It is mid-October, and though there is not yet a speck of snow upon the hills, the shepherds know full well that snow-time is near, all the higher fells are deserted of the flocks, and the roads from time to time are filled with the black-faced herdwick beauties on their way to wintering in the seaboard plain. But as one stands upon Latrigg to-day, one might believe that an all golden summer time such as poets dreamed of had come to stay, so lightly flies the gossamer in air, so warmly falls the sun upon one’s cheek. Down in the vale the hedgerows have not quite shed their leaf, though the dazzling corals on the thorns and the hips upon the roses could never have shone so fair if some of their leafage had not first been shed. (p. 182)
Hark! that is the voice of the robber, as with harsh cries the field-fares pass overhead, but unless the wind changes and the Frost king comes, neither rowan-tree, nor holly, nor rose, nor hawthorn will be less beautiful at the end of the month. (p. 182)
But the field-fare is not the only robber who has come to stay in the valley. There is not an Irish yew full-fruited that does not twinkle with the silver under-wing of the missel-thrush, and white upon the fallows are the people of the sea—the beautiful black-headed gulls. (p. 182-183)
As one gazes upon Skiddaw one notes that the heather has lost that curious amethystine colour which in certain lights it wore at the end of September, and though not yet ebon-black as November will find it, ere October leaves us, one may know quite well that its rootlets are beginning to think of winter sleep. High above the heather is a surer sign of mid-October, for all the bents and grasses on the higher hills, though this year the rains have not yet fallen, are blanched into marvellous whiteness. (p. 183)
The colour of the hills, and especially of the lower slopes of them, is in this October month more gorgeous than in any season of the year, for the brackens, though they have turned to gold, seem to be full of life and sap still—they sheet the mountain side in living gold; another month, it is true, they will be deeper russet red, but the russet red will have about it a look of death and decay which the October fern can never know. (p. 183)
But there is another reason which makes for its beauty. In November the brackens will be wind-blown and shattered—storms of wind and rain will trample them underfoot; to-day these miniature forests of branchy gold are vigorous and strong. (p. 183)….
October sees the hedger still at work, finishing the trimming of the last hedgerows. In October comes home the last bracken load to the farm-steading, and in October the last ram shows of the season are held, and great is the interest of them to all who care that the strain of our Herdwick sheep shall never run to loss, that still upon our fells shall sheep be found with Roman noses and eyes like elephants’, and mighty ruffs more hair than wool, and broad feet, and legs with sturdy brush of wool upon them, that so unfailingly as of old the hardiest sheep that run on any British hills, may fend for themselves and find pasture, and face the snow and weather the storm where a less hardy Norseman would fail. (p. 186)….
But we shall hear more about the Herdwicks if we will go to the Keswick ram hiring. It is one of the last ram shows in the Lake District. These ram hirings are regular North country institutions; it is a time when the sheep-masters delight in showing hospitality. There are some who pride themselves on never having taken a penny for letting the flocks rest in their fields as they go to and fro to the ram fair. In the memory of man it was the custom for all the shepherds who went over the Black Sail or Styhead to be welcomed all Thursday, Friday morning, Friday night and till dinner had been served on Saturday morning at the Wastdale Inn, free, gratis and for nothing; and as many as forty would have free bed and board at the expense of the landlord, “Thoa, na doot,” as my informant told me, “they wore a laal bit brass in liquor.” And though these days of landlord hospitality are failing, you will find that in matter of business and accounts, trust and honour of word from man to man is held to be better still than legal document or written agreement, and it would do anyone’s heart good to see the informal way in which, having waited a whole year for their money, the flock-masters give it or receive it at the ram fair. (pp. 187-188)
(Months at the Lakes, pp.182-191)