2. Bleasdale Tower to Langden Castle

Sir Gawain starts his final journey from a castle (could this have been an earlier Bleasdale Tower?) which is identified as Hautdesert.  He reached this castle after riding over a hill and through a forest

Lines 740-744

Bi a mounte on þe morne meryly he rydes
Into a forest ful dep, þat ferly watz wylde,
Hiȝe hillez on vche a halue and holtwodez vnder
Of hore okez ful hoge, a hundreth togeder.
Þe hasel and þe haȝþorne were harled al samen   (740-744)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

and through a swampy low lying area,

Lines 749

Þurȝ mony misy and myre …   (749)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

a reasonable description of the Bleasdale area in the fourteenth century, and still remembered in the “Boggy Wood” on the River Brock.  On rising ground he sees a castle.

Lines 764-768

Er he watz war in þe wod of a won in a mote,
Abof a launde, on a lawe, loken vnder boȝez
Of mony borelych bole aboute bi þe diches,
A castel þe comlokest þat euer knyȝt aȝte,
Pyched on a prayere, a park al aboute.   (764-768)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

This is all certainly consistent with an approach over Beacon Hill to the first slopes of Oakenclough and Hazlehurst fells, but hardly conclusive.  Let us suppose that the castle he reached was in the region of Bleasdale Tower, not the present Tower built by William Garnett around 1840, but some older, possibly fictional, knightly residence and see how the following journey agrees with the passage over the old mediaeval road over Fiendsdale Head.

After the Christmas festivities, with church attendance at Admarsh chapel, and the hunting exploits of his host, including a fight with a wild boar which ended in the valley of the Brock, Sir Gawain passes a bad night on New Year's eve thinking of his coming tryst with the Green Knight.  The weather turns cold with a north wind bringing heavy snow.

Lines 1998-2005

Now neȝez þe Nw Ȝere, and þe nyȝt passez,
Þe day dryuez to þe derk, as Dryȝtyn biddez;
Bot wylde wederez of þe worlde wakned þeroute,
Clowdes kesten kenly þe colde to þe erþe,
Wyth nyȝe innoghe of þe norþe, þe naked to tene;
Þe snawe snitered ful snart, þat snayped þe wylde;
Þe werbelande wynde wapped fro þe hyȝe,
And drof vche dale ful of dryftes ful grete.   (1998-2005)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

Before dawn Sir Gawain arises and prepares for his final journey on his horse Gringolet with a guide provided by his host to show him the way to the Green Chapel.

Lines 2047-2049

Thenne watz Gryngolet grayþe, þat gret watz and huge,
And hade ben soiourned sauerly and in a siker wyse,
Hym lyst prik for poynt, þat proude hors þenne.   (2047-2049)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

The porters at the castle gate lower the drawbridge and throw the gates wide.

Lines 2069-2070

The brygge watz brayde doun, and þe brode ȝatez
Vnbarred and born open vpon boþe halue.   (2069-2070)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

and Sir Gawain and his guide are on their way.

Lines 2074-2075

And went on his way with his wyȝe one,
Þat schulde teche hym to tourne to þat tene place   (2074-2075)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

And we follow them.  Bleasdale Tower may well be an excellent location for the castle of Hautdesert, but we will start our walk at Bleasdale and the new Admarsh Chapel, and join Sir Gawain and his guide a little further along the old road at Hazlehurst where there is a short break of a few hundred metres in the mediaeval road.  Once clear of the new intakes we follow the wall on a narrow trail until we reach an access point to open land and follow its unmarked boundary as we start the serious climb.  We are now on what is very obviously an old road although grassed over (see Figure B.1).  Up to this point the way would have been thickly wooded in the fourteenth century, but now we are climbing up onto the open fells.

In the poem we now we come to very real and vivid description of the country through which they ride.  Everyone who has walked the Bowland Forest in a hard winter will recognise the scenery, the struggles up the hillside past frozen rocky outcrops, under cloudy skies threatening more snow, the fells covered in a heavy mist and each hill wearing a misty hat, past streams and waterfalls swollen by the rain and snow (see Figure B.2), until they finally reach the summit of the pass.  The following lines from the poem are an accurate description of the long climb up the old mediaeval road from Hazlehurst to Fiendsdale Head.  They are also the memory of someone who has done this crossing, perhaps many times, during winter.

