With Halloween in mind we walked the old coffin route between Rydal and Grasmere, roughly half its length. And we were glad we did, for yesterday was a beautiful day of rich autumn colours in the Lake District. Clear blue skies too, a rarity this year.
The coffin path originated as a way of transporting the dead from Ambleside to Grasmere before Ambleside acquired its own church and graveyard in Victorian times. This path is the way the dead would have been carried on their final journey until then. It’s likely that coffins as such were only used in recent centuries. Prior to that, the bodies would have been carried swathed in wool.
I’ve walked a lot of coffin routes in my time in various parts of Britain, from the Lich Way across Dartmoor to corpse routes in the Highlands of Scotland. In a recent blog I argued that we should preserve the original lines of rights of way. Corpse roads are one reason why – a hugely important part of our social history.
A myth has grown up that a right of way is created wherever a body is carried on its way to burial. Sadly, it’s just a myth – not true at all.
We set out from Rydal along the coffin path – a route that would have been so familiar to local residents in history such as William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Coleridge and De Quincey. Wordsworth lived in two houses along the route – Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage.
As the path contours the hillside, the coffin path offers exceptional views over the Vale of Grasmere. And at its best at this time of year.
We passed White Moss Tarn – far weedier than it used to be – where William Wordsworth used to skate.
As you descend towards Dove Cottage, there is a stone set at the side of the track – possibly a resting place for the dead or their bearers.
We followed the track into Grasmere, where so many of the dead would have found their final resting place.
After tea by the mere, by a Gypsy vardo (travelling wagon) and rowing boats, we followed the shore round to the River Rothay and walked back to Rydal.
Unlike the dead, we made the return trip!