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Lovat Fraser on Sty Head Pass

A news clipping from 1919 found pasted to the endpapers of Hall Caine's The Story of a Crime. It is by the artist Lovat Fraser  - obviously a lover of the area, but keen on sharing it with others to the extent of wanting a road to it. He seems to be talking about a sort of Edwardian nimby but as far as I know the road was never built, although the campaign had been going on for about 15 years. Fraser writes well, some of the descriptions of scenery are reminiscent of John Buchan..

Sty Head Pass

The fate of the proposed road over Sty Head Pass, in the Lake District, may be decided today at Carlisle. I have read dozens of protests against the scheme, not one word in its favour. With some trepidation, I wish to take the lists against the crag  climbers on the fell wanderers and to back Mr. Musgrave of Wastdale and his road.

Here is my own experience. Late last October I went through lovely Borrowdale to Seathwaite and walked over the Sty Head Pass down towards Wastdale, and back. Everybody who visits Lakeland has heard about Seathwaite which has the reputation of being the wettest place in England, and has earned it.

By a miracle I struck one of those rare windless autumn days which sometimes break a long wet season. The atmosphere was crystal clear, without a trace of haze, the mountains were steeped in warm sunshine. They told me at Seathwaite that there had been be no such glorious day all last year.  As I sat and smoked my pipe by the cairn at the summit of the pass, and stared down the tremendous gorge between Great Gable and Scafell at the patch of emerald green at Wastdale Head far below I felt I had garnered another lifelong memory.

I spent the best part of the day on the pass sketching and taking a photograph or two. In all that time I never saw a single human being. That is my case for the road.

Sty Head Pass is, so far as I know, the wildest and grandest piece of scenery in England. Even in sunlight it is grimly majestic, a mighty altar, the sort of spot I never dreamed existed in this country. Instead of being known merely to a few people who regard the fells and crags as their private preserve, it ought to be visited every year by tens of thousands of humble folk who can never hope to see the Alps or the Himalayas.

One travels for remembrance. The chief joy of travel is in retrospect. Men build picture galleries for the multitude, but why not show people the most glorious pictures of Nature? Why not help them to store their minds with memories which, as every traveller knows, are an alleviation in times of trial and a solace in old age? The vivid recollection of Styhead Pass as I saw it is worth all the pictures ever painted.

These few climbers and others up forgather at Wastdale Head and other places are trying to keep their Scafell sanctuary to themselves; because that is what all this agitation really means. They may talk of desecration and pretend to tilt against motorists, but they are really precious souls who shrink from contact with the masses.

They do not want tens of thousands to see this mountain fastness. They want to draw a veil between the nation and its heritage. They represent exactly the spirit which leads men to enclose a big park keep it selfishly for their private enjoyment.

This road is needed because Styhead is just too remote to be easily reached and crossed by people who are not well-to-do. The pass is just too steep and difficult for those not in full vigour. Until the road is made, the finest of the western lakes will never be seen by most visitors to Lakeland.

Illustration by Lovat Fraser

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