William Wordsworth – famous poet and wanderer of the Lakeland valleys and fells. He spent his early life in Cockermouth, Penrith and Hawkshead, but is more famously associated with Grasmere and Rydal where he lived for most of his adult life.
Spend some time discovering his homes around Grasmere and walk in the footsteps of William and Dorothy as they travelled round the area visiting friends and gaining inspiration for the poems William is famous for, as well as local news and natural history for Dorothy’s journals.
Start your walk on the outskirts of the village of Grasmere; this charming lakeland hamlet was where Wordsworth decided to settle. He came across the house that is now called Dove Cottage, which was then an inn called the “Dove and Olive Bough”. Here he and his sister lived from 1799 to 1808. By then, William had married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and they already had 3 children and were expecting another.
Now head in to the village. As you enter the village look up the valley to the peak of Helm Crag. This peak is often referred to as “The lion and the lamb”, look at the summit rocks and see if you can work out why.
In the village you will find the church of St Oswald, enter the church yard to find the last resting place of Wordsworth and many family members.
This church was an important place as it was the parish church for Rydal, Grasmere and Langdale and as a result the church has three entrances.
Next to the church is the famous Sarah Nelson Gingerbread shop. Started in 1850 this shop sells freshly made gingerbread made to the original secret receipe.
Buy some for the walk and sit and enjoy it whilst admiring the view.
From Grasmere you head out of the village on Red Bank Road. Up on the hill to your right you will spy the large house of Allan Bank. This grand house was considered an “abomination” by Wordsworth at first as it spoiled his view of the fells from Dove Cottage. When his family outgrew Dove Cottage in 1808 he moved into Allan Bank and grew to like it as it has wonderful views.
In 2011 Allan Bank suffered a fire. Luckly the house was not burnt down, but it did require major renovation work. The unfurnished house is due to open to the public for a year at the end of March 2012, whilst its future is decided.
From Grasmere you head past the Fairy Garden tea rooms. This small tea room has a miniature gypsy caravan, benches with views across Grasmere and row boats for hire.
Follow the road past a number of houses until you reach the permissive right of way down to the lake shore. This path gives fantastic views across the lake to the fells of Heron Pike, Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike. Grasmere is fairly shallow and in cold winters it freezes. This provided the villagers and the Wordsworths with a place to ice skate.
Cold winters are fewer and so ice skating has become a thing of the past.
The path comes to a small dam and the entrance to the River Rothay. You could cross the bridge into the woods and spend some time exploring White Moss Common. However, head uphill in front of you towards the coll above the woods. From here you could walk up Loughrigg Terrace with great views down on to Grasmere before climbing to the summit of Loughrigg.
If you wish drop down to Rydal’s lake shore, but better still take the higher path which takes you to Rydal cave. This large cave was formed from slate extraction – a major piece of engineering when you stop and think about how they got all the slate out. Today, the cave is used from time to time for carol singing due to its accoustics.
Follow the old track used for carrying the slate out until you come to a gate. From here, head down to the lake and then follow the track through the woods and over the river to come out in Rydal.
Walk through Dora’s field which is a sight to behold when the bluebells or daffodils are out. The daffodils were planted by Wordsworth and his family in memory of his daughter Dora. .
Head to the church which you should find open. The church was built in 1823 by Lady le Fleming of Rydal Hall. It was attended by the Wordsworths when they lived at Rydal Mount. William was churchwarden there in 1833. If you look, you will find his pew as well as that of Dr Arnold, Head of Rugby School, who lived at Fox How, Under Loughrigg and was a personal friend of the Wordsworths.
Continue up the hill to Rydal Mount the final home of William, his wife Mary and Dorothy Wordsworth (from 1813). The house is still owned by descendants of the Wordsworths and the garden is still very similar to the one designed and planted by William and is an example of a “romantic style” garden.
Spend some time in the house and grounds as well as enjoying tea and cake in the garden.
Opposite Rydal Mount is Rydal Hall. This property was built in the 16th Century by the Le Fleming family. It is presently owned by the Diocese of Carlisle and is run as a Christian centre.
You will also find another great tea room in the Old School House at Rydal Hall. This is open to the public and serves great food for hungry, wet and muddy walkers. Dogs are also welcome here.
If you continue up the hill past Rydal Mount you come to the old coffin route. Turn left on to this and follow this track. This was the track used to carry the coffins from Rydal to Grasmere church for burial.
Here also is the end of the classic Fairfield horseshoe walk. A route that starts in Ambleside and climbs up over High Pike and round onto Fairfield before descending over Heron Pike to Rydal and then along the valley back to the start.
As you walk along the track keep your eye out for a dead tree studded with money on the side of the track. This is done to bring good luck.
Further on you will come across the stone bench used to rest the coffins on.
The coffin route gives great views down on to Rydal Water and the route you have taken to get here. Beyond, the peaks of Great Langdale and Coniston rise in the distance.
Eventually you come to White Moss Tarn. This tarn may have been used to wash wool in the past as Grasmere wove cloth to be sent to Kendal as “Kendal Green”. It was also another favourite skating pond for Wordsworth.
Follow the road down the hill, look out for another coffin stone on your right. As you come down the hill you will end up back at Dove Cottage with a short walk into Grasmere.
For a full day out discovering more about Wordsworth and his homes why not hire a Blue Badge Guide to help you make the most of this walk. For those wanting guided walks up the many fells in the area, including the Fairfield Horseshoe, Eden Outdoor Adventures can provide a qualified mountain leader to guide you.
So why not discover the homes of Wordsworth, enjoy some great walking and spend time enjoying a cup of tea and eating cake with family and friends?