No, Wordsworth's path was like a human traffic jam
Kate Simon tried to concentrate on the beauties of Rydal Mount, but found the sound of advancing feet too distracting for contemplation
Kate Simon is the Travel Correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. She was Travel Editor of The Independent on Sunday from 2005 to 2011. Kate is also the co-founder of Little Black Book Creative (www.lbbcreative.co.uk), which offers editorial services, media relations consultancy and travel-writing training.
Sunday 30 May 1999
It had all started so well. My partner Dean and I were the only passengers on the open-top bus from Bowness to Grasmere, belting along the shore of Windermere, our driver making the most of relatively empty roads that are usually choked with traffic. In the souvenir shop next to Dove Cottage, we were able to move about with ease among the Peter Rabbit erasers, Kendal Mint Cake and Coniston Water tea towels, and we didn't even have to queue to buy our postcards and roll of film.
But once on the path it was a different story. Walking up the lane past Dove Cottage - Wordsworth's home for just nine years, yet the place where he wrote most of his famous works - we soon became aware that we were not alone. Two by two we advanced along the Coffin Path. A couple of hundred years ago locals used this route to carry the dead from Rydal Mount to the church at Grasmere, stopping to rest the coffins on large stones along the way. These days it is a visual guide to the countryside that inspired Wordsworth, drawing thousands of visitors every year from across the world. Today was no exception.
At White Moss Tarn, where William and his sister Dorothy met the Leech- Gatherer celebrated in his poem Resolution and Independence, we crossed the ditch and took the path down to the common for a view of Rydal, one of those truly breathtaking glimpses of the Lake District's astonishing beauty. Returning to the path, we hoped we might have shaken off the bulk of our fellow travellers, but the stream was relentless.
We soldiered on trying to admire the landscape but were constantly aware of advancing feet. We either stepped aside to make room for oncoming traffic or let the swifter walkers forge ahead. A few minutes later, realising we could hear every word of the conversation of the couple in front, we hung back again for a moment, only to find another group behind in hot pursuit, their dog dancing figures of eight around our feet.
Five people had squeezed on to the stone coffin rest in the field above Rydal Mount, the Wordsworth family home, and they weren't moving. We sat on the grass for a while, enjoying the view across to Nab Scar and Rydal Water below. "The path ends just over that rise. We could turn back or carry on over to the caves on the opposite hill," I suggested. We decided to carry on going.
Just a few yards forward we were stopped by another couple. "Oh we're glad you're going on. We heard you talking about turning back. It's a lovely walk over there." Walkers are friendly souls, but next time I think we'll venture off the beaten track.
Kate Simon stayed in the Lake District courtesy of the Linthwaite House Hotel (tel: 015394 88600) in Bowness. Two-night breaks cost from pounds 75 per person per night, including dinner, bed and breakfast. Club, deluxe and single rooms and suites are also available at a supplement.
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