, a greenish-coloured granite, of a finer and harder texture, is found: a very coarse species of granite appears in many other parts of the county. A vein of red porphyry crosses the road between Kendal and Shap; and at Acorn-bank, near Kirkby, is one of gypsum, which is used for laying floors. In many parts are detached round pieces of blue ragstone, of granite, and of a very hard composite stone, called by the masons callierde. In Knipe Scar are found talky fibrous bodies, opaque and of an ash colour, which burn for a considerable time without any sensible diminution. Fossil remains exist only in the strata of the southern and eastern parts of the county: coralloid bodies are very common, some of them beautifully variegated.
The manufactures are of minor importance, consisting chiefly of coarse woollen-cloths, called Kendal cottons (supposed to be corrupted from coatings), linseys, knitstockings, waistcoat-pieces, flannels, and leather. Nor is the commerce extensive: the principal exports are, the coarse cloths manufactured at Kendal, stockings, slates, tanned-hides, gunpowder, hoops, charcoal, hams, bacon, wool, sheep, and cattle; and the imports, grain, and Scotch cattle and sheep. Much fish from the lakes is sent to Lancaster and Liverpool. The principal rivers are the Eden, Eamont, Lowther, Lune, and Kent. The county derives considerable benefit from the Lancaster canal, which, commencing at Kendal, proceeds for some distance parallel with the course of the Kent, and afterwards across that of the Betha, to the vicinity of Burton, where it enters Lancashire, in the southern part of which county it communicates with the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The Lancaster and Carlisle railway runs the whole extent of the county, from south to north; it enters at Burton-in-Kendal, passes by Milnthorpe, Kendal, Orton, and Shap, and quits the county at Brougham, near Penrith, where it crosses the river Eamont. Near Kendal a branch commences, which terminates at Windermere.
A singular collection of huge stones, called Penhurrock, now nearly destroyed, and a Druidical circle of stones near Oddendale, both in the parish of Crosby-Ravensworth, are supposed to be British. To the Britons are also referred, the rude circle of stones at the head of the stream called the Ellerbeck; that on the waste of Moorduvock, called the Druid's Cross; that of Mayborough, on a gentle eminence on the western side of Eamont bridge; and that about a mile north-eastward of Shap, called the Druid's Temple. Other relics of this people exist, including several cairns and encampments. Westmorland was traversed by a variety of Roman roads of minor importance, and contained the stations of Verteræ, which has been fixed at Brough; Brovacum, at Brougham Castle; Galacum, at the head of Windermere; and another at Natland, the name of which is uncertain. A branch of the great Watling-street ran through it from Stainmore to Brougham Castle, and several parts of the road, between Brough and Kirkby-Thore, are still tolerably perfect. From this, the Maidenway branched off at Kirkby-Thore, and passed over the lower extremity of Cross-fell, by Whitley Castle, into Northumberland: the road may still be clearly traced, being uniformly about seven yards broad, and composed of large loose stones. Other vestiges of Roman occupancy are very numerous, including altars, urns, coins, bricks, tessellated pavements, foundations of buildings, &c, which have been found on the sites of the stations, and elsewhere. In the county are, a Roman camp, about 100 yards southward of Borrowbridge, in Borrowdale, now called Castlehows; other camps called Castlesteads and Coney-beds, near the station at Natland; and several between Crackenthorpe and Cross-fell; besides Maiden Castle, upon Stainmore, a very strong square fort, about five miles from Brough; and some other remarkable intrenchments. Near Shap is a stupendous monument of antiquity called Carl-lofts, supposed to be Danish, consisting of two long lines of huge obelisks of unhewn granite, with different other masses of the same material, arranged in various forms.
The religious houses were, the Præmonstratensian abbey of Shap, and a monastery of White friars at Appleby, with an hospital for lepers near Kirkby-in-Kendal: there are some remains of Shap Abbey. The remains of fortified buildings are numerous and extensive, comprising the ruins of the castles of Appleby, Beetham, Brough, Brougham, Bewley, Howgill, Kendal, and Pendragon; Arnside Tower, Helsback Tower, and several other ancient castellated buildings. Of ancient mansions, the most remarkable specimens are Sizergh Hall and Levens Hall, together with the ruins of Old Calgarth Hall and Preston Hall. Of the more modern seats of the nobility and gentry, those most worthy of notice are, Lowther Castle, the residence of the Earl of Lonsdale, lord-lieutenant of the county; and Appleby Castle, that of the Earl of Thanet, hereditary high sheriff. The small freeholds are very numerous. The inhabitants, owing to their secluded situation, have, until recently, been distinguished for their adherence to several antiquated customs. There are mineral springs of various qualities; the principal being that near the village of Clifton, at which a great number of people assemble on the 1st of May, to drink its waters; that called Gonsdike, a little south of Rounthwaite, which continually casts up small metallic spangles; Shap wells, much resorted to in the summer season by persons afflicted with scorbutic complaints, and by lead-miners from Alston and Arkingarthdale; the numerous petrifying springs on the borders of the river Kent; and a petrifying well in the cave called Pate-hole. The most remarkable cascades on the many mountain streams are, Levens Park waterfall, on the Kent; another on the Betha, below Bethamthe Caladupæ of Camden; and Gillforth spout, in Long Sleddale, which has an unbroken fall of 100 feet. Pate-hole is a very curious and extensive cavern in a limestone rock near Great Asby, from which, in rainy seasons, issue powerful streams of water. Westmorland gives the title of Earl to the Fane family; and Baron Vipont of Westmorland is one of the titles borne by the noble family of Clifford.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.