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Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, 29 October 1769

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Journal continued. 1 Oct: 1769.

The figure of Ulz-water nothing resembles that laid down in our maps: it is 9 miles long, & (at widest) under a mile in breadth. after extending itself 3 m: & ½ in a line to S: W: it turns at the foot of Place-Fell, almost due West, and is here not twice the breadth of the Thames at London. it is soon again interrupted by the roots of Helvellyn, a lofty & very rugged mountain, & spreading again turns off to S: E:, & is lost among the deep recesses of the hills. to this second turning I pursued my way about four miles along its borders beyond a village scatter'd among trees & call'd Water-malloch, in a pleasant grave day, perfectly calm & warm, but without a gleam of sunshine: then the sky seeming to thicken, the valley to grow more desolate, & evening drawing on, I return'd by the way I came to Penrith.

Oct: 2. Wd at S: E:, sky clearing, Cross-fell misty, but the outline of the other hills very distinct. set out at 10 for Keswick, by the road we went in 1767. saw Greystock-town & castle to the right, wch lie only 3 miles (over the Fells) from Ulz-water. pass'd through Penradock & Threlcot at the feet of Saddleback, whose furrow'd sides were gilt by the noon-day Sun, while its brow appear'd of a sad purple from the shadow of the clouds, as they sail'd slowly by it. the broad & green valley of Gardies and Low-side, with a swift stream glittering among the cottages & meadows lay to the left; & the much finer (but narrower) valley of St John's opening into it: Hill-top the large, tho' low, mansion of the Gaskarths, now a Farm-house, seated on an eminence among woods under a steep fell, was what appear'd the most conspicuous, & beside it a great rock like some antient tower nodding to its fall. pass'd by the side of Skiddaw & its cub call'd Latter-rig, & saw from an eminence at two miles distance the Vale of Elysium in all its verdure, the sun then playing on the bosom of the lake, & lighting up all the mountains with its lustre.

Dined by two o'clock at the Queen's Head, & then straggled out alone to the Parsonage, fell down on my back across a dirty lane with my glass open in one hand, but broke only my knuckles: stay'd nevertheless, & saw the sun set in all its glory.

Oct: 3. Wd at S: E:, a heavenly day. rose at seven, & walk'd out under the conduct of my Landlord to Borrodale. the grass was cover'd with a hoar-frost, wch soon melted, & exhaled in a thin blewish smoke. cross'd the meadows obliquely, catching a diversity of views among the hills over the lake & islands, & changing prospect at every ten paces, left Cockshut & Castle-hill (wch we formerly mounted) behind me, & drew near the foot of Walla-crag, whose bare & rocky brow, cut perpendicularly down above 400 feet, as I guess, awefully overlooks the way: our path here tends to the left, & the ground gently rising, & cover'd with a glade of scattering trees & bushes on the very margin of the water, opens both ways the most delicious view, that my eyes ever beheld. behind you are the magnificent heights of Walla-crag; opposite lie the thick hanging woods of Ld Egremont, & Newland-valley with green & smiling fields embosom'd in the dark cliffs; to the left the jaws of Borodale, with that turbulent Chaos of mountain behind mountain roll'd in confusion; beneath you, & stretching far away to the right, the shining purity of the Lake, just ruffled by the breeze enough to shew it is alive, reflecting rocks, woods, fields, & inverted tops of mountains, with the white buildings of Keswick, Crosthwait-church, & Skiddaw for a back-ground at distance. oh Doctor! I never wish'd more for you; & pray think, how the glass played its part in such a spot, wch is called Carf-close-reeds: I chuse to set down these barbarous names, that any body may enquire on the place, & easily find the particular station, that I mean. this scene continues to Barrow-gate, & a little farther, passing a brook called Barrow-beck, we enter'd Borodale. the crags, named Lodoor-banks now begin to impend terribly over your way; & more terribly, when you hear, that three years since an immense mass of rock tumbled at once from the brow, & bar'd all access to the dale (for this is the only road) till they could work their way thro' it. luckily no one was passing at the time of this fall; but down the side of the mountain & far into the lake lie dispersed the huge fragments of this ruin in all shapes & in all directions. something farther we turn'd aside into a coppice, ascending a little in front of Lodoor water-fall. the height appears to be about 200 feet, the quantity of water not great, tho' (these three days excepted) it had rain'd daily in the hills for near two months before: but then the stream was nobly broken, leaping from rock to rock, & foaming with fury. on one side a towering crag, that spired up to equal, if not overtop, the neighbouring cliffs (this lay all in shade & darkness) on the other hand a rounder broader projecting hill shag'd with wood & illumined by the sun, wch glanced sideways on the upper part of the cataract. the force of the water wearing a deep channel in the ground hurries away to join the lake. we descended again, & passed the stream over a rude bridge. soon after we came under Gowder-crag, a hill more formidable to the eye & to the apprehension than that of Lodoor; the rocks atop, deep-cloven perpendicularly by the rains, hanging loose & nodding forwards, seem just starting from their base in shivers: the whole way down & the road on both sides is strew'd with piles of the fragments strangely thrown across each other & of a dreadful bulk. the place reminds one of those passes in the Alps, where the Guides tell you to move on with speed, & say nothing, lest the agitation of the air should loosen the snows above, & bring down a mass, that would overwhelm a caravan. I took their counsel here and hasten'd on in silence.

Non ragioniam di lor; ma guarda, e passa!

Dear Dr

Have you lost the former part of my journal? it was dated from Aston, 18 Oct:. How does Stonhewer doe? will his Father's condition allow him to return as yet? I beg my respects to all the family at Old-Park, & am ever

T G:
Letter ID: letters.0565 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 52
Addressee: Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794
Addressee's age: 52[?]


Date of composition: 29 October 1769
Date (on letter): 29 Oct: 1769
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Cambridge

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.S.; 4 pages, 223 mm x 177 mm


Language: English
Incipit: The figure of Ulz-water nothing resembles that laid down in our maps:...
Mentioned: Alps
Cross Fell
Stonhewer, Richard, 1728-1809

Holding Institution

Egerton MS 2400, ff. 193-194, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

Print Versions

  • The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, letter iv, section v, 354-357
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section V, journal 2, vol. ii, 523-527
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXLIV, vol. ii, 143-146
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, journal 2, vol. iii, 235-238
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 506, vol. iii, 1078-1081