Ullswater and the Wordsworths

by Rose Atherton

Banner Image © Janet Wedgwood

William and Dorothy Wordsworth were regular visitors to the Ullswater Valley. Their visits here, to walk or see friends, would go on to inspire some of William Wordsworth’s most famous poems, and some of his sister Dorothy’s most evocative writing.


Visits to friends and family

The Wordsworth family grew up in the Lakes, in Cockermouth. They had family in Penrith, and William went to school in Hawkshead, so they knew the area and the landscape well. After university, and some years down south and in Germany, William settled down, with his sister Dorothy, at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, not far from Ullswater. They had many friends in the Ullswater valley, with whom they visited regularly; John Marshall and his wife at Hallsteads, the Clarksons at Eusmere, the Luffs at Side farm. As well as many friends to the north who they would get to by passing through the Valley; William’s in-laws the Hutchinson’s north of Pooley bridge, Thomas Wilkinson the quaker at Yanwath and even Lord Lowther.


An inspiring landscape

The Ullswater Valley, especially Patterdale, was very appealing to Wordsworth, and he even bought some land at Broadhow in 1805 with the intention of relocating and building a family home. The landscape inspired some of his most successful poems such as I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud which was based on a swathe of Daffodils he and Dorothy saw in 1802. The Valley also inspired some of his most provocative and powerful imagery such as The Boat Stealing Incident in The Prelude, which recounted an influential ‘spot of time’, or memory, from William’s childhood, when he stole a rowing boat in the night and rowed out onto the lake only to be chased back by the looming shape of a mountain.


Walking

He and Dorothy, often with friends, went on lots of walks around the valley – many of which he went on to describe in his Guide to The Lake District. The longest of these descriptions was of a walk from Patterdale to Martindale in 1805, which he described in great detail. He also talked about walks to Dunmallet at the north of the Valley, and to Blowick in the south. Dorothy wrote in her journals too about their many walks around Ullswater, including walks around Hartsop and Brother’s water. She also writes about an emotional walk they took after the untimely death of the Wordsworth’s brother John, which would go on to inspire William to write a poem, now engraved on the Brother’s parting stone at Grisedale Tarn.


Visiting with guests

The Wordsworth’s also brought their visiting guests to the area to show off its great walks and scenery. They brought the essayist Thomas De Quincey to Ullswater over Kirkstone Pass up The Struggle, and in 1805 Walter Scott and the Chemist Humphrey Davies came to Ullswater with William to climb Helvellyn, a trip which inspired both Wordsworth and Scott to write poetry about the tragic death of Charles Gough.


Ullswater was an integral part of the Wordsworth’s Lake District experience and its imagery can be found throughout their writings.

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