Where is Vavasor Hall?
excerpts from Can you forgive her?
by Anthony Trollope

David Stone

2007

It is perhaps interesting, on a day in the Lakes on which the weather is too unpleasant for walking, to attempt to discover the location of Vavasor Hall, of Anthony Trollope’s novel in the Palliser series, Can you forgive her?. It may be that there cannot be any real place that satisfies all that he writes of the location, but I am not sure.

Here are the most relevant quotations from the book which relate to the location of the Hall. From the chapter Among the Fells:

The whole party went to church on this Christmas morning. The small parish church of Vavasor, an unpretending wooden structure, with a single bell which might be heard tinkling for a mile or two over the fells, stood all alone about half a mile from the Squire’s gate. Vavasor was a parish situated on the intermediate ground between the mountains of the lake country and the plains. Its land was unproductive, ill-drained, and poor, and yet it possessed little or none of the beauty which tourists go to see. It was all amidst the fells, and very dreary. There were long skirtings of dark pines around a portion of the Squire’s property, and at the back of the house there was a thick wood of firs running up to the top of what was there called the Beacon Hill. Through this there was a wild steep walk which came out upon the moorland, and from thence there was a track across the mountain to Hawes Water and Naddale, and on over many miles to the further beauties of Bowness and Windermere. They who knew the country, and whose legs were of use to them, could find some of the grandest scenery in England within reach of a walk from Vavasor Hall; but to others the place was very desolate. For myself, I can find I know not what of charm in wandering over open, unadorned moorland. It must be more in the softness of the grass to the feet, and the freshness of the air to the lungs, than in anything that meets the eye. You might walk for miles and miles to the north-east, or east, or south-east of Vavasor without meeting any object to arrest the view. The great road from Lancaster to Carlisle crossed the outskirt of the small parish about a mile from the church, and beyond that the fell seemed to be interminable. Towards the north it rose, and towards the south it fell, and it rose and fell very gradually. Here and there some slight appearance of a valley might be traced which had been formed by the action of the waters; but such breakings of ground were inconsiderable, and did not suffice to interrupt the stern sameness of the everlasting moorland.

       

On this Christmas Day they all went to church, the Squire being accompanied by Alice in a vehicle which in Ireland is called an inside jaunting-car, and which is perhaps the most uncomfortable kind of vehicle yet invented; while John Vavasor walked with his niece. But the girls had arranged that immediately after church they would start for a walk up the Beacon Hill, across the fells, towards Hawes Water. They always dined at the Hall at the vexatious hour of five; but as their church service, with the sacrament included, would be completed soon after twelve, and as lunch was a meal which the Squire did not himself attend, they could have full four hours for their excursion. This had all been planned before Alice received her letter; but there was nothing in that to make her change her mind about the walk.

       

The two girls took a slice of cake, each in her hand, and started on their walk. “We shan’t be able to get to the lake,” said Kate.

“No,” said Alice; “but we can go as far as the big stone on Swindale Fell, where we can sit down and see it.”

“Do you remember the last time we sat there?” said Kate. “It is nearly three years ago, and it was then that you told me that all was to be over between you and George. Do you remember what a fool I was, and how I screamed in my sorrow? I sometimes wonder at myself and my own folly. How is it that I can never get up any interest about my own belongings? And then we got soaking wet through coming home.”

“I remember that very well.”

“And how dark it was! That was in September, but we had dined early. If we go as far as Swindale we shall have it very dark coming home today – but I don’t mind that through the Beacon Wood, because I know my way so well. You won’t be afraid of half an hour’s dark?”

“Oh, no,” said Alice.

Perhaps I might remark here how it seems at odds with the conventional picture of Victorian middle-class young women: here two of them, unprotected by a man, are going walking on the Lake District fells. It is possible that Trollope is intending by this to indicate how independent and ‘advanced’ these two women are; but one might have thought it would have been emphasized by some other character remarking on it, which I don’t think happens (unlike, say, Alice’s desire to be involved in politics, which she struggles to achieve vicariously).

