Written By Chris Young
This post was most recently updated on February 17th, 2018
For over a century, some of England’s most celebrated Lake District writers and poets have found their inspiration in the dramatic beauty and solitude of this gorgeous part of northern England. Its 885 acres of mountains, meadows and lakes have, however, moved them in very different ways, leaving a legacy that ranges from the romantic to the gothic.
Lake District Writers And Poets
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
“To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
The most famous of the group who became known as the “Lake Poets”, Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, just north of the borders of what would eventually become the Lake District national park.
After attending university in Cambridge and a spell living in Dorset, he returned to the Lakes in 1799 for a walking tour. It was whilst out walking with his brother John and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge that he came upon Dove Cottage in the village of Grasmere. Both house and landscape captured his heart, and a few weeks later he and his sister Dorothy had moved in. He was to remain in the region for the rest of his life.
The waterfalls, streams and valleys fed Wordsworth’s adoration of nature, and his emotional response to the countryside around him was reflected in his poetry. He became a key figure in the Romantic Movement, which rebelled against the neoclassical tradition that held rational thinking as superior to emotion.
Wordsworth treasured the unspoiled beauty of the area and opposed what he saw as the threat of change, whether from the planting of trees in regimented lines, the building of new homes for industrialists or the coming of the railways. Ironically, it was his own work, a Guide Through the District of the Lakes, published in 1820, which served as a catalyst for mass tourism to the area.
Happily, tourism has not detracted from the beauty of the Lake District, and today both of Wordsworth’s Lake District homes, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, are open to visitors. Wordsworth was a devoted gardener, and no trip to either would be complete without a walk around their picturesque grounds.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
“The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew
The furrow followed free
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea”
Another of the Lake Poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a close friend of Wordsworth. He followed him to the Lakes, moving into Greta Hall in Keswick in 1800, and frequently made the trip to Grasmere to visit him.
Unlike Wordsworth, however, Coleridge’s poetry reflected the gothic aspects of nature rather than its beauty. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, one of his most noted works, vividly describes the horror facing an old sailor. Adrift on the sea, alone on his vessel, he wails, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Coleridge was a great walker and covered considerable distances across the Lake District. He once undertook a nine day tour of the fells and was the first person recorded as descending the mountain Scafell Pike by a dangerous, rocky wall known as Broad Stand.
Plagued with ill health and an addiction to opium, Coleridge left the Lake District in 1804, leaving his home and family in the care of the third of the Lake Poets, Robert Southey. Today, Greta Hall offers bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation to visitors wanting to spend a night beneath its roof.
Robert Southey (1774-1843)
“It is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”
A college mate of Coleridge as well as his brother-in-law, Southey was a celebrated prose writer and poet.
In 1803, after visiting Coleridge in the Lake District, he decided to stay, awed by Coleridge and Wordsworth and stunned by the beauty of the countryside. He came to see the Lake District as the symbol of the nation’s covenant with God, thanking Him that he was born an Englishman.
His works include a remarkable record of the era of the Lake Poets and the poem The Cataract of Lodore, which brought fame to the Lake District’s Lodore Falls.
Today, Southey’s gravestone can still be seen near Greta Hall at the church of St Kentigern’s, while in the town of Bassenthwaite stands the Pheasant pub, where Southey and his fellow poets supposedly used to drink.
Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)
“What we call the highest and the lowest in nature are both equally perfect. A willow bush is as beautiful as the human form divine.”
Beatrix Potter spent many childhood holidays in the Lake District and her time there exerted a strong influence over her children’s books. The creator of well-loved characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck, she was also a serious conservationist and is credited with saving the Herdwick sheep from extinction.
Beatrix bought her Lake District home, Hill Top Farm, with profits from her writing. By the time of her death, she had amassed 14 farms and 4,000 acres of land, all of which were left to the National Trust.
Today, visitors to the Lake District can follow the Beatrix Potter trail around the beautiful lakeshore at Brockhole, once home to Beatrix’s cousin Edith and now the Lake District Visitor Centre. Over in Bowness-on-Windermere, The World of Beatrix Potter is a popular attraction for adults and children alike.
Arthur Ransome (1884-1967)
“The klop, klop of water under the bows of a small boat will cure most troubles in this world.”
Born in Leeds, Arthur Ransome had an early introduction to the Lake District, attending school in Windermere and learning to sail on the waters of lake Coniston. He and his wife Eugenia – whom he had met in Russia and who had once been Trotsky’s secretary – settled in the area and it was there that he wrote the famous Swallows and Amazons series.
The majority of the stories were set in the Lake District, with Ransome’s childhood adventures on Coniston and in the surrounding countryside shining through in the tales of children camping on islands, fighting fell fires and conquering mountains.
The author died in 1967 and he and Eugenia are buried in Rusland churchyard.
The Lake District has been home to some of England’s best loved poets and writers, leaving its mark on both their lives and their work. Why not plan a visit and find out what makes it so special? For as one anonymous writer put it, “You may leave the Lake District, but once you’ve been, it’ll never leave you…”