Dorothy Wordsworth 250th Anniversary Cycle Trail
This cycle route takes you from Dorothy Wordsworth’s birthplace in Cockermouth the 32 miles to the place where she died at Rydal Mount near Ambleside. Dorothy Wordsworth was a creative force in her own right, and had a deep connection to the natural world. This route is an invitation to mark the 250th anniversary of her birth on 25th December 1771. The route uses quiet roads, off-road cycle tracks and bridleways – with some stretches on main A roads where that is unavoidable – so it’s suitable for mountain bikes or hybrid bikes. The route is designed for adults who are already confident cyclists, not beginners. The majority of the route is not technically challenging.
Wordsworth House and Garden
Cycle straight down Cockermouth Main Street. After crossing the bridge over the river Cocker, turn right into Market Place and then immediately right into Market Street. Follow the road to the right down to the river, signed NCR71. Continue following the 71 signs, crossing the footbridge, turning left along the river, passing under 2 bridges, then circling round up and right onto an old railway track. On reaching a road turn left, signed NCR71, and follow it out of town 1.4 miles to a T-junction.
Birthplace of Dorothy and William Wordsworth
Dorothy Wordsworth was born here on Christmas Day 1771, 19 months after her brother William. The small fountain opposite the house has a statue, reputedly depicts Dorothy as a young girl and was commissioned in 1865 by Canon Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust. Dorothy had a happy childhood here with her brothers, especially William, until the death of their mother when Dorothy was six years old. At that point she was sent to live with relatives and was never able to return home again, not even for Christmas. The ‘History Wall’ in Old King’s Arms Lane (accessed through an archway beside the travel agents on Main St) gives an insight into the town and its inhabitants.
At the T-junction, IGNORE the NCR71 signs. Turn left and head towards the fells following the quiet country road past St. Cuthbert’s church and the occasional habitation, ignoring any turn-offs. After 2 miles at a steep hill sign turn right. Follow the country lane up the Wythop valley, for 1.6 miles, ignoring any turn-offs until the tarmac ends at a sharp right turn to Wythop Hall.
Dorothy revisits Cockermouth
In 1795 William and Dorothy were staying with their friends the Calverts in Keswick. They journeyed back to Cockermouth - it was the only time she revisited the town. Her childhood home had been empty since their father's death in 1783. She wrote 'all was in ruin, the terrace-walk buried and choked up with the old privot[sic] hedge which had formerly been most beautiful, roses and privot intermingled - the same hedge where the sparrows were used to build their nests.'
Continue straight on, taking the gated farm track across the fields. You are now on the old NCR71. At the corner with an NCR71 sign, at the entrances to two fields, turn right along the grassy banking. Follow this track to the gate with an NCR71 sign. Skiddaw is directly in front of you and this marks the entrance to Wythop Wood.
Skiddaw at 3,054 feet is the sixth highest mountain in England. The Skiddaw group are the oldest rocks and unique in the Lake District, formed as black mud and sands settling on the seabed about 500 million years ago, subsequently compressed and pushed up by the forces of nature.
From here it is downhill on a forest trail for 0.7 mile to Bassenthwaite Lake. The descent is steep and rough in places, particularly the first 300m. NB: If you do not feel confident enough to handle some sections, it is advisable to dismount. This offers the added benefit of being able to appreciate the view towards Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake as well as the flora and fauna of the wood. Pass through the gate and follow the track down into the wood. After this initial steep downhill with a sharp right bend, you reach a wider forest track. Cross this and continue down on the smaller track until the NCR71 exits the woods.
This is the only body of water in the Lake District to have the word ‘lake’ actually in its name. Along with Derwentwater it is home to the Vendace, a rare fish, dating from the ice-age, once thought to be extinct.
The NCR71 exits the woods joining the old road to Thornthwaite and Braithwaite. Avoiding any turn-outs onto the A66, follow the old road until you reach the Middle Ruddings hotel. Here take the off-road cycle track along the right-hand side of the A66 which goes as far as the right turn which you take into Keswick. Here it becomes a cycle lane on the road. En-route into town shortly after crossing the bridge over the river Greta, turn into the Rawnsley Centre car park on your left. Continue straight up the incline. This takes you to the gate of privately owned Greta Hall (not open to visitors).
