The earliest recorded account I can find of an ascent to the summit of Crossfell, the highest point on the Pennine Way, was published in 1747. It appeared in an edition of the grandly titled ‘Gentleman Adventurers Magazine’.
“A Journey up to Cross-Fell Mountain” was written by Mr George Smith, a Scotsman by birth and a Cumbrian by residence. He was a man with many interests and abilities. As well as being a scientist and teacher, an astronomer and surveyor, Smith was also a regular contributor to ‘The Gentleman Adventurers Magazine’. His writing style makes for a very readable and interesting account of this trek.
Smith was, by inclination, a member of the school of Romanticism that included both Wordsworth and Coleridge. Men with a passion and a curiosity for exploration, and an ability to convey in words the beauty they found in the wild and beautiful places they explored.
They wrote about places which had previously been regarded as dangerous, inhospitable lands where few had dared venture.
Although sadly generally unknown these days, George Smith, his adventures and his writing played a significant part in the movement that established a national fascination for the great outdoors and for touring and tourism which thrives today.
As an ‘outdoors’ writer Smith is certainly engaging. His words have style and charm, and it is easy to see how his readers would have been engaged and encouraged to follow in his footsteps. He begins his account: ‘The following account of Cross-Fell Mountain will entertain such reader who’s genius inclines them to the description of romantic scenes’.
Smith sets the scene for readers by introducing them to this wild place: ‘Cross-Fell Mountain is generally ten months buried in snow and eleven months in cloud’. Whilst he is perhaps a little generous with the actual meteorological data, the description will have aroused the curiosity of his audience.
He provides readers with perhaps their first encounter of the Pennine Chain, describing Crossfell as ‘a part of that immense ridge of mountains, which are reputed the British Alps, that make their first appearance in Derbyshire, and are continued in one chain of different elevations to the River Tweed’.
On 13th August 1747, Smith and four fellow traveling companions engage the services of a local guide to give them safe conduct across ‘these almost impervious wastes’, was how he described the approach to Crossfell. ‘An environ with large and extended morasses, rocks and mountains that exhibit a very frightful appearance with not the vestige of habitation’.
As the trek progresses Smith’s eye for nature and detail in the landscape shines through: ‘the swallows, those incontestable remains of Noah’s deluge, begin here to be very frequent’……….. ‘There being some formidable assents in the manner of Mount Lebanon’.
Finally when the summit plateau is achieved he recalls the sight of ‘an immense plain that has no verdure, a capacious plain of several hundred acres’.
George Smith’s description of Cross-Fell Mountain and the summit view leaves the reader in no doubt that such a journey would be worthwhile: ‘Cross-Fell Mountain is singularly eminent, whether you regard its height or the immense base it stands on, being above twenty miles in circumference’. He continues: ‘the view from the summit includes a great part of six counties. There are mountains around of similar heights to enjoy; Skiddaw in West Cumberland, Criffield in Scotland, Pennygent and Ingleborough in Yorkshire and the highest Cheviot in Northumberland’.
He estimated that the diameter of his visible horizon on that day, 13th August 1747, exceeded 120 miles. A very good day it would appear for ‘A journey up to the summit of Cross-Fell Mountain’.
Finally Smith ends his account with something of an apology to readers: Being the 13th August, and a long drought and hot season we were not able to find the least relicks of snow in places most likely for it, which is very extraordinary’.
To follow in the footsteps of this great Victorian adventurer and make your own ‘Journey up to the Summit of Cross-Fell Mountain’ try this great circular day walk:http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennine-way/route/cross-fell-bonus-walk