A Poetic Weekend in Grasmere

With a breathtaking view from his window, it’s not surprising that William Wordsworth was inspired to write some of the most beautiful English poetry at Rydal Mount.

Rydal Mount garden viewThe daffodils were ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’ on our visit to the former poet laureate’s best-loved family home for the greater part of his life from 1813 to his death in 1850 at the age of 80. He and his wife Mary’s bedroom overlooked their four-acre garden with its commanding views of Lake Windermere and surrounding fells, which remains close to his own design, with fell-side terraces, rock pools and secret little sitting areas, sloping and curving its way down to Rydal Water. The Wordsworths were all keen gardeners and William designed his own at Rydal Mount plus the gardens of many friends and neighbours.

One can imagine the defining English romantic bard at his desk at the bedroom window, writing much of his best work and putting the final touches to Daffodils, his most famous poem. Still owned by Wordsworth’s descendants, Rydal Mount is cared for by curators Peter and Marian Elkington. The oldest part of the property dates back to Tudor times.

Our base was the delightful, newly-renovated, historic country house, the Lancrigg Hotel, which nestles in a tranquil beauty spot within the Easedale Valley, on the edge of Grasmere. Dating back to the 1800s, it’s unfussy but not minimalist and some might say a bit quirky, with an eclectic blend of vintage, retro and modern furniture.

Lancrigg HotelOur spacious bedroom, one of 10, on the ground floor could be described as a boutique-style, mini-suite with a small hall, sitting area and sparkling, contemporary shower room. The tree-fringed view over the terrace, landscaped gardens, fields and fells is wonderful. Residents passing by to the main entrance or those following one of the many walkers’ routes to Easedale Tarn, Helm Crag and others, had a good view, too, into our room via a deep bay window. It might be an idea to provide blinds for a bit of privacy for guests.

Friendly, helpful staff do all they can to please, creating an informal, comfortable ambience. Wordsworth and his friends often visited the Lancrigg and the hotel’s family and dog-friendly ‘muddy boots and pets welcome’ Poets’ Bar is named after this renowned patronage. Light bites, snacks and desserts are on offer here and can be taken outside on the terrace in warm weather. The Poets’ Bar was at one time the library of arctic explorer Sir John Richardson, who lived at the Lancrigg from the 1860s, grew up with the Scottish poet Robert Burns and was a close friend of naturalist, geologist and biologist, Charles Darwin.

Meals cooked to order using fresh, seasonal local produce are served in the beautiful restaurant where huge windows afford spectacular views.

Lancrigg RestaurantPresented at our candlelit table, my tasty starter of fresh king prawns in a garlic and creamy sauce and the perfectly prepared, exotic sea bass fillet in lemon and thyme sauce deserve a special mention. Because ever-smiling new chef, Raffaele, is Italian, unsurprising the tiramisu was sensational. So much so, that I selected this on both evenings. When designing his menu, this chef, known as Ralph, researched the menus of restaurants in the area to ensure he would be offering something different on the Lancrigg menu. After dinner, guests relax in the sitting room and are welcomed by a crackling log fire.

We also sampled the fare at Cuckoo Brow Inn, Far Sawrey, located between Hawkshead and Windermere, close to Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop home.

There was a pleasing lunchtime buzz in the residential old coaching inn, frequented by walkers, well-behaved dogs, visitors and locals alike.

We feasted on the warm tascas – Italian flatbread, golden and crunchy on the outside with a soft bready interior. Mine was packed with smoked salmon, accompanied by a cucumber and coriander yogurt plus a side salad. The meltingly decadent chocolate fondant served with a delicious Guinness ice cream would surely have brought a smile to the faces of BBC’s Masterchef judges John Torode and Greg Wallace.

Dove CottageBack in Grasmere, we visited the Wordsworth family grave which rests in St Oswald’s Church grounds. Visitors flock to Dove Cottage, the poet’s first family home for eight years, where he lived with his sister, Dorothy, and wife, Mary. Three of William and Mary’s five children were born here. Coleridge and Sir Walter Scott were frequent visitors.

The Wordsworths’ former home, rented for £8 per annum and is now warmed by cosy log fires, rather than peat. The house is filled with many of their personal belongings, which include the bard’s ice skates and the marital bed.

Much of Wordsworth’s poetry was penned here and Dorothy’s fascinating Grasmere Journals are on display in the adjoining museum.

Behind the cottage, a former coaching in, accessed by a door halfway up the dog leg staircase, is the half-wild, fellside garden, where Wordsworth composed much of his poetry. It was here that he made a start on his most famous poem ‘Daffodils’.

Joanne Hunter of Grasmere GingerbreadGrasmere is also home to the much-visited Sarah Nelson’s renowned Gingerbread Shop, which has been awarded a Cumbria Family Business Award, 2018. In 1854 Sarah devised the mixture and ingredients for Grasmere Gingerbread She taught the village children how to read using gingerbread letters covered with a protective layer of sheep’s horn.

Over the years, the shop has welcomed many famous visitors, including Rory Bremner, Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger, star of the film Miss Potter.

Chefs Jamie Oliver and Phil Vickery have raved about the confection.

Third generation family member Joanne Hunter, 50, and her mixer/baker husband, Andrew, 49, are now at the helm. Joanne has family links to Wordsworth and to another Lakeland icon, Beatrix Potter.

Joanne’s grandfather, known as Granddad Wilson, was the Wordsworths’ errand boy and her grandma, Nanny Hunter, served tea to Miss Potter at the King’s Head pub, Thirlspot, Thirlmere, where she was a maid.

People queue all day to buy the famed gingerbread. The recipe is closely guarded and locked in a bank vault.

Joanne doesn’t know it, and says she doesn’t need to.

Andrew said he’d willingly share the recipe with me but would have to kill me afterwards.

Lancrigg Hotel – Gourmet Stay from £213 per room per night to include DB&B.

Lake Grasmere

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Marion Ainge

Freelance travel writer & member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance

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