“A TOUR MADE IN SCOTLAND (A.D.1803)”
By Dorothy Wordsworth.
Soon after leaving the turnpike house we turned up a hill to the right, the road for a little way was very steep, bare hills with sheep.
After ascending a little way we heard the murmur of a stream far below us, and saw it flowing downwards on our left, towards the Nith, and before us, between steep green hills, coming along a winding valley. the simplicity of the prospect impressed us very much. There was a single cottage by the brookside; the dell was not healthy, but it was impossible not to think of Peters Bell’s Highland Girl.
We now felt indeed that we were in Scotland; there was a natural peculiarity in this place. In the scenes of the Nith it had not been the same as England, but yet not simply, naked Scotland. The road lead us down the hill, and now there was no room in the vale but for the river and the road; we had sometimes the stream to the right, sometimes to the left. The hills were pastoral, but we did not see many sheep; green smooth turf on the left, no ferns. On the right the heath-plant grew in abundance, of the most exquisite colour, it covered the whole hillside, or it was in streams and patches. We travelled along the vale without appearing to ascend for some miles; all the reaches were beautiful, in exquisite proportion, the hills seeming very high from being so near to us. It might have seemed a valley which nature had kept to herself for pensive thoughts and tender feelings, but that we were reminded at every turning of the road of something beyond by the coal carts which were travelling towards us. Though these carts broke in upon the tranquillity of the glen, they added much to the picturesque effect of the different views, which indeed wanted nothing, though perfectly bare, houseless and treeless.
After some time our road took us upwards towards the end of the valley. Now the steeps were heathy all round. Just as we began to climb the hill we saw three boys who came down the cleft of a brow on our left; one carried a fishing rod, and the hats of all were braided with honeysuckles; they ran after one another as wanton as the wind. I cannot express what a character of beauty those few honeysuckles in the hats of the three boys gave to the place: what bower could they have come from? We walked up the hill, met two well dressed travellers, the woman barefoot. Our little lads before they had gone far were joined by some half-dozen of their companions, all without shoes and stockings. They told us the lived at Wanlockhead, the village above, pointing to the top of the hill; they went to school and learned Latin (Virgil) and some of them Greek (Homer), but when Coleridge began to inquire further, off they ran poor things! I suppose afraid of being examined.
When, after a steep ascent, we had reached the top of the hill, we saw a village about half a mile before us on the side of another hill, which rose up above the spot where we were, after a descent, a sort of valley or hollow. Nothing grew upon this ground, or the hills above or below but heather, yet round about the village (which consisted of a great number of huts, all alike, and all thatched, with a few large slated houses among them, and a single modern built one of a considerable size) were a hundred patches of cultivated ground, potatoes, oats, hay and grass. We were struck with the sight of haycocks fastened down with aprons, sheets, pieces of sacking (as we supposed, to prevent the wind from blowing them away.) We afterwards found that this practice was very general in Scotland. Every cottage seemed to have it’s little plot of ground, fenced off by a ridge of earth; this plot contained two or three different divisions, kail, potatoes, oats, hay; the houses all standing in lines, or never far apart; the cultivated ground was all together also, and made a very strange appearance with it’s many greens among the dark brown hills, neither tree nor shrub growing; yet the grass and potatoes looked greener than anywhere else, owing to the bareness of the neighbouring hills; it was indeed a wild and singular spot (to use a woman’s illustration) like a collection of patchwork, made of pieces as they might have chanced to have been cut by the mantua-maker, only just smoothed to fit each other, the different sorts of produce being a multitude of plots, and those so small and of such irregular shapes. Add to the strangeness of the village itself, that we had been climbing upwards, though gently, for many miles, and for the last mile and a half up a steep ascent, and did not know of any village till we saw the boys who had come out to play. The air was very cold, and one could not help thinking what it must be in winter, when those hills (now “red-brown”) should have their three months covering of snow.
