Walking with Wordsworth

By Ian Hamilton
It’s sometimes difficult to see past Wordsworth when you consider the relationship between landscape and literature. Other writers have a passing connection with place: Wordsworth’s poetry has seeped into the soil of the Lake District.

He was no mean walker either. It is famously estimated that he walked 175,000 miles in his lifetime, climbing Helvellyn much as you and I might pop down to the corner shop. His sister and frequent walking companion Dorothy has left us with a few glimpses of what it was like to match the great man stride for stride.

Because the act of walking was so closely related to the creative process, Wordsworth could on occasions be a fairly silent companion, using his time on foot to compose and revise lines of poetry. At other times, as he grappled with his thoughts, he would walk backward and forward along the same track.

When we came to research our guide Walking the Literary Landscape we chose a six-mile circular walk which, in large part, must have been familiar to William and Dorothy. It takes in both Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount and the view over Grasmere from Loughrigg Terrace, a view Wordsworth did his best to preserve from the demands of road-builders. And while he drew inspiration from his surroundings, it’s clear that Wordsworth and his poetry have had a profound impact on the way we view the landscape of the Lake District.

Visit the village of Grasmere on a sunny Bank Holiday and you might conclude that the road-builders won that particular battle. But away from the crowds, in that view over the water to Helm Crag, you might just detect the spirit of Wordsworth and – who knows? – a spark of his inspiration.

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Step 1
Park in the large National Park car park (grid ref NY 339 073). Turn left out the car park crossing the A591 near a roundabout. Turn right, bearing left off the main at the sign to Dove Cottage

 Dove Cottage
Step 2
Pass Dove Cottage on your left climbing a metalled road to a junction, following signposts marked “Coffin Route to Rydal”. This denotes the path taken by coffin-bearers from Rydal (where there was no burial ground) to Grasmere (where there was)
Step 3
The path swings right and continues through several gates, slowly gaining height above the busy road and gradually affording views towards Loughrigg Fell over the water on the other side. A terrace offers a couple of seats for just such a purpose.
Step 4
Towards Rydal the path becomes more even and passes above Rydal Mount on your right. Turn right in front of the house down a metalled road. You will pass the village church just before rejoining the A591Rydal Mount
Step 5
Cross the road with care and turn left following the pavement opposite for about 200 metres. Cross Pelter Bridge on your right and turn immediate right in front of Cote How car park, climbing gradually past a tea-room and cottages
Step 6
Keep to the higher path, sometimes over quite rocky ground, to reach the first of the caves. The path continues, climbing again to a second larger cave which lies just off the path. Rejoin the path to enjoy views over Rydal Water and Rydal Fell beyond
Step 7
Stay right at the wooden fence and again at a fork in the path, dropping down to a wall. Here turn left following a sign marked “Grasmere, High Close and Langdale”. At the top of this incline stay left (following the blue marker) towards Loughrigg Terrace
Step 8
It’s here along this narrow curving path that William and Dorothy would stroll, enjoying much the same view over Grasmere, Helm Crag and the higher fells beyond that we enjoy today

Step 9
As the path enters woodland go through a metal gate, forking right almost immediately through a gate signposted Grasmere. This broad path drops down through trees until it reaches Deerbolts Lodge. Here follow the path that swings right in front of the house and drops down gradually to the shore below
Step 10
At the bottom turn left to follow a path along the shoreline. The path stops after the second of two small wooden bridges and climbs left up to some wooden steps and, eventually, a road leading back to Grasmere. As you reach the village you will pass St Oswald’s Church where Wordsworth is buried.
Diane Roberts and Ian Hamilton are both members of a walking club started by Diane in the Manchester office where they worked. Diane began serious walking while at university in Scotland and today combines her love of the outdoors with a passion for photography. Ian, from Leeds, is a former journalist who has worked on a number of local newspapers in Yorkshire and Lancashire.