London - “I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats high o’er vale and hills / When all at once I saw a crowd / A host of golden daffodils.”
Many a disgruntled pupil has memorised these lines for a class assembly: standing on stage, blinded by lights and droning on the lines to an expectant audience of flashes and clicks.
The lines, like all works, take on a new meaning when read in their natural environment. With William Wordsworth, this requires walking, either alone, or with a trusted companion, and a notebook.
Walking the fells of the Lake District in north-west England has changed over the past 200 years. One can walk with all sorts of navigation, weather-proof clothing and specially designed sticks to ease the journey. But if you are a university student on a budget, an authentic Wordsworthian experience can be easily achieved.
The other benefit is that because of the popularity of Wordsworth’s poetry – the lifestyle of walking and its health benefits have been sought-after – there are excellent well-marked paths, which need little mapping or equipment, for the novice walker.
Add in some sun, for at least part of the day, you have the perfect opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of this picturesque area.
Of course, an English summer’s day would not be complete without rain, so when the clouds appear in midday, you can continue your Wordsworthian idyll by visiting one of his homes in the area.
At the close of the18th century, the poet set up home in Grasmere with his sister Dorothy in a re-purposed pub, now known as Dove Cottage. He would spend less than a decade in the sleepy cottage, but would write the bulk of his best poetry. He would also marry his childhood sweetheart and father three of his children.
Dorothy documented the first few years of their life and collected the stories that would find their way into her brother’s poetry.
Visitors to his home today have the opportunity to poke around the gloomy interior of the ground floor, where chores were regulated, or go to the cheerful first floor where much of William and Dorothy’s writing took place when they were not entertaining guests.
The house showcases much of the original furniture from William’s time at the cottage: from the cutlass chair, the grandfather clock, and the rather petite bed for a 1.75m William and his shorter wife.
You can also see the portmanteau, slightly bigger than the latest Louis Vuitton handbag, which Wordsworth used on a six-week tour of Europe.
Granted, a cheerful tour guide will remind you: “They only washed their clothes once every five weeks.”
Unlike many heritage sites, the cottage is not a theme-park, or a shrine, but instead captures the authenticity of home.
The authentic feel is captured by the Trust’s housing 99 percent of the Wordsworth family and friends’ manuscripts, letters and books.
The collection contains Wordsworth’s love letters to his wife; his copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, with his annotations, and his notebooks with all of the draft copies of his poetry.
The written materials are accessible to the public through appointment and are greatly sought after by English literature students.
The Trust also caters for children, from providing hands-on opportunities to write in ink with a quill and paint in watercolours to seeing rhymes and dressing up in period costumes.
Very soon the rain will abate and the skies will open on to a quiet evening.
The birds twitter as you walk into the village of Grasmere, to complete your day with a cream tea overlooking a glistening garden with misty fells beyond.
l The cottage is open in the “gem of the Lake District”, Grasmere, from 9.30am to 5.30pm daily and offers a guided tour and access to the current exhibitions.
It is accessible via the StageCoach bus route 555 or the A591 motorway.