The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Holidays in Lakeland Fifty-nine Years Ago.

Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 293


"When you were young, dear Grannie, and in the schoolroom, how did you spend your holidays? They must have been awfully slow, for then you had no railways, no anything, as we have now!"

So said a lively young grand-daughter to me one day last August. Her course of hard study, High School, classes, &c., &c., was over for a time, and her pretty young head was full of an excursion to Wales which she had in prospect, and no doubt she was wondering if I could ever have felt as she did then.

I wished her to know how blissful my girlhood had been nearly sixty years ago, but we were sitting in the gloaming and the time for my nap was at hand, so I promised I would write her an account of the way I spent my holidays some day, and she could compare them with her own. Of course hers would be charming, but I would not allow that mine and my sisters' were less so, although we had "no railways, no anything," as she expressed it.

Letter No. I.

My dear E.--In my early days we had no school terms. Five weeks at Christmas and two months at Midsummer constituted out holidays, and real holidays they were. We had the same governess for twenty years, and, though we loved her dearly, it was a happy day when she vanished to London and left us to pack up for the move to our second home on the banks of Windermere. We did not require the large trunks and wicker baskets for dresses that are so indispensable now, as we had no wires, dress improvers, or voluminous draperies to accommodate, and perhaps you would like to know the kind of "get-up" we had for our life in Lakeland, so I will tell you. At the time I am writing about we were four sisters. My eldest sister had married and left us a few years before. The next two were twins, sweet sixteen years old, another girl one year younger, and then came I. Our mother insisted on our dressing exactly alike, and until we were married we never departed from this rule.

Our frocks, never called dresses then, were--for fine weather--of brown holland trimmed with white braid, and straw sailor hats; for wet weather (and it can rain at the Lakes) we wore a kind of ulster made of fine shepherd plaid cloth, buttoned down the front, and confined by a belt round the waist, so that for boating, fishing, and hill-climbing no under-frock was needed. Our headgears were round dark cloth caps, gathered into a velvet band. These could be put on and pulled off in a moment, and when wet easily wrung out and dried at night, so as to be ready for the morning if wanted. You may think this style of dress might have been useful, but far from becoming. Ah! my dear, you little know how taking it was. We did not know then, but afterwards!

Now I must describe our journey. We always posted from Yorkshire to Windermere, and to accomplish that in a day we had to start at five o'clock. Our father never travelled with us, but either walked or went by coach. He had a horror of being cramped up in mother's barouche, and we had more room without his long legs. Shall I ever forget the feel and smell of those early summer mornings, and the delight of the long day's drive through every variety of scenery, all of which we had time to realise and feast upon? Now, when we travel by rail, it is very different. Just as we are enchanted with some lovely valley, the colouring of the golden gorse and purple heather, the rushing stream below, the violet hills above, and the cool, deep shade of some wood carpeted with blue hyacinths and white anemones--as all these beauties flash upon us, the shrieking engine rushes us into the darkness of some evil-smelling, horrid tunnel. We may emerge into another valley, but not the one in which we have left our hearts a short time before. It is, indeed, being "on with the new love" before we are "off with the old."

During our drive of ninety-five miles, no scenery was hurried over; and, besides the picturesque, there is more variety in posting than in the monotony of the railway. The constant change of horses and post-boys (always called boys, if ever so old), the various little refreshments by the way, which are always so good when eaten in the air instead of in a stuffy railway carriage, with strangers looking at you, too! Of course we had plenty of laughing and joking and singing by the way, accompanied by the regular trot, trot, trot, of the horses. Then came dinner at the inn, where we knew the mutton chops and mashed potatoes were of unrivalled excellence. After that we generally became quietly happy, and there was no more excitement till we knew we were breasting the last hill between Kendal and Windermere, and the question was, who would be the first to see the blue waters of the lake. For years we travelled the same road, and never met but with one mishap, which I must describe to you. I think it was in 1831 that we had some difficulty in getting a relay of horses, and all we could obtain were two long-legged, long-tailed young creatures, hardly broken in. To make matters worse, the post-boy we were to have had was ill, and his son--a tall lad of sixteen--had to take his father's place, and wear his father's riding suit. He must have been a short, stout man, and I wish you could have seen our postillion. There was a lovely interregnum between his top boots and riding breeches. But "handsome is as handsome does," and he certainly behaved like a hero when we were in great peril. We had to descend a hill nearly three miles long, with a very awkward turn half way down. Mother had been most particular in seeing that the drag was put on properly; but, alas! it suddenly broke, and, the carriage coming on the horses, off they went. It was an awful feeling as we swung from side to side, but we did not scream--only clung to each other as we approached that dreadful turn. We expected nothing short of a smash. Poor mother said: "Oh! girls, shut your eyes and say your prayers." And I was glad enough to shut out the sight of the horses' long black legs and tails flying about, and somehow crept down into the bottom of the carriage and awaited my fate. But that excellent post-boy contrived to turn the awkward corner, and a rise in the road helped him to check the frightened horses. What a relief it was to hear that mad gallop change to a canter, and the canter to a trot. After that, all I remember was a group of white-faced creatures by the road side; some men who had run from their plough to be "in at the death" were standing by the panting horses, and my dear mother and the long-legged post-boy were sitting side by side on a heap of stones, hand in hand, and both were crying! Some raspberry vinegar was brought from the carriage and given to him at my mother's request, and I think he would have liked something stronger, poor lad; but we got to the end of that stage at last, and he pocketed much more than the threepence a mile which was a postillion's pay in those days.

