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Poet’s corners: a car-free tour of inspiring Wordsworth sites | Travel


William Wordsworth was born in Cumbria 250 years ago, on 7 April 1770. Inspired by nature and a sense of place, he was an environmentalist as well as a poet, so it’s fitting to visit the places he celebrated in as eco-friendly a way as possible. Here are car-free pilgrimages in his well-worn footsteps.

Cockermouth

Wordsworth was born in a grand, terracotta-coloured house on Cockermouth’s Main Street that’s now a National Trust museum. Wordsworth House (adult £8.80, child £4.40, family £22) is marking the anniversary with an exhibition (from 14 March) about the poet’s free-range childhood. Don’t miss the free tea and coffee upstairs or the garden backing onto the Derwent (Wordsworth’s “fairest of all rivers”).





Bust of Wordsworth in Cockermouth



Bust of Wordsworth in Cockermouth Photograph: Phoebe Taplin

Get there Stagecoach buses X4 and X5 from Penrith station to Cockermouth take 1 hour 25 minutes; with views that include the cloud-capped slopes of Skiddaw and fields of Herdwick sheep, it’s time well spent, (explorer ticket £11.50). Direct trains run to Penrith from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Wordsworth’s early schooling was in Penrith, and he met his wife, Mary Hutchinson, near red sandstone St Andrew’s, with its crocus-carpeted churchyard.
Stay The North Lakes hotel and spa has log fires and a pool and is 10 minutes’ walk from Penrith station, with doubles from £89 room-only. Cafe VeeVa! in Cockermouth does excellent tangy, melted Lakeland cheddar on ciabatta with salad (£4.95), and a ticket for Wordsworth House gets you 10% off.

Hawkshead and Ambleside





Wordsworth’s grammar school in Hawkshead



Wordsworth’s grammar school in Hawkshead. Photograph: Phoebe Taplin

Hawkshead Grammar School (£2.50, reopens 1 April) with its mullioned windows and sundial over the door, is where Wordsworth went from age eight. The names of Wordsworth and his fellow students can still be seen scratched on the wooden desks. There’s a memorial to Wordsworth’s old teacher in the sturdy stone church above it, and on a cobbled alley, round the corner from the little Beatrix Potter Gallery (£7/£3, family £17.50), is Ann Tyson’s cottage, where Wordsworth stayed.

Get there Hawkshead is 20 minutes on bus 505 from Ambleside, where a plaque marks Wordsworth’s later office on Church Street. Ambleside (15 minutes on bus 555 from Windermere station) is home to the new Aerial festival (26-29 March), featuring poetry on buses, readings on boats, and a sunrise chorus at Castlerigg stone circle.
Stay The cheerful, comfortable Ambleside Inn, which reopened a couple of months ago after a transformational revamp, has doubles from £99 room-only; dinner B&B from £89.90pp until 31 March.
Eat A bowl of hummus and salad costs £9.95 at shabby-chic Poppi Red close to Hawkshead’s bus stop.

Grasmere





Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home from 1799.



Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home from 1799. Photograph: The Wordsworth Trust

Little, whitewashed Dove Cottage (£8.50 after bus discount) with its climbing roses, was Wordsworth’s crowded, creative home from 1799, when he was still young and radical. The Wordsworth Trust, which has huge archives of original manuscripts, will reopen the cottage on 7 April. An ongoing multimillion-pound project aims to turn the surrounding site into a cultural heart for the Unesco-listed Lake District. The neighbouring museum follows later this year, with a new cafe and rooftop viewing station. The wood-panelled rooms of Dove Cottage, looking on to the half-wild hillside garden, are atmospheric as ever, enhanced by a new introductory film and soundscape. Visitors arriving by bus – the stop is nearby – get 30% off entry.

Get there By hourly bus 555, or open-topped 599 from Windermere station – both running past lakes and rivers for eight lovely miles (around 35 mins).
Stay Grasmere’s country-house-style Wordsworth Hotel has views of village or fells from the chandelier-hung bedrooms, garden, hot tub – and doubles from £123 B&B.
Eat Fragrant, honey-spiced Grasmere gingerbread (£3.50 for six) is sold at the tiny cottage-shop by St Oswald’s churchyard, where Wordsworth and family are buried.

