Wordsworth tourist attraction celebrates the 200th anniversary of his arrival there

One of the main visitor attractions in the Lake District is this year celebrating the 200th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s arrival. The great poet took up residence in Rydal Mount in 1813, and lived there for another 37 years with his family until his death in 1850.

Rydal Mount sits in Rydal village in the Lake District National Park, and is still in keeping with how it looked all those years age when Wordsworth referred to it as a ‘beloved family home’. This is a delightful house that is a living, breathing legacy not just of the life of Wordsworth but that of his family too, and is refreshingly free of the stuffiness of a traditional museum.

Much of this may be down to the light and airy feel of the house with its various beautiful windows and vistas, but it is also the spirit and soul of the house, into which you still half expect one of the Wordsworth children to burst after playing in the gardens, or find William’s sister Dorothy hard at work with her needlecraft.

Visitors to Rydal Mount can tour house and garden, or garden only. Both were equally important to the life of the Wordsworth family in Rydal, just a few miles from Grasmere in one direction and Ambleside in the other. William lived here until his death at the age of 80 and wrote many poems from here, as well as revising and improving some of his earlier works. He also published the final version of his most famous poem ‘The Daffodils’ from Rydal Mount.

William lived at Rydal Mount with his wife Mary, his sister Dorothy, Mary’s sister Sara and his three surviving children, John, Dora and William, aged 10, 9 and 3 on arrival. He gained some financial stability at Rydal Mount, becoming Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland and gaining support from Lord Lonsdale. The home was definitely a step up from William’s other residences in Grasmere, communicating a certain status now attained within his life.

It was while living here that William received an invitation from Queen Victoria to become Poet Laureate. This was an offer that he at first refused, before being persuaded to take up the position, but on his terms. He stated that he would not write any poetry while in the post and has been the only Poet Laureate to never have written poems while holding this title. The dialogue between Queen and poet on this issue can be seen at Rydal Mount.

Other must-sees within the house include the only known portrait of Dorothy with her little dog, Little Miss Belle, which was a stray which followed William and his son home one day, but there are so many items of interest, it is difficult to say which is of most appeal.

Touring the house enables the visitor to put the pieces that comprise the jigsaw of William’s life together. Downstairs, they will discover a portrait of Wordsworth hanging above the dining room fireplace and from this gain an impression of the master of the house. They can also see dining chairs with seats that were worked by William’s wife, sister and sister-in-law. This builds a picture of a man who had a lot of female support in his life with these three women sharing housekeeping and childminding duties, not to mention copying out his works for him.

In the drawing room they can begin to ponder Dorothy’s role in her brother’s life, viewing her portrait, but also seeing the Curious Child statue that features in his poem ‘The Excursion’.

In the Library, they can gain an understanding of a servant’s message when he told a visitor “This is my master’s library where he keeps his books; his study is out of doors”. In Dorothy’s bedroom, on the other hand, they can further ponder her life and her personal qualities; her skills as a writer in her own right and her ability to make friends with many different types of people. A picture of Caroline Vallon, William’s daughter by his French lover Annette Vallon also opens up a whole new line of thought, questioning how history might have been completely different had the Napoleonic Wars not cut William off from visits to France.

An impression of the inspiration that filled William’s life can be found in his and Mary’s bedroom, from which views of Windermere are available. Here, the first reply to Queen Victoria’s offer of the post of Poet Laureate can be discovered. Portraits of the Queen and the Prince of Wales, presented when William changed his mind, can also be seen here.

Moving into Dora’s bedroom, visitors can speculate as to the spirit of a daughter whose death racked the Wordsworth family, and William in particular, so greatly. When she passed away at the age of 43, having returned to Rydal Mount to be nursed by her mother, William and Mary planted hundreds of wild daffodils in the adjacent field, creating what is known as Dora’s Field – a glorious sight in April.

Then, in Wordsworth’s study, thoughts of loss and adventure combine when the sword in the cabinet is viewed. This belonged to William’s younger brother John, lost at sea in a shipwreck when captaining an East Indiaman.

All of these powerful sights and messages pervade a visit to Rydal Mount and make a tour of the house the perfect entrée, before the main course that can be enjoyed in the gardens – landscaped by Wordsworth himself and his outdoor ‘study’ as the servant put it.

Rydal Mount Gardens

Sketches of the Rydal Mount gardens were done in August 1850, three month’s after William’s death in April. These show the garden to be remarkably close to Wordsworth’s original design, which was for a ‘romantic style’ garden, very much in keeping with the romantics’ view of the world of nature.

