Wordsworth House chronicles the rise and fall of a gigantic boulder

A old photograph of tourists scaling a giant rock

Take a walk or drive down Borrowdale past the Bowder Stone today and you could be forgiven for missing it. But, as Wordsworth House and Garden’s new exhibition reveals, this tree-shrouded boulder hasn’t always enjoyed such a low profile.

In the 18th century, only the most intrepid thrill-seekers ventured into the rarely explored Vale of Derwentwater to marvel at what naturalist George Smith called “much the largest stone in England, being at least equal in size to a first-rate man of war”.

However, by the 19th century, thanks to the promotional efforts of eccentric local landowner Joseph Pocklington, a visit to the precariously balanced Bowder Stone had become an essential part of the Lake District tourist’s itinerary.

An 1859 advert for the Bowder Stone
An old advertisement for the Bowder Stone

To celebrate the area’s recent elevation to a World Heritage Site, Objects of Celebrity #1 The Bowder Stone explores the rise and fall of this iconic rock through the eyes of those early travellers, including the artists, poets, novelists and diarists who helped spread its fame.

Alongside their drawings, photographs and writings, the exhibition includes an oil painting by the celebrated Victorian landscape artist John Atkinson Grimshaw, on loan from the Tate Britain gallery in London.

There is also a replica of the stone made out of cake, a modern stereographic image visitors can view with 3D glasses – and the chance to see how the Bowder Stone might look today if the National Trust hadn’t taken it into its care in 1910.

After taking in this intriguing exhibition, why not head into Borrowdale to see for yourself? Step inside the Time Machine temporary installation at the old climbers' hut and view the past centuries from the stone's perspective.

If you're feeling particularly brave, you can even hunker down and shake hands beneath it for luck in the traditional way.

Objects of Celebrity #1 The Bowder Stone is open from 11am to 4pm every day except Friday, from Monday 11 September to Sunday 29 October, and entry is free with admission to the house and garden.

The Time Machine at the Bowder Stone runs from Saturday 23 September to Sunday 29 October, and entry is free.

The Bowder Stone today, partially hidden by trees
A giant rock hidden among trees