Wordsworth, Poetry, Romanticism, Nature – all words synonymous with the English Lake District. You can’t help but quote half remembered bits of poems you learned at school and now, standing surrounded by the landscape William Wordsworth knew and loved, suddenly it all makes sense.
William Wordsworth believed that in our lives there are special moments or experiences, “spots of time”, where we can go beyond normal reality and appreciate the wider world of nature. In years to come such “spots of time” when recalled can help us get through difficult times. He believed that nature could almost act as a parent or teacher, in influencing our feelings and behaviour. Several of these “spots of time” are described in his autoiographical poem, The Prelude, particularly those dealing with his childhood.
As you travel around the Lake District, 250 years after he was born, you can literally walk through Wordsworth’s poems, relive his experiences, see what he saw and feel the emotions written into his beautiful poetry. These 5 locations are like stepping back in time, back into his life.
1. Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
This is where it all started, literally. William and his sister Dorothy along with their three siblings, Richard, John and Christopher, were all born here. At the time it was a pretty swanky place but everything went pear shaped for the Wordsworth children when their mother Ann died in March 1778. It was a devastating blow. William, who later described his mother as the ‘heart and hinge of all our learnings and our loves’, was not quite eight. He wrote that their father ‘never recovered his usual cheerfulness of mind’.
Dorothy, William’s closest playmate, was sent to live with Ann’s cousin in Halifax, and Richard and William became pupils at Hawkshead Grammar School, returning home only in the holidays. It would be nine years before William and Dorothy met again.
He later wrote of his early childhood in Cockermouth and the intense happiness he and his sister Dorothy knew in the house with its walled garden and terrace overlooking the river Derwent.
During the 18th century, theorists such as Locke and Rousseau advised parents that children should be allowed to behave naturally and play in the open air, rather than being cosseted and restricted as in previous centuries. William and Dorothy were allowed a degree of freedom to roam and play and that experience of childhood was critical to the man he was to become.
William relived the memory of his childhood at Wordsworth House in Book One of The Prelude writing of the River Derwent:
Today, Wordsworth House and its garden is owned by the National Trust and a visit here evokes the spirit of the age in which Wordsworth and his sister grew up.
The house is presented as it would have been when the Wordsworths lived here in the 1770s, with real food on the table and a real fire in the grate. You can take a guided or audio tour, listen to a talk or explore the working kitchen and other rooms at your own pace – several are hands-on. On Wednesdays and Saturdays in term-time and throughout the school holidays, costumed maids are hard at work and always keen to stop and chat.
You can also visit by creating your own Personal Lake District Experience .