We had planned for our last day in Ambleside, to visit Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, Ruskin’s house at Coniston and generally enjoy driving around the picturesque countryside.
Mary Mary Quite Contrary (our name for the GPS system that came with the hired car) behaved quite well; only one little detour and we were parking beside the cafe attached to William Wordsworth’s former home.
With tickets in hand we soon joined the merry group of Wordsworth admirers for the tour of Dove Cottage where he lived with his sister Dorothy (who seems to have done much of the work around the place while His Nibs swanned about, creating his poems.)
We began in a small room on the ground floor where Wordsworth received his guests. Coleridge was a regular and, from what I’ve read of Dorothy’s diary, he stayed with them often.
Our guide was extremely informative, but she did need to stick to her lines and was distracted by any noise like cameras clicking, so we had to be quiet and listen intently as if we might be examined later. I kept getting left behind as the rest of them obediently followed her to the next room (while I stayed behind furiously flashing away to catch a few photos.) Not actually flashing – no flash allowed, despite many of the rooms being so dark I couldn’t even see what I was trying to photograph. I have to admit to ignoring that rule a couple of times.
The kitchen was next – a former bar – so small one wonders how they could fit in enough customers to make a living. The pile of coal in the corner provided the right atmosphere to give me sympathy for Dorothy.
I don’t think the great poet wrote about ‘burning the candle at both ends’ but we were shown how to burn a candle with three lights at once. In the days when everything from
windows to candles were taxed, the locals made their own candles from fat left in the pan after roasting the meat. A bit smelly, but apparently effective, although the walls were brown with grease before Dorothy arrived to clean and whitewash them regularly. A thin taper was pushed through the middle of the candle and could be lit at both ends – hence the saying, although I doubt if it has anything to do with the modern interpretation.
Upstairs we visited ‘the sitting room’ which William used as his writing room when not out in the garden or strolling around the countryside. His chair and a sort of chaise, as well as a grandfather clock and a cabinet displaying their china, were dealt with in detail by our guide, who did at that point tell us we could return to take photos provided the next group weren’t in the room.
I, of course, took advantage of this and had Susanne take my photo in that inspirational room. Sadly I didn’t manage to create a poem or two on the spot.
From there, we looked down onto the houses and the road, much as William and Dorothy would have seen them.
From the upper level we went out the back and wandered through the pretty cottage garden.
It slopes up very steeply towards a lookout from where the poet enjoyed views of rooftops and mountains in the distance.
After the house and garden we visited the Wordsworth museum. Manuscripts and notebooks are displayed in glass cases and I was heartened to see crossing out, writing down the sides of pages, and the occasional use of spaces between lines of another’s writing. (I think it was something by his friend, Coleridge.) Questions put in there presumably for children – ‘Why would Wordsworth do this? Had he run out of paper? Was it the first thing to hand? Did inspiration catch him unprepared? Etc. Well, of course, having done the same sort of thing I knew the answer was ‘Yes’ to all the questions. I was pleased and amused to discover that even such a famous poet was sometimes caught off guard by his Muse.
Returning to the exit via the shop, I bought a copy of Dorothy’s journals, from which much of the information about the life of the Wordsworths and the other ‘lakeland poets’ is taken.
Next stop was supposed to be Ruskin’s house, Brantwood at Coniston, where we planned to enjoy our lunch while taking in the spectacular views across Coniston Water. BUT. Two minutes down the road, the heavens opened.
Another minute of driving and my sister decided that we’d forget further site seeing (to which I heartily agreed) and we headed back to our B&B. On the narrow, winding road beside the lake, with rain so heavy she could hardly see, and a big truck up our backside, I took
photos through the windows while we both prayed and she did an amazing job of getting us back safely.
My last photo, taken through the side window, shows the water coming up almost to window height. When we turned into our driveway my darling sister burst into tears.
We sat in the car for about ten minutes, waiting for the deluge to cease. It didn’t, so we got out and ran in through the rain, to find water in the entry. Sue helped the owners and several lads from across the road came to help.
We retreated upstairs to view the flooded roadway and cars banked up as far as we could see in both directions. Locals had come out to guide the traffic through in single file around a BMW that had been swept aside by a passing truck and flooded with the wake. The tow truck eventually arrived nearly three hours later.
Rather an adventurous day. Thank God we didn’t try to do any more than Wordsworth’s place.