Have you heard of the Lake District’s legendary cave dweller?
Known to locals as the “Borrowdale Hermit”, Millican Dalton was an early proponent of self-sufficiency and a true outdoor eccentric, a passionate enthusiast for climbing trees, sharing stories over a campfire and undertaking genuinely adventurous trips among the Lakeland fells.
Decades before downsizing became fashionable, Dalton left behind a London job in insurance to carve out his own path as an adventure guide. In his mid 30s he built a forest hut in Buckinghamshire which would be his winter home until shortly before his death at the age of 79.
In the summer, he camped out in the Lake District, first in a tent but from the 1920s in a cave on Castle Crag in Borrowdale. The split-level quarried cave had its own water supply thanks to a fissure in the ceiling, and was named by Dalton “the Cave Hotel”.
Dubbing himself the “Professor of Adventure”, Dalton led parties on expeditions in the Lakes. Posters displayed in Keswick offered “Camping Holidays, Mountain Rapid Shooting, Rafting, Hair-Breadth Escapes.”
The trips, which also offered a taste of Dalton’s philosophy, were to prove very popular. Somewhat scandalously, he happily escorted both men and women into the Lakeland hills and on trips in the Alps.
A vegetarian, teetotal and pacifist, Dalton baked his own bread, made his own clothes and also designed and manufactured lightweight camping equipment – including a two-man tent weighing under 1.5kg, as well as woollen sleeping bags and bespoke rucksacks – which he’d sell and rent out.
He preferred to avoid money and so would exchange guiding services and outdoor gear for food and cigarettes.
Today, Millican Dalton’s sustainable, homemade gear is the inspiration for Lakeland-based rucksack brand Millican.