Howling Wilderness

The house associated with two different million seller authors

“Daniel Defoe called it a howling wilderness, but the majestic and sublime bleakness coupled with the magnificent views and the impressive Kinder Downfall make the walk across this peat bog and moonscape one of the most fascinating routes.”

Edale Cross to Hayfield across Kinderscout : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

The writers on the Howling Wilderness route:

Ebenezer Elliott – Benny Rothman – Ludwig Wittgenstein – Mrs Humphrey Ward – Agatha Christie

With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak


We are now on the last leg of our journey, and the final point on The Literary Way beckons us, but it will be a hearty walk. To complete our route, we will cross some bleak countryside, but it is an area with spectacular views. It is a remote, harsh landscape, but a wonderful contrast to some of the verdant valleys and historic villages through which we have passed. As we walked along Rushup Edge and then turned across the moors, the bleakness of this area began to hit us. So apart from the graphic descriptions of these moors, why else are we up here? There are four reasons and what a mixture they make!

There is a person, who came about one hundred years after Ebenezer Elliott, but we are sure that, if they had been of the same time, they would have been good friends and the ringleaders of the movement that campaigned for the working class. Our twentieth century man would start a campaign that gained public momentum and eventually has given us what we have today, that is, open access land on some of the most beautiful moors in the country. Indirectly, it gave rise to National Parks, where the emphasis is placed on the countryside and people’s access to it, rather than the relentless spread of towns and restrictive landowners.

Let’s add to this a vastly different inspirational man, who, in the early part of the twentieth century, was flying kites over these moors. There is much supposition about this man’s writings, but not long after he was on Kinderscout he decided to change the direction of his life. That decision, which has a backdrop of some of the most famous events of the time, gives us a brief view of the complex mind of this individual. He would go on a few years later to write a short book, which would become a definitive literary work in the twentieth century.

One of the undoubted challenges of devising a walk of such well-known literary characters is how do we give it a good finish! Throughout most of this part of the walk, there is a house that will be in our view. It is tucked under the craggy rocks of the west facing edge of Kinderscout. In summer, it looks a wonderful setting, and we could say almost the perfect composition for a painting, but in winter it is cold, with gale force winds, and is very remote. In this part of the countryside, winter is the time for hardy souls.

This single house stands a good distance from other buildings and farms and brings us two writers. The first wrote a book, the first part of which is set in this house and gives us an impressive description of the moors and areas around Kinderscout. It became a million copy best seller in Edwardian times, which is probably a greater achievement during that era, than it is today. She is unusual in that she wrote under her husband’s name, which was an accepted form of address during that period. Our second writer associated with this house has a more indirect link. She wrote a story based on a remote shooting lodge, and her brother in-law, who she frequently visited, owned the house. She is reputed to have sold approximately 4 billion novels.

This is a stunning area and such a contrast to some of the beautiful spots we have passed through. It is without doubt dramatic country. On these moors it is very easy to get lost going across the peak bogs. In many places there are no landmarks on view, just black peat grykes and mounds of heather. Every direction can look the same. When you combine these difficulties of navigation, with the potential sudden change in the weather, it is a dangerous area. This is where the mountains rescue teams are frequently called out to find those injured, lost and in distress.
Ebenezer Elliott wrote a sonnet about Kinderscout, and these are the first lines:

We are not lonely, Kinderscout! I stand
Here, with thy sire, and gaze, with him and thee,
On desolation. This is liberty!
Sonnet 28 by Ebenezer Elliott

We are going along the edge of the moor so navigation is not difficult. See if you can pick out the forty-seven storey Beetham Tower in the centre of Manchester. You might well need binoculars to be able to select the Old Trafford football ground, which is twenty miles away, but the power station with its cooling towers, near Warrington, is easy to find, although it is forty-five miles. By now you might have noticed planes overhead. On a clear day, sit, enjoy the view, and watch the plane now flying over your head curve round and land at Manchester Airport.