The village, as we guessed, is inhabited by miners; the mines belong to the Duke of Queensberry. The road to the village, down which the lads scampered away, was straight forward. I must mention that we met, just after we had parted from them, another little fellow, about six years old, carrying a bundle over his shoulder; he seemed poor and half starved, and was scratching his fingers, which were covered with the itch. He was a miners son, and lived in Wanlockhead; did not go to school, but this was probably on account of his youth. I mention him because he seemed to be proof that there was poverty and wretchedness among these people, though we saw no other sign of it; and afterwards we met scores of inhabitants of this same village. Our road turned to the right, and we saw, at the distance of less than a mile , a tall upright building of grey stone, with several men standing on the roof, as if they were looking out over battlements. It stood beyond the village, upon higher ground, as if presiding over it, - a kind of enchanters castle, which it might have been, a place where Don Quixote would have gloried in. When we drew nearer we saw, coming out of the side of the building, a large machine or lever, in appearance like a great forge hammer, as we supposed for raising water out of the mines. It heaved upwards once in a half minute with a slow motion, and seemed to rest to take a breath at the bottom, its motion being accompanied with a sound between a groan and a jike. (Cumberland dialect for a creaking noise). There would have been something in this object very striking in any place, as it was impossible not to invest the machine with some faculty of intellect; it seemed to have made the first step from brute matter to life and purpose, showing it’s progress by great power. William made a remark to this effect, and Coleridge observed that it was like a giant with one idea. At all events, the object produced a striking effect in that place, where everything was in unison with it, particularly the building itself, which was turret shaped, and the figures upon it, resembled one of the fortresses in the wooden cuts of Bunyan’s Holy War.
After ascending a considerable way we began to descend again; and now met a team of horses dragging an immense tree to the lead mines (to repair or add to the building), and presently we came to a cart, with another large tree, and one horse only left in it, right in the middle of the highway. We were a little out of humour, thinking we must wait until the team came back. There were men and boys without number all staring at us; after a little consultation they set their shoulders to the cart, and with a good heave all at once they moved it, and we passed along. These people were decently dressed, and their manners decent; there was no hooting or impudent laughter. Leadhills, another mining village, was to be our destination for the night; and soon after we passed the cart, we came in sight of it. This village and the mines belong to Lord Hopetoun; it has more stone houses than Wanlockhead, one large old mansion, and a considerable number of old trees - beeches, I believe. The trees told of the coldness of the climate; they were more brown than green - far browner than the ripe grass of the little hay-garths. Here, as at Wanlockhead were haycocks, hay-stacks, potato-beds, and kail-garths in every possible variety of shape, but, I suppose from the irregularity of the ground, it looked far less artificial - indeed, I should think that a painter might make several beautiful pictures in this village. It straggles down both sides of a mountain glen. As I have said, there is a large mansion. There is also a stone building that looks like a school, and the houses are single, or in clusters, or rows as it may chance.
We passed a decent looking inn, the Hopetoun Arms; but the house of Mrs. Otto, a widow, had been recommended to us with high encomiums. We did not then understand Scotch inns, and were not quite satisfied at first with our accommodations, but all things were smoothed over by degrees; we had a fire lighted in our dirty parlour, tea came after a reasonable waiting; and the fire with the gentle aid of twilight, burnished up the room into cheerful comfort. Coleridge was weary; but William and I walked out after tea. We talked with one of the miners, who informed us that the building which we had supposed to be a school was a library belonging to the village. He said they had got a book into it a few weeks ago, which had cost thirty pounds, and that they had all sorts of books. ‘What! have you Shakespeare?’ ‘Yes we have that,’ and we found, on further inquiry, that they had a large library, of long standing, that Lord Hopetoun had subscribed liberally to it, and that gentlemen who came with him were in the habit of making larger or smaller donations. Each man who had the benefit of it paid a small sum monthly - I think about fourpence.
