5 great Lake District walks inspired by Wordsworth

PUBLISHED: 18:00 07 April 2020

Allan Bank in Grasmere by Katherine Head

Allan Bank in Grasmere by Katherine Head

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Celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet William Wordsworth on these five walks which were all special to him. While the Lake District is out of bounds more most of us during the government lockdown, we can use these walks as a inspiration for enjoying this countryside when it is safe to so.

It’s the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth on April 7th 2020. Not only was he born, bred and schooled in and around the edges of what we now call the Lake District National Park, but he lived here for most of his adult life, tramping over the fells, waxing lyrical about all that he saw and, as an early conservationist, defending it against potential development.

To follow in his footsteps means to hike from north to south and east to west, exploring every nook and cranny, as he once did.

Or you can limit your ‘pilgrimage’ to the five superb walks here, each linked with different periods in the great poet’s life.

Looking across the lake towards the village of Grasmere and Seat Sandal (c) Vivienne CrowLooking across the lake towards the village of Grasmere and Seat Sandal (c) Vivienne Crow

Grasmere and Rydal Water

There’s not much chance of wandering “lonely as a cloud” in the heart of Wordsworth country, as you stroll past two of his former homes and saunter through beautiful woodland and beside sparkling lakes. The walk around the two handsome lakes of Grasmere and Rydal Water is justifiably popular, using a series of well-maintained paths and passing through spectacular scenery. Watch for Dove Cottage, where the poet and his sister Dorothy lived from 1799 until 1808, and Rydal Mount, Wordsworth’s home from 1813 until he died in 1850.

Other Wordsworthian links on this five-mile route include St Mary’s Church, where the family worshipped, and Dora’s Field, where he planted hundreds of daffodils in memory of his daughter.

Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, the poet's birthplace (c) Vivienne CrowWordsworth House in Cockermouth, the poet's birthplace (c) Vivienne Crow

Around Cockermouth

Tucked away on the edge of the Lake District, Wordsworth’s birthplace, Cockermouth, is surrounded by rolling green countryside with the grey outlines of the north-western fells forming an alluring backdrop. You could spend a fair few enjoyable hours just wandering around the Georgian town.

Lose yourself in the complicated network of narrow alleyways and courtyards that dates back to medieval times, or take a stroll beside the rivers Cocker and Derwent. The latter flows behind Wordsworth House, where the poet was born, and he refers to it in The Prelude as “the fairest of all rivers” that “loved to blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song”.

The Lakeland village of Hawkshead (c) Vivienne CrowThe Lakeland village of Hawkshead (c) Vivienne Crow

From Hawkshead

Hawkshead, with its cobbled lanes and timber-framed buildings, became Wordsworth’s home while he attended grammar school there. Always a keen hiker, he would undoubtedly have explored the local area from his lodgings at Ann Tyson’s sixteenth-century cottage.

Today, with miles of public rights-of-way and vast expanses of access land in the area, walkers are spoiled for choice. Consider heading south from Hawkshead towards Esthwaite Lodge and then climbing to Moor Top. From here, wander through the forests of Hawkshead Moor and Hawkshead Hall Park as far as High Cross before returning to the village via Hawkshead Hill where you’ll find one of northern England’s earliest Baptist chapels. It’s about five miles in total.

Looking down the Duddon Valley from the top of Wallowbarrow Crag (c) Vivienne CrowLooking down the Duddon Valley from the top of Wallowbarrow Crag (c) Vivienne Crow

Duddon Valley

Having fallen in love with the Duddon Valley while he was a schoolboy in Hawkshead, Wordsworth returned here time and time again, and even wrote a series of sonnets about his “long-loved Duddon”. For a hint of why this quiet, south-western corner of Lakeland appealed to him, climb to the top of Wallowbarrow Crag (958ft /292m) for a spectacular view of the valley and the surrounding fells, and then enjoy a walk beside the rapids and the clear pools of the River Duddon as it rushes through dramatic Wallowbarrow Gorge.

It’s little more than four miles though; maybe you could extend it by adding Harter Fell to the itinerary.

Looking along Grisedale from Dollywaggon Pike (c) Vivienne CrowLooking along Grisedale from Dollywaggon Pike (c) Vivienne Crow

Helvellyn

Climbing Helvellyn (3,116ft /950m) from Glenridding via the precipitous Striding Edge and then returning through the glacial valley of Grisedale, you’ll pass two memorials referencing Wordsworth. The first is at the top of the final scramble from Striding Edge. Just as you’re congratulating yourself on having completed the traverse safely, you can read about Charles Gough, who wasn’t so lucky. His body was found nearby and the memorial includes lines from Wordsworth’s Fidelity, a tribute to Gough’s loyal dog who was found beside her master’s body.

On the way down Grisedale later, watch for the Brothers’ Parting Stone, where William last saw his brother John before he died. The rock has since been engraved with poetry he wrote in memory of John.

The writer

Vivienne Crow is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer, specialising in the outdoors. She has written more than a dozen guides to Cumbria and the Lake District, including

Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks and Lake District: High Level and Fell Walks (Cicerone, £9.99 each).

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