We pass over the peat moor’s ‘moonscape’. The white feldspar crystals, which have been weathered from the millstone grit rock, cover parts of the moor and make it more akin to a beach. It has often been suggested that it looks more like the moon’s surface. It is these crystals that have created the wonderful aeolian shaped rocks that edge the moors. As we pass along the edge of Kinderscout we can begin to pick out our literary house. It is practically obscured by the trees on the crag side of Kinder Reservoir. Views of it will remain for a good while. As the edge takes us slightly in towards the moors so the jumble of rocks, which shields Kinder Downfall becomes evident. This thirty metre fall comes from a small stream that flows over the edge of the moors and tumbles down to the early twentieth century Kinder Reservoir. The catchment area for the stream is the peat bogs behind it and so it is no more than a stream, but when the wind blows hard from the west, then it shows the power of the air as it is forced into the V-shaped crags. The wind picks up the stream as it falls and blows it back as spray!

Let us continue to follow our path and, after a steep but short descent, we come to a cross of pathways. To our right the path leads across the moor to the Snake Inn. This was opened in late Victorian times and was the only path in the area, although it was frequently closed by gamekeepers in the shooting season.

The Duke’s Apology

The moors were for many years the shooting havens of the landed gentry. They were guarded by the gamekeepers, who kept all away from the area, which is the natural habitat of the grouse. The number of birds, although wild, would be managed by the gamekeepers so that their landowners could enjoy the shooting season. Effectively the moors were closed and private areas, and there are rarely any rights of ways across them. The main reasons for this is that rights of ways were determined by regular travelled routes and very few people would need to cross these inhospitable moors, hence accessible paths were often found in valleys. As we saw with the Clarion call of Bert Ward on the Eastern Moors, the early twentieth century saw the rise of the people in the towns, who wanted to walk in the countryside. Ashop Head is just along the path to our right.

In 1932, there would be a major challenge to the landowners and the gamekeepers. This is an extract from the Guardian newspaper, 25 April 1932.
Four or five hundred ramblers, mostly from Manchester, trespassed in mass on Kinder Scout to-day. They fought a brief, but vigorous hand-to-hand struggle with a number of keepers specially enrolled for the occasion. This they won with ease, and then marched to Ashop Head, where they held a meeting before returning in triumph to Hayfield. Their triumph was short-lived, for there the police met them, halted them, combed their ranks for suspects, and detained five men. Another man had been detained earlier in the day.
Guardian Newspaper, 25 April 1932

The leader behind the idea was a trade unionist called Benny Rothwell. As well as being active in local socialism in the south of Manchester, he also enjoyed access to the countryside. One of the nearest stations to the Peak District from Manchester was Hayfield. The direct train would end its journey in the valley below the towering crags of Kinder and the Downfall. The day after the trespass five men were charged with unlawful assembly and the breach of the peace, including Benny Rothwell. They were later jailed at Derby Crown court for between two and six months. There has been much symbolism attached to the trespass and the leading of Benny Rothwell. It has been captured in songs celebrating protest, as well as cited as being a key step in the formation of National Parks. The landowner for the moors, when the trespass took place, was the Duke of Devonshire. In 2002 there was the 70th year celebration of the events. The Duke of Devonshire, at the time, was Andrew Cavendish, who came to meet the walkers on their symbolic celebration to apologise for the actions of his grandfather.

Let’s Fly a Kite

We are where the four paths meet. In was in this vicinity, where our man was flying kites. The path leads in about a mile or so to the road, and joins it near the Grouse Inn. The pub was used as a base to fly the kites, which took place all over this part of the moor. The complexity of the origins of a book from our intrepid kite flier is tricky, but do bear with us as it is a fascinating story.

We are indebted to the acute observations of Susan Stebbett in defining this story. It begins a long way from the Peak District, in Vienna, Austria, in 1899. A family, who had become very rich from the steel industry of that country, had another son. He was called Ludwig and he joined four brothers and three sisters. In his childhood, he led a life of luxury. The family home was a centre of intellectual and musical development. As part of the high society of the time, the family attracted many of the leading musicians of the day including, Brahms, Strauss and Mahler.

But Ludwig’s learning was not focused on music but on his father’s technical empire. Engineering attracted him. So it was it was no surprise that in 1906, at the age of 17, he went to Berlin to study mechanical engineering. After a short period there he moved to Manchester University to further the same studies. Manchester had become a centre for engineering excellence. It was enjoying both the practical and philanthropic benefits of our Darley Dale man, Sir Joseph Whitworth. His principal works were in the city and as we know he lived there for many years. He left a substantial sum for the education of future engineers and it was these bequests that brought together engineering excellence from which our writer, Ludwig, intended to benefit. It was at the time when a certain aspects of mechanical engineering were about to take a major leap forward. The Wright brothers in the USA were laying patents for controlled man-made flight. There was huge scepticism in Europe, but there was also lively debate in papers and magazines about competing methods for achieving flight, and whether the Wrights had actually truly achieved it.

