Lucky owners of Mr Cope's great orange tome will need no introduction to this, Lakeland's most southerly 600m mountain, or 'fell' as they call them in these parts. If ever there was a 'mother hill', Black Combe is surely the archetypal case within Britain. Not only does it possess Sunkenkirk (Swinside), one of these Isles' finest stone circles, upon it's north-eastern foothills, there are also the elegant Giant's Grave monoliths and Lacra circles/rows to the south and three (count 'em) now virtually obliterated stone circle sites to the west, upon the coast. Clearly Black Combe was the object of significant ritual focus, of that there can be no doubt.
It is fitting, therefore, that Black Combe appears a 'friendly' mountain, with a clear track leading from the church at Whicham northwards to the 1,968ft summit at a pretty steady gradient. Also, since it is located upon the coast, it is a fabulous viewpoint - famously celebrated by Wordsworth - the vista including not only coastline 'luminaries' such as Blackpool Tower and, er, Sellafield, but virtually the whole of Lakeland. On a clear day (ha!) the view apparently extends all the way to Wales and Scotland. Nearer to hand, the eastern flank of the mountain is enlivened by some fine cliff lines, no doubt the eponymous 'black combes'. It is indeed a splendid mountain.
Needless to say friendly appearances can be deceptive, my visit to the mountain coinciding with winds gusting in excess of 50mph, with a band of driving rain and cloud sweeping in from the sea later on. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of the conditions, it was a wondrous experience to visit Black Combe. In a way I think I now know what those ancients were thinking when they venerated it ......
Black Combe. People just seem to like saying the name of this hill. It's domination of the coastal landscape round here is incredible.
It can be seen from very far away - on a clear day, along the coast of Lancashire it's distinctive shape heralds the start of the Lakeland high ground. From atop the surrounding mountain landscape also, Black Combe is easily made out, part of the last high ground before the Irish Sea. Coniston Old Man has a particularly good view out to Black Combe, and from here you can appreciate how the surrounding landscape fits together.
" VIEW FROM THE TOP OF BLACK COMB
THIS Height a ministering Angel might select:
For from the summit of BLACK COMB (dread name
Derived from clouds and storms!) the amplest range
Of unobstructed prospect may be seen
That British ground commands:--low dusky tracts,
Where Trent is nursed, far southward! Cambrian hills
To the south-west, a multitudinous show;
And, in a line of eye-sight linked with these,
The hoary peaks of Scotland that give birth
To Tiviot's stream, to Annan, Tweed, and Clyde:--
Crowding the quarter whence the sun comes forth
Gigantic mountains rough with crags; beneath,
Right at the imperial station's western base
Main ocean, breaking audibly, and stretched
Far into silent regions blue and pale;--
And visibly engirding Mona's Isle
That, as we left the plain, before our sight
Stood like a lofty mount, uplifting slowly
(Above the convex of the watery globe)
Into clear view the cultured fields that streak
Her habitable shores, but now appears
A dwindled object, and submits to lie
At the spectator's feet.--Yon azure ridge,
Is it a perishable cloud? Or there
Do we behold the line of Erin's coast?
Land sometimes by the roving shepherdswain
(Like the bright confines of another world)
Not doubtfully perceived.--Look homeward now!
In depth, in height, in circuit, how serene
The spectacle, how pure!--Of Nature's works,
In earth, and air, and earth-embracing sea,
A revelation infinite it seems;
Display august of man's inheritance,
Of Britain's calm felicity and power!"