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21st February 2020, by
Celebrating 250 years of William Wordsworth
21st February 2020

Celebrating 250 years of William Wordsworth

April 2020 is when we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the world’s most celebrated poets, William Wordsworth. But what do we really know about him?

William, born 07 April 1770, never lost his boyhood pleasure in observing nature. His Cockermouth childhood home, Wordsworth House and Garden, is hosting an exciting year of special events around an anniversary exhibition called, ‘The Child is Father of the Man’. Here you’re invited to discover how William, the famous poet, was shaped by his wild, outdoor upbringing. If you’re staying in the north Lake District, put your muddy boots on and observe for yourself the quiet countryside that William explored almost daily as a boy. An 8-mile National Trust trail can be picked up from the museum and gives you a flavour of the countryside that shaped William as a boy. He was considered a ‘wild’ boy and indeed swam naked in the Cocker stream that runs into the River Derwent. The anniversary exhibition will be open daily except for Friday, from 14 March – 8 November 2020.

Whilst in the North Lakes this spring, let the swathes of yellow daffodils “dancing in the breeze”, move you as they did William and his sister, Dorothy, as they chanced upon a “crowd” of them at Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, on 15 April 1802. Wordsworth also wrote three poems inspired by the nearby Aira Force on Ullswater, which is set amongst ancient woodland and is the most popular fall walk in the Lake District. Let yourself be carried away with the raw beauty of the north Lake District landscape.

 

L-R: Hawkshead, Allen Bank, Rydal Mount

 

Hawkshead, South Lake District

William’s Lake District journey then takes us to the pretty village of Hawkshead, located in the South Lakes. Here, William lodged with Ann Tyson, and you can visit this house on the narrow cobbled streets. It’s at the highly-regarded Grammar School that William learned about literature and gained a deep love of poetry, writing his first poem at 14 years old. Wordsworth famously described poetry as, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquillity.”

During his time at Hawkshead school, the aspiring poet enjoyed relative freedom to observe the tranquillity of the local scenery, fishing, boating, skating on the frozen lakes, horse riding, roaming the fells and even sleeping alone in the forest at night. In 1787, he went to Cambridge University, returning for summer holidays to Hawkshead. Hawkshead school opens this spring from 1 April 2020, and you can see William carved his name in one of the wooden school desks, as though he knew of his future legacy. Catch a Windermere Lake Cruise as Wordsworth the schoolboy did or explore the quiet shore of Windermere’s western shore, walking in the footsteps of one of the greatest writers there ever was.

Grasmere, Central Lakes

Upon graduating from university and whilst living in Dorset, William and his poet-friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge took a tour of the Lake District, from the Eden Valley to Wasdale Head, via Grasmere, which William fell in love with. In 1799 William and his sister moved to Dove Cottage, Grasmere, which was an empty inn called The Dove and Olive. For 2020, Dove Cottage has undergone a huge restoration, returning it to as it would have been when William lived there from 1799  to 1808. This was Wordsworth’s most prolific writing period and where he revolutionised English poetry forever. To mark the intrinsic link between his writing and the local landscape, the project will also open up a woodland space and new viewing station as well as new walking trails. Also, just down the road, the vivid story continues at The William Wordsworth Museum, which is hosting the £6.3m ‘Reimagining William Wordsworth’ project. This brings Wordsworth’s story into the 21st century and is not to be missed.

After marrying his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson and having his own family, in the summer of 1807 the Wordsworth’s rented Allan Bank (Grasmere) where they stayed for three years. Here the Wordsworth children played on the slopes of Silver How and on the shore of Grasmere lake, whilst William Wordsworth walked, wrote and entertained like-minded artists, such as Thomas De Quincey. It’s a great place to go for a woodland walk or a picnic in the garden. Visit in spring to enjoy a garden of daffodils and it’s also one of the Lake District’s little-known red squirrel spots.

Rydal Mount and Gardens, Ambleside

William used to say that he would have been a landscape gardener had he not been a poet, according to Peter Elkington, curator of Rydal Mount. Nestled between Grasmere and Ambleside, this is where William spent his final 37 years in his most-loved home, Rydal Mount.

Indeed, the 5-acre garden is today as it was when William designed it himself. He referred to his grounds as his office, as William wrote whilst walking and would pace the garden daily, with his sister following taking notes. Rydal Mount gardens are a sight to behold in spring, with banks of daffodils set to a backdrop of glorious views of Lake Windermere. It is open from 3 April 2020, 7 days a week. Still owned by the Wordsworth family, this is perhaps the most important of William Wordsworth’s homes to visit. And for the 250-year celebrations, a treasure trove of Wordsworth’s belongings that have never appeared on public display before, will be on show at Rydal Mount.

Between Grasmere and Rydal there are lots of places to visit that were special to William in his later life. A walk around the lakes of Grasmere and Rydal is a must, especially in spring. In 1847, William lost a third child to illness and he and his wife and head gardener planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs in her memory in a field next to St Mary’s Church, Rydal. ‘Dora’s Field’ is maintained by the National Trust and is a must for visiting in spring.

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