The first account appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine 1747, 523-5, in a longer anonymous article on ‘A Journey to Caudebec Fells with a Map and Description of the same’
Souter-fell is a distinguish’d mountain of itself, encompass’d quite round with a turbinated trough, thro’ which the Lender-maken is convey’d. The West and North sides are barricaded with rocks, the East is more plain but withal steep, and seemingly 900 yards in height, but every where of difficult access. It was on this Fell that the astonishing phaenomenon appear’d to exhibit itself, which in 1735, 1737 and 1745 made so much noise in the North, that I went on purpose to examine the spectators, who asserted the fact, and continue in their assertion very positively to this day.
Here is a close up of the map above, which that is referred to in the next paragraph. Note the ‘A’ and ‘B’.
On Midsummer eve 1735, Wm Lancaster’s servant related that he saw the East side of Souter-fell, towards the top, covered with a regular marching army for above an hour together; he said they consisted of distinct bodies of troops, which appeared to proceed from an eminence in the North end, and march’d over a nitch in the top, [mark’d A and B in my drawing] but as no other person in the neighbourhood had seen the like, he was discredited and laugh’d at. Two years after on Midsummer eve also, betwixt the hours of eight and nine, Wm Lancaster himself imagined that several gentlemen were following their horses at a distance, as if they had been hunting, and taking them for such, pay’d no regard to it, till about ten minutes after, again turning his head towards the place, they appeared to be mounted, and a vast army following, five in rank, crowding over at the same place, where the servant said he saw them two years before. He then call’d his family, who all agreed in the same opinion; and what was most extraordinary, he frequently observed that some one of the five would quit rank, and seem to stand in a fronting posture, as if he was observing and regulating the order of their march, or taking account of the numbers, and after some time appear’d to return full gallop to the station he had left, which they never fail’d to do as often as they quitted their lines, and the figure that did so, was generally one of the middlemost men in the rank. As it grew later, they seem’d more regardless of discipline, and rather had the appearance of people riding from a market, than an army, tho’ they continued crowding on, and marching off, as long as they had light to see them.
The reference to the rebellion in what follows is the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Note that this is one of the most striking points of confusion in the two main accounts, did the sighting take place in 1744 (as James Clarke claimed) or 1745 as here. The Jacobite rising itself only really began 23 July when Bonny Prince Charles landed in Scotland. The Midsummer eve before the rebellion should really be 1745 then but it could have been 1744 if the events were remembered loosely.
This phaenomenon was no more seen ’till the Midsummer eve, which preceded the rebellion, when they were determined to call more families to be witness of this sight, and accordingly went to Wilton-hill and Souter-fell-side, till they conven’d about 26 persons, who all affirm they then saw the same appearance, but not conducted with the usual regularity as the preceding ones, having the likeness of carriages interspersed; however it did not appear to be less real, for some of the company were so affected with it as in the morning to climb the mountain, through an idle expectation of finding horse-shoes, after so numerous an army, but they saw not the vestige or print of a foot.
Wm Lancaster, indeed, told me that he never concluded they were real beings, because of the impracticability of a march over the precipices, where they seem’d to come on; that the night was extremely serene; that horse and man upon strict looking at appear’d to be but one being, rather than two distinct ones; they were nothing like any clouds or vapours, which he had ever perceiv’d elsewhere; that their number was incredible, for they fill’d lengthways near half a mile, and continued so in a swift march for above an hour, and much longer he thinks if night had kept off.
This whole story has so much the air of a romance, that it seem’d fitter for Amadis de Gaul, or Glanville’s system of Witches, than the repository of the learned; but as the country was full of it, I only give a verbatim from the original relation of a people, that could have no end in imposing on their fellow-creatures, and are of good repute in the place where they live.
Now we come to explanations. Even by the rationalistic standards of the eighteenth century this is pretty weak.
It is my real opinion, that they apprehended they saw such appearances, but how an undulating lambent meteor could affect the optics of so many people is difficult to say. No doubt fancy will extend to miraculous heights in persons dispos’d to indulge it; and whether there might not be a concurrence of that, to assist the vapour, I will not dispute, because three difficulties seem to occur, worthy of solution
1st, Why a lambent agitated meteor should appear to stop at certain intervals, and return with augmented velocity to reassume the forsaken place.
2d, Why it should for a very long time preserve so regular a system, as to appear still five in a line.
3d. Why one particular evening in the year, only, exhibited the unusual meteor for three times, at so long intervals.
As these are at present beyond my philosophy to explain, it may be an amusement to such as will give themselves the trouble of enquiry, having neither added nor diminished to the  accounts given me. Those who treat it as a mere illusion or deceptio visus, should assign reasons for so large a fascination in above 20 persons; probably one, indeed, might serve to aggrandize the fancy of others, but I should think they could not be so universally deceiv’d without some stamina of the likeness exhibited on the mountain from a meteor, or some unknown cause.
It is singularly remarkable, that most of all these mountains have their precipices fronting the West and Northwest, which is a strong collateral proof of the Earth’s motion, because the diurnal revolution would naturally throw off all the loose strata in its fluid state to the opposite quarter, and the concurring suffrage of travellers in the same properties of foreign mountains, where reasons are not obvious for their being otherwise, much strengthens the argument.
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