Guided by the greats through England's Lake District where change hasn't come without preservation
An artist without a muse is a lonely soul. Poet William Wordsworth found his in the lakes, forests, fells and "golden daffodils" of the Lake District. As did Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter.
Walking along the pebbled shore of the Windermere in Cumbria where the gnarled roots of leafy trees fought through rocks, I recognised some of the qualities that might have inspired these famous writers.
Staying silent for a time, the blackish water, rippled by passing boats and ducks, naturally came to the fore of my thinking. The yachts wouldn't have made it into Wordsworth's poems, nor the sports cars that passed by on the road just beyond the hedges.
The Lakes had changed considerably since the 1800s, built up with pubs, boutiques, cafes and summer homes. Although I couldn't say if it was still the muse Wordsworth fell for, this maturation wasn't detrimental, thanks to a preservation of its two defining features: history and untouched nature.
Bowness-on-Windermere is one of the more populated towns on the Windermere and not ideal for solitude. However, compared to the cities this is still an idyllic settlement of small-town folk, corner taverns and Victorian architecture.
Despite its tourist appeal, the town has avoided resorts and gimmicky attractions, retaining its charming heritage with family-run B&Bs and hotels.
As far as sights, there is the 15th-century St Martin's Church and interactive World of Beatrix Potter. Other than those, you have the immeasurable peace of the national park, which presents an array of possibilities beyond the shores of Windermere.
Walking was my key to accessing some of The Lakes' best views and most secluded areas, drawing back the curtain on the region's many fells (mountains), mysterious stone circles and quieter shorelines.
The country lanes, bridleways and mountain trails provided ideal terrain for both casual and adrenalin-focused cycling, while the lakes were an empty plate for the buffet of water sports, fishing and boating on offer.
When the inevitable rain did fall, there were enough indoor attractions to suffice such as the Coast Aquarium in Maryport, Muncaster Castle, Keswick Brewery and Wordsworth's former home, Dove Cottage.
I had no car, having caught the train from London Euston to Windermere, but I was more than content to explore on foot, taking my time through the towns.
I soon realised my plan was more romantic than practical. Windermere is England's largest natural lake at about 18 kilometres in length and 1.50 kilometres wide. I favoured the latter distance, hiring a kayak and skimming across the water to Mitchell Wyke Ferry Bay on the opposite shore.
With the help of printed Google maps – the modern explorer's cheat sheet – I trekked from the ferry to Near Sawrey, where I found Beatrix Potter's farmhouse, Hill Top, and the quaint, stone-walled town that inspired much of her writing.
On the way back I was halted in an open field of lime-green grass and clumps of trees, and in the distance a stout, grey church. There were no yachts or cars, no people or shops. The picture was silent and still, save for the occasional movements of sheep.
The scene followed me as I paddled up the western shore towards Wray Castle. Later I would return to the present; find warmth in an ale and the four stone walls of a local pub. But until then I needed to continue the search for more golden daffodils.
Top Lake District Destinations
Buttermere Lake is one of the smallest, easily circumnavigated in 6.5 kilometres and surrounded by dairy farms, native forests and fells. Buttermere Village, sitting between Buttermere and Crummock Water, is sought out for its remote and quiet atmosphere. Family-run inns and hotels accommodate many hikers looking to reach the summit of Honister Pass.
Coniston is a small village on the shore of Coniston Water, once home to art critic John Ruskin who is now remembered by The Ruskin Museum. The village is well-stocked with pubs, restaurants, shops and accommodation. Boats, canoes and bikes can be hired at the Coniston Boating Centre, while hikes to the mountain of the Old Man of Coniston are popular.
One of the larger towns in the Lake District, Keswick's history dates back to the 13th century when the current local market first began. Keswick has a football team, holds regular cultural events and is home to numerous landmarks including the Theatre by the Lake, which hosts touring performers. The closest lake, Derwentwater, is only a 10-minute walk away.
Positioned at the foot of the Ullswater lake, Glenridding is a cosy village with many self-catering properties, hotels and a youth hostel. The Ullswater 'Steamers' (heritage cruising vessels) can be caught from here to Pooley Bridge, Howtown and Aira Force. The towns are also linked by some of the most iconic walking routes in The Lakes.
The only coastal village in the national park, Ravenglass sits at the estuary of three rivers with access to beaches on the Irish Sea. Within the town are the Roman Bath House ruins and the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, a heritage train that can be caught to Hardknott Roman Fort and Muncaster Castle. Slightly inland is Wastwater, England's deepest lake.
Once home to poet William Wordsworth, the village of Grasmere is named after the nearby lake, Grasmere Water. Despite its small stature, the town is known for its gingerbread, handmade chocolate and annual Rushbearing Ceremony. A number of spectacular walks begin in Grasmere such as the Red Bank Road, and a pilgrimage can be made to Wordsworth's grave at the churchyard of St Oswald's Church.
Signs Of The Greats
John Ruskin (art critic)
Visit Ruskin's home, Brantwood, in Coniston, along with The Ruskin Museum. There's also a memorial to the writer erected at Friars Crag in Keswick.
Beatrix Potter (author and illustrator)
The Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead showcases original artwork from the author's books. You can also follow Potter's footsteps on the Beatrix Potter trail around the lake in Brockhole.
Hugh Walpole (novelist)
One of England's most proficient writers in the 20s and 30s, Walpole is buried in St John's churchyard in Keswick. His home, Brackenburn overlooking the Derwentwater, is now privately owned, but the gardens are occasionally open.
William Wordsworth (poet)
Dove Cottage in Grasmere is now a detailed museum on Wordsworth's life and work. The nearby town of Rydal Water contains his former home Rydal Mount, along with Dora's Field, which is named after his daughter and covered in daffodils during spring.
Words: Ben Stower