William Wordsworth and the Lake District

After writing the Lyrical Ballads (1798) with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset, William Wordsworth returned to his roots in the Lake District.

He and his sister, Dorothy, settled in Dove Cottage at Grasmere in December 1799. Wordsworth remained in the Lakes until his death in 1850.

There are many sites and landmarks associated with Wordsworth and his circle that are described or mentioned in poems and journals. Nearly all of these remain.

This introductory guide takes you through the heart of the Lake District from Windermere through Ambleside via Rydal Mount to Grasmere. 

Windermere

Outside Windermere on the A591 less than half a mile past Bannerigg Farm over the crest of a hill is the view that William Wordsworth (1770-1850) described in The Prelude Book IV:

Standing alone, as from a rampart’s edge,
I overlooked the bed of Windermere,
Like a vast river, stretching in the sun.
With exultation, at my feet I saw
Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays,
A universe of Nature’s fairest forms
Proudly revealed with instantaneous burst,
Magnificent, and beautiful, and gay.

The town came into existence with the railway, which was built in 1844. The railway line abruptly ends at Windermere Railway Station thanks to the local opposition to its continuation, led by Wordsworth in speeches, letters to the press and two sonnets.

Wordsworth, Coleridge and John Wilson

John Wilson (alias ‘Christopher North') kept a cottage in Windermere from1807 by Horse Close Wood. Wilson (1785-1854) was the editor of Blackwood’s Magazine, an essayist, critic, novelist of Scottish life, minor Lake poet, humorist, sportsman and Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.

He was in youth a friend of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, although later wrote a ferocious attack on Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817) and joined in the attacks on the Cockney School of Poets. A plaque marks his cottage.

Wilson had a large house built off Elleray Road, replaced by a school, where he wrote The Isle of Palms and Other Poems (1812). Walter Scott visited him in 1825, and they celebrated Scott’s birthday with a regatta on the lake.

Hartley Coleridge,(1796-1849), Coleridge’s eldest son (and also a poet) dined with Alfred, Lord Tennyson at The Sun Inn in 1835, and wrote the sonnet, ‘To Alfred Tennyson’.

The Bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson (1737-1816), lived at Calgarth Park, Troutbeck Bridge. Coleridge, De Quincey, Wilson and Wordsworth visited him here. Wordsworth wrote his Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff (1793) responding to Watson’s defence of the French monarchy.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte stayed at Brierly Close in August 1850, seeing the Lake District for the first time. She found the countryside ‘exquisitely beautiful’. It was here that she met the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The two became such firm friends that Mrs Gaskell wrote the first biography of Charlotte Bronte.

Lowwood

Many writers have stayed at The Low Wood Hotel, at Lowwood, including William Wordsworth, in 1807; Percy Bysshe Shelley and Harriet Westbrook, in October 1813; Nathaniel Hawthorne (American author of The Scarlet Letter), in July 1855; and E.M. Forster, in July 1907.

The poet, Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) lived at The Samling Hotel, formerly Dove Nest, during the summers of 1829, 1830 and 1831. She wrote the line ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ in her 1829 poem ‘Casabianca’ and was very popular in America. Her Records of Woman (1828) evokes legendary and historical women.

On to William Wordsworth and Ambleside