Kirkstone Pass

(See also Brothers Water)

“...Most potent when mists veil the sky,
Mists that distort and magnify;
While the coarse rushes, to the sweeping breeze,
Sigh forth their ancient melodies!...”
William Wordsworth (Kirkstone Pass)

Kirkstone Pass By Tony RichardsThe Kirkstone Pass road, as described by Wordsworth, easily lives up to its poetic image. At 1489 feet (454 metres), it is the highest road pass in the Lake District. Consequently, it provides stunning views over the Lakeland fells and Brothers Water, a small lake at the foot of the pass. The name of the pass comes from a large boulder nearby that resembles a little church (kirk). Wordsworth wrote about it in Kirkstone Pass:

“--and yon, whose church-like frame Gives to this savage Pass its name. Aspiring Road! that lov'st to hide Thy daring in a vapoury bourn...”

Kirkstone Pass looking at Inn By Graeme DougalCelia Fiennes, the intrepid 17th century single woman traveler, wrote of the pass that she “was walled in on both sides by those inaccessible high rocky baren hills, which hang over one's head in some places and appear very terrible...”

Kirkstone Pass By Graeme DougalHorse drawn coaches plied the unpaved road from Penrith. It was a struggle for the horses to make the ascent from Brothers Water to the top of the pass, and passengers were required to pile out of the coach and walk to the top. Hence the road along this section became known as “The Struggle”. Once reaching the zenith of the pass, the descent into Windermere was a swift and hair-raising one as the horses plunged along the narrow, steep and winding road. There was little time to enjoy the stunning views over the Troutbeck valley.

Kirkstone Pass By Tony RichardsThomas de Quincey writes in Excursion over Kirkstone Pass in 1807: “In some parts it is almost frightfully steep; for the road being only the original mountain track of shepherds, gradually widened and improved from age to age... is carried over ground which no engineer, even in alpine countries, would have viewed as practicable.”

Kirkstone Pass Inn By Graeme DougalSitting at the top of the pass is the junction of two roads, one leading to Ambleside, the other to Windermere. An inn, the Traveller's Rest, existed here as early as 1496 to provide comfort and shelter to those on the road. Over time the building became derelict, and it was rebuilt in 1847. Between WWI and WWII the name was changed to Kirkstone Pass Inn. Subject to the vagaries of wind, snow, horizontal rain, and mountain mist, this long, low building with blackened beams and a stone floor provides a welcoming open fire in winter. Proclaimed to be the third highest pub in England, it is, purportedly, riddled with ghosts.

Kirkstone on the Kirkstone Pass Road By Tony RichardsThere are numerous ghost stories associated with the inn, and many visitors report strange “presences”. One ghost is of a woman who attempted to traverse the road in a snowstorm and died along the way. Supposedly her spirit lurks about the building. Another is that of a coachman dressed in 17th century clothing that mysteriously appeared in a photograph taken in front of the inn in 1993. The ghost, who was the great, great grandfather of the family photographed, followed them home and now lives with them.

Kirkstone Pass to Brotherswater and Place FellBy Tony RichardsThere are tales of a frightening grey woman and the ghost of a lost hiker who worked at the inn and now plays poltergeist tricks there. Another ghost, that of a woman hanged for murdering her child, haunts a nearby tree, appropriately called the Hangman's Tree.

There is little besides the inn and the paved road along the Kirkstone Pass to remind anyone of the presence of man. Thomas de Quincy wrote of the view from Kirkstone Pass, “...It is solemn, and profoundly impressive.” But it is Wordsworth's words that provide the most fitting testament:

“...Who comes not hither ne'er shall know
How beautiful the world below;...”

Kirkstone Pass is on the A592 between Ullswater and Windermere-Ambleside.

Photos courtesy of Graeme Dougal and Tony Richards

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