I wandered into the Wordsworth with a preconceived idea of what a museum dedicated to the Lakeland’smost famous poet – to be amazed it is even better than my imagination.
I have driven past the Wordsworth Grasmere many times and noticed the ‘new’ extension (not so new now as it was built in 2005). I’ve always ‘meant’ to visit, and thankfully an invitation from the Wordsworth Trust to a private viewing of the original manuscripts of ‘I Wander Lonely as a Cloud’ I had the date set in the diary to do it.
When we set firm dates in the diary, it is wonderful how we actually do what we’ve always meant to do.
It was a grey, wet early spring morning, yet the golden daffodils the Wordsworths were captivated by, were the only hint of colour. It was the perfect setting to walk through the hamlet of cottages that surround the Wordsworth Grasmere – just as they would have been when the poet, his sister and then his wife lived in this beautiful part of the Lake District.
It is the buildings, the gardens and the stunning landscape which inspired William and Dorothy Wordsworth that is so special about visiting this space. It diminishes this place to call it a museum, as you can feel the life and spirit that was their muse in this special place.
Our first stop off was to see the ‘I Wander Lonely as a Cloud’ manuscript, on load to the Wordsworth Grasmere from the British Library.
It is juxtaposition the entry in Dorothy’s diary of the day the brother and sister came across the host of golden daffodils on the shores of Ullswater – and an additional area of the exhibition from the Grasmere WI.
At first, the delicate, tiny writing, looks impossible to read with modern, screen trained eyes, however, one by one you can make out the words of this famous poem – a line of which almost every English speaker must be able to recite. And the way Dorothy describes the flowers highlights how closely the two inspired each other and how their works could be described as ‘the Wordsworths’.
The manuscript which William sent to his publishers, is in his wife’s handwriting, yet there are last-minute amendments by William scattered throughout the page. It is amazing to be in the same place as this page was written 220 years ago – and to later look out onto the garden William and Dorothy called home and see this season’s daffodils moving in the wind and gentle Lake District misty rain.
The gallery space is beautifully spacious, with a stunning word wall installation and exhibition of community group workshop artwork. This is a place that is deeply embedded in the community of today, inspiring everyone, of all ages to sit down and create their own poetry and artwork.
Upstairs the timeline of the Wordsworth puts their poetry and life into the context of the World around them – war is raging in Europe then the battle of Waterloo brought to an end the conflict between France and Great Britain. The Wordsworths lived through the abolition of the Slave Trade and the popularity of the new printing presses that brought the written word to a wider audience.
This history is brought together with Wordsworth’s words, and quiet writing areas are provided for you to sit and capture your own thoughts, ideas and words.
From the exhibition, we cross the cobbles to Dove Cottage, and the outbuilding to get into the mindset of the Wordsworths with a beautiful film. Then a few steps further and you are in their kitchen, with the breakfast laid out in front of a roaring fire. It is as if the siblings had just popped out to bring in more logs.
Everything you see in Dove cottage is there because it was mentioned in Dorothy’s extensive diaries, which she wrote to keep her brother informed of daily life in the Lakes. The flickering candle on the table of the scullery, the bowls waiting for Dorothy to make their daily bread, are all awaiting their return. This is an immersive experience, only topped by walking to the top of their garden and taking in the view of the fells as the mist rises.
We were fortunate to be shown the archive where people from across the world come to research Wordsworth – a peaceful, booklined room with a glimpse of the fells surrounding Grasmere. And the community learning facility provides the perfect setting for a regular parent and toddler group as well as a facility for school visits.
Wordsworth Grasmere continues to uphold the values of Wordsworth – ‘Live and do good’.
Wordsworth calls for us to reconnect with nature. He asked that we show empathy for others. He encourages us to nurture out creative imagination. As the sign says as you enter the gallery – this is a place you can experience the poetry inspired by this beautiful location in the very place where his poetry was written. The original manuscripts will take you to the actual moment of writing and connect you to the many people involved in its creation.
We will be returning to take in the beauty of this place, and enjoy a cafe and lunch next time in the cafe, in the heart of the Wordsworth Grasmere hamlet. The perfect place to enjoy a family day out whatever the weather, whatever the time of year.
- The ‘I Wander Lonely as a Cloud’ manuscript by William Wordsworth is on display at Wordsworth Grasmere until 29 May 2022.
- The loan is part of the British Library’s ‘Treasures on Tour’ programme, which is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.
- For more information about Wordsworth Grasmere visit their website https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/
- Wordsworth Grasmere shortlisted for National Award – read more here: https://cumbria24.com/wordsworth-grasmere-shortlisted-for-national-award/