A Walk around Wordsworth’s Grasmere

Like Don't move Unlike
 
7

Bring Wordsworth to life on this 5-mile walk through Wordsworth’s Grasmere, visiting the houses he lived in and the poems he wrote. Created from a brief to sell a literary walking holiday through Wordsworth’s Grasmere based at HF Holiday’s Coniston Hotel.

[DAY ONE] A. HAMMERSCAR

[Park GR NY 337053. Follow track NE then N to the left of the plantation to the viewpoint over Grasmere]

A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Grasmere from Red Bank, Westmorland,
By L Aspland, engraved by William Banks, Edinburgh 1850-60

The Vale of Grasmere from Hammerscar is as a young William Wordsworth saw it on his schoolboy walks from Hawkshead. He was a prolific walker. Thomas de Quincey estimated that Wordsworth in his lifetime rambled 180,000 miles in the UK alone. Thirty miles a day were nothing to William and his sister Dorothy.

The roads were rough and often unmetalled. The walkers clothed in wooden soled clogs with a leather shoe upper for rougher ground. Cobblers bills will have been one of their biggest household expenses.

Thomas West called Hammerscar an ‘advantageous station to view this romantic vale from.’ For Wordsworth, a description of the schoolboy vision you see now formed the opening lines of the prophetic poem Home at Grasmere, that opened his philosophical magnum-opus, The Recluse:

Once to the verge of yon steep barrier came
 A roving school-boy; what the adventurer's age
 Hath now escaped his memory--but the hour,
 One of a golden summer holiday,
 He well remembers, though the year be gone--
 Alone and devious from afar he came;
 And, with a sudden influx overpowered
 At sight of this seclusion, he forgot
 His haste, for hasty had his footsteps been
 As boyish his pursuits; and sighing said,  
 "What happy fortune were it here to live!
 And, if a thought of dying, if a thought
 Of mortal separation, could intrude
 With paradise before him, here to die!.."
... The station whence he looked was soft and green,     
Not giddy yet aerial, with a depth
Of vale below, a height of hills above.
For rest of body perfect was the spot,
All that luxurious nature could desire,
But stirring to the spirit; … here
Must be his home, this valley be his world.

William Wordsworth, The Recluse [ll 1-23] [NOTE: Use of the word ‘station’. Wordsworth was influenced by Thomas West’s Guide to the Lakes and his use of viewing stations.]

A young Thomas De Quincey also came to this station in 1806 hoping for the first glance of his hero Wordsworth. In Recollections of the Lake Poets De Quincey recounts seeing Dove Cottage far below but lost his nerve:

‘Once I absolutely went forward from Coniston to the very gorge of Hammerscar, from which the whole Vale of Grasmere suddenly breaks upon the view in a style of almost theatrical surprise, with its lovely valley stretching before the eye in the distance, the lake lying immediately below, with its solemn ark-like island of four and a half acres in size seemingly floating on its surface, and its exquisite outline on the opposite shore, revealing all its little bays and wild sylvan margin, feathered to the edge with wildflowers and ferns.’

In one quarter, a little wood, stretching for about half a mile toward the outlet of the lake; more directly in opposition to the spectator, a few green fields; and beyond them, just two bow-shots from the water, a little white cottage gleaming from the midst of trees, with a vast and seemingly never-ending series of ascents rising above it to the height of more than three thousand feet. That little cottage was Wordsworth’s! Catching one hasty glimpse of this loveliest of landscapes, I retreated like a guilty thing, for fear I might be surprised by Wordsworth and then returned faint-heartedly to Coniston.’

Thomas de Quincey, Recollections of the Lake Poets.


A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Print, engraving, Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell,
by George Pickering, engraved by le Petit, 1835.

B – LOUGHRIGG TERRACE

Loughrigg Terrace was a favourite in Wordsworth’s Grasmere. From here, he was able to comprehend how the Vale of Grasmere was more than a place to live but an active living imagination. An abode where the mind could weld with the natural frame of the human body. Grasmere was a haven from the stresses of the outside world that drained the soul:

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                         
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Sonnet, Poems in Two Volumes, 1807

Instead, Grasmere gave Wordsworth the lens to focus his imaginary vision into ‘the life of things’. Two pieces convey this imaginary force more than any. Ullswater was the scene of his encounter with the living rock while rowing on the lake as a boy:

I dipp'd my oars into the silent Lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
When from behind the craggy Steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Uprear'd its head.

