In his description from 1772 Gilpin raves about the view from Mowbray Point but is less complimentary about the grottos and small buildings in the “bottom” of the woods.
Observations, relative chiefly to picturesque beauty, made in the year 1772
By William Gilpin Sect XXVI
From Studley we visited the scenes from Hackfall. These own the same proprietor; and are adorned with equal taste.
It is a circumstance of great advantage, to be carried to this grand exhibition (as you always should be) through the close lanes of the Rippon road. You have not the least intimation of a design upon you; nor any suggestion, that you are on high grounds; til the folding-doors of the building at Mowbray-point being thrown open, you are struck with one of the grandest, and most beautiful bursts of country, that the imagination can form.
Your eye is first carried many fathoms precipitately down a bold, woody steep, to the river Ewer, which forms a large semi-circular curve below; winding to the very foot of the precipice, on which you stand. The trees of the precipice over-hang the central part of the curve.
In other parts too the river is intercepted by woods; but enough of it is discovered to leave the eye at no uncertainty in tracing it’s course. At the two opposite points of the curve, two promontories shoot into the river, in contrast with each other; that on the right is woody, faced with rock, and crowned with a castle: that, on the left, rifes smooth from the water, and is scattered over with a few clumps. The peninsular part, and the grounds also at some distance beyond the isthmus, consist of one intire woody tract; which advancing boldly to the foot of the precipice, unites itself with it.
This wood scenery on the banks of the river may be called the first distance. Beyond this lies a rich, extensive country – broken into large parts – decorated with all the objects, and diversified with all the tints of the distant landscape – retiring from the eye, scene after scene till – at length every vivid hue fading gradually away, and all distinction of parts being lost, the countryside imperceptibly melts into the horizon; except where the blue hills of Hambledon close the view.
Through the whole of this grand scene – this delightful graduation of light and colours – nature has wrought with her broadest and freest pencil. The parts are ample: the composition perfectly correct. She hath admitted nothing disgusting, or even trivial. I scarce remember any where an extensive view so full of beauties, and at the same time, so free from faults. Nothing disgusts. The foreground is as pleasing as the background; which it never can be, when plots of cultivation approach the eye: and it is rare to find so large an extent of near-ground, covered by wood, or other surface, whose parts are like grand, and beautiful.
The vale, of which this view is composed, hath not yet intirely lost it’s ancient name – the Vale of Mowbray; so called from Mowbray-Castle now no longer traced even in it’s ruins; but once supposed to be the capital mansion of these wide domains. This vale extends from York almost to the confines of Durham; is adorned by the Swale and the Ewer, both considerable rivers; and is certainly one of the noblest tracts of country of the kind in England.
Hackfall is as much a contrast to Studley as the idea of magnificence is to that of solitude. It requires of course a different mode of ornament. A banqueting house, inriched with every elegance of architecture, in the form, perhaps of a Grecian temple, might be a proper decoration at Mowbray-point; which at Studley would be superfluous, and absurd. The ruins of a castle too, if they could be executed with veri-similitude and grandeur, might adorn the rocky promontory on the right with propriety. The present ruin is a paltry thing. Any other ornamental building, besides these two, I should suppose unnecessary. These might sufficiently adorn every part of the scenery, both in the higher, and the lower grounds. If the expence, which is generally laid out in our great gardens, on a variety of little buildings, was confined to one or two capital objects, the general effect would be better. A profusion of buildings is one of the extravagances of false taste. One object is a proper ornament in every scene more than one, at least on the foregrounds, distract it. Particular circumstances indeed may add propriety to a greater number of objects: as at Kew; where a specimen is given of different kinds of religious structures: or at Chiswick; where it is intended to exhibit an idea of different modes of architecture. But it is unity of design, not of picturesque composition, which pleses in these scenes. As far as this is concerned one handsome object is enough.
Having examined the whole of this very extrordinary burst of landscape from Mowbray-point, we descended to the bottom, where a great variety of pleasing views are exhibited; particularly a view of Mowbray-point from Limus-hill; and another of the promontory with the castle upon it, from the tent and it must be acknowledged, that many of the views are opened in a very natural and masterly manner. If any art hath been used with discretion.
At the same time, amidst all this profusion of great objects, and all this grandeur of design (for nature has here not only brought her materials together, but has composed them likewise) the eye is every where called aside from the contemplation of them by some trivial object – an awkward cascade – a fountain – a view through a hole cut in a wood- or some other ridiculous specimen of absurd taste.
It is a great happiness however that the improver of these scenes – had less in his power at Hackfll, than he had at Studley. The vallies there, and home-views were all within the reach of his spade, and axe. Here he could only contemplate at a distance what glorious scenes he might have displayed, if his arm could have extended to the horizon. Some of the nearer grounds of this grand exhibition, (I believe all beyond the Ewer,) are the property of another person. So that the whole peninsular part, and the grounds immediately beyond it, continue sacred, and untouched: and these are the scenes, which form the grand part of the view from Mowbray-point. In surveying these, the eye over-looks the puerilities of improvement at the bottom of the precipice.
Gilpin then goes on to discuss Studley and Corby before returning to Hackfall which he compares to Persfield in Monmouthshire.
There is the fame union and difference between the scenes of Persfield,* and Hackfall. Both are great and commanding situations. The river, in both, forms a sweeping curve. Both are adorned with rocks, and woods: and sublimity is the reigning idea of each. Not-withstanding all these points of union, they
are wholly unlike. Persfield, tho the country is open before it, depends little on it’s beauties. It’s own wild, winding banks supply an endless variety of rocky scenery; which is fufficient to engage the attention.
The banks of Hackfall are less magnificent; tho It’s river is more picturesque and it’s woods more beautiful. But it’s views into the country are it’s pride; and beyond any comparison, grander and more inchantmg, than those at Persfield.