Borrowdale Johnny:

Discover the story Track-by-Track!



Got no Money in my Pocket

Take the rough road find my way!

Got no money in my pocket

I will come home rich someday!




Borrowdale Johnny

Find your way!

Follow the sun,

Never surrender the day!

Striding Edge: Borrowdale Johnny

The album was inspired by the ballad 'BORROWDALE JWOHNNY' composed by Robert Anderson, the bard of Cumberland, in the 19th C. It tells the tale of Johnny, who leaves Borrowdale amidst gossip, to seek his fortune in 'The Big City', an eternal and familiar theme in any century.

The songs take the listener on a journey that skips up and down the centuries, through the work of 18th& 19th C. Cumbrian writers such as  Suzanna Blamire and Robert Anderson, to modern ballads written by Mike Willoughby and John Hall. These songs explore the traditional themes of ambition and self-determination, with an enduring sense of place and history.  

The Tunes have been sourced from manuscripts left by fiddle players residing in Westmorland, Cumberland or North Lancashire during the 18th and 19th centuries. These include William Irwin of Keswick and Elterwater, The Winder family of Wyresdale, The Browne family of Troutbeck and John Barnes of Abbeytown, nr. Wigton.

The Story track-by-track!
  1. Borrowdale Johnny lyrics

High summer in Borrowdale Valley, the sun is blazing through the trees that clothe the cliffs known as 'The Jaws of Borrowdale'. The breeze of change is blowing strongly for our hero, Johnny: Constrained by valley life and 'Scant O Silver' (Skint!), Johnny vowes to hit the road to seek his fortune in 'The Big City'. A pair of gossiping blokes 'crack on' about Johnny in the wake of his departure. Swigging back rough gin, they speak of a child born out of wedlock

The seductive melody of 'Money In Both Pockets' ringing in both ears, Johnny heads out along the road with an irresistible chant: Borrowdale Johnny find your way! Follow the sun, never surrender the day!

Intro song (Robert Anderson 18th C. & Francis)/ Scant O' Silver (trad.)/Gossip Man (Ann Wheeler 18th C. ,additional lyrics Mike Willoughby)/Bobbing Joan (trad.)/Money in both Pockets (trad./lyrics Mike Willoughby)

2. Kings Polka, The Buff and the Blue and Ford Park Polka

Three bracing Lakeland polkas to set Johnny out marching North along the road! These three tunes often kick off a classic Striding Edge ceilidh, and feature a strong traditional English dance-band lineup of fiddle, melodeon, double bass and French horn. Two traditional Cumbrian tunes are followed by a third written by Carloyn Francis, whilst rehearsing with the band at Ford Park Community Centre in Ulverston.

The King's Polka (trad.)/The Buff And The Blue (trad.)/Ford Park Polka(Francis)

3. Raffles Merrie Nite lyrics>>

''Come listen I'll tell you a story, eh, man what a rare do we've hed. Last neet at Bob Robson's at Raffles I declare I've not yet been a bed."

Time has passed on the long dusty road and finally Johnny has arrived at Raffles in Carlisle. He lands up at a an illegal drinking-den run by notorious local character Bob Raffles. He is hence inducted into city life with a wild night of revelry that really kicks off when the boys blow out the candles and the lasses start to yell, the fiddle is smashed, the windows are put out, and the landlord is not best pleased.

The song was adapted from an anarchic lyric Mike discovered in 'Songs and Ballads of Cumberland and the Lake Country' 18th C.  Carolyn Francis sourced the tune from the collection of John Barnes of Abbeytown, nr. Wigton, a punk tune of the same era!

The Old Wife Pist And Paddled In't (trad.)/ Raffles Merrie Nite (lyrics Anon.1780/additional lyrics: Willoughby)

4. Moving Away lyrics>>

'Moving away, and I'd beg you for an hour if I had the power to make you stay.'

Not all departures from Lakeland are quite as euphoric. In this 21st century tale, the girl in the song leaves her boyfriend at the end of a long summer season working together in the kitchens and bars of South Lakeland, to go to college 'Down South'. The boyfriend sits drowning his sorrows, alone with his emptiness, in a traditionally soul-less bar in Bowness Bay,

Song written by Mike Willoughby, based on his experience of growing up, living and working in Bowness and Windermere.

5. Wrapped Between Borders lyrics>>

'Wrapped between borders, you're freezing me out, Carlisle town'

In this chapter, Johnny leaves Lakeland for the Big City in the 1980s:  A shared student-house, black and white images of the Falklands war flicker from the T.V., illuminating  the dank walls with disturbing images: The sinking of the Belgrano, Housemates baying for 'Argie' blood. Johnny finds himself a man out of step with the times, in a country that's a stranger to him.

This song was written by Mike Willoughby, with some help from Steve Wharton, the album's art designer. It is based on Mike's experience of being a 17 year old, leaving home to become an art student in the 1980's.

A song brought into focus on the 25th Anniversary of the Falkland's war.

6. Keswick Bonnie Lasses/The Green Ship

Two great Lakeland hornpipes. Keswick Bonnie Lasses is an especially popular tune in Cumbria, found in the manuscripts of the great Willam Irwin, the Elterwater fiddler. 'The Green Ship' is a popular tune on the Furness peninsula, another local tune sourced from The Winder Family of  Wyresdale. Striding Edge once more take a suitably grass-roots approach for this recording, playing gutsy fiddle, melodeon, double bass and an antique 1950's drum kit!

Keswick Bonnie lasses (trad.)/Green Ship (trad.)

7. Miss Gilpin's Song lyrics>>

'There's ups and there's downs and I see it quite plain, the spoke that's at bottom gets top-most again.'