The Prelude (1799) [ll 402-8]

Written in Monmouthshire a year earlier, Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey provides another passage that interprets Wordsworth’s nature-view with an intense reflection that produces an almost transient state:

In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth, Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey [ll 39 – 50]

When combined, this charged intense contemplation mixed with sublime landscape brought Wordsworth to a reverie, a unity that echoes throughout all his work, be it daffodils or slabs of rock. Home at Grasmere continues:

Embrace me then, ye Hills, and close me in; 
 Now in the clear and open day I feel
 Your guardianship; I take it to my heart;
 'Tis like the solemn shelter of the night.
 But I would call thee beautiful, for mild,
 And soft, and gay, and beautiful thou art
 Dear Valley, having in thy face a smile
 Though peaceful, full of gladness. Thou art pleased,
 Pleased with thy crags and woody steeps, thy Lake,
 Its one green island and its winding shores;
 The multitude of little rocky hills,
 Thy Church and cottages of mountain stone
 Clustered like stars …
… 'Tis, but I cannot name it, 'tis the sense
Of majesty, and beauty, and repose,
A blended holiness of earth and sky,
Something that makes this individual spot,
This small abiding-place of many men,
A termination, and a last retreat,
A centre, come from wheresoe'er you will,
A whole without dependence or defect,
Made for itself, and happy in itself,
Perfect contentment, Unity entire.

Home at Grasmere [ll 100 – 121 & 142 – 151]

In the far distance, Dunmail Raise forms a high mountain pass separating Grasmere & Thirlmere. Wordsworth would walk to the top to greet the night-mail coach bringing news from London. In his Recollections of the Lake Poets, De Quincey describes joining his ‘hero’ on a night-walk and records Wordsworth eluding to this visionary power:

‘… we had waited for an hour or more, sitting upon one of the many huge blocks of stone which lie scattered over that narrow field of battle on the desolate frontier of Cumberland and Westmorland, where King Dun Mail, with all his peerage, fell, more than a thousand years ago. The time had arrived, at length, that all hope for that night had left us; no sound came up through the winding valleys that stretched to the north; and the few cottage lights, gleaming, at wide distances, from recesses amidst the rocky hills, had long been extinct. At intervals, Wordsworth had stretched himself at length on the high road, applying his ear to the ground, so as to catch any sound of wheels that might be groaning along at a distance. Once, when he was slowly rising from this effort, his eye caught a bright star that was glittering between the brow of Seat Sandal, and of the mighty Helvellyn.

He gazed upon it for a minute or so; and then, upon turning away to descend into Grasmere, he made the following explanation:

“I have remarked, from my earliest days, that if, under any circumstances, the attention is energetically braced up to an act of steady observation, or of steady expectation, then, if this intense condition of vigilance should suddenly relax, at that moment any beautiful, any impressive visual object, or collection of objects, falling upon the eye, is carried to the heart with a power not known under other circumstances. Just now, my ear was placed upon the stretch, in order to catch any sound of wheels that might come down upon the Lake of Wythburn from the Keswick road: at the very instant when I raised my head from the ground, in final abandonment of hope for this night, at the very instant when the organs of attention were all at once relaxing from their tension, the bright star hanging in the air above those outlines of massy blackness, fell suddenly upon my eye, and penetrated my capacity of apprehension with a pathos and a sense of the Infinite, that would not have arrested me under other circumstances.”

Thomas De Quincey, Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets.


[Follow the terrace to the obvious junction of paths and take the lower path at point C. By the lake shore Here Nab Cottage is visible across Rydal Water]

C – NAB COTTAGE & RYDAL WATER

Nab Cottage was built in 1556. By 1802 it was the home of the Simpson family. Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal for March 1802:

‘It was terribly cold – we had 2 or 3 brisk hail showers. The hailstones looked clean and pretty upon the dry clean road. Little Peggy Simpson was standing at the door catching the hailstones in her hand.’

Fifteen years later Thomas de Quincey married Peggy Simpson and they lived in Nab Cottage while he edited the Westmorland Gazette. As de Quincey’s opium addiction grew the family, with six children were forced to move. The new resident was Hartley Coleridge, the poet’s son, known as a warm and witty storyteller. He lived here for the final years of his life until he died, with Wordsworth by his side, in 1849.

Rydal Water was a favourite walk of Dorothy Wordsworth, especially on this north shore. On November 7, 1805 she wrote in her journal:

‘The trees on the larger island of Rydale Lake were of the most gorgeous colours; the whole Island reflected in the water … the rocky shore, spotted and streaked with purplish brown heath, and its image in the water were indistinguishably blended, like an immense caterpillar, such as, when we were children, we use to call Woolly Boys, from their hairy coats.’

Dorothy kept her journal from May 1800 to January 1803. It began with William as the intended reader to support him in his work and in return he was quick to acknowledge her observations in verse:

The Blessing of my later year
Was with me when a boy:
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble care, and delicate fears;
A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
And love, and thought, and joy. 

