Coaching over Dunmail Raise

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(Note that the copyright status of many of these photographs is unknown other than that of the Abrahams' photographs for which copyright is jealously guarded by the Abrahams' estate.)


Coaches ascending Dunmail Raise between Ambleside and Keswick: fare 5/-

Abraham's Series No. 437


Abraham's postcard : tinted postcard showing coaches approaching Dunmail Raise with passengers walking


above : tinted postcard cropped from the lantern slide (below) by the photographers Abraham Brothers of Keswick



1/4 plate view camera with TTH lens the original photograph would have been taken with a 10x8 view camera like this



The tourist's route from Ambleside to Keswick:


satellite view of Ambleside to Keswick


The 16  mile route from Ambleside to Keswick, passing through the village of Grasmere (which the modern road bypasses).

The postcard miniature is shown on the high point of the road over the north/south watershed of Dunmail Raise, 782ft.

It is not known how far the passengers, or 'fares', would have been obliged to walk but, knowing the road, it was likely to have been for around 1 miles with an ascent of roughly 450ft.

The perspiring American in the crowd of "fares" complaining:  "Wa'al, I guess I never walked so far for 5/- in all my life before!"  has a point!

 In today's money the 5/- of 1910 ( of 1 - now 25p) compared by RPI would be 18.90 but, compared to today's average earnings, that's equivalent to 101 in value.

Furthermore the exchange rate of the time was not $1.51/, as it is today (Apr 2013),  but $4.86/!

"The real price of every thing ....... is the toil and trouble of acquiring it." Adam Smith, 1776

So, perhaps the American's complaint should read: "I've never walked so far for five hundred bucks in all my life!"

It's worth remembering that all the "fares" were well-to-do middle class people. Holidays in the English Lake District were not for ordinary folk.

(In 1910 an agricultural worker's wage was 15s 4d a week. He'd have to work for almost two days to pay for this coach journey.)

(Price & exchange rate comparisons from








The charabanc is in a dip in the road (seen in the reverse view, below), which is why the cyclist is making good progress. Not for long!



the reverse view : looking back from the top to Grasmere


Mayson's postcard : coach to Grasmere descending from Dunmail Raise


Due to the gentle curving convex slopes of the pass, these pictures are not taken at, or even near, the top but roughly 1 km further south.

Photographers chose the best location for both composition and view.


Here's an Abraham's postcard of coaches descending the pass:


Abraham's postcard #113: descending Dunmail Raise




Abraham's postcard #113: descending Dunmail Raise: enlargement detail of coach

the lead coach with its coachman in his top hat and sixteen passengers


Abraham's postcard #113: descending Dunmail Raise: enlargement detail of girl

the girl in the back row


Pettit's postcard : descending Dunmail Raise: dated 21 Oct 1915





The scene today: 

the view north as seen in the Abraham's photo  ~ Steel Fell at left the view south as seen in the Mayson's photo  ~ Helm Crag at right
The picturesque winding road with its ups and downs is long gone, replaced by the road improvements of the 20th c. No more the sedate journey by coach and four, nor the walk up the steep sections to save the horses. Now you can race down to Grasmere at illegal speeds: a comfortable 70mph or even a breathtaking 90-100mph is all to easy, although not recommended.



Dunmail Raise

The site of the battle in 945 A.D. between Dunmail, last king of Cumbria (and the Britons?) and his Saxon overlord Edmund, in which, according to legend, Dunmail was killed.

"In 945 Dunmail, "the last king of rocky Cumbria," fell out with his Overlord, Edmund the Magnificent, King of the English, who at once fell upon Cumbria, laid the whole of it waste, and handed it over to Malcolm, King of Scotland, on condition that he would be his ally by land and sea. Tradition says that the decisive battle between the English and the Britons of Cumbria took place at Dunmail Raise, and that King Dunmail fell there. Other accounts say that he escaped, and died peaceably at Rome, some years later."

