Fish Hotel in Buttermere copyright Michael Turner

Quirky characters

The National Park has been home to a host of fascinating historical characters.

The caveman of Borrowdale

Born in 1867, Millican Dalton was a London insurance clerk. But he starting dreaming of a more exciting life, swapping his house for a field where he slept in a tent and lived off the land. He later took up residence in a cave on the edge of Castle Crag in Borrowdale. He became one of the area's most well-known mountain guides and passed away at the age of 79.

Fair maid of Buttermere

Following a visit to the Fish Hotel in Buttermere in 1792, Joseph Palmer wrote of his encounter with the innkeeper's daughter, Mary Robinson. The publicity surrounding the "fair maid of Buttermere" brought many people to the area to seek her out. She was even mentioned in Wordsworth's poem "The Prelude".

A few years later a hotel guest introduced himself to Mary as Colonel Alexander Hope, an MP and brother to an Earl. They married later that year. Unfortunately Mary's new husband turned out to be bankrupt, a liar and a bigamist. Hope, whose real name was John Hatfield, was put on trial and sentenced to death by hanging.

Later she married Richard Harrison of Caldbeck who helped her to run the inn when her parents became too infirm. They then moved to Caldbeck, where Mary died on 7 February 1837.

Find out more at The legend of Mary Robinson - Fish Hotel (opens in new window)

St Bega

St Bega was the daughter of a seventh century Irish chieftain. She fled Ireland to avoid marrying a Norse prince selected by her father, as she was resolved to devote herself to the service of God. She landed at St. Bees on the west coast. Legend has it she brought with her a bracelet with special healing properties.

A small church lying in a beautiful position on the edge of the Mirehouse estate by Bassenthwaite Lake is named after St Bega.

Thomas Skelton of Muncaster Castle

The origin of the saying "Tom Fool", Thomas Skelton was the castle jester in the sixteenth century. He was rumoured to sit under the castle's old chestnut tree and misdirect travellers across the quicksands when they asked for directions. A rather more serious allegation is that he murdered a young carpenter on the orders of his master, who wasn't happy with the carpenter's advances towards his daughter.

Tom's ghost is still supposed to haunt the castle and play tricks on visitors - more details are available on Muncaster Castle (opens in new window).

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Cottage near Coniston - copyright Charlie Hedley

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