William Wordsworth, The Sparrow’s Nest [ll 15-20]

Dorothy’s Journal chronicled the Wordsworth’s’ lives first at Alfoxden in Somerset and then Dove Cottage, and is also full of vivid descriptions of people and places. Many travellers called at Dove Cottage or were met on the road. All of them brought to colourful life such as the encounter on 3rd October 1800 with a gatherer of leeches on the old corpse road:

‘We met an old man almost double , he had on a coat thrown over his shoulders above his waistcoat & coat. Under this he carried a bundle & had an apron on & a night cap … his trade was to gather leeches but now leeches are scarce & he had not the strength for it – he lived by begging … He had been hurt in driving a cart his leg broke his body driven over his skull fractured …’

Dorothy observed the Lake District landscape in all seasons, all weathers and at all times of day and night. Her sensitivity to nature was also recognised by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: ‘Her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature – and her taste a perfect electro-meter – it bends, protrudes, and draws in, at subtlest beauties and most recondite faults.’

Wordsworth found her descriptions invaluable and several of his poems can be traced back to Dorothy’s journal, most notably “Daffodils” written two years before the poem.

We return to Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey to appreciate how beneficial Dorothy was as a connecting force between Wordsworth and the natural world:

Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
They memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me 
And these my exhortations

William Wordsworth , Lines Written above Tintern Abbey [ll 135 – 147]


D – RYDAL MOUNT

[Walk to Rydal footbridge at NY364062, cross the A 591 and enter Dora’s Field]
A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Rydal Mount in 1897

After 13 years in Grasmere, The Wordsworth’s moved to Rydal. They had outgrown Dove Cottage, never settled at Allan Bank and found the Rectory depressing as it overlooking the churchyard of their first two children.

They moved into Rydal Mount just as Wordsworth began his job as a Distributor of Stamps and his fame began to spread due to the publication of his Guide Through the District of the Lakes.

Rydal Mount was an inspiration. The view from the house towards Loughrigg Fell and the rising stars above the ridge viewed through the branches of trees inspired verse of such force that it became the preface to his Collected Poems. Wordsworth wrote in his memoirs:

‘These were written sometime after we had become residents at Rydal Mount, and I will take occasion from them to observe upon the beauty of that situation, as being backed and flanked by lofty fells, which bring the heavenly bodies to touch, as it was, the earth upon the mountain-tops, while the prospect in front lies open to a length of level valley, the extended lake, and a terminating ridge of low hills; so that it gives an opportunity to the inhabitants of the place of noticing the stars in both the positions here alluded to, namely, on the tops of the mountains, and as winter-lamps at a distance among the leafless trees.’

 If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven,
Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content: --
The stars pre-eminent in magnitude,
And they that from the zenith dart their beams,
(Visible though they be to half the earth,
Though half a sphere be conscious of their brightness)
Are yet of no diviner origin,
No purer essence, than the one that burns,
Like an untended watch-fire on the ridge
Of some dark mountain; or than those which seem
Humbly to hang, like twinkling winter lamps,
Among the branches of the leafless trees.
All are the undying offspring of one Sire:
Then, to the measure of the light vouchsafed,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.

The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 1

One aspect from Rydal Mount, directly south, was an ever-present in Wordsworth’s daily discourse on poetic life and a representation of the living rock motif. Now called Lanty Scar, to Wordsworth it was Aerial Rock.

Aerial Rock--whose solitary brow
From this low threshold daily meets my sight;
When I step forth to hail the morning light;
Or quit the stars with a lingering farewell--how
Shall Fancy pay to thee a grateful vow?
How, with the Muse's aid, her love attest?
--By planting on thy naked head the crest
Of an imperial Castle, which the plough
Of ruin shall not touch. Innocent scheme!
That doth presume no more than to supply                    
A grace the sinuous vale and roaring stream
Want, through neglect of hoar Antiquity.
Rise, then, ye votive Towers! and catch a gleam
Of golden sunset, ere it fade and die.

William Wordsworth, The Complete Poetical Works

DORA’S FIELD

A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Dora Wordsworth in 1839 (The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere)

Dorothy “Dora” Wordsworth (1804 – 1847) was the only surviving daughter of Mary and William Wordsworth. The Rash Field, next to the churchyard of St Mary’s, Rydal, was bought by Wordsworth originally to build a house, while he lived at Rydal Mount. The house never materialised.