King Dunmail was, by virtue of the Commendation of 924 (in which Scotland declared itself vassal to England, which was to be the foundation of the claims made by Edward I to Scotland), vassal to King Edmund. Dunmail revolted against his Overlord, who took his kingdom from him and granted it, in 945, to Malcolm I, King of Scotland, as a feudal benefice.

However, other sources say: "Edmunds conquest of Cumberland was stated as being overambitious and that Dunmail re-took his lands some years after." Edmund had died in 949. The true history is unclear and confused.

Children and tourists like to believe that King Dunmail is buried under the great pile of stones at the top, but that is not so. It was excavated by Victorian antiquarians and nothing found. This, along with the story of Dunmail's crown being thrown into nearby Grisedale Tarn is, like Arthur and Excalibur, myth.

Whether the pile of stones is a boundary marker between the counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland or simply clearings from the road when first built is conjecture. But later accounts say that Dunmail went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 975 where he died.

(for a complete history read HERE)



panorama : the pile of stones on Dunmail Raise 

the fabled pile of stones on Dunmail Raise

the legend tells of King Dunmail being killed and his followers throwing his crown into Grisedale Tarn so that, one day, when Cumbria needed him, he would return for it

here you can see why the Edwardian photographers took their pictures further down the hill, the wide summit of the pass being virtually flat

Grisedale Tarn can be seen here


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The practice of the 'fares' having to dismount and walk was necessary on all the passes.

Below is the scene approaching the top of Newlands Pass from Keswick to Buttermere:

Newlands Pass


ascending Newlands Pass


(for all their photographs of the mountain passes the Abraham's (and other photographers) unashamedly tilted their cameras to make the ascent appear steeper)


Although it wasn't necessary on Dunmail Raise, there are postcards showing the 'fares' walking on the descent of other, steeper passes, presumably because the coaches' brakes couldn't cope.


Below is Red Bank, 523ft, the short but steep direct route from Grasmere to Great Langdale, with a 1 in 3 (30%) gradient.


Abraham's postcard : descending Red Bank                                   Abraham's postcard : descending Red Bank

Left : 1920's car on the steep approach to the top of Red Bank.      Right : Edwardian coaches descending Red Bank, their 'fares' obliged to walk.

(In the Mayson's postcard with the coach, above, Red Bank lies directly above the centre of the lake, passing to the right of the hill (Loughrigg).)



Leaving the top of Honister Pass (1167ft) from Keswick and Borrowdale for the descent to Buttermere:


crop from postcard Honister Pass - 'the steep bit'


With many of the 'fares' on foot clearly Abraham's saw this as a photo opportunity not to be missed.

Even today in a car, and with a tarmaced road twice this width, plunging off the top down this 'steep bit' with its gradient of 1 in 4 (25%) is quite intimidating.

(this photograph, cropped from the original, has been straightened by no less than 12 degrees CW to correct the postcard's exaggeration of the descent)


crop from postcard Honister Pass - 'the steep bit'


Further down Honister Pass : note the ladies with parasols trailing behind on the zig-zag bends higher up.

As usual the camera was tilted to exaggerate the steepness of the descent. The photograph has been rotated 7 degrees CW to correct for this.



Of this practice of the 'fares' having to dismount and walk Abraham's Humorous Series No.2 postcard has this to say: 

Abraham's Humorous postcard : Honister Pass

Ye simple tourists who so cheerful pay

O'er Honister Pass to drive in "four horse shay,"

The painful truth experience will tell,

It's mostly walk and pay your fare as well. 




postcard c.1907 : motor car and coach leaving top of Dunmail Raise 

c.1907 - a 'modern' motor car leaving the top of Dunmail Raise ahead of the coaches


motor coaches descending Dunmail Raise

a future without the walking : motor coaches on Dunmail Raise


postcard : motor coach outside Royal Oak Hotel, Keswick

When did the walking stop? This 1913 postcard shows a motor coach waiting outside the Royal Oak Hotel in Keswick.


(Note that the copyright status of many of these photographs is unknown other than that of the Abrahams' photographs for which copyright is jealously guarded by the Abrahams' estate.)


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this page launched 1 Jun 2011 : last modified 4 Apr 2013