For romantic souls, the Lake District is among the best places to visit in England. A home and safe haven for many whose works are still regarded as masterpieces of English literature. William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Beatrix Potter probably being best known among those who lived here for a length of time.
Spring is lovely everywhere, but at the Lake District, where a handful of lakes gather between the mountains, this season becomes hauntingly beautiful. Occasional sharpness of the wind is forgiven for the scent from early blooms it brings, rain showers, as quick to come as they are to end, is a small price to pay for the freshness and gentle greenery, leisurely drive-pace on the curvy mountain roads are rewarded by an opportunity to admire rising cliffs and stunning views to a lake and islands, appearing behind the next curve.
“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.“
A fragment from I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.
Lake District seems to remember and celebrate historical people who lived in the area and there are many writers among them.
William Wordsworth, a poet laureate and a founding father of the romantic era in English literature, lived here for eight years of his earlier life, before the fame and financial security. His friendship and collaboration with Samuel T. Coleridge and setting a foundation to the romantic poetry in England, all connected to the Grasmere, a small town in the Lake District, one of the best-loved holiday destinations in England.
The Dove cottage, a slice of history for 19th-century middle class
I recently acquired a pass to the Dove Cottage, Wordsworth home from his early years, now set up as a period house and a nod to the great Lake Poet. Our walk around the house with our guide, All, starts from a dark room with a low ceiling. For me the high is fine but taller gentlemen in the group seem to struggle. All, who is remarkably tall, hold his head with an air of a one who has learned from a hard experience. With a good humor, he leads us along and provides a myriad of fun and interesting factoids of the era, the house, and its occupants.
Turns out that the annual rent for this whole two-story house had been 8£. Contemplating the extent of an inflation since the early 19th century I follow the group through the rooms. Among a few alterations made to the house are increasing the windows. Makes me wonder what other modern luxuries we take for granted. Even with alterations rooms are still dark and white walls do a little to change that.
The ground floor has a family room, a kitchen, and a pantry. Latter is built over a stream, to keep the room cold. Walking into the spacious room (I have lived in smaller rooms in my times) feels like entering a walk-in-fridge. Such a resourceful use of the natural environment.
The family would have been probably considered middle-class, with means enough to avoid earning a daily living (they were living off the legacy of 900£) but not rich enough to squander on luxury. A few pieces of furniture placed in the house (rooms are mostly empty) are elegant, a bed with heavy curtains, upholstered seats and a display case with trinkets. The chair and a couch that actually belonged to the Wordsworth are presented to us and excite an appropriate interest from the group.
Dove cottage is a slice of history, an example different from huge castles and massive chateaus. A gimps to the life of a middle-class family. Though the house may appear large to us, it must have been quite crowded at the time. During the years lived in the Dove Cottage William got married and had the first three kids.
Dorothy, William’s sister who lived with him, was a writer herself. Her best-known works to our times are her diaries, where she describes a daily life of the family, their work and domestic struggles of housekeeping. Her diaries give us an idea of the way the family lived. Amusingly, among her domestic grievances were a high price for the tea. This fashionable brew seems to have been a sizable expense in the family budget. Tea leaves were used twice, then dried and offered to sell in the village to anybody willing to attempt to use them a third time.
Children’s room is wallpapered with newspapers as Dorothy’s describes herself doing in her diaries. Our guide speculates that it was probably partly to insulate. Without a fireplace and located atop of the cold pantry downstairs, any extra must have helped.
Despite the limited means, a family of three grown-ups and three small kids, but still found a way to entertain and even had friends staying with them for an extended period of time.
Samuel T. Coleridge and a substance abuse
Among friends visiting the Dove Cottage was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a good friend for many years. He is also believed to have been accompanying the Wordsworth on his walk when they first discovered the Dove Cottage.
The second of the Three Lake poets, Coleridge is known of an unfortunate combination of his romantic poetry and an opium abuse. While a tea was expensive, the opium apparently was cheap and widely used as a household medication, taken against headaches and even given to children to help them sleep.
Thought Wordsworth himself probably didn’t have a problem with substance abuse (with the exception of tea perhaps) it appears that his friendship with Coleridge was eventually disrupted by latter’s addiction.
Among Coleridge’s many claims to fame, his poem, Kubla Khan, has an important role to play in a book from a completely different genre. Douglas Adams made it a plot device in „Dirk Gently’s holistic detective agency“, where Dirk’s disruption stoped Coleridge from finishing his famous „A Vision in a Dream“. Read more about Dirk in my previous post.
„Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.“
A Fragment from Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Also known as A vision in a dream.
Wordsworth Daffodil garden
William Wordsworth and members of his family are buried here, next to St Oswald’s church. This fact has resulted in an impressive example of a creative marketing. If you had a church falling apart and no funds to repair it but had a famous poet buried in the garden, what would you do? You couldn’t sell a ticket, that’s for sure.
While it must be difficult to find a single donation large enough to get a notable work done or get a lot out of donation boxes, there are people who are glad to contribute to be part of creating something beautiful for years to come.
To raise funds needed, a piece of wasteland next to the church was transformed into the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden. People could buy daffodil bulbs to be planted or get engraved stones to be part of the pavement. After ten years of work, around 3 000 stones and countless bulbs later a public garden is open to visitors and locals who wish to honor the great Poet Laureate.
Though at the time of my visit the daffodils are gone the garden still have many visitors. I enjoy a walk along the curvy pavement and read the names on the black engraved stones. Though daffodils are finished blossoming there are other blooms around as and my mind takes me back to spring days on daffodil hills up in the north. With a memory vivid in my mind I reach the end of the road and read from the engraved stone tablet:
“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.“
*I was a guest of The Wordsworth Trust in the Dove Cottage and the museum. I’m proud to be an honest blogger and transparent in my collaborations, any review written is a result of my true personal experience.