Wordsworth and his family were tenants of Lady Anne le Fleming when they lived at Rydal Mount. In 1825, Lady Anne announced her intention to give the tenancy of Rydal Mount to a relative. William was desperate not to be evicted so he purchased the field and said he intended to build on it thereby blocking the view from Rydal Mount. He even went to the extent of paying an architect to draw up design. His plan worked and the threat of the sale of Rydal was withdrawn.

After his daughter Dora died in 1847, William went down to the field between Rydal Mount and the main road, and together with his wife, sister and gardener, planted hundreds of daffodils as a memorial.

There are two poems to be found in Dora’s Field, the first close to a series of steps making a difficult descent down to the Field:

Wouldst thou be gathered to Christ's chosen flock, 
Shun the broad way too easily explored, 
And let thy path be hewn out of the Rock, 
The living Rock of God's eternal Word.

A second inscription was engraved in brass and set in this stone:

In these fair vales hath many a Tree
At Wordsworth's suit been spared;
And from the builder's hand this Stone,
For some rude beauty of its own,
Was rescued by the Bard:
So let it rest; and time will come
When here the tender-hearted
May heave a gentle sigh for him,
As one of the departed.

E – THE GROT, RYDAL HALL

A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
The Lower Falls, Rydal by M. Jackson
Uncoloured engraving, late C18

The bridge across Rydal Beck was built by Sir Daniel Fleming in 1682. The Beck descends as Low Falls into a plunge pool and continues through a gorge, which frames the falls and casts shade upon the scene. At the edge of the water, there is a small grade 2 listed building called the Grotto, built by Sir Daniel Fleming in 1668 who referred to it as his ‘Grot’.

An account in 1786 describes how the visitor was led from Rydal Hall along a route to the summerhouse in such a way that the view of the waterfall was not visible until the door was opened, revealing it framed by the window in the opposite wall.

The view from the Grot was commended by Thomas Gray in his Journal of 1769 and by William Gilpin in 1786. The scene was described in verse in by Wordsworth in 1794:

… a small cascade
Illumines, from within, the leafy shade;
Beyond, along the vista of the brook,
Where antique roots its bustling course o'erlook,
The eye reposes on a secret bridge
Half grey, half shagged with ivy to its ridge;

William Wordsworth, An Evening Walk [ll 63-68]

[Return to Rydal Mount and take the 'Old Copse Road' towards Grasmere]

POINT F – NAB WELL

Like other coffin routes around Britain, the Old Corpse Road was used to carry bodies from a parish without a burial ground to one that did. When you reach Rydal church you will see that it has no graveyard.

You will notice a number of large flat stones, known as ‘resting stones’, as you walk along. In years gone by, the corpse would have been carried from the deceased house to the church along ‘corpse-ways’, or ‘coffin routes’. These stones were used to rest the coffin on.

In the past, people were superstitious about using these paths; if the corpse had been carried along a different route it was considered an ill omen. In the more remote valleys, corpses would have to be dragged on a sledge or strapped to the back of a packhorse.

This route was a favourite of the Wordsworth’s connecting Rydal with Grasmere. It’s first feature, Nab Well inspired the following lines on the poet learning that they might be about to be evicted from Rydal Hall. To Nab Well was published posthumously but brings to life the surroundings that the family were expecting to miss :

The doubt to which a wavering hope had clung 
Is fled; we must depart, willing or not,
Sky-piercing Hills! must bid farewell to you
And all that ye look down upon with pride,
With tenderness imbosom; to your paths,
And pleasant Dwellings, to familiar trees
And wild-flowers known as well as if our hands
Had tended them: and O pellucid Spring!
Insensibly the foretaste of this parting
Hath ruled my steps, and seals me to thy side,
Mindful that thou (ah! wherefore by my Muse
So long unthanked) hast cheered a simple board
With beverage pure as ever fixed the choice
Of Hermit, dubious where to scoop his cell;
Which Persian kings might envy; and thy meek
And gentle aspect oft has ministered
To finer uses. They for me must cease;
Days will pass on, the year, if years be given,
Fade.

William Wordsworth, To Nab Well

[Follow the Coffin Route below Nab Scar to White Moss Common which is a beautiful viewpoint and one of Thomas West’s viewing stations]

‘Mount Grasmere hill, and from the top, have a view of as sweet a scene as travelled eye ever beheld. The bosom of the mountains, spreading here into a broad bason, discover in the midst Grasmere water, its margin is hollowed into small bays, with eminences; some of rock, some of soft turf, that half conceal and vary the figure of the little lake they command: from the shore, a low promontory pushes itself far into the water, and on it stands a white village, with a parish church rising in the midst of it; hanging inclosures, cornfields, and meadows, green as an emerald, with their trees, and hedges, and cattle, fill up the whole space from the edge of the water; and just opposite you, is a large farmhouse, at the bottom of a steep smooth lawn, embosomed in old woods, which climb halfway up the mountains’ sides, and discover above, a broken line of crags, that crown the scene.’

