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Lake District's Grasmere - Wordsworths 'loveliest spot'

PUBLISHED: 20:26 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:14 27 April 2016

The River Rothey

The River Rothey

Almost 160 years after his death William Wordsworth's opinion of Grasmere is shared by people all over the world

It's hard to argue with William Wordsworth's assessment of Grasmere as 'the loveliest spot that man hath ever found' but when thousands a day find the spot during the summer it can also be the busiest. At those times it's nigh on impossible to wander lonely as a cloud.

At this time of year though, the flood of tourist coaches slows to a trickle and it's possible to enjoy the place almost as the great man himself would have done.

Take a walk from Dove Cottage where he lived for nine years to the schoolroom where he taught the village children and you'll enjoy the timeless views of the hills and the charming stone buildings he would have known.

He wouldn't recognise all the gift shops and cafes which now line the main route through the village but as a keen gardener he'd have liked the garden centre and he'd be sure to appreciate the daffodil garden, created in his honour beside St Oswald's Church.

And even when the daffs aren't in bloom, the path through the garden - where each stone bears the name and hometown of someone who loves the place as much as he did - is a permanent sign of Grasmere's world-wide appeal.

The garden was designed by the Friends of Grasmere and with new stones added three times a year, anyone taking up the chance to be immortalised in the garden could see their name alongside Rolf Harris and Gloria Hunniford.

Although Wordsworth is revered all over the world, his grave occupies a modest plot and has an understated headstone in the grounds of the church. In spite of that it has become one of the most visited literary shrines in the world.

But Grasmere's global appeal could not be built solely on an appreciation of Wordsworth's poetry and there's much more on offer in Grasmere to justify its status as an international favourite. Although many are undoubtedly enticed by Wordsworth's legacy, others find the shops a major draw and plenty more are attracted by the stunning scenery and superb walking country in the hills which surround the village.

But some are there to hear stories. Grasmere is home to England's most experienced story-teller, Taffy Thomas.

Taffy - his dad was Welsh, hence the nickname - is a qualified teacher, originally from Somerset, who found his true vocation in entertaining. He founded a folk theatre company, launched a rural community arts company but suffered a massive stroke at the age of 35 which left him unable to speak for three months.

He turned to storytelling as a form of therapy. 'I have always had an interest in storytelling,' he said. 'In the north, legends grow out of the land and I came to realise when I moved up here that different places have their own tales associated with them. I just collect them.'

Taffy now has more than 300 stories to call on and will deliver a selection of the spookier ones at a special Hallowe'en event in his Storyteller's Garden on the evening of October 31.

Taffy, who was awarded an MBE in 2001, has converted his home inside and out into a magical venue for his stories. 'I work very seasonally, a lot of my stories are linked to the time of year, so during the summer months a lot of the stories are told in the garden but we have the listening room indoors in case of bad weather.'

And across the road from Taffy's home is Grasmere's other major attraction; the world-famous gingerbread. The delicious aroma hangs in the Grasmere air, like wispy clouds on the hill tops and lines of people follow their noses along the narrow pavements and winding streets to the tiny shop which was opened in the old schoolroom by Sarah Nelson in 1850.

Sarah was poor and uneducated but knew a business opportunity when it came along and she became a fixture for Victorian tourists as she wore a white apron and shawl to sell Helvellyn cakes and aerated water along with her gingerbread. She realised the potential of best-selling gingerbread and had the recipe locked away in a bank vault, ensuring that when she died in 1904, her secret lived on.

Today, Joanne Wilson and Andrew Hunter produce the gingerbread to the same recipe from the same old schoolroom - where Wordsworth, his wife and his sister all taught. Every year thousands of the paper-wrapped parcels are sold in the shop or sent around the globe via the mail order service which was established more than 80 years ago and the gingerbread can count Tom Cruise, Jamie Oliver and Alan Whicker among their celebrity fans.

Unfortunately Wordsworth's views on gingerbread are not known, he died just months before the shop opened.


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