Threlkeld Tarn

Threlkeld Tarn:Or, Truth From the Deeps

By doubts and darkest thoughts oppress'd,
From cheerful hope out-driven,
A sceptic laid him down to rest
Mid regions earthquake-riven.

And scanning Nature's awful face,
And all the glorious sky,
He cried—"To perish, and no trace
Survive us when we die,—

"This, spite of hope, is man's forlorn
And unremitting lot;
No realm awaits the heart outworn;
Earth fades, and heaven is not.

"For Reason's ray, like yon bright sun,
Rebukes the feebler light
Of hope from star-eyed Fable won,
And old Tradition's night.

"We shall no more to life arise,
Nor reassume our breath,
Nor light revisit these dim eyes
Once closed in endless death.

"As soon shall stars at noontide beam
While burns the sun's bright ray,
As stand before high Truth the dream
That Thought survives the clay."—

He turned: beside him yawning wide
Lay Mountains hugely rent:
Whence far within their depths espied,
A little gleam was sent.

One star the blackened pool below
Reflected bright and clear,
While earth was revelling in the glow
And sunshine of the year.

Then starting, cried he—"Heaven! thou art
Above our powers to know.
Take thou this blindness from my heart,
And let me, trusting, go."

Notes to "Threlkeld Tarn; Or Truth From the Deeps."

Threlkeld or Scales Tarn is a small lake lying deeply secluded in a recess on the north eastern side of Saddleback, or Blencathra, between that mountain and Scales Fell. From the peculiarity of its situation it has excited considerable curiosity: but the supposed difficulty of access to it, its insignificant size, and the peculiar nature of its attractions, cause it to be seldom visited except by those who take it on their way to the top of Linethwaite Fell, the most elevated point of the Saddleback range.

Having gained, by a toilsome and rugged ascent from the south-east, the margin of the cavity in which the Tarn is imbedded, let the traveller be supposed to stand directly facing the middle of the mountain, the form of which gives its name to Saddleback. From the high land between its two most elevated points before him, and jutting right out to the north-east, depends an enormous perpendicular rock called Tarn Crag; at the base of which, engulphed in an immense basin or cavity of steeps, above and on the left lofty and precipitous, and gradually diminishing as they curve on the right, lies Threlkeld Tarn, described as a beautiful piece of circular transparent water, covering a space of from thirty to thirty-five acres, and surrounded with a well defined shore. From the summit, elevated upwards of two hundred yards above it, its surface is black, though smooth as a mirror; and it lies so deeply imbedded, that it is said, the reflection of the stars may be seen therein at noonday. It is generally sunless; and when illuminated, it is in the morning, and chiefly through an aperture to the east, formed by the running waters in the direction of Penrith. "A wild spot it is," says Southey, "as ever was chosen by a cheerful party where to rest, and take their merry repast upon a summer's day. The green mountain, the dark pool, the crag under which it lies, and the little stream which steals from it, are the only objects; the gentle voice of that stream the only sound, unless a kite be wheeling above, or a sheep bleats on the fell side. A silent solitary place; and such solitude heightens social enjoyment, as much as it conduces to lonely meditation."

Southey adds, in a note—"Absurd accounts have been published both of the place itself, and the difficulty of reaching it. The Tarn has been said to be so deep that the reflection of the stars may be seen in it at noonday—and that the sun never shines upon it. One of these assertions is as fabulous as the other—and the Tarn, like all Tarns, is shallow."

Its claim to this singularity need not be wholly rejected, however, on the ground of shallowness, if, to be deeply imbedded, rather than to be deep, be the essential condition. Several of the most credible inhabitants thereabouts have affirmed that they frequently see stars in it at mid-day; but it is also stated that in order to discover that phenomenon, there must be a concurrence of several circumstances, viz: the firmament must be perfectly clear, the air and the water unagitated; and the spectator must be placed at a certain height above the lake, and as much below the summit of the partially surrounding ridge.

The impression produced upon travellers a century ago by the features of Blencathra at a considerable elevation, will excite a smile in tourists of the present day. The Southern  face of the mountain is "furrowed with hideous chasms." One of these "though by far the least formidable," is described as "unconceivably horrid:" "its width is about two hundred yards, and its depth at least six hundred." Between two of these horrible abysses, and separated from the body of the mountain on all sides by deep ravines, a portion of the hill somewhat pyramidal in shape stands out like an enormous buttress. "I stood upon this," says the narrator, whose account is quoted, "and had on each side a gulf about two hundred yards wide, and at least eight hundred deep; their sides were rocky, bare, and rough, scarcely the appearance of vegetation upon them: and their bottoms were covered with pointed broken rocks." Again he "arrived where the mountain has every appearance of being split; and at the 'bottom' he 'saw hills about forty yards high and a mile in length, which seem to have been raised from the rubbish that had fallen from the mountain.'" From the summit he "could not help observing that the back of this mountain is as remarkably smooth, as the front is horrid."

Over this front of Blencathra, the bold and rugged brow which it presents when seen from the road to Matterdale, or from the Vale of St. John's, the view of the country to the south and east is most beautiful. The northern side is, as has been said, remarkably smooth, and in striking contrast to that so ruggedly and grandly broken down towards the south, where every thing around bears evident marks of some great and terrible convulsion of nature.

Mr. Green with his companion, Mr. Otley, was among the early adventurers who stood on the highest ridge of Blencathra. This accurate observer, whose descriptions of this, and other unfrequented and unalterable places, will never be old, describes without exaggeration the difficulties of the ground about the upper part of this mountain. Describing the neighbourhood of the Tarn, he says, "From Linthwaite Pike on soft green turf, we descended steeply, first southward, and then in an easterly direction to the tarn,—a beautiful circular piece of transparent water, with a well defined shore. Here we found ourselves engulphed in a basin of steeps, having Tarn Crag on the north, the rocks falling from Sharp Edge on the east, and on the west, the soft turf on which we made our downward progress. These side grounds, in pleasant grassy banks, verge to the stream issuing from the lake, whence there is a charming opening to the town of Penrith; and Cross Fell seen in the extreme distance. Wishing to vary our line in returning to the place we had left, we crossed the stream, and commenced a steep ascent at the foot of Sharp Edge. We had not gone far before we were aware that our journey would be attended with perils; the passage gradually grew narrower, and the declivity on each hand awfully precipitous. From walking erect, we were reduced to the necessity either of bestriding the ridge or of moving on one of its sides, with our hands lying over the top, as a security against tumbling into the tarn on the left, or into a frightful gully on the right, both of immense depth. Sometimes we thought it prudent to return; but that seemed unmanly, and we proceeded; thinking with Shakespeare, that "dangers retreat when boldly they're confronted." Mr. Otley was the leader, who, on gaining steady footing, looked back on the writer, whom he perceived viewing at leisure from his saddle the remainder of his upward course."