"Lady of the mere
Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance."
ASSOCIATED with many of our historic houses and romantic spots, "My Lady's Walk" perpetuates the memory, not infrequently, of traditions of a tragic and legendary kind, some of which belong to incidents bound up with the seamy side of family romance.
Thus at Huddington, Worcestershire, there is an avenue of trees called "Lady Winter's Walk," where, it is said, the lady of Thomas Winter--who was forced to conceal himself on account of his share in the Gunpowder Plot--was in the habit of awaiting her husband's furtive visits; and here, it is affirmed, her ladyship is still occasionally seen pacing up and down her old accustomed haunt beneath the sombre shade of those aged trees.
Near Guy's Cave, Warwick, there is "Fair Phillis's Walk," where, according to the local tradition, she was in the habit of daily sauntering, lamenting the absence of her husband Guy, whom she supposed to be dead, or a prisoner in the Holy Land, while, all the time, he was in close proximity to her, living in a cave, disguised as a palmer, which, runs the story, was constructed by himself, for--
"There, with my hands, I hewed a house,
Out of a craggy rock of stone,
And lived like a palmer poor,
Within that cave myself alone."
It appears that he was obliged to betake himself to this life of penance from remorse at having wrought so much mischief for the sake of the fair Phillis, who, after the fashion of the noble ladies of her time, required deeds of arms from her lover before she would acknowledge his attentions. But he made himself known to her when dying, and ever since this romantic episode the spot in question has been known as "Fair Phillis's Walk."
A deep ravine within the summit of Walla Crag, Keswick, "in whose ponderous jaws," tradition says, "the once errant spirit of Jamie Lowther--the first Earl of Lonsdale--was securely immured, is still known as the "Lady's Rake," being the path by which, according to an improbable story, the Countess of Derwentwater effected her escape on receiving the news of her husband's capture, carrying with her a quantity of jewels and other valuables. She fled, it is said, along this memorable path "from the rage of the peasantry, who considered her to be the cause of the earl's misfortune, having instigated him to take part in the rebellion against his better judgment."
Similarly, the Ermine Street, running from Godmanchester towards Stamford and Lincoln, was in years past locally designated "Lady Coneyborough's Way," from an old tradition, long remembered in the neighbourhood, that, when St. Kneyburgh was once pursued by a ruffianly assailant, "the road unrolled itself before her as she fled," and thus enabled her to effect her escape in safety.
About two miles from Bolton Castle, on the ridge of Leyburn Shawl--a green terrace about a mile long--there is a narrow way, or pass, which is commonly known as the "Queen's Gap." At this spot, the story goes, Mary Queen of Scots was caught by Lord Scrope and his guards, when attempting to make her escape from Bolton Castle. The pass since that day--as the place of her recapture--has invariably, it is said, been known as the "Queen's Gap"; but such an attempt was probably never made, although, as it has been added, "the Shawl must have been visited by the Queen, who, whilst at Bolton, was allowed to ride forth hunting and hawking," under due supervision.
Historic romance affords numerous examples of walks rendered famous by the fair sex under a variety of peculiar circumstances. According to a village tradition current at Ludgershall, Buckinghamshire, this locality was selected by Henry II. as a retreat for fair Rosamond, whose memory is still perpetuated by a lane in the woods popularly called "Rosamond's Way." Again, within a short distance of Brougham Castle stands the "Countess Pillar," the approach to which has a romantic interest from having been traversed by two celebrated ladies. The pillar was erected in the year 1656 by Lady Anne Clifford--"a memorial," as its inscription informs us, "of her last parting at that place with her good and pious mother, Margaret Countess Dowager of Cumberland, on the 2nd of April, an eventful incident which has thus been poetically described:--
"That modest stone by plous Pembroke rear'd,
Which still recalls beyond the pencil's power
The silent sorrows of a parting hour."
Mab's Cross, again, which stands at the top of Standish Gate, Wigan, at the entrance of the town, commemorates the story of Lady Mabel Bradshaigh, who, during her husband's absence of ten years in the Holy Wars, married a Welsh knight. On his return Sir William Bradshaigh was outlawed "for a year and a day for killing the Welsh Knight," and Lady Mabel was enjoined to do penance "by going once every week barefooted" to the aforesaid Cross, the lane along which she went from Haigh Hall having been known as Mab's Lane.
But a more pleasing memory is attached to Newark Castle, which was the early home of the
Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch, and the scene of Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," which he recited for amusement. Amidst the many historic associations connected with this locality, a walk leading from Bowhill by the Yarrow to the old Castle is called the "Duchess's Walk," thereby perpetuating the traditions of the past. And it may be remembered how in the old days of the Scotch Court, when tournaments and other chivalrous sports were in fashion at Stirling, it was customary for the ladies of the Court to assemble on what is still denominated the "Ladies' Rock" to "survey the knightly feats of their admirers." It was here that a tournament was held in the year 1506, in honour of a blackamoor girl, who had been captured in a Portugese ship, the jousting on this occasion being conducted with unusual splendour.
Among the numerous historical episodes and domestic incidents associated with Haddon Hall, tradition still delights to preserve the romance attached to the fine avenue called "Dorothy's Walk," for it was from "Dorothy Vernon's Door," with its overhanging ivy and sycamore, that the beautiful heiress of Haddon stole out one night, like Jessica, to join her lover, the spot in the terrace, known to this day as "the Ladies' Steps," being where the meeting took place. The elopement of Dorothy Vernon has employed the pen of the novelist and the poet, and it has been thrown into the form of a story, "The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon."
On the other hand, a Welsh tradition points out "the Virgin's Meadow," near Dolforwyn Hall, as the romantic scene of the death of "Sabrina fair," whose fate has been the theme of many poets, including Milton and Drayton:--
Sabrina's early haunt, ere yet she fled
In search of Gwendolen, her stepdame proud,
With envious hate enraged."
Under one form or another my so-called Lady's Walk "has formed the source of much traditionary lore, and in numerous cases it has gained this distinction from its having been the "trysting-place" where, as family history informs us, many a love affair like that of Dorothy Vernon has been secretly arranged. Among the traditions told of Furness Abbey, one of this kind is known as the "Abbey Vows," and records how the pretty squire's daughter repaired to the ruins of Furness Abbey with her lover, ere he went to sea, to pledge their troth. Daily afterwards she regularly went to the Abbey by the same walk to gaze on the spot where they had knelt, and nowadays, although many a year has gone by, "my Lady's Walk" to Furness Abbey is still a household tale.
Lastly, occasionally a more melancholy reason is given for "my Lady's Walk," as is the case of a tradition told in connection with the Spindleston Hills, which are commonly said to be haunted by a lady nicknamed "The Wandering Shepherdess." The story goes that a certain lady, after the death of her lover, abandoned rank and wealth, and spent her remaining days following sheep on the hills, and even now the peasants affirm she may at times be seen doing the same walk, reminding us of the lady with her lantern, who in stormy weather walks up and down the beach at St. Ives on the Cornish coast.