The man we talked with spoke much of the comfort and quiet in which they lived one among another; he made use of a noticeable expression, saying that they were ‘very peaceable people considering they lived so much underground;’ - wages were about thirty pounds a year; they had land for potatoes, warm houses, plenty of coals, and only six hours work each day, so that they had leisure for reading of they chose. He said the place was healthy, that the inhabitants lived to a great age; and indeed we saw no appearance of ill-health in their countenances; but it is not common for people working in lead mines to be healthy; and I have since heard that it is not a healthy place. However this may be, they are unwilling to allow it; for the landlady the next morning, when I said to her ‘You have a cold climate,’ replied, ‘Ay, but it is varra halesome.’ We inquired of the man respecting the large mansion; he told us that it was built, as we might see, in the form of an H, and belonged to the Hopetouns, and they took their title from thence, and that part of it was used as a chapel. We went close to it, and were a good deal amused with the building itself, standing forth in bold contradiction of the story which I daresay every man in Leadhills tells, and every man believes, that it is in the shape of an H; it is but half an H, and one must be very accommodating to allow it even so much, for the legs are far too short.
We visited the burying-ground , a plot of land not very small, crowded with graves, and upright grave-stones, overlooking the village and the dell. It was now closing in the evening. Women and children were gathering in the linen for the night, which was bleaching by the burn-side; -the graves overgrown with grass, such as, by industrious culture, had been raised up about the houses; but there were bunches of heather here and there, and with the blue-bells which grew among the grass the small plot of ground had a beautiful and wild appearance.
William left me, and I went to a shop to purchase some thread; the woman had none that suited me; but she would send a ‘wee lad’ to the other shop. In the meantime I sat with the mother, and was very much pleased with her manner and conversation. She had an excellent fire, and her cottage, though small, looked comfortable and cleanly; but remember I saw it only by firelight. She confirmed what the man had told us of the quiet manner in which they lived; indeed her house and fireside seemed to need nothing to make it a cheerful happy spot, but health and good humour. There was a bookishness, a certain formality in this woman’s language, which was very remarkable. She had a dark complexion, dark eyes, and wore a very white cap, much over her face, which gave her the look of a French woman, and indeed afterwards the woman on the roads frequently reminded us of French women, partly from the extremely white caps of the elder women, and still more perhaps from a certain gaiety and party-coloured appearance of their dress in general. White bed-gowns are very common, and you rarely meet a young girl with either hat or cap; they buckle up their hair often in a graceful manner.
I returned to the inn, and went into the kitchen to speak with the landlady; she had made a hundred hesitations when I told her we wanted three beds. at last she confessed she had three beds, and showed me into a parlour which looked damp and cold, but she assured me in a tone that showed she was unwilling to be questioned further, that all her beds were well aired. I sat a while by the kitchen fire with the landlady, and began to talk to her; but, much as I had heard in her praise - for the shopkeeper had told me she was a varra discreet woman - I cannot say that her manners pleased me much. But her servants made amends, for she was as pleasant and cheerful a lass as was ever seen; and when we asked her to do anything, she answered, ‘Oh yes,’ with a merry smile, and almost ran to get us what we wanted. She was about sixteen years old: wore shoes and stockings, and had her hair tucked up with a comb. I examined the kitchen round about; it was crowded with furniture, drawers, cupboards, dish-covers, pictures, pans, and pots, arranged without order, except that the plates were on shelves, and the dish-covers hung in rows; these were very clean, but the floors, passages, staircase, everything else dirty. There were two beds in recesses in the wall; above one of them I noticed a shelf with some books:- it made me think of Chaucers Clerke of Oxenforde :-
‘Liever had he at his bed’s head
Twenty books clothed in black and red.’
They were baking oat-bread, which they had cut into quarters, and half baked over the fire, and half toasted before it. There was a suspiciousness about Mrs. Otto, almost like ill-nature; she was very jealous of any inquiries that might appear to be made with the faintest idea of a comparison between Leadhills and any other place, except the advantage was evidently on the side of Leadhills. We had a nice honey to breakfast. When ready to depart, we learned that we might have seen the library, which we had not thought of till it was too late, and we were very sorry to go away without seeing it.
Saturday, August 20th. Left Leadhills at nine o’clock, regretting much that we could not stay another day, that we might have made more minute inquiries respecting the manner of living of the miners, and been able to form an estimate, from our own observations, of the degree of knowledge, health, and comfort that there was among them. The air was keen and cold; we might have supposed it to be three months later in the season and two hours earlier in the day. The landlady had not lighted us a fire; so I was obliged to get myself toasted in the kitchen, and when we set off I put on both grey cloak and spencer.