No doubt, too, those who design posters today about being properly equipped for mountain walking would be shocked at their going out with no special equipment in winter, and with no food except a piece of cake each, and even intending to be out after dark.

It was a delicious afternoon for a winter’s walk. The air was clear and cold, but not actually frosty. The ground beneath their feet was dry, and the sky, though not bright, had that appearance of enduring weather which gives no foreboding of rain. There is a special winter’s light, which is very clear though devoid of all brilliancy – through which every object strikes upon the eye with well-marked lines, and under which almost all forms of nature seem graceful to the sight if not actually beautiful. But there is a certain melancholy which ever accompanies it. It is the light of the afternoon, and gives token of the speedy coming of the early twilight. It tells of the shortness of the day, and contains even in its clearness a promise of the gloom of night. It is absolute light, but it seems to contain the darkness which is to follow it. I do not know that it is ever to be seen and felt so plainly as on the wide moorland, where the eye stretches away over miles, and sees at the world’s end the faint low lines of distant clouds settling themselves upon the horizon. Such was the light of this Christmas afternoon, and both the girls had felt the effects of it before they reached the big stone on Swindale Fell, from which they intended to look down upon the loveliness of Hawes Water. As they went up through the wood there had been some laughter between them over Aunt Greenow’s letter; and they had discussed almost with mirth the merits of Oileymead and Mr Cheesacre; but as they got further on to the fell, and as the half-melancholy wildness of the place struck them, their words became less light, and after a while they almost ceased to speak.

       

They walked on, exchanging now and again a word or two, till the distant Cumberland mountains began to form themselves in groups of beauty before their eyes. “There’s Helvellyn at last,” said Kate. “I’m always happy when I see that.”

“And isn’t that Kidsty Pyk?” asked Alice. “No; you don’t see Kidsty yet. But you will when you get up to the bank there. That’s Scaw Fell on the left – the round distant top. I can distinguish it, though I doubt whether you can.” Then they went on again, and were soon at the bank from whence the sharp top of the mountain which Alice had named was visible. “And now we are on Swindale, and in five minutes we shall get to the stone.”

In less than five minutes they were there; and then, but not till then, the beauty of the little lake, lying down below them in the quiet bosom of the hills, disclosed itself. A lake should, I think, be small, and should be seen from above, to be seen in all its glory. The distance should be such that the shadows of the mountains on its surface may just be traced, and that some faint idea of the ripple on the waters may be present to the eye, And the form of the lake should be irregular, curving round from its base among the lower hills, deeper and still deeper into some close nook up among the mountains from which its head waters spring. It is thus that a lake should be seen, and it was thus that Hawes Water was seen by them from the flat stone on the side of Swindale Fell. The basin of the lake has formed itself into the shape of the figure of 3, and the top section of the figure lies embosomed among the very wildest of the Westmoreland mountains. Altogether it is not above three miles long, and every point of it was to be seen from the spot on which the girls sat themselves down. The water beneath was still as death, and as dark – and looked almost as cold. But the slow clouds were passing over it, and the shades of darkness on its surface changed themselves with gradual changes. And though no movement was visible, there was ever and again in places a slight sheen upon the lake, which indicated the ripple made by the breeze.

Of course, Haweswater is described as it was before Manchester Corporation raised its level by the dam.

From the chapter Another Walk on the Fells:

“Which way shall we go?” said Kate, as soon as they had passed through the old rickety gate, which swung at the entrance of the place. “Up across the fell,” said George; “the day is fine, and I want to get away from my uncle for a time.” She turned round, therefore, outside the hill of firs, and led the way back to the beacon wood through which she and Alice had walked across to Hawes Water upon a memorable occasion. They had reached the top of the beacon hill, and were out upon the Fell, before George had begun his story.

       

Then he pushed her from him with great violence, so that she fell heavily upon the stony ground.

