Written by Hilary Middleton
(One of the runner-up entries in the City, Town or Village Writing Competition.)
Golden daffodils, delicious gingerbread and stunning scenery are synonymous with one place: Grasmere in the English Lake District, best known for its connections with the poet William Wordsworth. But there are no lonely wanderings here, for this traditional Cumbrian village is awash with friendliness and charm.
With Keswick to the north and Ambleside to the south, it lies at the heart of the National Park in the shadow of Helm Crag and alongside the river Rothay. It takes its name from the nearby lake. Wordsworth often sat at its edge, describing it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”.
William spent most of his adult life in the area. His first home was Dove Cottage, which he happened upon in 1799 while out walking with friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was so taken with it that he and his sister Dorothy moved in within weeks. The magnificent views of the surrounding fells inspired his best and most recognisable work. He remained there until 1808 by which time he’d outgrown it, having married and had three children.
The Wordsworth Trust offers guided tours of this beautifully-preserved building with its wonky stone floors and panelled rooms which contain many family belongings, including the scales his wife Mary used for weighing opium. The tour is not just for the literary-minded however, providing insights into life in general during this period. For instance, did you know that people slept in a half-sitting position, believing it to be healthier than lying flat?
Next door is the Wordsworth Museum which houses the world’s greatest collection of the family’s letters, journals and poems as well as many interesting exhibits for the non-poetry buff. William’s other homes, Allan Bank and Rydal Mount, are also open to the public.
He lived at Rydal Mount for 37 years until his death in 1850 at the age of 80. Here you will find Dora’s Field, a patch of land he planted with thousands of his beloved daffodils in memory of his daughter. The springtime display is glorious.
Wordsworth lies buried in St Oswald’s churchyard, a simple grave that is one of the most visited shrines in Europe. Located in the village centre, this 13th century church was important for it served three parishes: Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale. As a consequence, St Oswald’s has three entrances.
At one entrance stands the former village school which dates back to 1630. It is now the famous Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop, a quirky gem of a place that has barely altered since it opened and where staff dress in period costume. The air around it is laden with a mouth-watering, spicy aroma.
Sarah was a cook and lived with her family in the shop building when it was known as Church Cottage. She perfected the gingerbread recipe in 1854 and began selling it, wrapped in parchment, from a table top on a tree stump outside her front door. Within a few years, it had such a reputation that tourists flocked to Grasmere by rail to sample her unique confection. It can’t be bought anywhere else and is freshly-baked each day to her original recipe which is such a closely guarded secret that it’s kept in a bank safe.
The village hosts a variety of independent retailers from the artisan Chocolate Cottage, selling handcrafted Belgian chocolates and truffles, to The Herdy Shop (giftware and mementoes inspired by Herdwick sheep) and Sam Read Bookseller, established in 1887.
If art is more your thing, admire the pictures on display at the Heaton Cooper Studio which showcases the work of this acclaimed family of Lake District painters. And if you fancy a bit of simple entertainment, visit Taffy Thomas’s Storytelling Garden where there are regular readings throughout the year.
Grasmere is a Lakeland jewel: tranquil, pretty and enclosed by the wonderful scenery that Wordsworth found so captivating. Go – and be inspired!
Recommended Accommodation: Wordsworth Hotel
Posted 16th October 2015 by Steve Hanson on behalf of Hilary Middleton. The photographs were supplied by the author after the Writing Competition had been judged.