Greta Hall was built around 1800 and the home of Lake poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, who lived there with their wives, Edith and Sara. Dorothy visited here often, with her brother, as did their literary contemporaries Charles Lamb, Percy Shelley and Sir Walter Scott. Greta Hall is not open to visitors.
Return to the main road via the car park and continue into Keswick.
The journal entry for 29 December 1801 records their walk from a stay in Keswick with Coleridge back to Grasmere: 'We turned out of the road at the second mile stone, and passed a pretty cluster of houses at the foot of St. John's Vale. The houses were among tall trees, partly of Scotch fir, and some naked forest trees. We crossed a bridge just below these houses, and the river winded sweetly along the meadows. Our road soon led us along the sides of dreary bare hills, but we had a glorious prospect to the left of Saddleback, half-way covered with snow, and underneath the comfortable white houses and the village of Threlkeld. These houses and the village want trees about them. Skiddaw was behind us, and dear Coleridge's desert home. As we ascended the hills it grew very cold and slippery. Luckily, the wind was at our backs, and helped us on. A sharp hail shower gathered at the head of Martindale, and the view upwards was very grand—wild cottages, seen through the hurrying hail-shower. The wind drove, and eddied about and about, and the hills looked large and swelling through the storm. O! the bonny nooks, and windings, and curlings of the beck, down at the bottom of the steep green mossy banks. We dined at the public-house on porridge, with a second course of Christmas pies.'
At the traffic lights, before the pedestrianised town centre follow the C2C signs. Go left, following the road round to the right. Turn left at the next set of lights. Where this road bends right, carry straight on, bearing immediately left, following the C2C sign, up to the front entrance and around the right hand side of the Leisure centre and then right alongside the former railway station. Continue along the Keswick Railway Cycleway and Footpath, leaving it by a short steep track up to the right, by a signpost and map, before a bridge under the main road. At the top of the track, turn right through the gate onto the main road. Follow the NCR signs Grasmere via Stone Circle, turning left before Chestnut Hill and then immediately right, signed Castlerigg Stone Circle.
Castlerigg Stone Circle
This neolithic monument is one of Britain’s earliest stone circles and stands on a natural plateau commanding a superb 360 degree view over the surrounding fells. It has been in the care of the National Trust since 1913.
Continue downhill from the stone circle to a T-junction. Following the C2C71 signs for the next 1.6 miles, turn right then right again at the next T-junction. In 250m turn right again towards St John’s in the Vale. Follow the road, bearing left, crossing the bridge over St John’s beck, then turn right. In 100m IGNORE the left turn to Matterdale and the C2C71 sign. Continue straight on cycling down the picturesque vale. After 2.3 miles, as you approach the hamlet of The Green at the end of the vale, turn right onto a track, signed Grasmere by permissive cycle way. Cross the A591 and continue straight ahead, signed Grasmere. In 0.6 mile, cross the Thirlmere dam and contour along the lake’s western shore.
Thirlmere today is not the valley Dorothy Wordsworth knew, with its small lake, pastureland and the habitations of Armboth and Wythburn. A dam was built in 1894 and now the valley is submerged under the lake. Dorothy's journal entry for 7 December 1801 records making this journey on horseback 'We determined, however, to go to Keswick if possible, and we set off a little after 9 o'clock. When we were at the top of the Raise we saw the mountains before us. The sun shone upon them, here and there; and Wytheburn vale, though wild, looked soft. The day went on cheerfully and pleasantly. Now and then a hail shower attacked us; but we kept up a good heart, for Mary is a famous jockey.... We reached Greta Hall at about one o'clock. We parted from them at 4 o'clock. It was a little of the dusk when we set off. Cotton mills lighted up. The first star at Nadel Fell, but it was never dark. We rode very briskly. Snow upon the Raise. Reached home at seven o'clock.'
After 4.5 miles, at the end of Thirlmere, shortly after Steel End car park but before West Head Farm, look out for a small wooden gate on your right, signed Grasmere via Dunmail Raise. From here it is the NCR6 cycle route up to the top of Dunmail Raise.