The principle to which Wordsworth abided was that of “lawn and trees carefully planted so as not to obscure the view”. The Rydal Mount gardens gave Wordsworth four acres of grounds to plan and he ensured that his garden was informal and in harmony with the countryside around.

Wordsworth created a lawn bordered with flowering shrubs to the west of the house, where the ground slopes downwards. He also created a series of terraces, to harmonise with the Sloping Terrace, probably built at some point in the 18th Century. Wordsworth laid fourteen stone steps that allowed the family to reach this terrace.

At the end of the Sloping Terrace, he built a summer-house and beyond this the ‘Far Terrace’, which is a curving path leading out to the fell from which visitors can see Rydal Water, the smallest of the Lake District’s lakes.

Immediately below the Sloping Terrace, visitors can explore a level terrace, which Wordsworth built for close friend Isabella Fenwick, who befriended the family during the last decade of William’s life. Further on again, is Dora’s Terrace, which was only discovered in 1994.

Dora’s Field, in which William and Mary planted the wild daffodils on the passing of their daughter was bought at a time when William felt the family might be turned out of Rydal Mount. His intention was to have a house built on it, but when he made peace with his landlord, Lady Anne Frederica le Fleming, he gave the field to his daughter Dora.

Other features within the Rydal Mount gardens are a 9th century Norse Mount, which was a beacon site on which a flame would be lit to warn of impending border raiders. Dora’s old Schoolroom, close to the Rydal Mount gate is now a charming tea room, in which home made cakes are served to visitors, alongside a range of refreshments.

A meadow and picnic area is a lovely spot in which to eat al fresco, play games with the children and relax, while dwelling by the rock pools allows the visitor to hear the murmuring water that inspired Wordsworth. He would actually tinker with the rocks to create different sounds and sensations within the gardens, to help stoke his imagination.

By the summerhouse, visitors can also imagine Wordsworth reciting his poetry from the terrace, which became his habit. Some may wish to dwell quietly and see if they can hear the call of the elusive cuckoo for which Wordsworth composed the poem, ‘To A Cuckoo’ which he labelled ‘an invisible thing’, ‘a voice’ and ‘a mystery’. Others may wish to envisage Wordsworth lying under the trees, gaining his inspiration from nature.

Keen gardeners delight in exploring the trees and plants in the gardens. Trees include Rowans, Smooth Japanese Maples, rare Fern-Leaf Beech, Japanese Red Cedar, Sycamore and Italian Cypress with a fusion of colour providing an absolutely breathtaking sight within the stunning setting Beautiful Magnolias mix with Pampas Grass and Golden Holly, while the wisteria growing around the Rydal Mount house adds a breathtaking charm to any visitor’s approach towards it. There is also a Medlar tree in the grounds, planted by William himself.

Something to explore for those who are more adventurous is the Coffin Trail Walk. Walks like this allowed corpses to travel to cemeteries that had burial rights. In the case of the area in which Rydal Mount is located, the dead had to be buried in St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, as there was no consecrated ground in Ambleside.

The Coffin Path skirts Rydal Mount’s land close to the Summerhouse and anyone exploring it will immediately realise what an arduous task it must have been to transport a coffin along this steep land, particularly in winter. It is approached by passing woodland banks that host glorious bluebells in spring and you may even see a badger sett – something many visitors comment on while trying to reach the walk.

Relaxing in the gardens is an idyllic way in which to spend time around Rydal Mount, but it is the transition from family home to glorious outdoor playground that all visitors should experience if they wish to understand the essence of life at Rydal Mount for the whole Wordsworth family.

The vision of the children at play, of the wildlife interacting with the family as birds hopped on the window sills or the starlings nested and the planting of flowers and shrubs by the family, to enhance their surrounds, are all things that are best appreciated by gaining an impression of their entire lifestyle.

As it celebrates the 200th Anniversary of William’s arrival with his family, Rydal Mount hopes to welcome 21st century families, couples and individuals who descend with a mind that is open to exploration through the eyes of an 18th and 19th century poet. By appreciating Wordsworth’s world in all of its dimensions, visitors can understand why Rydal Mount became his most beloved home and one in which he put down roots and lived for 37 years until his death.

Rydal Mount and Gardens is open daily from March 1 to October 31 from 9.30am to 5pm and from Wednesday to Sunday, from 11am to 4pm in the months of November, December and February (closed in January). Visiting throughout the year enables you to appreciate the impact of the changing seasons and further build a picture of how the family lived in this fabulous house.

2013 admission charges are: adults (£6.75), concessions (£5.75), children 5-15(£3.25), families (2+2) £16 and garden only admission (£4.50).

Visit www.rydalmount.co.uk for more information and to book tickets.