31 July 2015

Rogues, Raiders and Romans

The Lake District attracts some 15 million visitors each year and is one of the most visited areas in the UK.  Step back in time a little and and it might not have been the great place it is today to have a holiday.

When the Romans came here some 2000ish years ago, they soon discovered that the Lakes could be a harsh place to travel in.  Soldiers and workers that serviced Hadrians Wall often had to travel from Galava Fort, near Ambleside, to Fort Brougham at Penrith. They were so worried about ambushes and attacks from roaming raiders that they went to great lengths to build a road on top of the ridge of High Street. With the route being above the treeline, it was safer for the traveling Legions to spot trouble.
High Street (The cloud ridden,long ridge in the background)

Centuries after the Roman Empire crumbled, various settlers arrived in the area, such as the Celts and then the Vikings, but it's not known for sure whether they came in peacefully or took the land forcefully. The Lakes and Cumbria then saw a power struggle between the English and the Scots, with both parties regularly sending raiders over the border.  There were the Border Reivers, that would take cattle and livestock from across both sides of the border and sometimes they would even kidnap members from wealthy families and hold them to ransom.  With the Lakes being hard to police and the law almost impossible to enforce, locals had to protect their livelihoods by any means possible.

Here in the South Lakes in the early 1800's, one man who took full advantage of the remoteness and isolation of the rural communities was a fellow called Lanty (Lancelot) Slee.  A local farmer and quarryman by day, an illegal whisky distiller and smuggler by night.  He spent most of his time in Little Langdale and reportedly had Stills at Low Arnside, Hallgarth, Greenbank Farm, Moss Rigg Quarries and also one up at the Three Shires Stone, at the top of Wrynose Pass.  Apparently, if you know where to look, there's metal work from the Stills to be found at some of these places.
Hallgarth, Little Langdale

Most of the moonshine was sold to the locals but large amounts were bottled up and taken to the port of Ravenglass.  With the whisky sold, Slee would buy tobacco and illegally poached Salmon to take back to Little Langdale.  The goods were carried on ponies and whilst ascending along Wrynose and Hardknott Passes, he had to be very careful to avoid the traveling excisemen, with Slee often having to hide in the boulders up there until they passed.
 Boulder Fields on top of Wrynose

Again, staying here in the South Lakes, over at Claife Heights there was a house of ill-repute.  Market traders came from all round to sell their goods at Hawkshead and on the return journey, visit the house with their newly gained money.  If you walk through the woods and look carefully, you can still see the foundations of the house in the ground.
Interpretation of one of the workers (they weren't good looking but they were cheap)

With the onset of Industry in the Lakes, better travel links arrived and this in turn led to the first tourists coming to the area.  Since then, tourism is now the biggest source of income in the Lakes and it's not hard to see why people want to visit the area (now that it's a bit safer than it used to be).


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