Dorothy and William frequently walked up Dunmail Raise on their trips to Keswick. Her journal for 15 November 1800 reads 'We both set forward at five o'clock. A fine wild night. I walked with W. over the Raise. It was starlight. I parted with him very sad, unwilling not to go on. The hills, and the stars, and the white waters, with their ever varying yet ceaseless sound, were very impressive.'
Be sure to exit the cycle track as you reach the start of a short section of dual carriageway to be on its southbound side for the impressive 2.5 mile downhill on the A591 to Grasmere, turning right into Grasmere at the very bottom by the Swan Inn.
While touring the Lake District, Dorothy and her brother decided to move to Grasmere and did so in 1799. William described the area as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. Their first home was Dove Cottage at the south end of the village. Dorothy wrote 'We were young and healthy and had attained our object long desired...We had returned to our native mountains, there to live'.
After turning right, follow the road until you come to the third turning on your right, signed Allan Bank. Follow the signs up to the house where Dorothy lived from 1808-1813.
After William married in 1802, Dove Cottage became too small for his growing family and their many guests. In 1808 Dorothy along with her brother, his wife, three children, sister-in-law and initially friends Thomas de Quincy and Samuel Coleridge moved to Allan Bank. In 1813, after two more children, they began finding the house overcrowded, damp and with chimneys that smoked too much. The Wordsworths moved to Rydal Mount. Allan Bank is open to visitors, check the National Trust app for opening times.
Return to the village. At the T junction follow the B5287 into the village (avoiding Red Bank), following the road round to the left and then to the right, until you come to St. Oswald’s church on your left.
While Dorothy and the family lived in Grasmere they worshipped at St. Oswald’s church. Founded in 642 by St. Oswald, the current church dates from the 14th century and has been extended over the years. It is the final resting place of the Wordsworth family and where you will find Dorothy’s grave. Adjacent to the church is the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden.
Follow the road out of the village, Stock Lane. At the roundabout with the A591, go straight across and up the hill to Dove Cottage.
This was Dorothy and William’s first home in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, and were Dorothy wrote her Grasmere journals. Nearby is the Wordsworth Museum. Both are opened to visitors by Wordsworth Grasmere, check website for opening times.
Follow the road uphill from Dove Cottage. Take the steep hill on the left signed ‘No through road for motor vehicles after ½ mile’. The road ends by a house and tarn and narrows to become a bridleway, known locally as the Coffin Route.
This was used to carry coffins by hand from Rydal to Grasmere. The church at Rydal being built on rocky ground there were no burials there, so the Wordworths are buried in Grasmere. It's tempting to think that this might have been Dorothy's last journey from the house where she died to her final resting place at St Oswald's, but the household accounts show a bill for the hire of a horse-drawn cart, so it's more likely that the road was used.
Follow the coffin route for 1.2 miles to Rydal Mount house. A third of the way along there is a 250m section where both riders of horses and bikes need to dismount, but the views over Rydal Water and the final section of bridleway to Rydal Mount are worth it.
The Wordsworths moved here in 1813 as tenants of Lady le Fleming, owner of nearby Rydal Hall. It was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Here they wrote and received many visitors. William designed the layout of the gardens himself and Dorothy spent many a happy hour in them. A serious illness in 1829, left Dorothy in poor health for the rest of her life. She outlived William by 5 years cared for by his wife Sarah until her death in 1855. The house is currently owned by descendants of the Wordsworths, and opens to visitors. Check their website for opening times.
Taking the road to the right after Rydal Mount brings you down to Rydal Church. Dismount and walk through the churchyard to Dora’s Field.
The chapel of St. Mary’s was built in 1824 by Lady le Fleming on a site chosen by William Wordsworth. Dorothy worshipped here and their family pew is at the front of the church. When Lady le Fleming planned to give the tenancy of Rydal Mount to a relative, William bought the field behind the church and even had plans drawn up for a house, before Lady le Fleming changed her mind. Wordsworth gave the field to his daughter Dora, named for her aunt Dorothy. When Dora died of tuberculosis in 1847 at the age of 42, the family planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs here in her memory, and this place is now known as Dora's Field.
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