Thomas West, A Guide to the Lakes

[From the summit of White Moss Common follow the footpath south past a small tarn, to the old road. Turn left and stop at the large overhanging rock on the left hand side of the road.]
POEMS ON THE NAMING OF PLACES

Soon after arriving at Dove Cottage Wordsworth began writing a series of poems themed on the idea of a ‘sense of place’. It was an attempt to combine poetry-making with home-making and to inscribe a genius loci or ‘spirit of place’ on the landscape. In 1800 Wordsworth wrote an introduction to the series:

‘By Persons resident in the country and attached to rural objects, many places will be found unnamed or of unknown names, where little Incidents will have occurred, or feelings been experienced, which will have given to such places a private and peculiar interest. From a wish to give some sort of record to such Incidents or renew the gratification of such Feelings, Names have been given to Places by the Author and some of his Friends, and the following Poems written in consequence.’ The first of these places is Glow Worm Rock.

G – GLOW WORM ROCK

A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Glow Worm Rock, engraving by Harry Goodwin 1887

Wordsworth’s circle witnessed the world passing by at Glow Worm Rock, on the only main road between Ambleside & Keswick. They would have seen vagrants, beggars, soldiers and tourists on their way to discover the picturesque. Many of these characters would become an inspiration for poems such as Benjamin and The Waggoner and The Beggars. Wordsworth approved of tourists but only if they stopped and appreciated the scenery, not pass by in their carriages with their guide books:

What waste in the labour of Chariot and Steed! 
For this came ye hither? is this your delight? 
There are twenty-four letters, and those ye can read; 
But Nature's ten thousand are Blanks in your sight. 
Then throw by your Books, and the study begin; 
Or sleep, and be blameless, and wake at Your Inn!

On Seeing Some Tourists of the Lakes Pass by Reading

An earlier and more famous articulation of Wordsworth’s disdain for the guide-book traveller appears in one of the first poems to be written at Dove Cottage:

THESE Tourists, heaven preserve us! needs must live
A profitable life: some glance along,
Rapid and gay, as if the earth were air,
And they were butterflies to wheel about
Long as the summer lasted: some, as wise,
Perched on the forehead of a jutting crag,
Pencil in hand and book upon the knee,
Will look and scribble, scribble on and look,
Until a man might travel twelve stout miles,
Or reap an acre of his neighbour's corn.

William Wordsworth, The Brothers [ll 1-10]

This outcrop was the focus for many poems including A Tuft of Primroses in 1808, The Pilgrims Dream in 1818, and The Primrose of the Rock:

A ROCK there is whose homely front 
The passing traveller slights;
Yet there the glow-worms hang their lamps,
Like stars, at various heights;
And one coy Primrose to that Rock
The vernal breeze invites.
A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Glow Worm Rock Circa 1900’s

It was often covered in Glow Worms and was known as Glow Worm Rock to Wordsworth’s circle. On April 24th 1802 Dorothy wrote in her journal:

‘A very wet day …we walked in the evening to Rydale. Coleridge and I lingered behind. Coleridge stopped up the little runnel by the road-side to make a lake. We all stood to look at Glow-worm Rock a primrose that grew there, and just looked out on the road from its own sheltered bower. The clouds moved, as William observed, in one regular body like a multitude in motion a sky all clouds over, not one cloud.’


H – MARY & SARA POINT

[Continue back along the minor road towards Grasmere until you get to a disused quarry & car park. Take the path around the upper edge of the quarry and head S through a gap in the wall into Baneriggs. 100 yards south of the wall are 2 outcrops of rock]

Mary Hutchinson first visited Dove Cottage in April 1800, just 4 months after Dorothy & William had moved in. By August Dorothy was referring to a Mary Point in her journals: ‘Friday 1st August 1800. In the morning I copied The Brothers. Coleridge and Wm went down to the lake. They returned and we all went together to Mary Point where we sate in the breeze and the shade and read Wm’s poems.’