So what is the link with kites? At the time meteorological understanding was being enhanced by lifting instruments into the atmosphere by the use of kites. This could be controlled, under certain weather conditions, and could return the instruments safely to the ground. By the early 1900s the kites had sufficient lift to rise several thousand metres with instruments. Generally Ludwig was a mechanical engineer interested in aeronautics. Kite flying on the Kinderscout moors was to help the University of Manchester make progress in meteorology. But mechanical engineers were very interested in kites, because of the lift they generated and whether it could be harnessed for man-made flights. The designs being used by Ludwig were box kites with wings attached.

We know with hindsight that the Wright brothers’ invention went on to be the basis of manned flight as it is today, but at the time there were sufficient challenges of the alternative methods, all of which were to disappear, as the Wrights established their superiority. But we are talking of a time in 1908 when it was still thought other methods could be better.

So Ludwig had an interest in aeronautics and was using powerful kites to get the lift for experiments at the same time as the Wright brothers and Cody were developing their respective ideas for manned flight. In 1910 Ludwig would register a patent in the UK.

Improvements in Propellers applicable for Aerial Machines.
Date of Application, 22nd Nov., 1910
Complete Specification Left, 21st. June, 1911 – Accepted, 17th Aug., 1911

Ludwig was particularly interested in the gain of thrust from the design of propellers and the engines to drive them. As he studied the area he moved the focus of his attention away from the mechanics of operation to the mathematics behind the engineering. In doing so he came across another work of the very early years in the twentieth century. Bertrand Russell, in 1903, by then a fellow at Trinity College Cambridge, published a work called, The Principles of Mathematics. Bertrand would become one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century in both mathematics and philosophy. Ludwig wrote to Russell and then visited him at Cambridge. It was the start of a lifelong relationship, that wasn’t always smooth, and had long periods of abstinence, however, it did draw together two minds that stimulated much thought and discussion in twentieth century intellectual circles. From the build up we have given, you could think that Ludwig would produce a book that united the different areas of his expertise, particularly in the linking mathematics to aeronautics. However, another twist came when Ludwig abandoned aeronautics.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, with the help of his Cambridge friends, Bertrand Russell and the future Chancellor of the Exchequer, the economist Maynard Keynes, published, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1921. The book is about the theory of knowledge and the attempt to define the relationship between language and reality.

The Edwardian Anti-Suffrage Campaigner

We are going to leave the moors by taking the path down to Hayfield. When Mary Augusta Arnold reached twenty-one years-old, she married Humphrey Ward who was a Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, which is where she first settled in her married life. As a young wife she spent the initial years of her marriage developing her own education especially in the learning of languages.

She began to write articles and then produced her first book, which was for children. It would be sixteen years after her marriage that she produced her second novel, Robert Elsmere, which was to make her famous. It very much reflected her own beliefs and that of the Victorian times that she lived in, with the novel’s theme being centred around religious faith and doubt. Her theme for her following work, The History of David Grieve, was based on a poor boy making his way in the world. In total, she would write 25 novel-length works, but it would be Robert Elsmere and The History of David Grieve, that would make her famous through Britain and the United States of America. It is reputed that The History of David Grieve sold more than one million copies.

Aside from her writing she became notable for two reasons. She was the leading woman in the anti-suffrage movement of the early twentieth century; she actively campaigned for women not to be given the vote. However, she did believe in helping the working classes and had a great deal of respect for them. She established educational centres for those that could not afford to pay and put great energy into ensuring their success. The Mary Ward Centre for adult education still exists in Bloomsbury, London.

She used the farm called Upper House to make the opening scenes of The Life of David Grieve. When Mary stayed at the remote house in the late 1800s the reservoir had not then been built.

