Walking in the Footsteps of Poets
To walk in the footsteps of the poets, you don’t have to do a marathon. Not if you come to Cumbria. A toddler could comfortably tackle this part of our winter walk across The Central Lakes; stomping through the haunts of Wordsworth and his missus, and playing hide and seek in the grounds of Rydal Hall. Mind you they may struggle to understand the ins and outs of the iambic pentameter and the picturesque movement…
What? Wordsworth lived here?
Cameron is unimpressed by Wordsworth’s garden.
“Yes. There it is. Very Romantic. Let’s move on.”
“Hey wait,” I try to call him back. “Wordsworth laid this out himself. And he probably hung out in it with Dorothy.”
“It’s boring. There isn’t even a swing or any flowers. And the thing is, Hayes Garden Centre is just down the road. That’s got some awesome stuff.”
The stuff of dreams?
I try to explain that it’s winter; and that in a few months time this might be the stuff of poets’ dreams. But the three of them have their fingers in their ears and are singing tunelessly; a general sign that they’re not up for a lecture. Oh well. Kids and the Romantic movement don’t mix do they?
The ‘R’ word has been banned from our house along with ‘girlfriend’ and ‘love.’ Wordsworth would clearly have bagged himself more readers under the age of ten if he’d written about wizards rather than nature’s magic. Or slugs and sludge. These coincidentally line today’s route. So today’s walk is short, pretty and pretty muddy, winding through Ambleside and up, along a flat and easy track through the grounds of Rydal Hall.
Ambling from Ambleside
Our day’s walk begins where we ended the day before. Ambleside is its usual busy self; full of hardy walkers and even more determined fleece and goretex hunters. But we’re on the trail of the poets and it starts almost straight away when our leaflet points us to Wordsworth’s old offices and a plaque telling us he was a distributor of stamps for Westmorland, for quite a long time.
“Wordsworth was a stamp collector then?” asks Hannah.
“He sold stamps for 30 years? How long did he write poems for?” asks Matthew.
In the space of a few footsteps my kids have turned a literary genius into a cross between an amateur postmaster and a hobbyist gardener lacking in imagination. It’s not quite the direction I thought we were going.
We leave Ambleside beside Stock ghyll, a ghyll being a Cumbrian stream. Today, like previous days, Cumbrian water is flowing freely in the ghyll and falling freely on our heads. We pass the Bridge House, a 300 year old apple store that sits across Stock ghyll. It’s one of Cumbria’s most photographed scenes, but there’s no-one here today.
And onto Rydal Hall
Beyond the town a track leads us up and into the grounds of Rydal Hall, where the high fells at the head of Rydal Beck Valley and Nab Scar provide the view. Although we have lived in Cumbria for twelve years, it still throws up surprises on a regular basis. For the kids one of todays is discovering that beck is yet another Cumbrian word for water. But for me today’s delight is Rydal Hall.
This stately looking hall and gardens is now a religious retreat and conference centre, but it also has a strong creative spirit. There must be something in the water here. As we wind our way around the grounds, we stumble across a variety of nature based sculptures, some beautiful gardens and a little tea shop serving hot chocolate.
And tucked away where Rydal Beck turns to a waterfall is an even bigger surprise; the oldest ‘viewing point’ in Britain. The ‘Grot’ is a little stone building, hardly more than four walls, a roof and a panoramic window framing the waterfall scene. But I could sit here for hours watching the rush and force of the water. Not just watching but writing, painting, sketching.
And so it seems could the kids who bag the prime window seat I had my eye on. Just like I imagine Lakeland regulars like Wordsworth and Gilpin did before we arrived. This little building, restored and repaired between 2005-7, became famous as part of the picturesque movement as a wild view that inspired dramatic landscape painting. If you want to see it check out Matthew’s video tour of The Grot.
Our short walk in the footsteps of the poets finishes at one of Cumbria’s cultural treasures; Rydal Mount. Wordsworth lived his final years here and it’s now a popular museum and cafe. But we don’t go in; it’s closed today. So instead we head down to St Mary’s Churchyard and into the church which in Spring is encircled by golden daffodils. But not today.
There’s no sign of daffodils yet as we stroll around Dora’s field next door.
“You said there would be daffodils! There’s just weeds and stones,” says Hannah.
“Ah but there is poetry here too.” I spot an engraved wooden plaque in small stone walled memorial garden.
“It’s beautiful,” says Stuart.
“Death isn’t very romantic,” says Cameron.
“I already did poetry at school,” says Hannah, dismissing all the works of the great Poets with a wave of her hand.
Our thanks to Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire for their help in bringing you this story.
Check out our Day 1: What? No Car? A Lake District Family Walking Tour
Check out our Day 2: Really Seeing The Lake District
Check out our Talking Point: Are you a Muddy Boots Person?
Check out our Talking Point: Where does adventure begin? At the front door?
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