Sara Hutchinson arrived later in November after which the outcrop adjacent to Mary Point was named Sara Point. In 1845 Wordsworth wrote a reflective poem looking back on their Dove Cottage days. Mary was still alive but Sara had died ten years earlier. His recollection of the twin peaks of rock in Baneriggs Woods inspired Forth from a Jutting Ridge, around whose base:
FORTH from a jutting ridge, around whose base
Winds our deep Vale, two heath-clad Rocks ascend
In fellowship, the loftiest of the pair
Rising to no ambitious height; yet both,
O'er lake and stream, mountain and flowery mead,
Unfolding prospects fair as human eyes
Ever beheld. Up-led with mutual help,
To one or other brow of those twin Peaks
Were two adventurous Sisters wont to climb,
And took no note of the hour while thence they gazed,
The blooming heath their couch, gazed, side by side,
In speechless admiration. I, a witness
And frequent sharer of their calm delight
With thankful heart, to either Eminence
Gave the baptismal name each Sister bore.
Now are they parted, far as Death's cold hand
Hath power to part the Spirits of those who love
As they did love. Ye kindred Pinnacles--
That, while the generations of mankind
Follow each other to their hiding-place
In time's abyss, are privileged to endure
Beautiful in yourselves, and richly graced
With like command of beauty--grant your aid
For MARY'S humble, SARAH'S silent claim,
That their pure joy in nature may survive
From age to age in blended memory.

[Return to the minor road and continue towards Dove Cottage. Follow the road past the entrance to Ladywood (built by Ernest de Selincourt, editor of the Standard Edition of Wordsworth’s Poems and Guide to the Lakes. He was Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1928 to 1933.) Where the wall moves away from the road, go through the iron gate and follow the path into ‘John’s Grove.]

I – JOHN’S GROVE

One of the first visitors to Dove Cottage was William’s brother John Wordsworth who arrived in January 1800. He stayed for nine months and although a stranger to Dorothy & William, having been at sea for many years after the family was separated after their parent’s death, they formed an affectionate bond. John had hoped to make an early fortune as a sea captain and planned to return to Grasmere to live & support his brother whose poetic genius he recognised. His drowning on-board the Earl of Abergavenny (on 5 February 1805) ended this dream. For the Wordsworth’s, John’s memory lived on in one of his favourite places, this fir grove in Lady Wood that became known as John’s Grove:

The story of John’s Grove is told in When, to the Attractions of the Busy World, the sixth poem in the Naming of Places series. The notes to Wordsworth’s 3 volume poetical works dictated to Isabella Fenwick said: ‘The grove still exists, but the plantation has been walled in, and is not so accessible as when my brother John wore the path in the manner
here described. The grove was a favourite haunt with us all while we lived at Town-end.’

When, to the attractions of the busy world,
Preferring studious leisure, I had chosen
A habitation in this peaceful Vale,
Sharp season followed of continual storm
In deepest winter; and, from week to week,
Pathway, and lane, and public road, were clogged
With frequent showers of snow. Upon a hill
At a short distance from my cottage, stands
A stately Fir-grove, whither I was wont
To hasten, for I found, beneath the roof
Of that perennial shade, a cloistral place
Of refuge, with an unincumbered floor …

… Full many an hour
Here did I lose. But in this grove the trees
Had been so thickly planted, and had thriven
In such perplexed and intricate array; 
That vainly did I seek, beneath their stems
A length of open space, where to and fro
My feet might move without concern or care;
And, baffled thus, though earth from day to day
Was fettered, and the air by storm disturbed, 
I ceased the shelter to frequent,—and prized,
Less than I wished to prize, that calm recess.
The snows dissolved, and genial Spring returned
To clothe the fields with verdure. Other haunts
Meanwhile were mine; till, one bright April day,
By chance retiring from the glare of noon 
To this forsaken covert, there I found
A hoary pathway traced between the trees,
And winding on with such an easy line
Along a natural opening, that I stood 
Much wondering how I could have sought in vain
For what was now so obvious. To abide,
For an allotted interval of ease,
Under my cottage-roof, had gladly come
From the wild sea a cherished Visitant; 
And with the sight of this same path—begun,
Begun and ended, in the shady grove,
Pleasant conviction flashed upon my mind
That, to this opportune recess allured,
He had surveyed it with a finer eye, 
A heart more wakeful; and had worn the track
By pacing here, unwearied and alone,
In that habitual restlessness of foot
That haunts the Sailor measuring o'er and o'er
His short domain upon the vessel's deck, 
While she pursues her course through the dreary sea …
… Back to the joyless Ocean thou art gone;
Nor from this vestige of thy musing hours 
Could I withhold thy honoured name,—and now
I love the fir-grove with a perfect love.
Thither do I withdraw when cloudless suns
Shine hot, or wind blows troublesome and strong;
And there I sit at evening, when the steep 
Of Silver-how, and Grasmere's peaceful lake,
And one green island, gleam between the stems
Of the dark firs, a visionary scene!
And, while I gaze upon the spectacle
Of clouded splendour, on this dream-like sight 
Of solemn loveliness, I think on thee,
My Brother, and on all which thou hast lost.
Nor seldom, if I rightly guess, while Thou,
Muttering the verses which I muttered first
Among the mountains, through the midnight watch
Art pacing thoughtfully the vessel's deck 
In some far region, here, while o'er my head,
At every impulse of the moving breeze,
The fir-grove murmurs with a sea-like sound,
Alone I tread this path;—for aught I know, 
Timing my steps to thine; and, with a store
Of undistinguishable sympathies,
Mingling most earnest wishes for the day
When we, and others whom we love, shall meet
A second time, in Grasmere's happy Vale.

