Bowder Stone

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bowder Stone, 2009

The Bowder Stone is a large andesite lava boulder,[1] that fell 200 metres (660 ft) from the Bowder Crag on Kings How between 13,500 and 10,000 years ago.[2][3] The stone is situated in Borrowdale, Cumbria, England, at grid reference NY25401639. It is estimated to weigh around 2000 tons and is about 30 feet (9.1 m) high, 50 feet (15 m) across and 90 feet (27 m) in circumference. There is a staircase allowing visitors to climb to the top, and has been since at least 1890.[4]


The name may come from the local dialect for 'boulder' although a popular story is its derivation from the Norse god Baldr, a son of Odin. Other versions of the name are ‘The Bowdar Stone’ and ‘Powder or Bounder Stone’.[5] In 1772 William Gilpin wrote that it seemed not to be " from the mountains,.." and was an "..independent creation..", using the name Boother-stone.[6]

Victorian advertising flyer for the Bowder Stone, dated 1876 and printed in Cockermouth, Cumbria, UK



As stated, it is popularly said that the name equates with Balder, the second son of the god Odin.[7] Balder is best known for being slain through the actions of Loki with an arrow or spear made of mistletoe. One side of the Bowder Stone is said to be a simulacrum of the face of Balder and a small hole is said to have once existed on his head where in Norse mythology the weapon pierced and killed him. A carving representing the sun was supposedly located just above the hole.[8] The oldest photographs show a well defined chin and lips whilst a second face is seen by some.[9]

In the 1500s German miners emigrated to Borrowdale to work the copper mines and the legends of 'Balder' may have come with them.[10]

Mr Pocklington[edit]

Although the stone was visited and admired by many, such as William Sawrey Gilpin in 1772,[11] Joseph Pocklington was the first to take practical steps to attract visitors, purchasing the site in 1798, fencing it off, clearing away all the smaller rocks and erecting 'Bowderstone Cottage' to house a guide and building a ladder to allow visitors to easily reach the top and admire the outstanding views.[12] In addition to all this activity Joseph designed a hermitage or chapel himself as a Christian counterpoint to the 'druidical' standing stone or menhir that he had also erected.[13]

Bowder Stone, 1890s

During the works a natural hollow was discovered that ran underneath the boulder and Joseph had a small hole drilled through its base, thereby creating a space that made it possible for visitors to crawl into the hollow to have a ‘hand shake for luck’ with the guide[14] or with another visitor on the other side of the Stone.[15]

At first Joseph Pocklington took his friends by coach to admire the Bowder Stone however later it was opened up to all and large numbers of travellers were escorted around the site by the guide that he employed.[16] In 1817 Joseph died and the Bowder Stone was sold, however it continued to be open to all visitors and the women only tradition was only broken only by John Raven. Mary Carradus was the guide in the 1830s, succeeded in the 1850s by her daughter who married to become Mary Thompson, acting as a guide for 25 years or more.[17][18]

A gate had been installed at the bottom of the ladder to ensure that visitors paid a small fee to climb to the top.[19] Various records indicate that the guides were assiduous in their duties with comments such as "The old dame makes money out of the stone watching for tourists like a spider."[20] A seat for two and standing room for six existed on the summit of the stone.[21]

The Pepper's were the last family to live at the Bowder Stone, keeping a visitors book that recorded tourists that included "cabinet ministers, undergraduates, professors, publicists, walkers, lawyers", etc. amongst their number.[22]

The National Trust[edit]

The Bowder Stone steps and summit

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty better known as the 'National Trust' now cares for the Bowder Stone.[23] The access beneath the boulder is now blocked; refreshments are not available; souvenirs can no longer be purchased on site, however Joseph's chapel and the Borrowdale Cottage have been restored as bothies for climbers. The ladder has been retained[24] and evidence from postcards suggest that at least six different ladders have been built over the years.[25]

A car park has been created and a 15-minute walk brings visitors to the Bowder Stone. A bus stop exists near the start of the access path.[26]

Bowder Stone Cottage and the Hermitage[edit]

The cottage was for a time used as a tea room and shop, selling souvenirs such as sterioviews, Mauchline Ware with engravings of the Bowder Stone in the form of penknives, boxes, pincushions, glasses cases, etc.[27] Numerous postcards were also issued over the years.[28]

In the 1960s the cottage was derelict, and after the National Trust purchased the site they leased it to the Northumbrian Mountaineering Club, who restored it to modern-day standards with electricity, running water, etc.[29] The mountaineering club also lease the old Hermitage from the National Trust.[30]


  1. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  2. ^ Hodgson, Page 35
  3. ^ National Trust
  4. ^ Visit Cumbria website Archived November 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  6. ^ Gilpin, Page 194
  7. ^ Hodgson,Page 5
  8. ^ Hodgson,Page 5
  9. ^ Hodgson, Page 5
  10. ^ Hodgson, Page 10
  11. ^ Gilpin, Page 194
  12. ^ Hodgson, Page 7
  13. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  14. ^ Hodgson, Page 5
  15. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  16. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  17. ^ Hodgson, Page 23
  18. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  19. ^ Hodgson, Page 24
  20. ^ Hodgson, Page 36
  21. ^ Hodgson, Page 37
  22. ^ Hodgson, Page 30
  23. ^ National Trust
  24. ^ Nottingham Hidden History Team
  25. ^ Hodgson, Page 18
  26. ^ National Trust
  27. ^ Hodgson, Page 8
  28. ^ Hodgson, Page 9
  29. ^ Hodgson, Page 33
  30. ^ Hodgson, Page 34
  • Gilpin, William (1786). Observations relative chiefly to Pictureque Beauty made in the year 1772, On Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmorland. London : R. Blamire.
  • Hodgson, E. (2007). The Bowder Stone - A History. Carlisle : P3 Publications. ISBN 978-0-9547739-8-4

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°32′15″N 3°09′11″W / 54.537364°N 3.152929°W / 54.537364; -3.152929