It was on a blistering-hot July day, just after school finished for the summer holidays, that the girls’ school moved the two hundred miles from their old school in Bridgewater to their new premises on the grounds of the Priory.
The school was new to them, but not ‘pristine’ new…founded in 1610, as a boys' school, teaching the sons of gentlemen…and it was set in the midst of rich farmland along the banks of the river. The less fertile pastures extended out onto the higher fells, devoid of trees, where sheep roamed free, and where deer (called, Hart, in a former time) were said to be common. One of the fells was called 'Harter Fell'. One could see the entire world from up there; mile after mile of tussocky grass, bare rocks, and sky. And sheep.
The school they moved to had been a boys' boarding school until a few years earlier, and now it had been refurbished and transformed to accommodate two hundred girls, both as boarders and as day pupils coming from the nearby city, about twenty miles away, with about half, boarders, and half, day pupils.
There was still another month and more to prepare for the arrival of the returning boarders coming back to them, as well as the influx of five grades of new girls from the school that had just closed in the city as well as all of their teachers. As summer advanced, more of the boarders from the old school began to trickle in from the train station, or the bus, as their parents went back to whatever they had been doing, or they got fed up of their darling daughters and shuffled them back to school.
A skeleton staff, and twelve of the older girls who remained in the school all of that summer for various reasons, helped with the relocation.
There had been a hectic week of organizing movers, shuttling back and forth on a daily basis, getting beds set up in the dormitories, and desks brought out of storage. The move had been contingent on there being everything they would need already being in place; water supply, functional toilets—without urinals--heating, kitchen appliances, and up-to-code electricity. As there had been almost a year’s warning about the move of the Girls’ school there was lots of time to get all of that done.
They were awoken each morning by the sounds of cows moo-ing in the distance, echoing between the valley sides, roosters calling, ducks quacking in a nearby pond; the smell of drying hay, and the not-entirely-unpleasant smell of manure.
There was no heavy traffic, nor the sounds or smells of industry as there had been in Bridgewater, and the air was cleaner and fresher.
After two weeks, the older girls were given enough time away from their chores to explore the local countryside, and even to head out onto the bleak fells.
Haymaking was just coming to an end, and cows were being turned out onto the lush pastures that had been the first ones cut. Barns were stuffed with hay. Everything was busy.
They were warned about the changeable and unpredictable weather in the dales so had put backpacks together with rainwear and a change of socks, as well as a generous packed lunch which they saw to for themselves.
They would not get lost.
The leader of their intrepid little party of mature girls, Helen Morrissey, studied the maps of the local area in the newly-laid-out geography room before they left, and pinpointed various landmarks, elevations, water courses, railway lines, and a single, isolated, distinctive coppice of evergreen trees high on the fells; (Kirkcarrion) supposedly the site of the burial place of an ancient chieftain, or a look-out promontory that the Romans had used as they guarded an old road.
There were disused lead mines, and narrow-gauge rail lines leading from them, no longer in use and long-since torn up. It would be almost impossible to get lost. The only hazards, would be stepping in cow patties, or being investigated by pushy calves, or sheep too used to humans.
Another reason for their outing was to scout for bramble patches, raspberries, hazel nut bushes, and whatever wild fruits they could find to supplement their school meals. Rationing, hit those in the school, almost as bad as it did for the general population.
They had no intention of returning with anything at that time, but would just feast on whatever was ripe, and earmark the rest for a later outing. The school cook, Mrs. Johnson and her three helpers, needed warning before she might be able to deal with a few tens of pounds of anything that needed her immediate attention, and would certainly need some help from the older girls to prepare and preserve it.
They had been out for about four hours, and were ready to eat lunch before they continued in the circle that would put them back at school, when they encountered one of those fell-top pools that the sheep relied upon.
They sat around it and ate their lunches, even taking shoes and socks off to dangle their feet into the cooling water while sitting on the rough white granite that surrounded and enclosed it. The rough granite was hard on their backsides through the thin fabric of their panties, and would leave pimply little marks. The water was too acidic to support growth of any algae, so was crystal clear, clean, and above all, unusually warm. There was enough of a breeze that flies were not a problem. Midges tended to come out more of an evening, but could be a real torment at any time when the wind dropped.
The temptation soon became too much for them. They would risk it. Before they knew it, the attraction of the warm water overcame them and they progressively removed other clothing, but only after they looked around to make sure that they could not see anyone within a mile of them on that flat expanse of fell, then waded out into it. They walked gingerly over the rough surface of the granite, covering their breasts with their hands (some, to hide them in a moment of shyness; others to hold them still), but soon lost their concerns with each other as they saw others of their group begin to lose their fear of being seen. Their natural shyness with each other soon disappeared and their hands fell away. They were getting used to their rapidly changing bodies; wondrous breasts, which always needed to grow more as far as they were concerned, and hair sprouting in a strange place that began to become more interesting to them, as well as to boys (a pox on them all!). The last three years had brought many such changes to their bodies and what was happening, but they always had difficulty getting used to it and having others see them. They might even begin to joke about it all when they came up here again.
They could see much more than a mile in any direction but only a few sheep watched them, never for more than a few seconds, wondering why they had to make so much noise.
In no time at all they were all cavorting naked in that pool, having got rid of every shred of clothing as well as inhibitions, running about in gleeful excitement, hair flying everywhere, breasts bouncing as they laughed and splashed each other, with their clothing safely ensconced back from the short-cropped emerald grass surrounding where they were. It was rough on their feet, but they didn't care.
The few sheep near them did not seem to be amused at the disturbance to their peace, but as no one cared what they thought they were ignored. They now had two concerns: those noisy girls, and the dog that was loping silently among them to disturb them and bring them into view.
The girls were alone in their own little world on top of the fells, with no one to see them.
Almost no one to see them.