This week, I had the privilege to visit Wordsworth’s former homes of Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and Rydal Mount just a few miles down the road. I also got to hear his family read his poetry, which was an unforgettable experience. So in today’s Love Letter, let me tell you all about Wordsworth’s Grasmere.
The Wordsworths’ Graves
Starting at the end, so to speak, the first place I visited upon arriving in Grasmere was the family grave plot in St Oswald’s Church. Here are buried the Poet, his wife and children, and his beloved sister Dorothy. You can find the church in the centre of the village next to the popular Grasmere Gingerbread shop.
After this, head out of the village in the direction of Ambleside to visit Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Grasmere Museum.
Wordsworth and his family lived at Dove Cottage from 1799-1813. William composed many poems during this period, while his sister Dorothy worked lovingly and tirelessly to transcribe them, as she would throughout her life, alongside the other female members of the Wordsworth household.
The cottage has been lovingly and faithfully restored (see Featured Image) by the curators of the museum. You will also find a visitor centre here with an excellent exhibition on Wordsworth’s life and times, housing many original manuscripts, diaries and letters written by both the Poet and his sister Dorothy.
The family’s time at Dove Cottage ended in tragedy, as Wordsworth’s daughter Catherine died in June 1812, aged only three, followed by the six-year-old Thomas only six months later. Infant mortality was far more common in Britain in those days, but if you think this made the pain any easier to bear, read the poem Surprised by Joy for Wordsworth’s own account of his grief at losing Catherine.
The Coffin Route to Rydal Mount
Following the deaths of Catherine and Thomas, and given the increased financial security afforded by Wordsworth’s being appointed Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, the family moved to the larger and more salubrious Rydal Mount in the neighbouring valley of Rydal.
The Old Coffin Route which connects the two properties makes for a fine walk of just under 1 hour (hiking boots recommended!) The route was once used to convey the dead of Rydal to the Parish Church of St Oswald’s, Grasmere. Presumably this included the coffin of Wordsworth himself, who died at Rydal Mount in 1850.
Exit Dove Cottage and turn left to follow the narrow tarmac road along the fellside. Eventually you will see the route signposted at which point it becomes a bridle path. The path affords fine views over Rydal Water and the surrounding fells, as well as an interesting historical perspective.
Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount from 1813 until his death in 1850. The family were tenants for the whole of this time, and they moved out following the death of Wordsworth’s wife Mary in 1859. In 1969, however, Wordsworth’s granddaughter Mary Henderson bought the property, and it has belonged to the Wordsworth family ever since.
The house still contains much of the original furniture and fittings, and makes for a fascinating tour, alongside the magnificent romantic gardens which were landscaped by the Poet himself. The knowledgable staff will show you around, and tell you the fascinating story of the Wordsworth family’s time in the property. Most interesting for me to learn was the fact that Wordsworth composed by pacing the garden and reciting lines in iambic pentameter until he had them by heart. He then handed over to the women in his family to make the transcriptions.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had the privilege to hear the Wordsworth family recite a selection of his poetry during my visit. If you get the chance, do attend ‘The Wordsworths read Wordsworth,’ as this made what had already been a memorable day unforgettable:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,– from Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1815.
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.