Loughrigg Fell

This week I climbed Loughrigg Fell – twice. First at sunset on a clear day with Jennifer Essex, and again with the poet Matt Bryden in a long shower of rain which occluded much of what we saw in mist. It’s a beautiful fell and a regular walk for Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Dorothy records it several times in her journal. Here are some of her observations:

I went forward round the lake at the
foot of Loughrigg Fell. I was much amused with the busyness of a pair of
stone-chats; their restless voices as they skimmed along the water,
following each other, their shadows under them, and their returning back
to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice.
Could not cross the water, so I went round by the stepping-stones…


A very fine warm evening. Upon the side
of Loughrigg my heart dissolved in what I saw: when I was not startled,
but called from my reverie by a noise as of a child paddling without
shoes. I looked up, and saw a lamb close to me. It approached nearer and
nearer, as if to examine me, and stood a long time. I did not move. At
last, it ran past me, and went bleating along the pathway, seeming to be
seeking its mother. I saw a hare on the high road…


After tea we rowed
down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild
strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking
at the lake; the shores all dim with the scorching sun. The ferns were
turning yellow, that is, here and there one was quite turned.


When the sun had got low enough, we
went to the Rock Shade. Oh, the overwhelming beauty of the vale below,
greener than green! Two ravens flew high, high in the sky, and the sun
shone upon their bellies and their wings, long after there was none of
his light to be seen but a little space on the top of Loughrigg Fell.

Ascent during heavy, misty rain with Matt Bryden and his dog, Mabel


Ascent of Loughrigg Fell at sunset with Jennifer Essex


Personable Outgoing

Daylight is precious in Grasmere. Today, for example, the sun will rise at 8:24am and then set at 3:46pm. This gives me seven hours and twenty-two minutes of daylight. Visibility is also quite low, especially today, when this is the view from my front door:


So it’s a good idea to awkwardly unfold and flatten the map by torchlight and plan your adventures. One of the advantages of the shorter days are the Ambleside Christmas lights. Between Kendal, Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere, the switching on of the Christmas lights are staggered so that with a bit of luck anyone living locally can make each event. They are a cause for celebration, with a lantern procession through Ambleside with children and adults alike carrying aloft various rocketship and star-shaped lanterns through the streets in a festival atmosphere with market stalls, live music, spinning LED pinwheels and light-up swords.



Will Smith, lecturer in Canadian Studies and the poet Polly Atkin took me from Grasmere to Ambleside to the fireworks to soak up the atmosphere. Polly’s academic work is focussed on Dove Cottage and literary geographies, and she has two pamphlets out from Seren with a first collection Basic Nest Architecture in the works from Seren too, which will be – if her two other pamphlets are anything to go by – a stellar outing. As fellow university lecturers and engaged in academic research and creative output, there’s a strong kinship there for the highs and lows of working far from home and those we love, caring for and encouraging and inspiring students and our shared passion for our respective work and our subject.


Over the past few weeks, a question that comes up often from pupils is “What is it like to be a poet?” It’s hard to succinctly articulate the fact that much of it is taken up with crashing between the dimensions – on any given day you will need to be both a project manager, a teacher, a performer, a librarian, a technology whizz-kid, an academic, an accountant and a writer. If we tack on a few extras such as chef, scout leader, medical practitioner, safety expert, laundrette supervisor, detective, needlecraft wizard and driver, we’re probably getting close to the skills required for another key part of the human journey: parenthood.


Fireworks with their bursting lights and ricocheting crackles interrupting the icy-quiet night are analagous to 21st Century living. We get these furious, fire-lit burning moments of vision, love and awe in amongst all attempts to lead a normal life. So today I’m working on a poem on the subject of fireworks. Meanwhile, enjoy some of the sounds.

Also, here’s a quick plug for the Grasmere Players’ new production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ which is on December 15th – 17th at 7:30pm at the Village Hall in Grasmere.



Wordsworth’s Travel Advice

For one week during the residency I took a Wordsworthian adventure to mainland Europe, and, more specifically, Sweden.

