Lake of muse

Lake of muse

beyond words The poetry inspiring Lake District. photo by author

With its gently undulating green meadows, grazing sheep and pretty villages, English countryside is beautiful. But after a few hours of watching from the car window even houses with flower baskets hanging outside front doors and pretty white lace curtains get a little monotonous. That is when Jane, the voice in the Tom Tom, tells us to take left. With a smooth swerve the car turns and all of a sudden there is a placid stretch of blue green water surrounded by wooded shoreline till where the eyes can see. The friendly bantering in the car has dropped and in the stunned silence there is only the beauty of  Lake Windermere (at 10 miles, the largest in England) and the husky voice of Farida Khanum crooning from the car stereo “Aaj Jaane ki zid na karo, yunhi pehlu mein bethe raho…” A board on the roadside says: Welcome to the Lake District.

Then onwards it’s a voyage of discovery as we move across countryside where Beatrix Potter first made her nature sketches; William Wordsworth walked into a patch of ‘golden daffodils’ and Emily Bronte saw the roofless ruin standing on windswept moorland that is believed to have inspired her to write Wuthering Heights.
 The shimmering lakes of Cumbria that reflect the surrounding mountains and the wild moors and rolling dales of Yorkshire that darken in the shadows of clouds passing overhead have long been the haunt of writers and poets. Naturally, a very big thrill of exploring this part of England comes from seeking out their homes and wandering in the beautiful countryside that inspired them. Every few miles you spot lakes, dales, flowers and moorlands immortalised in literature and it’s easy to understand why the best works of these thinkers and poets were influenced by the dramatic landscape that surrounded them.
 
Ambleside, Hawkshead and Near Sawrey

These are the places immortalised by Beatrix Potter (1866-1947). The famous children’s books writer was brought up in London but her parents took her on a summer holiday to Ambleside when she was 16. She explored the valley and watched wildlife in the woods, and made many sketches of the landscape. When back in London, Beatrix started a book that eventually became The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published in 1902. It was an instant success and she went on to write two books a year for the next 10 years. From the royalties of her first book she acquired the 17th century Hill Top farm at the village of Near Sawrey. Here she created the world of Jemima Puddle-Duck and Pigling Bland. After marriage she wrote less and less and became more involved in conservation of the Lake District countryside. Potter bequeathed Hill Top to the National Trust subject to the condition that it was to be kept exactly as she had left it. The Beatrix Potter gallery is located nearby in the timeless village of Hawkshead. It contains a selection of original drawings by the artist together with a display telling the story of her life. The building was once the office of her husband, solicitor William Heelis.

Grasmere

“I wander’d lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hill When all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” Lake Ullswater is believed to be the place where England’s poet laureate William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy came across a long finger of Daffodils on a windy spring day that inspired the poem ‘Daffodils’ that children of most countries learn  in school. Wordsworth had admitted that some of the best lines in the poem were written by Dorothy.

Grasmere, nearby, is a delightful settlement associated forever with the poet. Fells of varying heights and steepness enfold the village while the nearby lake of Grasmere adds a beautiful sparkle. Dove Cottage, where the Wordsworths lived, was originally an inn called the Dove and Olive Bough. The Wordsworths repaired and decorated the cottage themselves and it was here that Dorothy kept her journals that give an almost daily account of their lives. Thousands of tourists come to see the cottage that contains furniture, possessions and portraits from the poet’s day. The poet is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard of St Oswald, along with Mary; Dorothy, his sister; and three of his children. The grave shelters beneath one of eight yew trees planted in the churchyard by the poet.
 
Haworth

In West Yorkshire lies Haworth. This bleak moorland village was the home of the famous though unfortunate literary sisters — Charlotte, Emily and Anne who wrote Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey respectively. Published in 1847, these classics catapulted the reclusive sisters into fame. Unfortunately, Emily and Anne soon succumbed to tuberculosis brought on by their damp and draughty surroundings. Charlotte survived to marry but died a year after. The Bronte Parsonage Museum stands on a cobbled main street. Here visitors can see the table where those dark tales of repressed passion were weaved and the horsehair sofa where Emily died. The Bronte novels have made it a place of pilgrimage. Other destinations on the Bronte trail are the Sunday school where the sisters taught, the family vault in the parish church and the Black Bull inn where their brother Branwell drank himself to insensibility. Emily fans can climb the path past the Bronte waterfalls to Top Withens; the roofless ruin overlooking a panorama of windy moorland that many believe was the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

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