Ullswater





Passenger ferry on Ullswater, Lake District national park, Cumbria, England, UK.



Passenger ferry on Ullswater. Photograph: Alamy

Wander lonely as a cloud along the shore where Wordsworth saw his dancing lakeside daffs. The bracken-cloaked mountains round tranquil Ullswater run down to the water’s edge, and the woods near Glencoyne still fill with flowers each spring. Follow the daffodil waymarking of the Ullswater Way, opened in 2016, past ferny woods to Aira Force waterfall and catch the steamer down the lake to Glenridding (£7.40 single). The wooden boats cruise year-round and can also drop you across the lake at Howton Pier. Hiking guru Alfred Wainwright called the seven miles from here to Glenridding “the most beautiful and rewarding walk in Lakeland”.

Get there Bus 508 from Penrith station stops at Glencoyne and Glenridding; a £16 Bus and Boat ticket gives unlimited one-day travel in the north-west and a lake cruise.
Eat Local pasties are served with damson ketchup in the little cafe at Aira Force.
Stay YHA Patterdale (private double from £39) is in a 1970s chalet near Glenridding with bus stop and Red Squirrels Crossing sign outside.

Rydal, Cumbria





Wild daffodils in Dora’s Field at Rydal in the Lake District, UK.



Wild daffodils in Dora’s Field at Rydal. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Alamy

Wordsworth spent his last four decades at Rydal Mount (£7.50/£4, family £20). The house, still a family home, is stuffed with relics, including the only known portrait of Dorothy (complete with little dog), his own battered sofa and bucket-shaped picnic box, his brother’s sword and daughter’s scent bottle. Wordsworth’s landscape designs persist in the Romantic gardens, with steps and paths winding between ponds, lawns, terraces, mossy summerhouse and viewpoints.

Get there Buses 555 or 599 run from Windermere station. Rydal Mount is five minutes from the bus stop by Rydal church (near Dora’s Field of wild daffodils, planted by Wordsworth in memory of his daughter). From here it’s a three-mile walk to Dove Cottage along the old coffin road, a hillside path with views across Rydal Water from wooded slopes of spring bluebells.
Stay Riverside Rydal Lodge is by the bus stop, with doubles from £76 B&B.
Eat Cream teas come with Hawkshead raspberry and vanilla jam (£5) in Rydal Mount’s tearoom.

St John’s College, Cambridge





Punt on the Cam at St John’s College, Cambridge.



Punt on the Cam at St John’s College, Cambridge. Photograph: Phoebe Taplin

Wordsworth’s first home outside the Lake District was St John’s, Cambridge. In his autobiographical poem The Prelude, he recalls crossing the River Cam and seeing, as he arrived in 1787, the turrets and pinnacles on “the long-roofed chapel of King’s College”. A signed walking route (college entry £10) leads through the three courts of St John’s; Wordsworth lived in the first one. In the new library, off Chapel Court, there’s a little Wordsworth exhibition (until 24 April) including his breakfast cup. The grounds run down to the lawn-bordered river, with its passing punts.

Get there Buses 1, 3 and 7 run to the city centre every few minutes from Cambridge station. Hop off outside Christ’s college and it’s a five-minute walk to St John’s medieval Great Gate, carved with mythical animals.
Stay YHA Cambridge is two minutes’ walk from the station and has private doubles from £39.
Eat Many of the city’s most interesting pubs and cafes are on Mill Road, close to the station and YHA.

Coleridge Cottage, Somerset





Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey, Somerset, UK.



Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey. Photograph: Alamy

Wordsworth’s friend, and co-creator of 1798 collection Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in a tiny 17th-century cottage in Nether Stowey (£7.40/£3.70, family £18.50) from 1797. William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived at recently rescued Alfoxton , a big house five miles away, and together the friends explored the heathery Quantock hills and rocky coast. For walkers, there’s now the 50-mile Coleridge Way, signposted with quill symbols. The Museum of Somerset in Taunton is borrowing the manuscript of Kubla Khan for an exhibition later this year.