This he said would be sufficient for a month’s travelling. Because I had to be away for a week, I thought I could try Wordsworth’s travel advice for myself…

Head curator Jeff Cowton has recently been involved in restoring Wordsworth’s old portmanteau and you can catch some of the action over on YouTube. Although it looks quite large here – in fact it’s so small in reality, that you would be hard pressed to fit much more than a pillow inside it.

The visit to Sweden was to take part in a collaborative poetry project called Enemies or ‘Fiender’ in Swedish. The concept is that two poets are paired up across languages and told to produce a piece of poetry collaboratively. My partner would be the poet Jonas Groen. Jonas has just released his second book of poems ‘Anthropocene’ – so named because mankind has so profoundly altered the surface of the planet, that many believe that we’ve entered a new geological era of our own making.

His poetry chimes with my own on themes of the ecological, and there’s a playfulness to his lines which have, rather than punctuation, added space which makes the eye hesitate between the words:

Animals From the
depths of aeons Here

All I hear
is rain and cars

You can’t help pausing between the lines too, the rhyming ‘Here’ and ‘hear’ which keeps us in the same position of considering the aeons and simultaneously being out in the rain, listening to the cars. For my money there’s also an echo of military cadences in the repetition. In army work songs, or ‘military cadences’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_cadence) men are encouraged to ‘Sound off’ in the style of a register, the typical response being ‘Here’. This is also commented upon in the popular science fiction show Battlestar Galactica in which a military greeting is, “What do you hear?” and the response, “Nothing but the rain.”

So came time to pack my bag. As you can see Wordsworth himself managed to slightly screw up the label on the inside, putting the H of ‘WORDSWORTH’ up slightly higher than the rest of his name…


First I had to select a suitcase which would broadly be about the same dimensions and age as Wordsworth’s portmanteau. Admittedly, I don’t have much that might fit the bill, however, one of the items rescued from my grandmother’s things before she passed away was an old suitcase.



When packing, Wordsworth said that all that you needed for a month was:

1 spare day shirt
1 spare night shirt
1 spare pair of socks
1 notepad
1 pencil

There seem to be a couple of missing items, namely a pair of trousers and some suitable shoes and/or boots and a pencil sharpener.



In general I would say the experiment was largely successful. I added in a scarf on the basis that I asked my friend’s cat, Komette, if one was needed and she agreed. Also there are other things a poet needs, a wash kit, some gloves, and it’s also helpful to have some reading material, preferably from the host country and a guide to the city, a dictionary and a phrasebook.


Wordsworth also used to take his passport with him, which was rather a different kind of affair to the biometric, RFID-ed modern UK equivalents. 

On the front of this document it includes a general description of Wordsworth’s appearance which sounds painfully matter of fact:


Age: 66

Hair: greying

Forehead: bald

Eyes: grey

Nose: medium

Face: oval


I’m not sure what a ‘medium’ nose is, but it does make you think: did they have a nose chart? It’s reassuring that even then passport ‘photographs’ were a source of embarrassment. 

My Heart Leaps Up

This week I visited Belle Vue Primary School in Carlisle and together we responded to Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Rainbow’, or ‘My Heart Leaps Up’. Dorothy wrote on Friday 26 March 1802, ‘While I was getting into bed [William] wrote the Rainbow.’ Both of them had been walking through White Moss, possibly on the way to Ambleside and Wordsworth had been struggling to finish another poem, Silver How, and instead this short poem appears to have arrived quickly and organically.

‘My Heart Leaps Up’

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.



The route to White Moss would have probably been along the same path which leads from Dove Cottage to Ambleside, where Dorothy Wordsworth often walked to collect the post. After nightfall, I took Jennifer Essex with me and retraced their steps…


Fred Blick picks this up in his essay on the subject. In the poem Wordsworth pushes us through the present, the past and the future. When I arrived at Belle Vue, the pupils were working on tenses, and this raised the question of if we were to send a poem into the future, what would we put in it that would serve both as souvenir of our time on Earth now, and what we hope for the time when we grow up? Quickly humans with superpowers took hold, and the desire for time travelling cars, invisibility or winning a golden football boot all had their place in the poems.

