A portrait of William Wordsworth
Admittedly, it’s a muted kind of celebration given the circumstances in which the whole nation finds itself.
But, long term, the crowds will return (often far too many of them) and normal service will resume to mark the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth.
Of course, the great poet’s A Guide Through The District Of The Lakes In The North Of England, published in 1810, is partly responsible for the region’s worldwide popularity. Wordsworth had made little money out of his other writing, but his guide was an instant success and earned him enough to keep him comfortable.
Although Wordsworth wasn’t actually born in the Lake District, but just outside in the market town of Cockermouth, he spent much of his youth around the Lakes, gaining inspiration from the fells and valleys, and he later settled in the pretty village of Grasmere.
On my most recent visit with Dan, my fiance, and our puppy Pippin, we hiked up Gummer’s How, a hill on the eastern shore of Windermere.
Mist accompanied us up the lonely thickets as we navigated through marshy terrain, passing rotund cows scratching themselves on windswept trees, before scrambling on our hands and feet for the final ascent. At the top, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the sheep-flecked hills and lakes below. Sailing boats dotted the water, which shimmered like silver foil.
Of course, the Lake District has inspired writers and artists for many years. Alfred Wainwright devoted his life to mapping the area, and Beatrix Potter moved here after falling in love with the charming villages while holidaying as a child.
Hill Top, the wisteria-draped farmhouse that Potter owned for almost 40 years, has hardly changed since her death in 1943. The fireplace still roars and candles light up the myriad dark nooks and crannies. As Potter said herself: ‘I never saw such a place for hide and seek.’
Outside, Mr McGregor’s spade is firmly planted in the vegetable patch, and the rhubarb still grows where Jemima Puddle-Duck tried to hide her egg.
Luscious: Windermere, pictured, inspired Wordsworth
Drive along any road hugging Windermere and you’ll pass mansions with wooden jetties that look like they’ve come straight out of the pages of a Swallows And Amazons novel.
Our base for the weekend, The Samling, veered off the main road and up and onto a smart private drive.
Wordsworth would regularly walk around the hotel’s 67 acres to pay rent to his landlord, John Benson, who lived there (it was a large private home then).
The poet was so inspired by its views and the mix of deciduous woodland, vegetable gardens and hay meadows that it formed the basis of one of his poems, written following a romantic dalliance by the stream there.
Each evening, in the dwindling daylight, Dan and I massaged our aching legs in the bubbling outdoor hot tub overlooking boats which clanged against one of Windermere’s many tiny harbours.
The Lake District has inspired others writers, including Beatrix PotterBeatrix Potter – creator of Jemima Puddle-Duck
We swapped mountains for lakes on our last afternoon, and took turns captaining an electric boat from the thronging town of Ambleside. ‘Look back towards here as you get to the middle of the lake and you’ll see my favourite mountains,’ the local rental man shouted as he used his foot to push us off the harbour. Windermere’s gentle waves bobbed the boat up and down as we passed gulls perched on buoys and plucky children jumping off jetties. Sure enough, the mountain range slowly came into view, rearing up in the most dramatic display.
Back on land, we headed to The Yan, a former livestock shed recently converted into a cosy bistro, where we gorged on succulent lamb shoulder, chunky chips and sticky toffee pudding.
It felt like we’d entered a home; Pippin was warmly welcomed before grunting contentedly under our rustic wooden table close to a roaring fireplace.
The Yan is the sort of place where the charming waitresses — with Cumbrian accents — ask guests, ‘Are you happy?’ rather than the irritating and impersonal, ‘Everything OK with your meal?’
How sad that, for now, all this is off-limits. But its day will come again, and its beauty and wonderful people will shine once more.