Songs on the Summits  

War

Winter view of Scafell Pike from Wasdale, Cumbria … John Malley)

On the centenary of the Great War, the National Trust is set to revive the “world’s greatest war memorial”.  

Every year, hundreds of people brave the November weather to climb to the summit of Great Gable on Remembrance Sunday. However, few people know that Great Gable was one of 12 Lakeland summits given to the National Trust in the years after peace was declared, becoming Britain’s most spectacular and unique memorial to those lost in World War One. 

Shortly after Peace Day 1919 Lord Leconfield, an honorary member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, donated Scafell Pike “in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War.” The gift of the 12 peaks to the Trust by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club was made later, in 1923. The fells are Lingmell, Broad Crag, Great End, Seathwaite Fell, Allen Crags, Glaramara, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Base Brown, Brandreth and Grey Knotts.  

This “Great Gift” was one of the largest ever donations to the Trust, ensuring that each year, hundreds of thousands of Britons can freely walk the mountains. Now, 100 years on, the charity is expressing its gratitude with a series of commemorations. As well as work to repair paths on Scafell Pike and Great Gable, these include the rebuilding of a summit cairn on Scafell Pike and an exhibition of war poetry at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth.  

Walkers at Wasdale Head, ascending Scafell Pikes with Wastwater below, Cumbria (credit – John Malley)

In addition, a unique, ‘leave no trace’ art project supported by Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council will bring together musicians and choirs for a ‘song cycle’ across the 12 peaks. The project, named ‘The fellowship of hill, and wind, and sunshine’, will see the National Trust working with leading local professional musicians and amateur singers from community choirs in Cumbria, to create a series of mountain-top performances in May, June and July.  

Jessie Binns, Visitor Experience and Engagement Manager for the National Trust explained: “For a group of people, after the difficult experiences of the First World War, to get together and dedicate the mountains to the nation, to freedom, so that everybody can come up here and experience that sense of freedom, was such an incredibly visionary act.” 

She added: “We’ve been recruiting singers from communities across Cumbria, who love the mountains and love singing and wanted to give up their time to mark this  special moment in the history of the Lake District and Cumbria.” 

National Trust rangers working on the cairn in 2015 (credit – John Malley)

Leading the song cycles, is Cumbrian songwriter, musician and teacher Dave Camlin. As part of the project, Dave has created a new arrangement of the moving speech by poet, climber and FRCC member Geoffrey Winthrop Young, given on the summit of Great Gable at the dedication ceremony, which will be performed as part of the song cycle. 

Jessie said: “The first time I read the dedication speech by Young, I was so moved. For me personally, being up in the hills is where I feel happiest, you leave all your cares below you and feel that sense of freedom.  

“It’s reestablishing that sense of fellowship and connection with each other, but with the spirit of the place and celebrating the emotional effects that these places have on our lives.” 

Dedication of memorial by Rev. J.H Smith 8th-June 1924 (credit – FRCC)

Although only limited numbers can be taken up the mountains, each song cycle will be recorded and available to watch on the National Trust website. A partnership with the University of York will allow one of the performances to be recorded in virtual reality, allowing a wider group of people to be able to enjoy the experience.  

On Saturday 13 October, a special ‘singing picnic’ is set to be held at Peace How, a tiny hill at the south end of Derwent Water, given to the National Trust in 1917 so that servicemen from the trenches could experience peace and tranquillity. This accessible, but poignant location, means that anyone who was unable to make it up the hills, can still take part in the project.  

Jessie added: “I think it could be deeply moving, there’s an extraordinary powerful feeling that happens when people sing together and to sing together in the outdoors in a place that has such resonate meaning will be quite extraordinary.” 

National Trust rangers working on the cairn in 2015 (credit – John Malley)

For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk  

 

 

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