Our hearts were full of thankfulness when we reached our house at Bowness in safety. How quiet and still the dear village was then. No omnibuses and carriages flying about, no shrieking trains or steamboats to disturb us. Cannot you imagine the delight of being able to stretch one's legs after our long journey, and scampering down to the lake side?--too dark then to see our dear little wherry, but we could feel it padlocked to the landing-place, and smell that it had been painted in readiness for us. It was the gift of an old friend to us four girls, and, it being very light, we prided ourselves on being able to row round all our friends except the racing-boat from Oxford; but thereby hangs a tale that must wait to be told.

All days come to an end, even the long one I have been describing, and we closed our happy eyes that night full of the beauties the morning would disclose, viz.--a lake of glass with a mist rolling away like a soft white curtain drawn slowly up as if by some mighty invisible hand; our sailing yacht lying at anchor in the bay, to all appearance fast asleep, every rope and yard reflected in the water; the wooded hills beyond, the rocky headlands and lovely islands also reflected so perfectly that it is difficult to distinguish the shadow from the substance; and all this beautiful world would seem as though waiting for us and our pleasures.

You can understand, my dear girl, how many happy hours were in store for us and those we loved, and you will not again say that your grandmother in her youth must have had but slow holidays--"no railways--no anything!"

More anon from your loving

Letter No. II.

My Dear E.--As you have asked me to continue my account of the way in which my sisters and I spent our holidays in Lakeland sixty years ago, I will do my best to recall a few particulars that may amuse and interest you, and, although our ways may seem to you old-fashioned and out-of-place in these advanced times, still you may gain a wrinkle here and there when you have before you some weeks of relaxation from study.

Our mother was a great advocate for system, even when pleasure was concerned, and, as we were not encumbered with a lady's maid, certain duties had to be attended to before we left the house, so that our rooms and change of dress might be in comfortable order whenever we happened to return. We often thought this rule a very tiresome one in the morning, and a very good one when we came in tired at night. No time was wasted in arranging our movements, for we were a united sisterhood, and if we could not decide at once what we were to do and where to go, mother was the referee. Her great object was that we should lay in a stock of health during the holidays by living as much as possible in the open air, and to effect this the first year we went to Windermere we took possession of a small island not far from Bowness Bay, and no one ever disputed our right. "Lakers" would row past and come near to see what we were doing, but they never attempted to land that I can remember. This dear island was called Lady Holme, and may be Lady Holme still for all I know. There is a legend that in ancient times it was a retreat of a recluse who lived a life of a hermit there, and built a small chapel on it dedicated to "Our Ladye"--whence the name. Here we spent many hours in the heat of the day, and made it a kind of out-door sitting-room. Some large stones that we found under the grass and moss (remains perhaps of the chapel) we arranged as seats and tables in the shade and near our rocky landing-place. A fireplace was constructed at at respectful distance, and, though we were generally contented with nothing hot for dinner beyond fried fish and potatoes, on grand occasions our cold meat had the addition of cutlets, and no man-cook could send them up better than our good old sailor who managed the yacht. Did I tell you the Fairy was lent us by a friend, who had her fitted up with every convenience necessary for our out-door life, so that when she was anchored off the island everything was easily brought to us in the flat-bottomed boat, beloved by our mother because it was so safe, and which we girls contemptuously called The Tub.

