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Walking in the footsteps of Poets: Rydal Hall Walk

Doras Field Rydal Cumbria
Written by Kirstie Pelling
Doras Field Rydal Cumbria

Is this the right Dora Mum? At the other Dora’s Field, Rydal, Cumbria

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.”

Rydal Hall Landscape

These are the landscapes that inspired the Romantics. But not Cameron.

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.

Track to Rydal Hall

On our way up to 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 Plaque Ambleside

Was this Wordsworth’s true vocation?

“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.

Hands and Boots In the Beck Cumbria

Hands and boots in a small ghyll in Cumbria

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.

Rydal Hall

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.

Rydal Hall Art

The creative influence hangs all around Rydal Hall gardens and grounds

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.

The Grott Rydal Hall

Inside the Grott at Rydal Hall. That’s what I call a picture window.

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.

Art and Sculpture Rydal Hall

Art and Sculpture in the grounds of Rydal Hall

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.

St Mary's Church Rydal Cumbria

St Mary’s Church Rydal Cumbria

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.

St Marys Church Rydal

Poem in Churchyard, St Marys Church, Rydal

“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.

Art Rydal Hall

Art Rydal Hall


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About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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