Lyulph's Tower - a source of inspiration

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: Lyulph's Tower © Jane Firth

Lyulph’s Tower is a former hunting lodge, built in the Gothic style around 1780 by the 11th Duke of Norfolk. It was possibly named after a Saxon chief whose son was made the first Baron of Greystoke after the Norman Conquest.

Lyulph’s Tower is one of the earliest examples of a villa in the Lake District, visited by the first tourists in the late 18th century, in search of the Picturesque. Joseph Budworth visited in 1792 and described in his guide for tourists the fine prospects from its 4 towers, but noted that rain had caused depredation to the walls. He recorded that the Duke had no chairs in the Tower, but wooden benches and a long board for a table. Not everyone was impressed by the building; Eliza Lynn Linton, the nineteenth century novelist and journalist wrote “if you are of the ‘true sort’, you will care nothing for [it] – a mere modern make-believe, with glazed windows among the ivy and cucumber frames at the tops of the towers.”

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott's visit to the Lakes in 1797 inspired his 1805 poem “The Bridal of Triermain” in which Sir Roland de Vaux fell in love with a fairy maiden and sent his page to seek Lyulph’s advice.

My fleetest courser thou must rein,

And ride to Lyulph’s Tower,

And from the Baron of Triermain

Greet well that sage of power…

Gifted like his gifted race,

He the characters can trace,

Graven deep in elders time

Upon Helvellyn’s cliffs sublime;

Sign and signal well doth know

And can bode of weal and woe,

Of kingdoms’ fall, and fate and wars,

From mystic dreams and course of stars.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth

Two years after Scott’s visit, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth viewed Lyulph’s Tower on their walking tour of the Lakes. Wordsworth described the view – “deep within the bosom of the lake, a magnificent castle with towers and battlements”. Coleridge later wrote “Lyulph’s gleams like a ghost, dim and shadowy”.

On their trip, Wordsworth and Coleridge heard how the painter, John Glover, had stayed at Lyulph’s Tower and had been awoken by the shriek of a woman. It transpired that a young woman who lived in the house was in the habit of sleep-walking. The story gave Wordsworth the idea for his poem, The Somnambulist, 1835. Set in Arthurian times, it tells how Lady Emma, distraught that her lover, the knight Sir Eglamont, failed to return, took to sleep-walking from her home near Lyulph’s to Aira Force. One night, Sir Eglamont did indeed return and found her walking by the force, but when he touched her, she woke and lost her balance, falling to her death in the force.

List, ye who pass by Lyulph’s Tower

Are eve; how softly then

Doth Aira-Force, that torrent hoarse,

Speak from the woody glen!

Fit music for a solemn vale!

And holier seems the ground

To him who catches on the gale

The spirit of a mournful tale,

Embodied in the sound.

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