button to main menu  Old Cumbria Gazetteer
Giant's Caves, Langwathby
Giant's Caves
locality:-   Eamont, River
locality:-   Bramery Bank
civil parish:-   Langwathby (formerly Cumberland)
county:-   Cumbria
locality type:-   cave
coordinates:-   NY56103027
1Km square:-   NY5630
10Km square:-   NY53

evidence:-   old map:- OS County Series (Cmd 59 2) 
placename:-  Giant's Cave
source data:-   Maps, County Series maps of Great Britain, scales 6 and 25 inches to 1 mile, published by the Ordnance Survey, Southampton, Hampshire, from about 1863 to 1948.
"Giant's Cave"

evidence:-   descriptive text:- Defoe 1724-26
source data:-   Tour through England and Wales, by Daniel Defoe, published in parts, London, 1724-26.
"... We did not go into the grotto on the bank of the River Eden [by Penrith], of which mention is made by Mr. Cambden's continuator; the people telling us, the passage is block'd up with earth, so I must be content with telling you, that it seems to have been a lurking place, or retreat of some robbers in old time; as to its being a place of strength, I do not see any possibility of that; but its strength seems to be chiefly in its being secret and concealed; it had certainly been worth seeing, if it had been passable, the entry is long and dark, but whether strait or crooked, I cannot say, the iron gates leading to it are gone, nor is there any sign of them, or what they were hung to."

evidence:-   descriptive text:- Simpson 1746
placename:-  Isis Parlish
source data:-   Atlas, three volumes of maps and descriptive text published as 'The Agreeable Historian, or the Compleat English Traveller ...', by Samuel Simpson, 1746.
image SMP4P190, button  goto source
"After the Eden has received the Eimont, it hastens towards the N. and within half a Mile passes by a Grotto of two Rooms dug out of a Rock, called Isis Parlish; which Mr. Camden's Continuator says, was a Place of Strength and Security; but it seems now only to have been a Lurking-Place for Robbers, and its Security to have been its Secrecy, the Entry to it being long and dark, and the Passage, at present, block'd up with Earth. ..."

evidence:-   old text:- Clarke 1787
placename:-  Sir Hugh's Parlour
placename:-  Giant's Cave
item:-  Maiden's Stepvirgin prisonersballad, Sir Lancelot and TorquinArthurian legend
source data:-   Guide book, A Survey of the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire, written and published by James Clarke, Penrith, Cumberland, and in London etc, 1787; published 1787-93.
image CL13P016, button  goto source
page 16:-  "..."
"Dr Burn tells us, upon the authority of Mr Sandford's manuscript history, that Sir Hugh Caesario had an hermitage in that neighbourhood called Sir Hugh's Parlour: of this he, Mr Sandford, was informed by a Mr Page, Schoolmaster at Penrith from the year 1581 to 1591; and this intelligence Mr Page had from a stranger, who came so early"
image CL13P017, button  goto source
Page 17:-  "as that period to visit the antiquities and curiosities of that country. ..."
"... an old tradition and song, which informs us that one Torquin, a man of gigantic stature, but addicted to all kinds of rapine and brutality, lived in a cave in this neighbourhood, on the banks of the river Emont. This den, which yet retains the name of the Giant's Cave, is about two miles from Penrith, and is, on some account, (the foundation of which is now forgotten,) much resorted to on the third Sunday in May by the country people, who carry with them tea, liquors, &c. and there make merry. It consists of several caverns in the rocks, the road to which leads down a frightful precipice, quite to the water's edge: this makes many decline the journey, but when down, the road is more tolerable. Many strange and incredible stories are told of this cave; one, which seems not so absurd as the rest, and to have had some real foundation is as follows:"
"Torquin, or Torquinas, (as some call him,) having stolen several virgins, conveyed them to this dismal mansion, where he kept them close prisoners. One of them, however, found means to escape along the side of the rock: in her road she was obliged to step over a hideous gap a yard and a half wide; a rugged, craggy rock over-hanging her head, so as scarcely to allow room to stand upright, and a perpendicular descent of 48 feet underneath: the sides of the rock are such as could afford no hold to her hand, and the boiling and rapidity of the impetuous torrent which roars beneath, are enough to confuse the calmest and most intrepid. Notwithstanding these horrors and difficulties, she preserved and effected her escape, and to this day the place has retained the name of the Maiden's Step."
"Tradition further says, that the ravages of this Torquin coming to the ears of King Arthur, he sent Sir Lancelot du Lake to bring him to Court: Torquin refusing, a battle ensued, in which Torquin fell, and was buried in Penrith church-yard, and these pillars erected at his head and feet [Giant's Grave]."
"The engagement between Sir Lancelot and Torquin is celebrated in many of the ballads of the ancient rustic poets: One of them I shall insert, which has certainly been in great esteem formerly, as Shakespeare puts the first line of it into the mouth of the facetious fat Sir John and it should likewise seem even then to be an old song, as Sir John is represented singing it in the height of mirth, in a style that may appear to be one of the songs of his youth."
(the ballad is quoted in full) 

