Millican Dalton

There are those who dare to be different, and fascinating characters like Millican Dalton who take it to another level: for Millican was uncloned. Sour grapes comes into it of course. His philosophy that work interferes with pleasure is still a popular mantra. The disparity with Millican and the rest of us is that he pursued his dream.

To set the scene: at the Borrowdale Gates Hotel, the peace and quiet of the dining room is broken only by the clink of glasses as guests enjoy the culinary delights prepared by the renowned chef, Christopher Standhaven, and his team. Looking through the panoramic windows, diners’ eyes rest on the awesome “Jaws of Borrowdale”. Within their midst is the thickly-wooded conicular eminence of Castle Crag. This is where Millican chose to live – not inside bricks and mortar – but in a split-level slate cave.

By the time Millican was seven years old, the family had left his birthplace of Alston in Cumbria and moved south. As a young man, he developed an interest in camping, and climbing anything vertical, including trees and the elevation of their home. Wanting to be close to nature, Millican moved to a tent in Epping Forest, and finally ceased work as a fire insurance clerk to become a self-styled “Professor of Adventure”.

Millican was neither hermit nor scrounger. He earned his living as a mountain guide both at home and abroad, especially in the Swiss Alps. After moving to Borrowdale, he kept a sewing machine in his cave and produced his own clothing and lightweight commercial camping equipment. Some imagine he was macho, though in reality, he revelled in the company of females and allowed them to lead climbs.

He not only challenged his own strengths but encouraged others to do the same. As an exciting bonus, he would take parties of up to five on his small home-made boats of logs, with tartan sails, to glide across the depths of Derwentwater. Locals fondly remember Millican hunched over his campfire of an evening, cooking juicy brown trout and a side medley of stewed organic wild nettles and rosehips, all sourced from his very own doorstep.

To celebrate Millican’s life in the valley, the owners Colin and Joy Harrison, insisted on using local craftsmen to create the Millican Dalton Room at the Borrowdale Gates Hotel. Guests enter through a heavy oak door and façade of local Honister slate, to elicit a feeling entering a slate cave to sleep. However, the feeling of camping disappears once inside, as the suite is sumptuous with an inviting King Size bed and a spacious seating area. The feeling of luxury is heightened by a wood-effect fire and the modern en-suite bathroom with underfloor heating. The woodwork of the beams and fireplace has been recycled from a 500-year old Cumbrian farmhouse in keeping with the history of the area.

Top of the list is the unhindered glorious view that Millican lived for – minus the earwigs and spiders of course.