J – THE WISHING GATE

Sara's Gate overlooking Grasmere Lake to Silver How
Illustration of Sara’s Gate.
© Georgie Bennett | The Folio Society edition of The Grasmere Journal

150 yards beyond John’s Grove is the Wishing Gate. It was a favourite place of Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth’s sister-in-law and recipient of Coleridge’s infatuation. To the Wordsworth circle it was called Sara’s Gate:

‘In the vale of Grasmere, by the side of the old highway leading to Ambleside, is a gate, which, time out of mind, has been called the Wishing Gate, from a belief that wishes formed or indulged there have a favourable issue.’ – Preface to The Wishing Gate

On 31 October 1801, Dorothy writes in her Journal:

‘William and Sara went to Keswick. Mary and I walked to the top of the hill and looked at Rydale. I was much affected when I stood upon the second bar of Sara’s gate. The lake was perfectly still, the sun shone on hill and vale, the distant birch trees looked like large golden flowers. Nothing else In colour was distinct and separate, but all the beautiful colours seemed to be melted into one another, and joined together in one mass, so that there were no differences, though an endless variety when one tried to find it out. The fields were of one sober yellow-brown . . . ‘


K – DOVE COTTAGE

A Literary Walk through Wordsworth's Grasmere
Dove Cottage. Home of William Wordsworth, Grasmere, Lake District
Photo © Stephen Gidley

Wordsworth first saw Dove Cottage by chance as he walked through Town End with his brother John and Coleridge in late 1799. He and Dorothy moved in just a few weeks later.

The cottage had once been a coaching inn, the Dove and Olive Bough. It was now to be the Wordsworth’s home for the next eight years. In 1802 William married Mary Hutchinson and three of their five children were born here.

[Walk towards Grasmere along the B 5287. Look east back towards the summit of Stone Arthur.]

Although not seen from Town End, this summit was a dominant presence in the lives of the Wordsworth’s, especially Dorothy who imparted all of William’s qualities and his name onto the living stone:

There is an Eminence, of these our hills
The last that parleys with the setting sun;
We can behold it from our orchard-seat;
And, when at evening we pursue out walk
Along the public way, this Peak, so high
Above us, and so distant in its height,
Is visible; and often seems to send
Its own deep quiet to restore our hearts.
The meteors make of it a favourite haunt:
The star of Jove, so beautiful and large                    
In the mid heavens, is never half so fair
As when he shines above it. 'Tis in truth
The loneliest place we have among the clouds.
And She who dwells with me, whom I have loved
With such communion, that no place on earth
Can ever be a solitude to me,
Hath to this lonely Summit given my Name.

[Continue into Grasmere and visit the Church & Gravestones]

L – GRASMERE CHURCH

[The first thing to note is the Rectory across the road overlooking the Church.]
The Rectory, Grasmere. Home to William Wordsworth from 1811 to 1813
The Rectory, Grasmere (1880-1890)

The Wordsworth’s rented The Rectory from May 1811 until May 1813. In the 1811 Journal, Dorothy wrote:

‘We had the finest Christmas day ever remembered, a cloudless sky and glittering lake; the tops of the higher mountains covered with snow. The day was kept as usual with roast beef and plumb pudding.’

But very soon things took a turn for the worse. Sara Hutchinson staying in early 1812 felt the need for ‘a healthier house … for I verily believe that this is a deadly situation, and you would all say the same if you knew the bog which it stands in – add to this the comforts of the smoke within … it is without doubt a hateful house’.

In June that year, the Wordsworth’s three-year-old daughter Catherine died while both parents were away. This was followed in December by the death of Thomas aged six. The smoking chimneys, the bog and now the sight of their children’s graves was too much.

St. Oswald’s Church was the Wordsworth’s place of worship, their children’s playground (no graves had been dug yet) and school. Wordsworth planted and nurtured the eight Yew Trees you see today. He describes the churchyard in 1800 in The Excursion:

Green is the Churchyard, beautiful and green,
Ridge rising gently by the side of ridge,
A heaving surface, almost wholly free
From interruption of sepulchral stones,
And mantled o'er with aboriginal turf
And everlasting flowers.