Get there Trains run from Taunton or Bristol to Bridgwater, from where a free minibus runs to Nether Stowey on weekdays, or bus 14 towards Minehead (Mon-Sat). The free bus continues to Watchet, with its harbourside statue of the Ancient Mariner, bare-chested and stooping under the weight of his dead albatross.
Eat A “poet’s lunch” (cheese scone, chutney and cheddar) served by the woodburning stove in the cottage tearoom costs £4.50.
Stay The Ancient Mariner pub, opposite the cottage, has doubles from £55 B&B

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire





Tintern Abbey in Wales.



Tintern Abbey. Photograph: Cat Lane/Getty Images

This towering roofless medieval church on the banks of the Wye – its graceful arches a perfect focal point among steep riverside woods – is one of Wordsworth’s best-known destinations (£7.30/£4.40, family £21.20). The poem that helped make it famous doesn’t actually mention Tintern after the title, but explores the evocative, life-affirming power of “a wild secluded scene”. Several great walks start nearby: to climb to the Devil’s Pulpit viewpoint, cross the footbridge (which fans of the Netflix series Sex Education will recognise as a regular location!) near the Anchor Inn.

Get there Trains run to Chepstow from Bristol and Cardiff, and then take bus 69 to Tintern.
Stay Greenman is a characterful Chepstow hostel with private rooms and a big lounge (doubles £65 B&B). It’s an easy walk from the bus and train stations and is close to Chepstow’s ancient castle.
Eat The cosy White Monk tearoom, next to the abbey, is a good place for a fireside slice of hot chocolate fudge cake.

Westminster Bridge, London





Westminster Bridge, London, UK.



Photograph: Phoebe Taplin

The British Library near Euston has a small but engrossing free display of letters, books and pictures to celebrate Wordsworth’s anniversary. It includes a manuscript draft of his poem “Composed on Westminster Bridge”. In July 1802, Wordsworth crossed the bridge on a coach from Charing Cross, heading for Calais to meet his lover Annette Vallon and their daughter . London’s “Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples” at sunrise prompted one of the poet’s best-loved sonnets, beginning: “Earth has not anything to show more fair…” Bus 211 from near Victoria station offers a modern version of Wordsworth’s view (now mostly dominated by the London Eye). Nearby, Westminster Abbey (£21 online, free for services) has a memorial to Wordsworth in Poet’s Corner, with the marble poet composing on a plinth carved with ferns and daisies, and a bust of Coleridge above his head.

Stay YHA St Pancras has private doubles from £80, room only.
Eat Raise a glass of Côtes du Rhône (from £5.50, tartines from £8) to Wordsworth and his French lover at Chez Antionette near St James’s Park.

Chatsworth, Derbyshire





Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, UK.



Chatsworth House

In 1830 Wordsworth took a walking holiday in Derbyshire with Dorothy and wrote a sonnet about Chatsworth House (£17 with car-free discount), contrasting the “stately mansion” with cottages in the “wild Peak”. The poem is a bit pompous, but the grand house and gardens are worth visiting, especially in March, when golden daffodils drift down the sloping lawns towards the lake. Visitors arriving car-free get £5 off tickets for the house and gardens, which reopen on 21 March.

Get there Bus 218 runs to Chatsworth, from Sheffield station taking about 45 minutes (return £6.50).
Stay The Devonshire Arms (doubles from £117 room-only) is a Wordsworth-era inn a short walk from Chatsworth. Some rooms are in old houses nearby, including one called Dove Cottage.
Eat Derbyshire oatcakes are served with Chatsworth smoked bacon (£7.25) in the newly refurbished farm shop cafe.

Train and bus travel was provided by Avanti West Coast (advance single London-Penrith from £25.50); Stagecoach Cumbria (day rider tickets from £8.50); Great Western Railway (advance tickets London-Taunton from £22 single) and Transport for Wales (day returns to Chepstow from £8.10). Accommodation was provided by the Ambleside Inn, Greenman Backpackers in Chepstow, North Lakes Hotel and Wordsworth Hotel. More information from visitlakedistrict.com

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