Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Wordsworth's Immortal Fish

I love hearing about local legends and folklore wherever I am. I have come across many examples since living in the Lake District (and plenty before when I was visiting) but one that has captured my imagination in particular is the legend of the “Immortal Fish of Bowscale Tarn”.

Bowscale Tarn
Bowscale Tarn lies within the cluster of mountains behind Blencathra. I have climbed the mountain Bowscale before but never saw the tarn as you cannot see if from the summit. So on a cold, icy morning with snow-capped fells all around I decided to go in search of the home of these Immortal Fish myself. It was a lovely walk up the valley with Carrock Fell to my right (which seemed to have escaped the snow) and Combe Height and Knott ahead with even the tiny hut of Lingy Hill visible (I vaguely recall marshy waters rising up over my boots the last time I walked passed that hut....) 

Bowscale Tarn
As I made my way around the corner admiring the snow-flecked crags, all of a sudden I came upon Bowscale Tarn. It is really beautiful. A still tarn backed by dark snowy crags that were reflected in the water like a mirror. The sky was cloudy but that just gave it a more enchanting quality. I looked in earnest for the Immortal Fish and even listened as somewhere during the history of the legend one of the fish was given the power of speech. To no avail however – clearly the Immortal Fish are rather shy. 

They were famous enough for Wordsworth to include them in his poem “Feast of Brougham Castle” however:
Both the undying fish that swim
In Bowscale tarn did wait on him;
The pair were servants of his eye
In their immortality;

The “him” they were waiting on was Lord Clifford (the Shepherd Lord).  

Icy patterns making the summit worthwhile
Bowscale tarn was also popular with Victorian visitors. They would ride ponies to get to the tarn and admire the rugged scenery around them and I can see why. It went out of favour after a while though and certainly I did not see another soul in the vicinity (although several on the summit of Bowscale) and I can find few references to the Immortal Fish for the Victorian time.

Sun emerging at Bowscale tarn on the descent
Having exhausted Immortal Fish I decided to head to the summit in spite of the cloud and whilst there were no views, the icy rocks of the summit cairn and wind shelter were reward enough. On my descent, the sun came out in all its glory so the previously moody tarn was surrounded by sunshine, crags and views to Carrock Fell.

No views but still a lovely summit
If anyone can shed more light on the origins of the Legend of the Immortal Fish then please share your knowledge! I would love to know more.

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  1. A nice account Tanya. It's a lovely tarn for a quiet family walk. That's a very good shot looking out from the back of the tarn.

    1. Thanks Ray. Had so many to choose from. Couldn't fit them in - including the one of the valley - but I will put some more on FB in next couple of days.

    2. Sounds a really pretty walk .must try it when i am back in the lakes.I also want to know more about the Fish! Another really great read

    3. Thanks Peter. You should try it. Still haven't got to the bottom of the fish legend other than a suggestion that it was a very local superstition (but still not sure what propted it)...