William Wordsworth, The Excursion [ll 605 – 10]

Wordsworth’s son John had lessons here (now the Gingerbread Shop) and in 1811 Wordsworth taught. The church is the location the Poet, Wanderer and the Solitary are heading for in The Excursion. They describe it as:

Not raised in nice proportions was the pile,
But large and massy; for duration built;
With pillars crowded, and the roof upheld
By naked rafters intricately crossed …

Later in The Excursion, Wordsworth pictured the travellers on the flanks of Loughrigg, looking down on the Vale of Grasmere and hearing the words of the Pastor …

A willing mind
Might almost think, at this affecting hour
That paradise, the lost abode of man,
Was raised again: and to a happy few
In its original beauty, here restored.

And not far from this spot, as we learnt at the beginning of this walk, a schoolboy paused on the edge of ‘yon steep barrier’ of Hammerscar and also thought ‘here … Must be his home, this Valley be his world’.

[If time permits the following places can be visited in a circular walk from outside the Heaton Cooper Studio:]
ALLAN BANK

Wordsworth’s home from 1808 to 1811. William was outraged when the house was built in 1805 by Liverpool Merchant John Crump. He told a friend Richard Sharp in 1805:

‘Woe to poor Grasmere for ever and ever! A wretched creature, wretched in name and nature of the name crump, goaded on by his still more wretched wife (for by-the-bye, the man, though a Liverpool attorney, is, I am told, a very good sort of fellow, but the wife as ambitious as Semiramis) this same wretch has at last begun to put his long impending threats in execution; and when you next enter the sweet paradise of Grasmere you will see staring you in the face, upon that beautiful ridge that elbows out into the vale, (behind the church, and towering far above its steeple), a temple of abomination, in which are to be enshrined Mr and Mrs Crump. Seriously, this is a great vexation to us, as this house will stare you in the face from every part of the Vale, and entirely destroy its character of simplicity and seclusion.’

Letters of the Wordsworth Family [181] [NOTE: Why was Allen Bank a cause of such great consternation for Wordsworth? Draw a line of sight from the garden of Dove Cottage towards Wordsworth’s magical Easedale and there, infiltrating the view, on high ground, was Allan Bank.]

EMMA’S DELL (GR 332080)

Easedale was the charm in Wordsworth’s Grasmere. There are many diary entries in Dorothy’s Journal and William is said to have composed ‘thousands of verses by the sides of Easedale Brook’. It was known to them as the Black Quarter because of the number of clouds and storms that gathered there.

The first of Wordsworth’s series Poems on the Naming of Places was set beside Easedale Beck just below Goody Bridge where a bend in the steam meets a small waterfall, it was ‘…my other home, my dwelling and my out-of-doors abode’. To him it was Emma’s Dell, Emma being Williams pseudonym for Dorothy:

It was an April morning: fresh and clear
The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man's speed; and yet the voice
Of waters which the winter had supplied
Was softened down into a vernal tone. 
The spirit of enjoyment and desire,
And hopes and wishes, from all living things
Went circling, like a multitude of sounds.
The budding groves seemed eager to urge on
The steps of June; as if their various hues 
Were only hindrances that stood between
Them and their object: but, meanwhile, prevailed
Such an entire contentment in the air
That every naked ash, and tardy tree
Yet leafless, showed as if the countenance 
With which it looked on this delightful day
Were native to the summer.—Up the brook
I roamed in the confusion of my heart,
Alive to all things and forgetting all.
At length I to a sudden turning came 
In this continuous glen, where down a rock
The Stream, so ardent in its course before,
Sent forth such sallies of glad sound, that all
Which I till then had heard, appeared the voice
Of common pleasure: beast and bird, the lamb, 
The shepherd's dog, the linnet and the thrush
Vied with this waterfall, and made a song,
Which, while I listened, seemed like the wild growth
Or like some natural produce of the air,
That could not cease to be. Green leaves were here; 
But 'twas the foliage of the rocks—the birch,
The yew, the holly, and the bright green thorn,
With hanging islands of resplendent furze:
And, on a summit, distant a short space,
By any who should look beyond the dell, 
A single mountain-cottage might be seen.
I gazed and gazed, and to myself I said,
"Our thoughts at least are ours; and this wild nook,
My Emma, I will dedicate to thee."
—Soon did the spot become my other home, 
My dwelling, and my out-of-doors abode.
And, of the Shepherds who have seen me there,
To whom I sometimes in our idle talk
Have told this fancy, two or three, perhaps,
Years after we are gone and in our graves, 
When they have cause to speak of this wild place,
May call it by the name of Emma's Dell.

William Wordsworth, It was an April morning: Fresh and Clear


Download the route via the ViewRanger App on Andriod and IOS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *