The Lake District: Wordsworth’s Romantic Landscape
15 October 2018
There are few people who haven’t heard this verse –
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
This is taken from William Wordworth’s poem ‘I wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ – a celebrated poem and one of our national favourites.
Wordsworth and his close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge (‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’) ignited the Romantic era of literature after publishing the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ in 1798.
Are The Lakes the Most Romantic Place in Britain?
So, Wordsworth was a key figure of Romanticism, and in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads he describes poetry (amongst many things) as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.
What then, gave Wordsworth intense enough feelings that he was compelled to scribble them down in poetic haste?
Much of his romantic poetry is deeply entwined with the natural world, and this world, was the Lake District. Wordsworth spent the majority of life in The Lakes, and loved it.
Without jumping to conclusions, if it inspired the man himself, this might make The Lake District the most romantic place in Britain.
Wordsworth’s Lake District
Where did he live, where did he go? What was Wordsworth’s Lake District like? Exploring the haunts of the cherished Romantic poet is part of a long list of things that draws people to the Lake District.
Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater Lake
This supremely lovely lake is the second largest in the National Park.
In true Lake District fashion it has a thin, ribbon shape and is graced by wooded hillsides. Often, sailing boats can be seen, with their white sails blooming in the breeze.
It was whilst out walking with his sister Dorothy around Glencoyne Bay, part of Ullswater Lake, that Wordsworth saw his “golden daffodils”.
Near the edge of the lake the siblings spotted a long drift of daffodils, as if the lake had offered up seeds to the shore.
Taken from her Grasmere Journal in 1802, Dorothy recounts how beautiful the scene was –
“…They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake”.
It sounds worthy of a poem doesn’t it?
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
Cockermouth is a lovely, historic market town, a stone’s throw from the northwestern fringes of The Lake District.
A fine Georgian town house here, funnily enough, now known as “Wordsworth House” was the birthplace and childhood home of William.
These days, courtesy of the National Trust – Wordsworth House is open to the public. They present it as close to how the Wordsworth family would have known it as possible.
The National Trust’s attention to detail at Wordsworth House is amazing. You can even eat a meal that might’ve been served up to the young poet, and see some 18th Century vegetables, fruit and herbs in the garden.
Hawkshead, South Lakeland
This pretty village, a whisker north of Esthwaite Water and west of the famous Lake Windermere is where William Wordsworth went to school.
There’s definitely something about Hawkshead, and The Lakes that fires literary geniuses – not only Wordsworth, but also Beatrix Potter.
You can now enjoy a tour of the Old Grammar School in Hawkshead, which is in part a shrine to William Wordsworth.
Apparently the students were allowed to carve their names on the desks, drink beer and smoke. Why, is explained on the tour. If that happened in a school today it’d be national news.
Dove Cottage, Grasmere
Dove cottage sounds quaint, and is.
After attending Cambridge University, Wordsworth went on a walking holiday of The Lake District.
During his trip he fell for Dove cottage, and in 1799 moved in with his sister. It was here he penned his most revered poetry and Dorothy Wordsworth started her famed Grasmere journal.
This sweet little cottage is still home to some of the Wordworth’s possessions and remains mostly unchanged. When you visit Dove Cottage, with the fires stoked, and the evocative Lake District countryside just outside the windows – perhaps you’ll feel like composing some verses yourself…
Allan Bank, Grasmere
Allan Bank is a Georgian villa, on a rocky hillside presiding over Lake Grasmere – now looked after by the National Trust.
During its building William Wordsworth accused Allan Bank of being “an eye sore”. It didn’t stop him making it his family home in 1808 though, so he can’t have disliked it that much. It’s doubtful the irony was lost on him.
Allan Bank is where William Wordsworth and his wife had the last of their five children. But after a couple of years, they moved on, because the chimneys were too smoky, and they rowed with the landlord.
Rydal Mount & Rydal Water, Ambleside
After leaving Allan Bank the Wordsworth family relocated to the heart of The Lake District, to a cottage called Rydal Mount – near Ambleside.
Much like Allan Bank, Rydal Mount has soul-stirring lake views. Except this time William would have been in his attic study looking out over Lake Windermere – the largest natural lake in England.
Like the other Wordsworth properties, Rydal Mount is open for public viewing. Wouldn’t it be spine tingling to experience one of the exact views that inspired a literary great?
As well as visiting the cottage, poetry pilgrims can literally walk in Wordsworth’s footsteps around Rydal Water on a six-mile circular route.
A Romantic Lake District Escape
At Rothay Garden hotel in Grasmere you can immerse yourself in the luxury of fine dining, calming spa treatments and venture out into the finest romantic landscape Britain has to offer.