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The downfall for Souther Fell is its unfortunate closeness to Blencathra. For obvious reasons Blencathra will always have a lure that this little fell simply cannot compete with. And while the fell may not have the upper hand in some respects, very few places have legends that can match that of the ghost army of Souther Fell. Here is an excellent account of the the ghost army written by Harriet Martineau in her 'Guide to the English Lakes' of 1855.
On Midsummer eve, 1735, a farm-servant of Mr. Lancaster's, half a mile from the mountain, saw the eastern side of its summit covered with troops, which pursued their onward march for an hour. They came, in distinct bodies, from an eminence, on the north end, and disappeared in a niche in the summit. When the poor fellow told his tale, he was insulted on all hands ; as original observers usually are when they see anything wonderful.
Two years after,— also on a Midsummer eve, — Mr. Lancaster saw some men there, apparently following their horses, as if they had returned from hunting. He thought nothing of this ; but he happened to look up again ten minutes after, and saw the figures, now mounted, and followed by an interminable array of troops, five abreast, marching from the eminence and over the cleft as before. All the family saw this, and the manoeuvres of the force, as each company was kept in order by a mounted officer who gallopped this way and that. As the shades of twilight came on, the discipline appeared to relax, and the troops intermingled, and rode at unequal paces, till all was lost in darkness.
Now, of course all the Lancasters were insulted, as their servant had been : but their justification was not long delayed. On the Midsummer eve of the fearful 1745, twenty-six persons, expressly summoned by the family, saw all that had been seen before, and more. Carriages were now interspersed with the troops ; and everybody knew that no carriages ever had been, or could be, on the summit of Souter Fell. The multitude was beyond imagination ; for the troops filled a space of half a mile, and marched quickly till night hid them,— still marching.
There was nothing vaporous or indistinct about the appearance of these spectres. So real did they seem, that some of the people went up the next morning to look for the hoof-marks of the horses ; and awful it was to them to find not one footprint on heather or grass. The witnesses attested the whole story on oath before a magistrate; and fearful were the expectations held by the whole country side about the coming events of the Scotch rebellion. It now came out that two other persons had seen something of the sort in the interval, viz., in 1743, —but had concealed it, to escape the insults to which their neighbours were subjected. Mr. "Wren, of "Wilton Hall, and his farm-servant, saw, one summer evening, a man and a dog on the mountain, pursuing some horses along a place so steep that a horse could hardly by any possibility keep a footing on it. Their speed was prodigious, and their disappearance at the south end of the fell so rapid, that Mr. Wren and the servant went up the next morning, to find the body of the man who must have been killed. Of man, horse, or dog, they found not a trace : and they came down, and held their tongues. When they did speak, they fared not much better for having twenty-six sworn comrades in their disgrace.
As for the explanation,—the Editor of the "Lonsdale Magazine" declared (Vol. ii. p. 313,) that it was discovered that on that Midsummer eve of 1745, the rebels were "exercising on the western coast of Scotland, whose movements had been reflected by some transparent vapour, similar to the Fata Morgana." This is not much in the way of explanation : but it is, as far as we know, all that can be had at present.
Having read the above account, the obvious day to walk here is midsummer eve, although It's doubtful that you'll encounter any apparitions as spectacular as these good folk. Regardless of what you might or might not see, I'm sure you will enjoy a walk on this fell.