On the occasion of the birthday of William Wordsworth I am reblogging this post from a couple of years ago. I’ve just watched a feature on the local news about the poet and his great love for his Lake District home turf, a spot I am also fond of. Wordsworth fiercely disapproved of the ‘uneducated masses’ descending on the area to enjoy its beauty and inspirational power as he and his privileged contemporaries did. The emptiness of pretty Grasmere village today would have been very much to Wordsworth’s liking, a paradise for any lonely cloud-wanderer. News footage showed deserted streets and empty cafes as social distancing keeps us all close to home. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the danger abates and allows us once more to enjoy scenes like these.
I was recently given an intriguing book: a paperback version of a travel guide of the Lake District written by the celebrated poet William Wordsworth who was born and resided most of his life in that beautiful part of England. A Guide Through the District of the Lakes was first published in 1810 and revised and reprinted several times before the final version was written in 1835. Wordsworth was strapped for cash and with a growing family, hence the artistic compromise. Wordsworth himself expressed some degree of contempt for this work, admitting that the need for funds had been the incentive behind its publication.
Whilst it’s obviously not in the same league as his poetry, I quite like this book; it’s like a Lonely Planet guide of its time and reminds me of the later Wainwright guides which laid out walking routes across the mountainous pastoral terrain of the north of England, routes still followed to this day. I find it very interesting to compare Wordsworth’s poetry with his – albeit highly descriptive in parts – functional writing.
Wordsworth made his home close to Grasmere Lake to the south of the Lake District region. Its name is from the old English gress and mere – the lake flanked by grass. Wordsworth first stayed at Dove Cottage, and his final home was at Rydal Mount where he died in 1850. At only a mile long and half a mile wide, Grasmere was not particularly impressive in size, but was Wordsworth’s favourite. The river Rothay feeds the lake, from where it flows on into Rydal Water and then to Lake Windermere.
A footpath along the west shore of the Lake leads to Penny Rock Woods, another route to Rydal Water
I really like Grasmere, not because it is spectacularly atmospheric like my favourite of the lakes, Ullswater, or as grand as the better-known Windermere, but because it is relatively quiet, is easily accessible for most people and because the south shore is like a pebble beach from where it’s easy to paddle or swim.
What better descriptions could I use than those of Wordsworth himself?
‘In preparing this Manual, it was the Author’s principal wish to furnish a Guide or Companion for the Minds of Persons of taste, and feeling for Landscape, who might be inclined to explore the District of the Lakes with that degree of attention to which its beauty may fairly lay claim’ – William Wordsworth, A Guide Through the District of the Lakes.
‘I do not know of any tract of country in which, within so narrow a compass, may be found an equal variety in the influences of light and shadow upon the sublime or beautiful features of the landscape’
‘…at the outlet of the lake, the stream pushing its way among the rocks in lively contrast with the stillness from which it has escaped.’
‘The presence of a lake is indispensable to exhibit in perfection the beauty of one of these days.’
‘the smallest rivulet – one whose silent flow is scarcely noticeable in a season of dry weather – so faint is the dimple made by it on the surface of the smooth lake.’
‘… the lover of Nature might linger for hours’
‘All else speaks of tranquillity … the clouds gliding in the depths of the Lake.’
‘It has been said that in human life there are moments worth ages’
… never has a truer word been written.