We never breakfasted on Lady Holme but once, and, though charming as a novelty, we did not attempt it again, as it made the day too long, but never was a breakfast more enjoyed. Sailing when there was a breeze, rowing when there was none, catching fish for dinner, amused us; but in the heat of the day we kept quiet under the trees, and, the island being small, we had the benefit of every little breeze, and it was pleasant working, reading, writing, and sketching there. I can almost hear the leaves rustling over my head now, as I did then. If we had no mid-day gathering of friends, they generally collected round us in the evening for tea. Many were musical, and we went afloat for our little concerts. We four sisters had a guitar in our boat, and sang, in harmony, all kinds of simple old songs. One of the twins had a very low voice, and managed the bass beautifully. We left the solos to the gentlemen and more accomplished lady singers. Our father's voice was a great help, but he never liked anyone to sing with with "his girls." We most of us know the rapturous delight of music, how it soothes and comforts us during our earthly pilgrimage, but I do not think it has that effect to an equal degree when heard in crowded, heated concert-halls, and, above all, amid the absurd make-believes of an opera, let the music itself be ever so perfect. Hear it up on the water, in the stillness of summer's night, if you wish to feel all the sweet enjoyment that music can give. We were fortunate one year in the companionship of a soldier-cousin. He played the flute exquisitely, having been a pupil of Nicholson, the great flute-player of former days. It was a treat to hear him breathing (he never blew into his flute) "The last rose of summer," or some pathetic air of that kind. In calm weather, music travels far upon the water, as we all know, and boats full of listeners used to draw round us, and partake of our musical pleasures. Now and then, if the night was chilly, we would pay a short visit to Lady Holme, before we left the lake, and, by throwing fresh wood on the expiring fire, make a flare-up which looked remarkably pretty, and felt very comfortable, especially if the kettle was boiled again and some hot wine and water concocted. This acted as supper after our early tea, with the help of cake and biscuits, and we were soon in bed after reaching home.

We had a great desire to see the lake under every different aspect, especially by moonlight. This we once made quite a business of doing, going to bed in the afternoon and taking to our boats after supper at eleven o'clock. It was full moon and a lovely night, and as we rowed round the headlands and islands, in and out of the bays, the lights and shadows were very beautiful, looking as if made of ebony and silver. The night-wind as we passed Lily of the Valley Island was heavy with the smell of those flowers, and even now their scent takes me back to that excursion. Another night-row on the lake to see "eel-spearing" was both curious and picturesque.

Hill-climbing and excursions on ponies, and in carts even with our father where carriages could not go, diversified our pleasures, and we used to fish the mountain-streams with him, sometimes being a week at a time away from head-quarters. Dances were occasionally given by both residents and visitors, and, as we approached the coming-out age, we were allowed to accept invitations--nothing loth, you may be sure. Some were al fresco affairs, some in tents, and a few in houses, but these last were not thought much of. The very nicest dance that I can call to mind was given by a friend at a place called "The Station." It commanded a fine view both up and down the lake, and is, I believe, still there, on a wooded hill on the opposite side of the lake to Bowness, and was open to the public. Its one large room was well-suited for a dance on account of its size and springy floor, and when decorated and lighted up nothing could be prettier. One of the windows was glazed with crimson, yellow, and blue glass, and had the effect, when looking through it, of changing the seasons. On a very hot day the view through the blue glass was particularly refreshing.

But to return to our dance. The novelty attending it was that we had to cross the lake, and it required some management to preserve our white muslins from being crushed or damaged in the boats, but the will to look nice and fresh was not wanting, so ways were found to effect the desired object. Fortunately, the night was fine, otherwise the whole thing would have been a failure. A nice little stringed band from Kendal performed for us capitally, and the winding walks round "The Station," which were prettily lighted with Chinese lanterns, made charming promenades. Colds were not thought of, it was such a charming summer's night, though shawls and anxious mothers' injunctions were not wanting. We never have those really warm summer nights now; I wonder why. The return to Bowness I thought the most delightful time of all. Quite a little fleet of boats left the mainland, and, as dresses and flowers might now take their chance, we were well protected from the air, which always becomes chilly before dawn. Yes, it was chilly certainly, but O, how sweet! My companions had much to talk about, fighting their battles o'er again; but I rolled myself in a warm cloak and lay down in the bow of our big boat, watching the stars as they gradually faded away, giving place to morn, "smiling morn," that began to "tip the hills with gold" as we neared the shore.

The grating of the boat on the gravel and the shipping of the oars put an end to my musing, but I am sure you will agree with me in thinking that this was an infinitely pleasanter way of returning from a ball than being shut up in a close, stuffy carriage, jolting away over street pavements or bad roads perhaps. Contrast it in your own mind with the gliding motion of a boat and the sweetness and beauty that surrounded us on our return from "The Station" ball.

And is it not strange that, though more than half a century has elapsed since that night, all is vividly impressed on my memory as if it had happened last week? It is a merciful dispensation of Providence that the pleasures and happiest hours of our youth never fade away as long as memory lasts; but the trials and sorrows of our later years seem mixed up and softened off, as it were, by the midst of time.

So may it be with you, my dear E., if you live to my advanced age.

Believe me,
Your affectionate

P.S.--The sketch I send you of Lady Holme is more faded than my memory. If you ever find yourself on Windermere, be sure and land on our island, and see if there are any remains of our sylvan resting-place.

(To be continued.)

Typed by Blossom Barden