The Lake Poets: Romantic wanderings along the water's edge
Jonathan Thompson follows Wordsworth and chums around Cumbria, while Edward McAllister suggests an itinerary
Sunday 06 November 2005
It was late on a windy Thursday afternoon in April 1802 when William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy first stumbled across them. Rounding Ullswater on their way home to Grasmere, they were stopped in their tracks by the simple, beautiful sight before them. As Dorothy wrote in her famous journal: "I never saw daffodils so beautiful ... [they] tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake."
This vision was later immortalised by her then 32-year-old brother in perhaps his most famous poem:
"I wandered lonely as a
That floats on high o'er
Vales and Hills,
When at once I saw a
A host of dancing
Along the Lake, beneath
Ten thousand dancing in
The sight of those swaying golden petals that spring afternoon, and the effect it had on the future Poet Laureate, have led some critics to describe it as a defining moment of early English Romanticism. For Wordsworth, it gave strength to his fundamental belief in nature's potency and influence over the human spirit.
Poets, artists and writers have been coming to the Lake District to seek such creative inspiration among the dramatic peaks, meandering tarns and misty fells for generations. Wordsworth himself - who lived and worked in the area for another 50 years after that fateful hike - is perhaps the most celebrated. Indeed, along with his fellow Romantic Lake Poets - Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey - he has even inspired his own tourist industry in the area. So buoyant has his little Grasmere become, for example, that locals have begun calling it Gras Vegas.
Today Wordsworth's picturesque former home on the outskirts of the village, Dove Cottage, is the region's star cultural attraction, with more than 65,000 visitors a year. The cottage, lovingly restored by the Wordsworth Trust, is furnished with a number of the poet's original possessions - from his marital bed to his ice skates. There are also opium scales, belonging to his friend Thomas de Quincey - author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater - who succeeded the Wordsworths as tenant of Dove Cottage.
Another great Romantic lyricist, Sir Walter Scott, stayed here with the Wordsworths - regularly slipping to the local pub for his lunch. Scott took umbrage with Wordsworth's Romantic ideal of "plain living but high thinking" when it came to eating, complaining that there were three hot meals a day at Dove Cottage, but that two of them were porridge.
A stone's throw from Dove Cottage is the new £3.15m Jerwood Centre, opened earlier this year by the poet Seamus Heaney. The impressive centre, housed in a modern Lakeland barn, is home to the trust's 59,000 manuscripts, books and prints relating to the English Romantics, including 90 per cent of Wordsworth's papers.
In Grasmere itself, the graves of Wordsworth and his family, as well as of Coleridge's son, Hartley, can be visited at St Oswald's churchyard. The village is also home to Sarah Nelson's delicious gingerbread, baked here since the twilight days of the Lake Poets.
Modern Romantics of a more active bent might be tempted to attack the path linking Dove Cottage with Rydal Mount, Wordsworth's home in later years. The route takes just under an hour and has some spectacular views. This is the time of year to experience it fully, in tranquillity with the leaves turning.
Wordsworthloved hiking in these parts and, like his sister, thought nothing of regularly walking the 16 miles to Keswick, where Southey and Coleridge lived at Greta Hall. The house, which still stands, is now privately owned, but Southey's gravestone can be seen nearby at St Kentigern's. Just north of Keswick at Bassenthwaite stands the Pheasant pub, where Southey and his fellow poets supposedly used to drink. Keswick itself has some fine old pubs, as well as a museum and art gallery.
It's a short drive north west of Keswick to Cockermouth. The siblings grew up here, and their impressive childhood home, now a National Trust property, Wordsworth House, is worth a visit.
For dinner, head back towards Grasmere, to the hamlet of Easedale, which has one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the north of England, the Lancrigg. Wordsworth composed some of his finest work in the woods here.
If you are a serious 21st-century Romantic, stay at The Samling. This secluded luxury hotel, on its own 67-acre estate, overlooks the sprawling expanse of Windermere. It was here, when the main house was called Dove's Nest, that Wordsworth trekked to pay his rent on Dove Cottage.
Before you leave the Lakes, make your way down to the northern shore of Ullswater, at Gowbarrow Park. There is one of the sights that started it all: along the lake, beneath the trees, if you're lucky, you can find those 10,000 daffodils still dancing in the breeze.
The writer visited the Lake District courtesy of the Cumbria Tourist Board (08705 133059; golakes.co. uk). He stayed at The Samling in Windermere (01539 431922; thesamling. com), and Armathwaite Hall Hotel in Bassenthwaite (017687 76551; armathwaitehall.com). Alamo (0870 400 4527; alamo. co.uk), offers three days' car hire from £47.
