Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Lost Lad

a Tradition of the Woodlands[1]

“He died; but still the winds that lov'd him came
And whispered, though he made them no reply;
And still his friends, the clouds, bedew'd his face
With frozen tears less cold than charity.” - ELLIOTT.

THOSE who have traversed the woodlands of the Peak - a district distinguished for its Alpine-like, trosachy character - must have been unavoidably struck with sensations unwontedly impressive. There Nature on her awful throne fills that expansive wild with solitary sublimity. There the inimitable British sculptor - Chantrey - at sundry times delighted to wander. Along the winding dells, and to the topmost hills, would this “immortal mortal”, - filled with divine imaginings - full often wend his lonely, thoughtful way. But to my tale - “Lost Lad”.

Among the almost now innumerable, wide-scattered dwellings of the woodland district and its vicinity, there [Page 98] is scarcely no individual who is not cognisant of a rather singular, steep-sided eminence or hill, in the interior of that vastly diversified locality. This eminence, which was distinguished until of late by a conical pile of stones, has been for some centuries invariably designated “the Lost Lad”, or more commonly, “Lost Lad”; which peculiar designation; according to tradition, originated in the following melancholy, or rather painfully interesting occurrence.

From three to four centuries ago, a boy about thirteen years of age, who dwelled with his parents on the border of the then wholly uninhabited, peakland forest, was often enticed by the love of the chase to venture some miles into the interior; thereby exciting alarm, even in the sturdy and giant-like woodman - his father. On one occasion, however, he ventured so far, intent on chasing down some wild quadruped, that he could not retrace his steps. Evening came, and

“The sun's last ray like angry foe had shone,
And lofty Winhill drew his nightcap on;
While Derwent's loud and sullen swinging roar,
Drown'd by the louder blast was heard no more.”

Ah, the poor boy was terrified at the approach of darkness, which among the woods deepened around him with a sable hue than he had never witnessed before. Full of fear, he ran in a direction of which he had not the slightest knowledge; but darkness at last [Page 99] closed every avenue, and he sank to the earth, uttering shrieks which echoed fearfully around. Ah! does not imagination hear him pitifully exclaim, “Father! I'm lost! O! mother, mother! I'm lost!” Sweet slumber came, and he lay alone amid the dreary and solitary wild. The night breeze played with his auburn locks; and the horrid fears which had pierced his heart, now for awhile had lost their woeful power.

Here let us leave the helpless boy pillowed upon the downy arms of sleep; let us turn to his weeping parents who are mourning their loved, lost boy. The father is wandering to and fro on the verge of the trackless forest; often and bitterly he calls his son's fond name; but, alas! nought replies, save babbling echo, whose sad responses harrow up his sickening soul. But there is one whose grief no language knows - the mother - she paces her cottage floor, telling her grief in direful groans. She sees in imagination her dear, dear child falling from some dread steep; then more hurriedly she walks along, burying her tearful face within her pressing, outspread hands. Such was this woeful night; but time stops not; the ever-turning wheel keeps on its steady round, reckless of mirth or woe.

Morn came, and the lost boy awoke; his wandering eyes turned from one object to another, and for a moment or two seemed startled with awful surprise. He arose on his feet, - his fearful situation, in beholding unknown objects, flashed over his drooping mind: mountains with towering, hirsute brows, - dark, [Page 100] impenetrable woods, - terrific, pensile cliffs, - torrents rushing from their parent hills, eagles pouncing on their prey, seemed to encompass him on every side; and a flood of tears burst from his burning eyes. The sun shone from his meridian height when the poor boy had reached the summit of one of the highest hills which he beheld around him; thence he looked around with eyeballs strained, hoping to behold in the distance some means of escape; but, alas! he saw nothing, save the spiry peaks of a thousand hills, rising around, as it were, to encircle him from even the faintest hope of deliverance. Fainting with hunger he descended from the hill, and, picking up a few blackberries among the brambles at its base, occupied his troublous hours until the shadow of evening once more enveloped him amid the pathless waste. Sleep - kind sleep - again his eyeballs sealed. His fond, despairing father, had sought him for miles around during the hapless day; but fate ordained that they, on earth, no more must meet again.

Another morning came, and he, staggering, gained his feet; the cup of grief had now began to sink, - and - mournful boy - he cast his leaden eyes around, hopeless of help. Pitiful the situation of him who lives from hour to hour with nought before his eyes but death; such was the sad case, poor boy. Slowly walking from bush to bush, picking a few wild berries, he passed a few more days; nature now began to fail, and it was on the seventh or eighth day that, according to tradition, he once more, after repeated efforts, [Page 101] succeeded in regaining the top of one of the highest eminences in that extensive, mountainous region. This superhuman exertion, after so much privation, is, if tradition be correct, marvellous indeed. From the pinnacle of this high hill he looked around, but now every hope became extinguished, for it was impossible for him ever to descend, and he could behold no human habitation in the dim distance. Then that universal desire of all mankind to perpetuate their memories became strikingly manifest in the fate of this poor boy; on the summit of the hill there lay a many small stones, and he conceived, after many other impracticable expedients, to raise a pile of the stones, and inscribe his fate thereon. This he accomplished with inconceivable exertion; rudely marking some of the stones in the pile with a few particulars of his fate, and on one he wrote in large characters, “Lost Lad”. This task finished, he sunk beside his own self-erected monument; and after a brief interval, he, muttering

“Tried to pray, till death his eyeballs pressed”.

The sun had sunk behind the occidental hills when the last, the mortal struggle, came: he muttered something of his once sweet home, and breathed no more. Meanwhile kind Nature seemed to weep, for

“O'er his livid cheek, the skies
Sweeping in pity wept to hear him groan.
And drown'd in faithful tears his soul's last low-breathed
moan.” - ELLIOTT.

[Page 102] Thus died the “Lost Lad”. On this lonely eminence his remains lay for a many years undiscovered. His parents mourned their long-lost boy until they died; and it was soon after that event when some men,

“Whom summer brought to see
The heathcock's plume”,

beheld the pile of stones; thereto they hastening went, and lo! they saw

“A skeleton form lie mouldering there”.

Filled with amazement the men alternately gazed on the skeleton and on the pile of stones: on the latter they with some difficulty deciphered some inscriptions explanatory of the fate of the skeleton, but more particularly the words “Lost Lad”. The skeleton was removed and interred, but the pile of stones remained until within a century back.

Such is the tradition in the Woodlands of the origin of the name of that eminence known throughout that district by the designation - “Lost Lad”. And it may be added in support of this tradition, that the remains of the Lost Lad's monument are still to be seen; and numbers of the last generation have seen it entire. The credit due to the traditions of the inhabitants of mountainous countries may be seen by a reference to Johnson's Tour of the Hebrides, - in which he says that “such inhabitants retain traditions the longest - and for obvious reasons”.

[1] There are different traditions of the Lost Lad. One says he was lost in a snow storm; another, something like what is here given.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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