Dorothy Wordsworth 250 anniversary walking trail
Mark the 250th anniversary of Dorothy Wordsworth's birth by making the journey from her birthplace in Cockermouth to the place where she died in Rydal. Dorothy Wordsworth was a creative force in her own right. She was just 19 months younger than her famous brother William and they were close all their lives. You can create your own route. The one we're suggesting follows the valleys so that you can use the frequent bus service to join up the sections of the walk.
Walk the route in two days
The walking route stays close to the main bus routes between Rydal and Cockermouth so that you can break the walk into sections and catch the bus home. We suggest splitting the walk at Keswick, doing steps 1-8 as day 1, and steps 9-14 as day 2, but you can also split it into shorter sections and make the journey over more days.
Wordsworth House and Garden
Facing Wordsworth House, turn right and head east along Cockermouth Main Street, crossing over the River Cocker and bear left up Castlegate past Cockermouth Castle on the left. Continue along Castlegate Drive past the school until you reach a kissing gate on the left, 2km from the start, signposted Isel (grid ref NY 133 312).
Dorothy was born at Wordsworth House on 25 December 1771. She was sent away to live with relatives after the death of her mother and missed her home and her brothers terribly. She only returned to Cockermouth once as an adult to view the house where she'd spent her early childhood. She wrote, 'I was never once at home, was never for a single moment under my father's roof after her death, which I cannot think of without regret' 'We at the same moment lost a father, a mother, a home.'
Follow the path diagonally uphill towards Watch Hill passing through 4 gates. Keep the wall on your left and enter Hill’s Wood (grid ref NY148 320). Follow the bridleway downhill keeping the wall on your left until you reach the road at grid ref NY 162 328.
Walking as a radical act
Dorothy's aunt wrote to censure her walking around the countryside as unladylike. Dorothy's reply is glorious, 'I cannot pass unnoticed that part of your letter in which you speak of my 'rambling about the country on foot'. So far from considering this as a matter of condemnation, I rather thought it would have given my friends pleasure to hear that I had courage to make use of the strength with which nature has endowed me, when it not only procured me infinitely more pleasure than I should have received from sitting in a post-chaise - but was also the means of saving me at least thirty shillings.'
Continue heading in the same direction on the road for 300m. Turn left down the hill signposted to Isel. Cross Isel Bridge and turn right signposted Bewaldeth and Sunderland. Walk along the road for 1km until a sharp bend to the left where you continue straight on the bridleway signposted Coalbeck Farm (grid ref NY175 335). At the end of the stock yard bear left to go through the gate and follow the concrete track alongside the fence on your left. Follow the bridleway for 3.5km passing Cumbria Wildlife Park on your left. Turn right at the gate onto a metalled road. Continue past the entrance to Armathwaite Hall Hotel to reach the B5291 (bus stop at grid ref NY 209 325)
Noticing the small things
Frances Wilson, in the Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth makes a strong case that Dorothy used her connection to the natural world to soothe herself in times of strong emotion. When her brother leaves Grasmere to go and propose marriage to his future wife, she is bereft 'I sate a long time upon a stone at the margin of the lake, & after a flood of tears my heart was easier.' On the walk back she notices all the small details that reconnect her to the place she loves 'I walked as long as I could amongst the stones of the shore. The wood was rich in flowers. A beautiful yellow, palish yellow flower, that looked thick round & double & smelt very sweet... Crowfoot, the grassy-leaved Rabbit-toothed white flower, strawberries, Geranium - scenteless violet, anemonies two kinds, orchises, primroses.'
Turn right onto the B5291 (No footpath for 300 m) then cross the road before the green overhead bridge to a metal gate and public footpath sign to Scarness 1¼ miles. Follow the footpath keeping the fence to your right through fields which can be muddy and occasionally flooded. There are several stiles and gates to traverse. After the fifth stile the path changes to a board walk through woodland and beyond this section the path crosses rough pasture bearing left away from the fence to stone slabs across a stream. Continue towards the field boundary bearing left to cross a wooden bridge, pass through the gate in the direction of the footpath sign. Cross a further stream and head diagonally left to two gates. continue to driveway and turn right following footpath sign until a T junction, turn left for 50m. Turn right next to the entrance to a holiday park on a footpath towards Scarness Bay NY 220 305.
Dorothy's journal for 28-29 March 1802 reads 'Sunday.—We went to Keswick. Arrived wet to the skin... Monday.—Wm. and C. went to Armathwaite.'
