Earlier this week we enjoyed a talk by Simon Bainbridge in Ambleside, as part of the Cultural Landscapes series, I Must Go Up - Pioneering Mountain Ascents in the Lake District, 1770-1830.
I love this quote from Plumtre's play The Lakers, which captures so precisely the Romantics obsession with mountains and climbing. "I must go up" expresses Veoronica's desire to ascend Skiddaw. Professor Bainbridge also quoted from Anne Radcliffe's Tour of the Lakes, where she declaimed "my tour would be incomplete without an account of a ride up Skiddaw".
Both of these quotes tell us how important mountains were during this period of exploration and early tourism. So many travellers were assailed by "summit fever", as well as a desire to explore rugged and savage territories. "Savage grandeur" was an excellent description of the preferred landscapes of the Picturesque. It seems that the mountains were, quite literally, the pinnacle of the Romantic tourist's achievement.
Picturesque tourists were very much like big game hunters, always after a bigger and better catch. They boasted of their encounters with savage landscapes and tried to capture wild scenes in sketches and paintings as souvenirs of their adventures. Gilpin asked: "shall we suppose it a greater pleasure to the sportsman to pursue a trivial animal, than it is to the man of taste to pursue the beauties of nature?"
Mountain climbing for pleasure came into being during this period. There are some wonderful examples of local mountain guides laughing at tourists, who believed that they were discovering a mountain, which their guide knew so well already. This always reminds me of Chris's story of his visit to the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda. There is a sign stating "John Hanning Speke discovered the source of the Nile on 28th July 1862" Chris's guides informed him that they had always known it was there!
It was also really interesting to listen to Simon Bainbridge speaking about the tours and travel guides of the period. We have a fairly large collection of tours and guides, and I am always seeking the more obscure tomes. I picked up references to a couple of books that we don't have in our library. I think we night be acquiring them soon!