He did not stop to help her up, or even to look at her as she lay, but walked away across the heath, neither taking the track on towards Hawes Water, nor returning by the path which had brought them? thither. He went away northwards across the wild fell; and Kate, having risen up and seated herself on a small cairn of stones which stood there, watched him as he descended the slope of the hill till he was out of sight. He did not run, but he seemed to move rapidly, and he never once turned round to look at her. He went away, down the hill northwards, and presently the curving of the ground hid him from her view.

       

She started off to walk down home, holding her right arm steadily against her body with her left hand.

       

When she got into the wood the path was very dark. The heavens were overcast with clouds, and a few drops began to fall. Then the rain fell faster and faster, and before she had gone a quarter of a mile down the beacon hill, the clouds had opened themselves, and the shower had become a storm of water. Suffering as she was she stood up for a few moments under a large tree, taking the excuse of the rain for some minutes of delay, that she might make up her mind as to what she would say. Then it occurred to her that she might possibly meet him again before she reached the house; and, as she thought of it, she began for the first time to fear him. Would he come out upon her from the trees and really kill her? Had he made his way round, when he got out of her sight, that he might fall upon her suddenly and do as he had threatened? As the idea came upon her, she made a little attempt to run, but she found that running was impracticable from the pain the movement caused her. Then she walked on through the hard rain, steadily holding her arm against her side, but still looking every moment through the trees on the side from which George might be expected to reach her. But no one came near her on her way homewards. Had she been calm enough to think of the nature of the ground, she might have known that he could not have returned upon her so quickly. He must have come back up the steep hillside which she had seen him descend. No – he had gone away altogether, across the fells towards Bampton, and was at this moment vainly buttoning his coat across his breast, in his unconscious attempt to keep out the wet.

       

And the wild beast did keep his distance, at any rate as long as Mrs Greenow remained at the Hall. We will now go back to the wild beast, and tell how he walked across the mountains, in the rain, to Bampton, a little village at the foot of Hawes Water.

       

The rain soon came on, and found him exposed on the hillside. He thought little about it, but buttoned his coat, as I have said before, and strode on. It was a storm of rain, so that he was forced to hold his head to one side, as it hit him from the north. But with his hand to his hat, and his head bent against the wind, he went on till he had reached the valley at the foot, and found that the track by which he had been led thither had become a road. He had never known the mountains round the Hall as Kate had known them, and was not aware whither he was going.

       

As he got near the village he overtook a shepherd boy coming down from the hills, and learned his whereabouts from him, “Baampton,” said the boy, with an accent that was almost Scotch, when he was asked the name of the place. When Vavasor further asked whether a gig were kept there, the boy simply stared at him, not knowing a gig by that name. At last, however, he was made to understand the nature of his companion’s want, and expressed his belief that ‘John Applethwaite, up at the Craigs yon, had got a mickle cart’. But the Craigs was a farmhouse, which now came in view about a mile off, up across the valley; and Vavasor, hoping that he might still find a speedier conveyance than John Applethwaite’s mickle cart, went on to the public house in the village. But, in truth, neither there, nor yet from John Applethwaite, to whom at last an application was sent, could he get any vehicle; and between six and seven he started off again, through the rain, to make his weary way on foot to Shap. The distance was about five miles, and the little byways, lying between walls, were sticky, and almost glutinous with light-coloured, chalky mud.

       

He cursed this world, and all worlds beyond; and thus, cursing everything, he made his way at last up to the inn at Shap.

It was nearly nine when he got there. He had wasted over an hour at Bampton in his endeavour to get John Applethwaite’s cart to carry him on, and he had been two hours on his walk from Bampton to Shap – two hours amidst his cursing.

From the chapter The Rocks and Valleys:

Indeed, all the walks from Vavasor Hall led to the mountains, unless one chose to take the road to Shap. But they went up, across the beacon hill, as though by mutual consent. There were no questions asked between them as to the route to be taken; and though they did not reach the stone on which they had once sat looking over upon Hawes Water, they did reach the spot upon which Kate had encountered her accident. “It was here I fell,” she said; “and the last I saw of him was his back, as he made his way down into the valley, there.”