Wild words at Wordsworth House

Loweswater shore with Low Fell in the background

Our photographic exhibition may well take your breath away – but we can guarantee it won’t leave you lost for words.

The Word-Hoard: Love letters to our land celebrates the beauty of our landscape and the evocative language once used to describe it, and is a particularly appropriate exhibition for poet William’s childhood home.

Guest-curated by award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, the exhibition builds on themes he explored in his best-selling book Landmarks. It features images by his parents, Cumbrian-based photographers Rosamund and John, alongside some of the endangered words for our landscape, weather and nature that Robert has collected.

Watergaw is an old Scots word for rainbow
A rainbow in an atmospheric sky
Watergaw is an old Scots word for rainbow

Zoe Gilbert, Wordsworth House’s visitor experience manager, says: “The Word-Hoard goes to the very heart of William and his sister Dorothy’s twin passions – nature and the words we use to talk about it – and we’re thrilled to be showcasing Rosamund and John Macfarlane’s beautiful photographs.”

Re-wilding our language

Robert explains: “The natural world is steadily disappearing from our language, knowledge and stories, and especially those of our children. ‘Hashtag’ was declared the UK Children’s Word for 2015, and a 2016 survey of primary school children found eight-year-olds were more able to identify species of Pokémon than common UK wildlife.

“Technology is wondrous – but so is nature, and I wanted to recover some of that wonder. So I spent two years gathering as many of our place-terms and nature-words as possible, from more than thirty languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland, and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation.”

Our guest curator, award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane, with his children
Robert Macfarlane with his children
Our guest curator, award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane, with his children

Robert continues: “Once you know the word smeuse, for instance, an old Sussex term for the ‘hole in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’, you begin to spot smeuses everywhere. Without words, the landscape can easily become a blandscape: generalised, indifferent, unobserved.”

Other words in his hoard include foggit, a Scots term for “covered in moss or lichen”; shuckle, Cumbrian for icicle, and glossamer, a Devon word for “shining filaments spun across huge areas of landscape by small spiders in autumn”.

The Word-Hoard is open daily, except Friday, until 3 September, and admission is included in entry to the house and garden.