A month ago, when the autumn colours were still rich, I spent the morning of my birthday taking one of my favourite strolls in the Lake District. A walk that would have been so familiar to some of England’s greatest writers.
Its proper name is Under Loughrigg Lane, but to me it’s Lakeland’s literary lane, running from Ambleside to Rydal. Normally I start this gentle stroll from Rydal Church, but the parking is still restricted there. So, this time, we walked from the Ambleside end of the lane itself.
The colours were magnificent, and the birds were particularly active. We saw no fewer than four robins in almost as many yards, decrying the rumour that they are competitive and don’t get on. I’m not much of a road walker, but the lane is ideal for there are traffic restrictions on cars. Watch out for the cyclists though.
The Lake Poets would have used this lane quite regularly. Wordsworth and Coleridge came this way, possibly engrossed in literary debate. Dorothy Wordsworth – I prefer her to her brother – wandered this way from Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount on her strolls to Ambleside.
The Opium Eater, Thomas de Quincey, actually lived on the lane at Fox Ghyll. An inveterate walker, if you wander this lane you’re following in his footsteps. He liked to walk this lane at night as well as during the day. I think I prefer him to William Wordsworth. You can almost fancy he’s just ahead of you on the road.
At Fox How, a gaunt looking property with views towards the Fairfield Horseshoe, lived Dr Thomas Arnold – at least during his holidays from Rugby School, where as you’ll know, if you’ve read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, he was the headmaster. His son, the poet and critic Matthew Arnold, took over the house later and spent his holidays here, often walking the literary lane. Dr Arnold’s granddaughter, the novelist Mrs Humphrey Ward, spent part of her childhood here.
Nearer to where the stepping stones cross the River Rothay, is Loughrigg Holme, the residence of the minor poet Edward Quillinan, Wordsworth’s son-in-law. In his property on this lane he ran quite a literary salon. Charlotte Bronte came to visit and walked up and down the lane, as did Harriet Martineau.
At Rydal we climbed the lane by the church to Rydal Mount, still a home to the Wordsworth family as it was then. John Keats came to visit, but Wordsworth was out, so he missed his opportunity. Swinburne was brought here as a child to visit the aged Wordsworth. He thought him terrifying.
Nearby is Rydal Hall, Not a building that the Wordsworths were particularly fond of. We passed the Grot, a carefully-landscaped waterfall, one of the oldest grottos in England (1669). John Stuart Mill and Lewis Carroll were enthusiastic visitors. It’s still very pretty.
We walked back through the park of the house to Ambleside, for tea and a prowl round the bookshops – one less than on my last visit. Interesting to see that most of the writers mentioned above are still in print.