Agatha Mallowan

Agatha Mallowan preferred to use this name in her private life, but the publishers insisted on her sticking with the name she wrote her first novels by, Agatha Christie. She was born in 1890 into the Miller family. Agatha had an older brother and sister. In 1914, she married Archibald Christie, but the marriage did not last. In 1930, Agatha married archaeologist Max Mallowan. As many will know, she is one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century. While she did not define the detective genre, she went a long way to making it her own.

She was very coy about the settings of many of her books and stories, but we want to take you through why the house in which Mary Ward stayed is the likely setting for one of her tales and where there is a very definite connection between the former shooting lodge and Agatha. But in order to do so we need to look a little at part of Agatha’s life, and the surrounding area. As we have seen from Kinderscout the views look out over the Cheshire Plain and Manchester.

Just outside Stockport is the small area of Cheadle, which has a grand building called Abney Hall, which originally had two hundred acres of grounds. Agatha’s sister Madge married Jimmy Watts, who was the heir to the hall. Jimmy worked in the family business and would eventually take charge of it. His grandfather who had founded the firm had also been the Mayor of Manchester. It was he who had bought the hall from Mrs Orrell, Joseph’s Whitworth’s wife’s name by her first marriage, and changed the name to Abney Hall. Agatha’s mother had been to boarding school in Cheshire and already knew the Watts family, and Agatha had even visited the hall as a child. But it would be years later after her sister, Madge, had married Jimmy Watts that the visits became frequent.

Agatha particularly enjoyed the Watts’ family atmosphere, especially at Christmas, and it provided a stimulus to use Abney Hall as the setting in several of her stories. The feast in The Affair of the Christmas Pudding was based on her visits there. Seven miles from Upper House is the village of Marple and it is a further seven miles to Abney Hall. Agatha didn’t indicate how she came up with the name Marple, but there is plenty of supposition that, as she passed through Marple on the train, it gave her the idea for the name. She was known to frequently travel by train and her trips with her husband, Max, to the Middle East would frequently be completed on the Orient Express, which, as we know, became one of her most famous novels. To add to the supposition that the small town of Marple gives its name to the famous detective, it was at one time on a main route from London.

Having described how Agatha was so involved with the region let us return to our house, cum shooting lodge, under Kinderscout. What is the connection with Agatha? The building has variously been called Upper House or Marriott’s Farm. It was owned for many years by the Watts family. Jimmy became very much involved in the discussion to open up the moors for visitors, because they had to cross his land. Before the time of Benny Rothman, a local footpath society tried to negotiate access and Jimmy did make limited concessions on his land. There is no direct evidence that Agatha visited Upper House, but it would seem highly likely that at some time she visited with some of the large Watts family. The route of fourteen miles to Upper House from Abney Hall would have either been by train or road. Hayfield lost its station during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, but it was the main point for people travelling from Manchester and Stockport to approach the Derbyshire moors and hills which are visible from those towns. A short distance from Hayfield is the main A6 which goes across the Peak District to Matlock and then on to London. Agatha's short story, The Mystery of the Hunting Lodge, is set in Derbyshire, and the details in the story can easily be interpreted to be local to the Hayfield area.

Let’s rest awhile at Bowden Bridge

We take the path along the edge of Kinder Reservoir and then along the lane to Bowden Bridge. On our right is a small quarry now used as a car park. It is appropriate to finish our walk along The Literary Way here, as it was where those involved in the mass trespass assembled prior to walking up onto the moors. Since that time, right of ways have been established and it is along these, and across the open access land, that we have travelled the entire distance from Ellastone. A plaque on the wall of the quarry commemorates the event. It was especially pleasing to us to be able to finish the walk with giants in the world of twentieth century literature. Agatha Christie’s style and intrigue has captured so many all over the world and she had a claim to be the best selling novelist in the history of books. Ludwig Wittgenstein is perhaps far less known, but in the august world of philosophy, he stands out as a paragon of the last century. Mary Ward’s dedication to the workin classes lives on in London, but she came on holiday here, at Upper House, to write one of best-selling books, which has as its initial setting the same farm.

After walking through some quite magnificent countryside it is fitting that some of the most spectacular and impressive landscape forms the basis for our last walk. The wild and desolate moorlands have their own majestic character and as we have strolled along the fringes of the vast peat plateau, we have had the most magnificent views westwards across Cheshire and Lancashire.