THOMAS GRAY’S NATURALIST JOURNAL

(1767-1771)

Written on his Tour in the Lake District

Thomas Gray (1716-1771), the poet, historian and scholar, who is best known as the author of 'Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard' (1751), was one of the first major literary figures to visit, and write about, the Lake District. Gray tried to make a tour of the region in 1767 but it had to be abandoned after his friend and traveling companion, Dr Thomas Wharton, became ill with asthma at Keswick. This brief encounter with the Lakeland landscape made a significant impression on Gray, who described the journey as 'charmed' and vowed to return 'at the first opportunity' (p. 977).

Such an opportunity did not arise until two years later, in the autumn of 1769, but Wharton was again taken ill and forced to return home. This time, Gray elected to continue alone and on 30th September he set out on a 14-day tour of Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire keeping a detailed written account for the benefit of his absent friend. This account, known as Gray's 'Journal of his Tour in the Lake District', was published posthumously in 1775 and became one of the eighteenth-century's most popular guides to the Lakes.

EXCERPTS OF THOMAS GRAY'S NATURALIST JOURNAL (1767-1771)

 

Saturday, January 17, 1767, Cambridge

     Saw the Barnacle.  Anas Berniculas, Mas.  Here called a Scotch-Brant.

     Linnaeus does not describe the Male Anas Bernicle: but takes the character from the female only.  Yet the description of his Anas Erythropus (in Farna Suec: ad: 2) agrees exactly with our Barnacle, or male Brant-Goose, except only the color of the feet.  I am apt to believe, there has been some mistake in the printing of that part of the book, of which there are several other instances.

Friday, January 23, 1767, Cambridge

     Saw some Wild-Geese.  Anas Anser & Anas Erythropus, which may perhaps be one species.

Our great Wild-Goose has no white on the forehead: the feet are flesh-coloured, & the claws black.  The lesser has a white forehead, & orange-color'd feet with whitish claws.  The flesh of the first was tender & well-tasted, tho' lean: that of the second tough & somewhat rancid.

Monday, June 22, 1767, Matlock

     The beauty of Matlock begins from the Bridge over the Derwent, whose green transparent stream, the wood that covers its steep sides, & be above all the towering rocks, that break thro' or rise above the wood, are the ornaments of the scene, which extends not above two miles in all.  The High-Torr measures 354 feet in height from the river: The Hagg-Torr is lower, but an easy ascent has been made to its top, which commands a view of the valley.  They both lie near an Inn.  We entered Dovedale by Ilam (which is 5 miles from Ashborn) & walked near 3 miles along it: the Valley is inferior to Matlock in wood (the Staffordshire side only being covered with brush-wood) but the rocks far surpass it in their number, loftiness, variety & wild fantastick forms.  The Dove is clear, rapid & beautiful, & the scenery on its banks changes at every step.  The roads here are laid with a sparry glittering sand, that comes out of the lead-mines.  It appears whitish.  Remember to go up the hill (about 600 feet in perpend. height) to the Stand at Chatsworth & come down by the Walk thro' the wood to the Old-Oaks.  The Country from Tidswell to Buxton is all desolate and dreary.  Same dismal country continues till a mile on this side Castleton you descend among the rocks, which overhang your way, very awfull & surprising, into Hope-Dale, a wide cultivated vale.

July 20, 1767, Oak-Park

The lower was much shorter, narrower, and ended in a long beak.  Tho long exposed to the tide, sun & wind, they were yet dropping a thick oil, which had but little smell, & concreted as it fell.

Wednesday, September 2, 1767, Keswick

     Hay-harvest over at Keswick.  Wheat & Messlin- cutting.  The white headed eagle (as it seems) Vultur Albiula Linnaei.  The Guide (who had shot one last year) described it as having a grey head and wings, & a whitish tail.  They breed in the mountains of Borodale, & do much mischief.

Saturday, September 5, 1767, Brough

     Hay-harvest over at Brough.  Oatcakes (thin as a wafer) eaten by the poor here: they are dry, but when slightly toasted & crisp may be eaten well enough.  They are the same that are common in Scotland, & are also used in the South of Yorkshire, but better made, and not to be despised.

Saturday, November 7, 1767.  London

     Bats still flying.  Apples very scarce, dear, & base.

Saturday, June 6, 1768, Ramsgate

     Mackrell, 12 for a shilling, full of roe, small whitings, soles & flat fish, Prawns, Gray-Shrimps, Pungars, & Lobsters, Eels and Congers.  About Michaelmas they have large Whitings.  In winter the fisherman lie by or only pick up Periwinkles & High-water about 6 o'clock.

     The N.E. branch of the New Pier is 1374 feet long, as I paced it, & will extend 200 feet more, built of Purback stone about 6 foot broad on each side: the middle fill'd with cement & rubbish well-ram'd: A carapet 4 feet & _ high, on one side, of Portland stone admits of vessels of about 200 feet.  It is about 25 feet broad.  The limestone was all brought hither from about Maidstone & burnt here

Saturday, June 6, 1768, Ramsgate

     Walked by Easton & Dumpton to Broadstairs, 2 miles & _.  Fine sea views.  There is another way along the brow of the cliff, but it seems too dangerous.

     Four great Mackerell (the larges near 3# weight) sell for 9 pence.  Saw the Apis Acarvorum & Whitenosed Bee.

     Scate and Thornback are here called Wraith.  A fisherman tells me that the Wraith differs from both, that it is smooth on the upper side like the Scate, but spotted with round brown spots & has a short sharp-painted snout (like a Thornback) whereas that of the Scate is long & round at the extremity.  The name is pronounced Rait; & such a one I saw.  It had a row of prickles along the tail only & was a young one.  They call it a Rait-Maid..