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by John Coombe 

On 15 April 2017, John Coombe (Deputy Visitor Experience Manager) took part in a special walk from Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, which celebrated an important Wordsworthian anniversary and the International Festival of Fairtrade Walks. Here, he explains more about the event and its importance.

There were 3 particular reasons why we were walking the 17 miles from Pooley Bridge to Grasmere on Easter Saturday:

  1. To follow in the footsteps of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, exactly 215 years ago to the day since they walked this route, from their friend Thomas Clarkson’s home at Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, and saw ‘a long belt’ of daffodils by the shore of Ullswater – a moment that would later inspire Wordsworth’s most famous poem.
  2. To mark 110th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, a campaign in which Thomas Clarkson was heavily involved.
  3. To open a new branch of the Fair Trade Way.

I was spending the day with the directors of the FIG Tree (the world’s first international Fair Trade Visitor Centre), fair trade supporters and some fellow Wordsworth enthusiasts.  I was particularly looking forward to walking with Bruce Crowther, who was instrumental in the creation of the fair trade town movement and the creator of the Fair Trade Way.  Bruce gave up his vetinerary practice in Garstang to champion fair trade and make Garstang the world’s first fair trade town.  It was through his passion for fair trade, and his Quaker faith, that he felt a natural connection with anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson and found the inspiration for this walk.

We assembled at 7.30am at the Heughscar Close car park in Pooley Bridge, and walked up to see Thomas Clarkson’s home at Eusemere as closely as we could as a large group. Eusemere House holds a commanding presence over Ullswater, and there is a plaque by the lakeshore with the slogan of the anti-slavery campaign ‘am I not a man and a brother’.  It was designed by another fellow anti-slavery campaigner Josiah Wedgewood and serves as subtle memorial to Clarkson’s vital work.  Bruce told us that they also used the slogan ‘am I not a woman and a sister’.

Caption: John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

We had a group photo by the plaque and then split into several different groups, some were taking the Ullswater way and some were driving, but Bruce, Graham, Danny and myself took the road along the lakeshore so that we could take as similar a route to William and Dorothy as possible. There was a key difference to William and Dorothy’s walk and our own at this point, as we crossed the River Eamont on a temporary pontoon bridge.  The old stone bridge that William and Dorothy used was washed away by Storm Desmond in December 2015.  A stark reminder of the power of nature

As we walked we also enjoyed some birdwatching and Graham had with him a book of birds mentioned in Wordsworth’s poetry. Every so often he’d say that we’d seen a red breasted merganser, or that we’d heard a chiff chaff. We heard a black cap, saw a song thrush, a goldfinch crossed the road in front of us and before we’d even set off on the walk we heard a great spotted woodpecker. We also saw a buzzard, and when Graham looked in his book to see which poem refers to a buzzard, funnily enough it was the poem Wordsworth wrote about the Brother’s Parting Stone, which we’d see later on.

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

We met up with the rest of the group at Aira Force, and walked en masse to the lakeshore in Gowbarrow Park where the Wordsworths famously saw the daffodils.  Belinda, dressed up as Dorothy, read the description of the daffodils from Dorothy’s journal:

‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake’

I then read both versions of I wandered lonely as a cloud. I wondered if in another 200 years whether people would still be coming to this spot to read the famous lines, I fancied they would.

lunch break with a view

Lunch break with a view

We had lunch on the shore, with the sun sparkling on Ullswater, and the lambs bleating in the distance. Even though the wild daffodils were passed their best, it was still an idyllic spot.  After lunch we continued to Patterdale, along paths full of walkers, and under the shade of many trees. Patterdale was the point of no return for some people. But for the 7 or 8 of us who were doing the full 17 miles, we began our ascent to Grisedale Tarn. Dorothy and William had stopped over for the night before doing the rest of the walk but we continued on to complete the journey in one day.  The wind was strong, and the ascent was longer than I remembered, but we made good time. Half way up we found Macmillan Cancer Support selling tea and cake in a shepherd’s bothy, which was a welcome surprise. They were doing a roaring trade with the Easter Saturday traffic.

We then continued up to the spot at Grisedale Tarn known as the Brothers’ Parting Stone, named because it was here that William said goodbye to his younger brother John for the last time before he drowned at sea in 1805.  I read Elegiac Verses in Memory of my Brother, John Wordsworth.

At the tarn we turned around and looked at a tiny patch of Ullswater, way off in the distance, and we could see how far we had come. The sun was casting that late afternoon sunlight that I’ve enjoyed so much towards the end of so many walks.

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Our descent from the tarn felt incredible, as it was the home straight, and the sun was shining down upon us. Gravity took us to the road and then the pain really hit me, the last mile to Dove Cottage was a struggle but it felt like a real achievement to arrive at Dove Cottage. We enjoyed a spread of fair trade food and drinks, had a reading of the sonnet Wordsworth wrote to Clarkson, On the final passing of the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, and reflected on our day’s activity.  We were also proud to declare the new leg of the Fair Trade Way officially open.

John Coombe newJohn Coombe is Deputy Visitor Experience Manager and has worked full time at the Wordsworth Trust since 2008.

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