1 Wordsworth House, Cockermouth Walk
WHAT IS IT? Now National Trust-owned, this Georgian house is where Wordsworth first showed interest in poetry.
WHERE IS IT? In the market town of Cockermouth, Wordsworth's birthplace.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? The National Trust revamped the house in 2003 and it is now filled with historical displays relating to Wordsworth family life, including a preserved 18th century working kitchen.
HOW TO FIND IT? Main St, Cockermouth. (01900 820884)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? £4.50 per adult. Reopens in the spring.
2 Armathwaite Hall
WHAT IS IT? A beautiful old hall turned four-star hotel, believed to be one of the first of England's stately homes.
WHERE IS IT? Set in 400 acres of deer park in the heart of Lake District.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? Open fires, long country strolls. A house has stood on the site since the 11th century, although the current building dates from the middle of the 16th century.
HOW TO FIND IT? Bassenthwaite, Keswick (01768 776551; www.armathwaite-hall.com).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Double rooms start at £78 with breakfast.
3 Greta Hall, Keswick
WHAT IS IT? Built in 1800, the imposing Greta Hall was once home to both Coleridge and Southey.
WHERE IS IT? Within walking distance of Keswick town centre.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? The visitors' book reads like a who's who of the Romantic poets. Guests can rent a wing to stay in.
HOW TO FIND IT? Main Street, Keswick, 13 miles north of Grasmere (017687 75980; gretahall.net).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Weekly rental of a wing sleeping up to six starts at £350.
4 Gowbarrow Park
WHAT IS IT? A scenic spot overlooking Ullswater, where Wordsworth walked frequently with his wife and sister.
WHERE IS IT? In the north-east reaches of the Lake District National Park, more remote than other more popular lakes.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? The daffodils here inspired Wordsworth to write his famous verse. Go in spring to see the carpets of yellow.
HOW TO FIND IT? Gowbarrow Park is on the north side of Ullswater off the A592, north of Ambleside.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Free.
5 The Samling Hotel
WHAT IS IT? Wordsworth came to pay rent here while living in Dove Cottage, and the surrounding scenery provided the inspiration for much of his poetry.
WHERE IS IT? Perched high above Windermere.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? One of the Lakes' most romantic hideaways.
HOW TO FIND IT? Ambleside Road, off the A591 between Ambleside and Windermere (01539 431922; thesamling.com).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Double rooms start at £195 per night b&b.
6 Wordsworth's Walk
WHAT IS IT? A two-mile walk linking Rydal and Grasmere also known as the Coffin Path, which was used by funeral processions in the 17th century to take coffins to the graveyard in Grasmere.
WHERE IS IT? Between Grasmere and Rydal Mount.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? The path also links two of his former residences, Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage.
HOW TO FIND IT? Start at Rydal Mount off the A591 just north of Ambleside (01539 433002).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Free.
7 Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel
WHAT IS IT? Once a farmstead, this country house, now a hotel, was visited by the Wordsworths on several occasions.
WHERE IS IT? The hotel is within walking distance of Grasmere and overlooks the Easedale valley.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? The hotel is surrounded by 30 acres of parkland and serves organic vegetarian food and wine.
HOW TO FIND IT? Easedale (015394 353 17, www.lancrigg.co.uk).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Double rooms start at £120 per night half-board.
8 St Oswald's Church, Grasmere
WHAT IS IT? St Oswald's, the parish church of Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale. The resting place of William Wordsworth.
WHERE IS IT? Grasmere.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? You can visit Wordsworth's grave: he was buried next to his wife under a yew tree. You can also see the grave of Hartley Coleridge, son of Samuel Coleridge. Leaflets in the church provide information on the poet's life.
HOW TO FIND IT? The graveyard is in the centre of the village.
HOW MUCH IS IT? Admission is free.
9 The Jerwood Centre, Grasmere
WHAT IS IT? An information centre and library filled with works of the Romantic poets.
WHERE IS IT? Next to Dove Cottage, part of the Wordsworth Trust.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? There is a collection of works by Wordsworth and information on his relationship with Coleridge, as well as works by Keats, Byron and Shelley.
How to find it? The centre (015394 35544) is next door to Dove Cottage.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Free but advance booking is required.
10 Dove Cottage, Grasmere
WHAT IS IT? The cottage was Wordsworth's home from 1799 to 1808.
WHERE IS IT? In the small hamlet of Town End near Grasmere.
WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? There is a guided tour of the cottage, including comprehensive history of Wordsworth's life in the Lake District.
HOW TO FIND IT? Contact the Wordsworth Trust on 015394 35544.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Adults £6.
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