The wise woman of Carlisle comes to rescue Johnny from his spiritual malaise with these healing words of wisdom.

This is a celebrated song by the great 18th C. songstress Susanna Blamire, from Thackwood near Carlisle, who originally wrote this song for her friend Miss Gilpin, a spinner from Kendal, to sing and keep her spirits up while she sat working her spinning wheel. A plaque for Susanna in Carlisle Cathedral reads: 'A poet of humour and observation, who caught the authentic voice of Cumberland'

Song wrtten by Susanna Blamire. Additional lyrics; Willoughby

8. Beggar Boy of the North lyrics>>

"Beggar Boy lost this long night deep, up on high when dark came stealing."

Johnny's quest goes on. In the depths of the night, he casts himself back over the wild Lakeland fells.  This is period of mystical inner searching. Like William Blake's lantern-man 'Los', the wanderer is willing to put himself through the mental and physical tests of the wilderness, knowing that he will reach a higher level of wisdom through the journey.

The chorus is based on the favourite hymn of pioneer 19th C. Lakeland rock-climber O.G. Jones, who used to 'belt it out' in the Wasdale Head Inn after creating his fearfully hard rock climbs on nearby mountain crags. The hymn in question was written by Cardinal Newman in 1833 'in a period of great mental anguish', as the footnotes read. The lyrics are set to an equally brooding and impressive old Lakeland tune, The Beggar Boy Of The North, gleaned from Lakes tune guru Greg Stephens.

Beggar Boy of the North (trad)/ Chorus: (Cardinal Newman 1833)/ additional lyrics: (Willoughby)



Lead kindly light

Amid the encircling gloom







O'er moor, o'er fell, o'er crag and torrent

'Till the night is through.

9. High Water and We'll All Lye Together lyrics>>

'Infant, youth and man, I gaze from where I stand, into the Kent by Waterside.'

Armistice day 1932. Johnny, a boy in a flat cap, stands by Waterside in Kendal, gazing across the waters of the river Kent. On the father bank stands the rusting hulk of a World War One British tank. He contemplates the course of the river winding, rising and then receding through his birth town, a course as convoluted as the town's history.

Little does he know that the tide of war, and a further twist of his and the town's destiny, lies only seven years away: A firece tide that will carry him out to the sea on the river..

A song inspired by a Kenneth Shepherd photograph 'Whither Now', Armistice Day, Kendal, November 1932.

High Water (Willoughby)/We'll All Lie Together (trad.)

10. Poor Man's Mountains lyrics>>

'There's a path to take me higher to the edge above the mist, poor man's mountains with your charity blessed.'

Redemption in the mountains at last. What Johnny was seeking was waiting for him all along in his own backyard: And so the traveler returns to find his true fortune, in a series of memorable mountain moments:

Verse one:

Singing John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High' at the top of his voice in a car, whilst rocketing along the lake shore of Thirlmere, after an evening climbing on the sun-kissed rocks of Borrowdale

This was inspired by a chat with Lakeland climber Dave Birkett. Currently the finest traditional climber in Britain, Dave is legendary in his own lifetime for his extreme grade nine first-ascents on the Lakeland rock faces, and his equally hair-raising ventures rescuing sheep from local crags. All can be seen on the award-winning documentary Set In Stone.

Verse two

High aloft on a stunning new climb on Eagle Crag, Buttermere. In the midst of a world war, finding a profound oasis of solace and peace.

This is a snapshot in the life of 1940's West Cumbrian rock climber, miner and artist Bill Peascod. Bill was an inspirational figure from his generation, cracking bloke and powerhouse climber, and his biography Journey After Dawn is a rattling good read.

Song written by Mike Willoughby

Four Walls can't contain this feeling flooding my veins

Release is only with the mountain in morning sun or rain

11. Greensleeves and The Moon And The Seven Stars

A storming pair of jigs, and great live favourites. Both tunes were sourced from the archives of The Winder Family of Wyresdale.

Greensleeves (trad.)/Moon and Seven Stars (trad.)

12. Get Old With Me lyrics>>

'Get old with me, not  immediately, 'Cos there's so many mountains to climb'

Getting old is nothing to be feared of if you have a partner who can ignore your wrinkles just as much as you can ignore theirs, and who can keep 'climbing those mountains' with you!

Barrow artist and musician John Hall wrote this gorgeous song for Mike and Jeannie's wedding in 2002, where he was the best man. (John always has a song on a Striding Edge album, and probalby always will!)

Ben, Carolyn and Rick also arranged Trumpet Minuet and Charming Phylis (two more Winder Family tunes) on brass instruments to play at the same wedding! After his wedding, Mike had to get up to speed and learn them, too..

Striding Edge can be heard singing this piece at weddings around The North. When Johnny gets wed, Edge'll sing it at his!

Trumpet Minuet (trad.)/Get Old With Me (John Hall)/Charming Phyllis (trad.)

13. Exit Strategy (McCabe) Yordas (Francis) Tizzer (Francis)

The album concludes with three tunes written by the band: Ben McCabe's thoughtful 'Exit Strategy' opens the piece, a duet between Ben's French Horn and Mike's Low Whistle. Carolyn's Border Bagpipes make a slow fade in for her own starkly beautiful tune 'Yordas', before the whole band swing in behind her for a thundering rendition of a second of her tunes, 'Tizzer'.

Tizzer is a rather eccentric old lady who lives in the scenic Dent, where the tune was written, and so we finish with an equally eccentric collection of instruments; waste-pipe whistle, bluesy slide-electric guitar, border pipes, bass and drums!

Exit Strategy (McCabe)/Yordas (Francis)/Tizzer (Francis)