Lines 2077-2088

Þay boȝen bi bonkkez þer boȝez ar bare;
Þay clomben bi clyffez þer clengez the colde.
Þe heven watz uphalt, bot ugly þer-under;
Mist muged on þe mor, malt on þe mountez,
Vche hille hade a hatte, a myst-hakel huge.
Brokez byled and breke bi bonkkez about,
Schyre schaterande on schorez þer þay doun showued.
Til hit watz sone sesoun tþat þe sunne ryses
       Þat tyde.
    Þey were on a hille ful hyghe,
    Þe quyte snaw lay bisyde. (2077-2088)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

The dialect in these lines could easily have been spoken in the 1950's by any sheep farmer from the area between the western Yorkshire Dales and the Bowland Forest.  In these lines we hear the native accent of the Gawain-Poet, unemcumbered by any learning, by his Latin or his French.  This is the strong Old Norse dialect learnt from the Viking invaders and settlers from the west (Dublin.)  The Gawain-Poet is re-living the location and speech of his youth and formative years.  There can be no question of scribal alterations here, the dialect is pure and untainted by any learning.

After climbing about seventy metres in height the road changes to a rough stony track (see Figure B.3), with wide views down to the right over the upper reaches of the River Brock and the waterfalls where the tumult in the water is described so forcefully in lines 2083-4 above.  The clouds are low, Fairsnape Fell wears a hat and its cloak spreads down over Home House Fell on the far side of the waterfalls at the source of the Brock.

At the top of the climb we come out onto open moorland where the road over Fiendsdale head was, and is still, poorly defined apart from the huge slabs of stone at the modern stile (see Figure B.4).  Sir Gawain and his guide pause awhile, the sun rises through a break in the clouds and they see the wild fell top at Fiendsdale Head stretching away into the distance covered in fresh snow.  If you walk this way in early June you will see the fells white again with bog-cotton.  The guide recounts the stories of the fiend who lives in the valley below them.  He does not describe the knightly figure of the Green Knight as he appeared at the court of King Arthur to issue the challenge which was accepted by Sir Gawain at the start of the poem:  he is describing a local belief in a terrible fiend who delights in killing anyone who passes by, and has been doing so for time out of memory.  This is the stuff of local legend, how did Fiendsdale get its name unless there were stories and beliefs such as this in mediaeval times.  The crossing of Fiendsdale head was certainly the hardest and most dangerous part of the road between Whalley and Lancaster, many travellers must have been lost and have died of exposure in this area, and that perhaps inspired the legend.

Whatever the origin of the story, the guide is afraid to go on, and tries to dissuade Sir Gawain from continuing with his mission to the Green Chapel with stories of the danger below.

Lines 2096-2119

Wold ȝe worch bi my wytte, ȝe worþed þe better.
Þe place þat ȝe prece to ful perelous is halden;
Þer wonez a wyȝe in þat waste, þe worst vpon erþe,
For he is stiffe and sturne, and to strike louies,
And more he is þen any mon vpon myddelerde,
And his body bigger þen þe best fowre
Þat ar in Arþurez hous, Hestor, oþer oþer.
He cheuez þat chaunce at þe chapel grene,
Þer passes non bi þat place so proude in his armes
Þat he ne dyngez hym to deþe with dynt of his honde;
For he is a mon methles, and mercy non vses,
For be hit chorle oþer chaplayn þat bi þe chapel rydes,
Monk oþer masseprest, oþer any mon elles,
Hym þynk as queme hym to quelle as quyk go hymseluen.
Forþy I say þe, as soþe as ȝe in sadel sitte,
Com ȝe þere, ȝe be kylled, may þe knyȝt rede,
Trawe ȝe me þat trwely, þaȝ ȝe had twenty lyues
       to spende.
    He hatz wonyd here ful ȝore,
    On bent much baret bende,
    Aȝayn his dyntez sore
    Ȝe may not yow defende.
Forþy, goude Sir Gawayn, let þe gome one
And gotz away sum oþer gate, vpon Goddez halue!   (2096-2119)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

But Sir Gawain is adamant that he must fulfil his quest and meet the Green Knight at the Green Chapel and he resists the advice of his guide to turn aside.  The guide has to accept Sir Gawain's decision but will go no further with him.

Line 2150

For alle þe golde vpon grounde I nolde go wyth þe   (2150)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

He advises Sir Gawain to be well prepared with helm and spear, and points out the way down Fiendsdale itself by the rocks on the right where Kite Clough joins Fiendsdale Water.