Follow the footpath south east to Bowness Bay and on to reach the minor road NY 225 299. Turn right and after 200m bear right through a gate following a footpath sign towards Mirehouse. Crossing the first field bear left to exit by small gate, then cross four fields and a wood until you see St Bega’s church off to the right. Cross the stream and turn left on the footpath keeping the woodland and Mirehouse on your left until you reach the A591 (bus stop) NY 234281.
Dorothy stayed with the Speddings
Mirehouse is the home of the Spedding family. Dorothy frequently visited and stayed with them.
Cross the A591 into Dodd Wood and walk through the car park with the tearoom and bridge on your left and toilets on the right. Follow the path uphill with Skillbeck on your left and continue straight on past a wide turning on your left opposite a clearing on your right until you reach a T junction after a slight rise NY 236 279. Turn left away from the osprey viewing station. Follow the track as it bends to the right uphill through an open gate / barrier. Continue on this track past the second osprey viewing station, out of the woods.
Visiting the Speddings
This is Dorothy's journal entry for 14 August 1800 'Called at the Speddings. In the evening walked in the wood with W. Very very beautiful the moon.'
Bear right NY 243 269 on a wide downhill track, eventually crossing Scalebeck Gill, the wide track ends in a loop NY 250 267. Look for the path on your right heading downhill with Scalebeck Gill on your right. At a junction of paths keep left crossing a small beck and up over a stile. Turn right to follow the path steeply downhill to a stile and a beck down to the road at Millbeck NY 254 263.
The Wordsworths' cottage in Applethwaite
But for a quirk of history, the hamlet of Applethwaite could have been the Lake District home of William and Dorothy. William was gifted some land in 1803 by a supporter in the hope that he could build a cottage and live close to Coleridge. He never built on the land, but his descendents did.
Turn left through the village and take the right turn opposite the village hall and shortly turn left onto a farm track with a footpath sign. Bear left between the farm buildings and follow the footpath between two walls to reach a gate. Bear right below the barn and continue through a gate to a field. Bear left to another gate. Continue across the field to another gate, over a beck and pass close to the house on your right. Head towards a house on your left, through a gate onto a drive and turn right onto a minor road. Continue on the road through the village, turn right at the junction and then immediately left following the footpath sign over Applethwaite Gill. Keep left at the first gate and at the second gate bear right diagonally across the field towards Ormathwaite Hall. On reaching the road turn right and after 250 m take the footpath on your left. Follow the footpath crossing three fields to join the Cumbria Way track, turning right towards Keswick over the A66 bridge. On reaching the road at Briar Rigg turn right and after passing the remains of railway bridge turn left through a metal gate into Fitz Park. Follow the path through the park towards the river, cross the river at the foot bridge and turn left and then right to arrive at Bank Street, turn right and after 100 m turn left into the marketplace and the tourist information centre (Moot Hall).
Greta Hall, Keswick
Dorothy and William often came to stay at Greta Hall in Keswick, the home of the Wordsworth's friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his wife Sara, her sister Edith and brother-in-law the poet Robert Southey. Greta Hall is not open to visitors.
From Keswick tourist information centre walk south east past Royal Oak pub towards St. John Street, past the cinema and St John’s Church along Ambleside Road. Turn right into Springs Road and at the end of the road follow the path through the woods signposted Castlerigg Stone Circle and Rakefoot. Keep the beck on your left and follow the path turning right before a bridge. Continue uphill on the path until you cross a footbridge followed shortly by a gate onto a minor road NY 283 222. Turn left and then turn immediately right at a footpath signposted (Castlerigg Stone Circle), the footpath follows the wall on your left through two gates, follow the footpath signs until you reach the A591.
Walking out of Keswick
Dorothy's journal entry for 29 December 1801 describes walking out of Keswick after a stay with Coleridge 'A fine morning. A thin fog upon the hills which soon disappeared. The sun shone... 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... 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.'
Turn right for 380m crossing the road at the third footpath sign on the left NY 290 224. Cross the field downhill to climb over a wall with a stone stile. Turn left following a footpath sign to a gate and then cross the track to another gate. Carry on downhill keeping the wall and fence on your left to pass through another gate at the bottom of the field follow the path to cross a concrete bridge. Turn left through the gate or over the stile following the sign for St John’s in the vale church. Go over or through the next gate and head for a bridge NY 296 222. Over the bridge head for a gate in front of you to the right of Sykes Farm and once through, head uphill over rocks to a gate onto a farm track. Turn right and follow the minor road that becomes a bridleway that skirts the foot of the fell before heading towards the A591. Cross a narrow field before crossing the A591 NY 300 205
Head along the track towards Shoulthwaite Farm Caravan Site. Through the gate turn left between the barns and through another gate heading south east on a footpath that becomes a track passing Shoulthwaite Moss on the left and then a disused quarry on the right. Turn right onto a minor road for 20m and then cross to follow a footpath to Bridge End Farm NY 310 197. At Bridge End Farm turn right onto the road towards Thirlmere Dam. After 500m before the dam look out for steep steps on your left signposted Permissive Path. Ascend steps and follow path around the western side of Great How.