evidence:-   old text:- Camden 1789
placename:-  Isanparles
source data:-   Book, Britannia, or A Chorographical Description of the Flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by William Camden, 1586, translated from the 1607 Latin edition by Richard Gough, published London, 1789.
image CAM2P149, button  goto source
Page 149:-  "... Isanparles, a rock well known in the neighbourhood, formed by Nature difficult of access, with many caverns and detours as a retreat to the distressed in troublesome times, ..."

evidence:-   old text:- Camden 1789 (Gough Additions) 
placename:-  Isa Parlis
placename:-  Giant's Cave
source data:-   Book, Britannia, or A Chorographical Description of the Flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by William Camden, 1586, translated from the 1607 Latin edition by Richard Gough, published London, 1789.
image CAM2P162, button  goto source
Page 162:-  "..."
"Isa parlis is also called Giant's cave, an odd rock, and consists of two caverns, one circular, hollowed in a rock, the roof supported by a central pillar of rough masonry. Its iron gates are pretended to have been carried to Hornby hall. ..."

evidence:-   possibly old text:- Camden 1789 (Gough Additions) 
placename:-  Sir Hugh's Parlour
source data:-   Book, Britannia, or A Chorographical Description of the Flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by William Camden, 1586, translated from the 1607 Latin edition by Richard Gough, published London, 1789.
image CAM2P189, button  goto source
Page 189:-  "... sir Ewan Caesarius, who is said ... to have had an hermitage hereabouts called sir Hugh's parlour."

evidence:-   old text:- Gents Mag
source data:-   Magazine, The Gentleman's Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer or Historical Chronicle, published by Edward Cave under the pseudonym Sylvanus Urban, and by other publishers, London, monthly from 1731 to 1922.
image G7910990, button  goto source
Gentleman's Magazine 1791 p.990  "Bottesford, Sept. 27."
"Mr. URBAN,"
"AS the trifling account of the Luck of Edenhall (inserted in your Miscellany, p.721), appeared not unworthy of your notice, I will venture to give at least an imperfect description of another curiosity in the same neighbourhood, called The Giant's Cave. From Edenhall, my fellow-traveller and I were conducted to the banks of the river Eamont, where we were gratified with a sight of this curious den. Difference of opinion, unavoidable in most cases, prevents me from calling it "a dismal or horrid mansion". A flight of steps, cut out of the rock (not so terrible as have been represented), led us nearly half way down a bold precipice; and, by advancing a few yards to the right, we came to the mouth of the cave, where a part of the roof (otherwise not altogether safe) is supported by a pillar in the centre. This pillar was evidently intended for the conveniency of hanging doors, or something of the sort, to prevent suprize; and the remains of iron gates, I am told, have not long been removed. Here visitors wish to perpetuate their names, but a soft mouldering stone is unfavourable to the purpose; none of more antient date appear than in the year 1660. This rock, a soft red sand-stone, appears of a vast depth, and the dipping of the strata about 23 degrees West. The cave at the entrance is about 9 feet high and 20 wide, and extends in length about 50, when it becomes more contracted in every point of view. Stagnant water, and dirt within, add to the natural gloominess of the place, and give an unfavourable impression. But the situation is in many respects beautiful - a fine winding river flowing at the bottom of a lofty precipice (not so bold indeed as to alarm) had to me at least a pleasing effect. ..."