Lines 2140-2145

'Mary!' quoþ þat oþer mon, 'now þou so much spellez
Þat þou wylt þyn awen nye nyme to þyseluen
And þe lyst lese þy lyf, þe lette I ne kepe.
Haf here þi helme on þy hede, þi spere in þi honde,
And ryde me doun þis ilk rake bi ȝon rokke syde,
Til þou be broȝt to þe boþem of þe brem valay'   (2140-2145)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

The track down Fiendsdale (see Figure B.5) is narrow but clearly marked and easy going, this was once the main road.  This is the most delightful walk on a clear day, first with views of the narrow, upper Fiendsdale valley fifty metres below on the right, then after the water is joined by the stream from Within Clough, the valley twists to the left and the trail descends steeply with wide views over Langden Dale to the heights of Holdron Moss (see Figure B.6).  Sir Gawain rides alone in front of us down Fiendsdale to the bottom where Fiendsdale Water meets Langden Brook and the valley bottom widens a little (see Figure B.7) but is still surrounded on all sides by high fells.

Here Sir Gawain pauses again, looking in vain for some sign of the whereabouts of the Green Chapel.  The countryside around him is wild and rough.  Behind him are the heights of Fiendsdale Nab and Bleadale Nab, and ahead is Lingy Pits Breast

Lines 2162-2167

Ridez þurȝ þe roȝe bonk ryȝt to þe dale;
And þenne he wayted hym aboute, and wylde hit hym þoȝt,
And seȝe no syngne of resette bisydez nowhere,
Bot hyȝe bonkkez and brent vpon boþe halue,
And ruȝe knokled knarrez with knorned stonez;
Þe skwez of þe scowtes skayned hym þoȝt.   (2162-2167)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

A little way upstream are the rocks of Raven Scar and the start of Langden Brook at the foot of Dead Man's Stake Clough, with Dead Man's Stake above it.  A little lower down the valley of Langden Brook are the natural rocks of Holden Castle and above them, high on the fell, is the Green Well.  Now Sir Gawain has to find the Green Chapel.

Although he holds his horse and looks around, Sir Gawain does not see any building at all,

Lines 2168-2170

Þenne he houed and wyþhylde his hors at þat tyde
And ofte chaunged his cher þe chapel to seche:
He seȝ non suche in no syde, and selly hym þoȝt   (2168-2170)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

but finally, a little way off (down the valley), he sees a rounded hill by the side of the stream.

Lines 2171-2174

Saue, a lyttel on a launde, a lawe as hit were;
A balȝ berȝ bi a bonke þe brymme bysyde,
Bi a forȝ of a flode þat ferked þare;
Þe borne blubred þerinne as hit boyled hade.    (2171-2174)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

Here is Langden Castle (see Figure B.8), an old stopping place on the Whalley-Lancaster road, dating back to mediaeval times, not too far from the old Brennand chapel which Abbot Lyndeley of Whalley Abbey had reported already lost in the middle of the fourteenth century.  Langden Castle once held prisoners on the way to the Assizes at Lancaster, perhaps the Lancashire Witches stayed overnight here.  Certainly Langden Castle stands on “A balȝ berȝ bi a bonke þe brymme bysyde” (2172), a “rounded hillock on the bank of a stream.”  The lines 2172-3 suggest the location is at the junction where a smaller stream joins the main water of the valley.  It is exactly at this point that Bleadale Water runs in from the south , while Black Clough comes in from the north to join Langden Brook exactly opposite a low mound in the rising land at the foot of Bleadale Nab.

Sir Gawain urges his horse and comes to the mound, where he dismounts and investigates. 

Lines 2175-2190

Þe knyȝt kachez his caple, and com to þe lawe,
Liȝtez doun luflyly, and at a lynde tachez
Þe rayne and his riche with a roȝe braunche.
Þenne he boȝez to þe berȝe, aboute hit he walkez,
Debatande with hymself quat hit be myȝt.
Hit hade a hole on þe ende and on ayþer syde,
And ouergrowen with gresse in glodes aywhere,
And al watz holȝ inwith, nobot an olde caue,
Or a creuisse of an olde cragge, he couþe hit noȝt deme
       with spelle.
    'We! Lorde,' quoþ þe gentyle knyȝt,
    'Wheþer þis be þe grene chapelle?
    Here myȝt aboute mydnyȝt
    Þe dele his matynnes telle!
'Now iwysse,' quoþ Wowayn, 'wysty is here;
Þis oritore is vgly, with erbez ouergrowen;   (2175-2190)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

So, at the junction of Bleadale Water or Black Clough, on the south side of Langden Brook, just below Bleadale Nab he finds a mound in a low clearing.  From his description of the mound (2180-2181 above) it looks remarkably like a round barrow, although Sir Gawain dismisses it as “nobot an olde caue” (2182).  Just like Langden castle it is nestling on a low grassy mound at the junction of Bleadale Water with Langden Brook.  Could the barrow found by Sir Gawain be a memory of the great Torrisholme barrow near Heton in Lonsdale, the manor held by John Catterall (Sir John Cat of Edward III's court) from about 1377 to 1440.  Sir Gawain is impressed by the evil appearance of the place.

