Tarn Wadling background Hesket in the Forest

Tarn Wadling

Tarn Wadling, now drained, was famous for many things, including a floating island that mysteriously appeared one night in 1810

Tarn Wadling was a small lake near High Hesket, between Penrith and Carlisle. In the middle ages, it belonged to the nuns of Armathwaite, and the Augustinian canons of Carlisle also had fishing rights there – it was said to produce the finest carp in the kingdom – but it also had a magical, mysterious reputation. In the 13th century, Gervaise of Tilbury called it Laikibrait – the lake which cries – on account of the peal of bells which could be heard every day around the first hour. It also featured in a poem first written down in the early 15th century, in which the ghost of Guinevere’s mother appeared there to Guinevere and Gawain, as if from the mouth of hell. Then on 30th August 1810, a small island rose up from the bottom, several yards in diameter, and lasted several months before sinking again – like Avalon, or Brigadoon. (See Samuel Jefferson, History and Antiquities of Leath Ward in the County of Cumberland, 1840)

More prosaically, the tarn probably originated in a large post-glacial kettle hole, filled with water and rotting vegetation. It is possible that from time to time it emitted methane - which might cause strange sounds - not to mention the phenomenon known as will o’ the wisp - as well as possibly leading every now and again to a mass of vegetation breaking free or rising to the surface as an island - then disappearing again. Events like these might have led to the lake’s reputation.

The lake was drained in the 19th century by Lord Lonsdale, and today is no more than a shallow dip in the ground – though the building shown in the photo used to be a boat house


Text and Photo by Bill Shannon