William Beckford 1779
William Beckford waxes lyrical about Hack-fall in his FRAGMENTS OF AN ENGLISH TOUR (1779)
It was late before we reached Rippon and the next morning I rode eight miles thro common lanes and every day inclosures to Hackfall, a deep rocky valley rapt up in groves and thickets. I heard the trickling of rills in the woodlands before I entered their shade and listened with pleasure to the distant song of the birds which inhabit them. The solitary air and unexpected wildness of the Prospect inspired a sentiment of serenity and freedom which I did not find lessened on descending amongst steeps and copses that looked quite detached from the World. A rivulet flows rapidly down these declivities and covering every rock, or mossy root which opposes its passage with the clearest waters forms a succession of romantic falls which glimmer amongst impending groves and fragments. A path is conducted on the edge of the stream and follows all its descents and windings till it opens to a glen with a seat where I rested, soothed with the tranquility of this sylvan region. It was a mild autumnal day and the sun cast a gleam on the woods lighting up their foliage and gilding the springs that ran murmuring beneath. Before me rose a lofty Rock almost concealed by a thick vegetation of bushy Oaks and Hazels from under whose stems a transparent stream issued and hurrying along a ledge intirely mossed over cast itself from the steep into the rivulet below. Beds of moss carpet the edge of the waters softer and more delicious than any I think ever rivulet enjoyed. I need not tell you that I reposed upon them, poring over the brook according to my old custom and prying into the copse where it lost itself in depths and hollows and gurgled unseen. These are truly haunts for rural powers – springs and fountains over which the Naids need not blush to preside. I could have passed the whole day in this glen, slumbering by the bubbling waters and harkening to the whispers of an ancient Oak, whose appearance was perfectly oracular; but a Desire of exploring what lay beyond amongst the woods, urged me forwards. – After roving a while thro’ the thickets which skirt the extremity of the glen, I came to a second opening surrounded by hanging woods and cliffs with Ruins on their craggy summits, a river rolling beneath, precipices on every side and streams precipitating themselves from their declivities.
A rude temple rises in this central point where the murmur of the woods and waters is heard in perfection. – This must have been the Throne of Melancholy, “the wild sequestered seat” where she sat retired as Collins found her. From hence a shady alley led me to another glade of greenswerd, tall oaks and ashes rising irregularly from the turf between whose branches other distant wilds and steeps were discovered. In front a vast theatre of woods crowned by ruined arches and the remains of an aweful temple just such as Gasper delighted in painting. – to the left a venerable cell, mantled with Ivy, probably the abode of an anchoret who often meditates on the mossy stones scattered thro’ this glade. I suppose he shunned me and sought the depths of the thickets. Unwilling to intrude upon his concealments I clambered up a rugged eminence amongst clusters of fern and having attained its summit walked along this wild terrace which overlooks all the mazes of the woods and the windings of the river till I came to a spot darkly shaded by oaks overgrown with ivy and misletoe, strewed with dry leaves and so strangely hemmed in by mis-shapen roots that I could not help thinking I was entering the domain of a wizard. The rustling of my footsteps amongst decayed leaves disturbed the devotions of a solemn owl (perhaps the Wizard himself) who sat moping in the hollow of an Oak. He opened a very suspicious eye upon my approach and sailing away over the vale beneath hid himself in the distant solitudes. I pursued my rout without meeting with any further indications of sorcery and reaching the extremity of the groves got into the carriage which waited there and was driven to Studley Park.