The drowned valley of Wytheburn
Before the dam was built in 1894 which flooded the valley, the villages and farms of Armboth and Wytheburn were here. Dorothy's journal entry for 4 May 1802 records 'We saw Coleridge on the Wytheburn side of the water; he crossed the beck to us...William and I ate luncheon, and then went on towards the waterfall. It is a glorious wild solitude under that lofty purple crag. It stood upright by itself; its own self, and its shadow below, one mass; all else was sunshine. We went on further. A bird at the top of the crag was flying round and round, and looked in thinness and transparency, shape and motion like a moth.... We climbed the hill, but looked in vain for a shade, except at the foot of the great waterfall. We came down, and rested upon a moss-covered rock rising out of the bed of the river. There we lay, ate our dinner, and stayed there till about four o'clock or later. William and Coleridge repeated and read verses. I drank a little brandy and water, and was in heaven.'
After 850m turn right onto a wide track NY 313 184 and walk south with Thirlmere on your right for 2km, eventually turning east uphill away from Thirlmere to pass under the A591 into Swirls Car Park (bus stop & public toilets). Turn right back towards the A591 and look for the signpost ‘Squirrel trail /Thirlmere loop’ for the forest track on your left before the gates to the main road. Follow the forest track south for 5km. At the edge of the forest where the track turns right continue straight on over two bridges NY 327 125 on a footpath across the open fell keeping the wall on your right. Cross Raise Beck (take care after heavy rain) to the path on the southern side to turn left up Raise Beck valley.
The Rock of Names
The Wordsworths created landmarks for themselves on their walks. One was the 'Rock of Names' where they would often meet, or leave Coleridge when he visited them on foot from Keswick. It was a rock where they had carved their initials. This is Dorothy's journal extract for 4 May 1802 'We parted from Coleridge at Sara's Crag after having looked for the Letters which C carved in the morning. I kissed them all. William deepened the T with C.'s pen-knife. We sate afterwards on the wall, seeing the sun go down, and the reflections in the still water.'
Follow the path towards a wall on your left and continue with the beck on your left. The path gets rougher as it ascends before levelling off and eventually Grisdale Tarn appears below you. Turn right NY 344 120 and follow the path south to a gap in the wall at Hause Gap NY 348 116. Descend to where the path divides NY 348 111 and bear left downhill with Tongue Gill below on your right. On reaching woodland bear right to cross the gill NY 339 097. Turn left to join the path descending to Mill Bridge at the A591
Dorothy and William often walked over Dunmail Raise to Keswick, occasionally they took the route via Helvellyn or over Armboth Fell. This is from her journal entry for 10 June 1802 'Coleridge came in with a sack full of books, etc., and a branch of mountain ash. He had been attacked by a cow. He came over by Grisdale. A furious wind...'
Cross over the A591 onto a minor road to cross Low Mill Bridge and then turn left to follow the road past Underhelm, bearing left again to Goody Bridge. Turn left at the T junction onto the Easdale road and continue to Grasmere. Cross over the B5287 cutting through the village before turning left to join the B5287 past the church out of Grasmere to the roundabout. Cross the A591 and bear left onto the minor road passing Dove Cottage and Town End. Continue on the road uphill taking the second left sign posted Alcock Tarn and Coffin Route to Rydal. The road becomes a track and then a path continuing east with Rydal Water below on your right, eventually leading to a lane beside Rydal Mount NY 364 065.
Allan Bank, St Oswald's Church, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount
Grasmere is full of places which were significant to Dorothy's life, the houses where she lived, the church where she worshipped. This is from her journal entry for 3 September 1800 'When we got out of the dark house the sun was shining, and the prospect looked as divinely beautiful as I ever saw it. It seemed more sacred than I had ever seen it, and yet more allied to human life. The green fields, in the neighbourhood of the churchyard, were as green as possible; and, with the brightness of the sunshine, looked quite gay.'