Pilgrimage to Grasmere: Home to Wordsworth and Coleridge

England’s Lake District inspires our recent visit. From London, a train carries us northward through hillside sheep pastures and rustic villages to Windermere. A morning bus takes us to Grasmere, where two beloved poets lived, mused and wrote.

Vines of pink roses trim William Wordsworth’s whitewashed cottage. Once a wayside inn, Dove Cottage’s parlour retains its black paneling. A table’s small black suitcase recalls Wordsworth’s travels.

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“After graduating from Cambridge, he walked through Revolutionary France and Switzerland carrying one set of clothes and a notebook in that suitcase. Returning, he rented this cottage in 1799 to share with his sister Dorothy,” explains the docent, Katie. “A kindred spirit, Dorothy declared how their years here provided plain living and high thinking.”

The kitchen cupboards contain period dishes and brass candelabras reflecting that simple lifestyle. An adjacent buttery’s under-floor stream cooled perishables. Fireplaces, we discover, heated as well as allowed cooking throughout the house.

Upstairs, Wordsworth’s study offers views of turquoise Grasmere Lake. “William composed poetry at that chaise lounge. As his Lyrical Ballads included his friend’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge often stayed here collaborating on revised editions. Their groundbreaking work launched Britain’s Romantic Period,” Katie explains.

“Receiving his father’s inheritance in 1802, William married. Adding three children, this cottage became quite crowded.”

One of three adjoining bedrooms features a canopied bed, perhaps preventing wee beasties from falling on sleepers. London Globe newspapers served as the nursery’s wallpaper and insulation.

In a backyard garden, signs present Dorothy and William’s odes celebrating nature. One of hers humorously esteems peas and turnips, while his verses blissfully praise violets and butterflies.

An adjacent museum delves more into the lives of Wordsworth and Coleridge. After Wordsworth’s mother died, his father sent eight-year old William to boarding school and directed Dorothy to live with an aunt. His portrait appears among other Lake Poets: Coleridge, De Quincey and Southey, known best for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

A village pathway leads us to seventh century St. Oswald Church, named after a king sainted for generosity. Inside, on a wall above the pews, a large marble plaque commemorates William Wordsworth, England’s poet laureate and philosopher. A churchyard’s daffodil garden further honours Wordsworth with a panel citing his endearing I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. A wrought iron fence surrounds family gravesites; an angel adorns daughter Dora’s gravestone.

A quiet track leads to Alan Bank, their next home. Wordsworth considered this 1808 structure an eyesore, though golden daffodils can be imagined “beside its lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

Its unrestored rooms suggest spacious, comfortable accommodation. Yet, Dorothy regarded it uninhabitable due to failing chimneys. A posted cartoon illustrates it as the smoky “temple of abomination.”

Coleridge resided with them, entertaining their now five children with his poetry and notably conjured Kubla Khan. After rousing this dreamlike creation, opium destroyed familial bonds, resulting in his leaving Alan Bank.

Traveling a few miles south, we see Rydal Mount, the Wordsworths’ last home. Parlour windows still frame William’s self-designed garden and distant Crinkle Crag Mountains. Wall shelves contain his 12 major poetry books, colleagues’ anthologies and long favoured works by Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser. A mannequin sports his 1843 poet laureate’s fancy uniform. Its stipend helped support him until his death in 1850.

Among other prized possessions, a painting reveals Wordsworth with prominent contemporaries including Sir Walter Scott. Upstairs, roomy bedrooms, including Dorothy’s and Dora’s, exhibit period furniture. Heading to the bus stop, we pass by his beloved daughter’s memorial garden at St. Mary church.

Grasmere has delightfully revealed many insights into Wordsworth and Coleridge’s sublime, imaginative poetry.

If you go: BritRail Passes: www.acprail.com, wordsworth.org.uk/your-visit/dove-cottage, www.rydalmount.co.uk

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