Here’s Wordsworth’s original poem, and below, a playlist of our responses:


The Boat Stealing Caper

This week on the One Show, Arthur Smith travelled to Ullswater to re-create the boat-stealing episode from Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic, ‘The Prelude’. The story goes that Wordsworth aged around 10 years old sneaks out to the water’s edge one evening, his stomach tingling with butterflies. Where he finds, “A little boat tied to a willow tree / Within a rocky cove, its usual home.”







The young Wordsworth resolves to steal the boat and to row it steadily across Lake Windermere. The lake is calm and still, and he dips his oars into the clear, moon-reflecting water.


Straight I unloosed [the skiff’s] chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light.




It is one of English literature’s most famous scenes. The visually arresting description of the lake, the round moon’s reflection turning to bootlaces as his oars enter the water. The silent power of Nature’s beauty quickly transforms Wordsworth’s initial awe at the size of a mountain’s shadow in the dark, with its broad silhouetted shoulders and bristling trees, into fear, as, in his young mind, he perceives the mountain’s shape as the embodiment of both a supernatural, parental power, and that of his better conscience. He gives a sense of scale, of the young boy he was, so small in comparison to the enormous – the overpoweringly enormous – size of the mountain:




a huge peak, black and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct,

Upreared its head.


Here the shape – part-real, part-imagined – blots out the light from the stars, and appears to have a “purpose of its own, / And measured motion like a living thing.” For the Romantics this moment in the poem is an expression of the sublime; of beauty and terror becoming intermingled – a particular note on the scale of human sensations which was enormously fashionable and the Zoella’s recommendation of its day. This gave rise to expeditions to sublime hotspots around Europe including Fingal’s Cave where visitors, including Wordsworth himself, could experience the sublime in relative safety. Long after the Prelude was completed, Wordsworth made his visit and although disappointed by the “motley” crowds, he was once again over-awed by the scale of the place, saying that by “flashing to that structure’s topmost height, / Ocean has proved its strength.” (from Staffa the Island).


In The Prelude, the guilt of stealing the boat catches up with the young Wordsworth, and the whole incident of being pursued by the mountain Wordsworth takes as an object lesson in behaviour – the moral of the story is simple, don’t steal boats, but it comes from an encounter with the fantastical – the mountain that came alive.


That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.



Today I travelled to St Bees Village School to visit Year 6, to see if we couldn’t come up with some of our own boat adventures. The idea was to create an adventure of an entirely different kind. The fantastical elements would still be there, but rather than going out and stealing a boat, and being taught rather overtly, a moral lesson, we made some recipes instead. A recipe for a boat adventure.




The question we started with was quite simple: for our boat adventure what would we need in terms of ingredients? Very quickly we re-entered the realm of the fantastical. There were plenty of excellent young poets who felt that because there were no limitations whatsoever, why not have a cauldron that specifically melts other cauldrons? This is why, it could be argued, that including Mum on the trip specifically ‘so Mum can do the cooking’ is probably very wise, although there are plenty of other things that we agreed that Mum would also be good at if Dad did the cooking. Good idea. Or… or… can we have a book the size of Mars? And another important question, can I fit a mansion on a boat? Impressively smart and imaginative, St Bees Year 6 follow the saying of Robert Kennedy: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Here are some of their excellent offerings, ingredients first, followed by *methods… 


*There was a certain amount of confusion surrounding how WiFi works, which became a strangely beautiful experimental motif…


ingredients-2 ingredients-3 ingredients-4 ingredients-5 ingredients-7 ingredients-8 ingredients-9 ingredients-10  ingredients-11ingredients-12



method-24 method-23 method-21 method-20 method-19 method-18 method-17 method-16 method-15 method-14 method-13 method-12 method-11 method-10 method-8 method-7 method-6 method-5 method-4 method-3 method-2 method method-24 method-23