evidence:-   old text:- Gents Mag 1791
item:-  sugar water Sunday
source data:-   image G7910991, button  goto source
Gentleman's Magazine 1791 p.991  "... we passed the cave in an opposite direction, and came to a grotto, with a stone table in the middle, all cut out of the solid rock. This is said to have been done by the late Sir Christopher Musgrave, as occasionally a place of pleasure."
"In some parts of the North of England it has been a custom, for time immemorial, for the lads and lasses of the neighbouring villages to collect together at springs or rivers on some Sunday in May, to drink sugar and water, where the lasses give the treat: this is called sugar-and-water Sunday. They afterwards adjourn to the public-house, and the lads return the compliment in cakes, ale, punch, &c.; and a vast concourse of both sexes always assemble at the Giant's Cave on the third Sunday in May for this purpose. Of this practice, Mr. Urban, I have been many years an eye-witness; and I shall be much obliged to any of your correspondents that can give me an account of the origin of this singular custom."

evidence:-   old text:- Gents Mag
item:-  hermitage
source data:-   Magazine, The Gentleman's Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer or Historical Chronicle, published by Edward Cave under the pseudonym Sylvanus Urban, and by other publishers, London, monthly from 1731 to 1922.
image G7920024, button  goto source
Gentleman's Magazine 1792 p.24  "Jan. 12."
"Mr. URBAN,"
"IN vol.LXI. p.990, I read remarks on a cavern near Penrith, vulgarly called The Giant's Cave. Led to visit that place some years ago, I was surprized that so little could be learned of its antient inhabitants, if ever more than one took up residence there; but do not hesitate to determine it was the habitation of some hermit. The recess cut in the rock to receive the mattress is yet perfect; and the marks of gratings and bolt-holes, with some remains of masonry, shew that the retreat has been well secured. The situation is romantic, and well adapted to religious severities: it is also adjacent to the church of St. Ninian. I have met with no records that give light to the subject: indeed, few hermitages have left such evidences as that of St. Godric, at Frichale, in the county of Durham. Even the famous hermitage of Warkworth, in Northumberland, has left little but tradition, though the beauty of the design, and"

evidence:-   old text:- Gents Mag 1792
source data:-   image G7920025, button  goto source
Gentleman's Magazine 1792 p.25  "workmanship in the rock, perhaps, surpass every thing of the kind in Europe."
"Yours, &c."

evidence:-   old text:- Capper 1808
source data:-   Gazetteer, A Topographical Dictionary of the United Kingdom, compiled by Benjamin Pitts Capper, published by Richard Phillips, Bridge Street, Blackfriars, London, 1808; published 1808-29.
image CAP137, button  goto source
"[Penrith] ... On the north bank of the river Emont, are two caves or grottos, dug out of the solid rock, and very extensive. The passage to them is narrow and dangerous, and from some iron gates having been formerly taken from hence, it is supposed they were intended as a place of safety during the incursions of the Scots; but strange stories are told of their having been the abode of a giant. ..."

evidence:-   old print:- 
placename:-  Giant's Caves
placename:-  Isis Parlis
source data:-   Print, uncoloured lithograph, Giant's Caves near Brougham called Isis Parlis, by P Morton Rigg, published by Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Kendal, Westmorland, 1914.
image  click to enlarge
With an article about the caves by Rev Arthur John Heelis. 
printed at upper right:-  "GIANT'S CAVES near BROUGHAM. / called 'ISIS PARLIS'."
item:-  private collection : 231
Image © see bottom of page

button to lakes menu  Lakes Guides menu.