The Ullswater Echo - Background (Watermillock)

Ullswater, from Collingwood, The Lake Counties, 1932


When James Clarke wrote his Survey of the Lakes in 1787, he seems to have assumed the average tourist would carry a gun, for, in describing what to see and do at Watermillock, on the shores of Ullswater, he wrote: “Here fire a gun or two to rouse the echoes from the hills; the traveller will be astonished to hear them, like repeated peals of thunder some longer, some shorter, now seeming like the crash of worlds, now reverberating only in hollow murmurs”.

William Hutchinson, in his Excursion to the Lakes (1776), reports how he went out on the lake in a ‘barge’, on which was mounted ‘six brass cannon’.  "On discgarging one of these pieces, the report was echoed from the opposite rocks, where by reverberation it seemed to roll from cliff to cliff, and return through every cave and valley, till the decreasing tumult died away upon the ear".

Fr Thomas West, in his Guide to the Lakes, first published in  1778, was equally enthusiastic about the phenomenon: “The navigators of this lake find much amusement by discharging guns, or small cannon, at certain stations. The effect is truly curious. For the report is reverberated from rock to rock, promontory, cavern and hill, with every variety of sound; now dying away upon the ear, and again returning like peals of thunder, and thus re-echoed seven times distinctly.

Present-day visitors are urged not to try this for themselves!

Text by Bill Shannon

Illustration of Ullswater from W G Collingwood The Lake Counties 1932