If this is the Green Chapel, then where is the Green Knight he has come so far to meet?  Sir Gawain climbs up on top of the barrow to look around and hears a noise from behind the great rocks of Holdron Castle, across Langden Brook and high above him.

Lines 2198-2200

He romez vp to þe roffe of þo roȝ wonez
Þen þerde he of þat hyȝe hil, in a harde roche
Biȝonde þe brokd, in a bonk, a wonder breme noyse.   (2198-2200)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

Someone is there!  Sir Gawain calls out a challenge.

Lines 2212-2216

Thenne þe knyȝt con calle ful hyȝe,
'Who stiȝtlez in þis sted, me steuen to holde?
For now is gode Gawayn goande ryȝt here.
If any wyȝe oȝt wyl, wynne hider fast,
Oþer now oþer neuer, his nedez to spede.'   (2212-2216)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

A reply comes immediately from the rocks of Holdron Castle high above him

Lines 2217-2218

'Abyde!' quoþ on on þe bonke abouen ouer his hede,
'And þou schal haf al in hast þat I þe hyȝt ones.'   (2217-2218)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

and out from behind a rock at Holdron castle comes the fearsome figure of the Green Knight, armed with a gigantic Danish axe.

Lines 2221-2223

And syþen he keuerez bi a cragge and comez of a hole,
Whyrlande out of a wro wyth a felle weppen:
A Denez ax, nwe dyȝt, þe dynt with to ȝelde.'   (2221-2223)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

The Green Knight strides down the hillside and “hypped ouer” Langden Brook to join Sir Gawain at the Green Chapel.  Is the “hypping” a memory of the old Brungerley Hipping Stones where, in 1464 Henry VI, deposed after the battle of Hexham, was betrayed and captured by John Talbot?

Lines 2227-2232

And þe gome in þe grene gered as fyrst,
Boþe þe lyre and þe leggez, lokkez and berde,
Saue þat fayre on his fote he foundez on þe erþe,
Sette þe stele to þe stone, and stalked bysyde.
When he wan to þe watter, þer he wade nolde,
He hypped ouer on hys ax, and orpedly strydez,'   (2227-2232)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

This is not the legendary fiend that the guide warned Sir Gawain about, this is the Green Knight he met at King Arthur's castle whose challenge resulted in his long quest for the Green Chapel.  The challenge was that if the Green Knight allowed Sir Gawain to have the first stroke of an axe, then Sir Gawain must meet him at the Green Chapel on New Year's day to receive the second stroke of the axe from the Green Knight.

Lines 2235-2241

       Sir Gawayn þe knyȝt con mete,
       He ne lutte hym noþyng lowe;    
       Þat oþer sayde, 'Now, sir swete,
       Of steuen mon may þe trowe.'
'Gawayn,' quoþ þat grene gome, 'God þe mot loke!
Iwysse þou art welcom, wyȝ, to my place,
And þou hatz tymed þi trauayl as truee mon schulde   (2235-2241)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

Sir Gawain prepares to receive the stroke of the axe held by the Green Knight.  He has kept his vow and met the Green Knight at the Green Chapel on New Year's day as he promised.

Lines 2251-2260

'I schal gruche þe no grwe, for grem þat fallez;
Bot styȝtel þe vpon on strok and I schal stonde stylle
And warp þe no wernyng to worch as þe lykez
       He lened with þe nek and lutte
       And schewed þat schyre al bare,
       And lette as he noȝt dutte;
       For drede he wolde not dare.
Then þe gome in þe grene grayþed hym swyþe,
Gederez vp hys grymme tole, Gawayn to smyte;   (2251-2260)

See Appendix A for a Modern English Translation

But I won't spoil the tale for you, we will leave Sir Gawain awaiting his fate.  We return up alongside Bleadale Water and drop down Saddle Fell to the pre-Domesday (Chipinden) village of Chipping with its beautiful early sixteenth century St Bartholomew's church before enjoying a well-earned meal at the Cobbled Corner Café after a great day's walk.  The church is a mainly a re-building of an earlier structure, the first “parson of Chippingdale” recorded was one Robert around 1230.  The piscina in the chancel is thirteenth century, and fourteenth century tracery work was discovered during restoration in 1872-3.  Who knows, perhaps the Gawain-Poet worshipped here on occasions.  John King, vicar from 1622 to 1672, may not have been the Vicar of Bray, but he certainly held on to his post “whatsoever king may reign” during the reigns of Charles I and II, and the intervening Commonwealth as well as any other divine.