The poetry of Wordsworth has brought the English Lake District into the lives and minds of people everywhere.
Inspired by the epic grandeur of the ‘Lakes’ – Daffodils – is one of the most famous poems in the English language. It was composed in 1804, two years after Wordsworth saw the sublime yellow flowers while walking by Lake Ullswater.
Today, visitors flock to the Lake District in spring to see the daffodils – and there are masses in every field and hedgerow.
The great Lakeland poet was born at Wordsworth House in the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth in a fine Georgian house, built to impress. Its grand scale would have made quite an impact on the locals when it was first built at the end of 17th century. It’s now owned by the National Trust, which protects and opens to the public more than 300 historic houses and gardens in Britain.
A little gem of a town, Cockermouth was almost wiped out in November last year when devastating floods caused catastrophic damage. All shops in the main street were closed, some of them for more than six months, including the four-star Trout Hotel (circa 1670), which had a damage bill of more than five million dollars.
Near the bustling market town of Penrith, the Lowther family has eight kilometres of salmon and trout fishing on the River Eden.
The northern Lakeland retreat has its roots in the past. On 18 December, 1745, a pitched battle raged on Clifton Moor – the last time two armies clashed on English soil when the Duke of Cumberland’s forces overwhelmed Bonnie Prince Charlie’s retreating Jacobite rebels.
According to Charles Lowther, fourth son of the late 7th Earl of Lonsdale – whose family introduced the Lonsdale Belt for boxing – the battle took place near Lowther Park and Lowther Hall, which remains the seat of the Lonsdale family today.
The Lowther family, who have owned the surrounding country estate for centuries, later discovered that 12 Scottish rebels were buried in the backyard of the George and Dragon, a former run down 18th century Georgian coaching inn that Charles bought and turned into an award-winning pub and restaurant with upmarket accommodation.
There is a simple grave by what is known as the ‘Rebel Tree’. An inscription reads: “Here lie buried the men of the army of Prince Charles who fell at Clifton Moor 18 December 1745.”
As part of the learning process of running a huge estate, Charles became a jackaroo in Australia’s Northern Territory. He and his brother Jim now run the family estate, covering 30,000 hectares of prime farming land. Settled by Vikings in 900AD, the Lowther family’s holdings include rare-breed organic farms, which keep the pub and restaurant in seasonal game, venison and artisanal charcuterie.
Charles’s new venture is restoring the estate’s Lowther Castle, built in 1811, which he plans to re-open to the public in 2011 – 200 years after it was built. Surrounded by a limestone retaining wall stretching three-and-a-half kilometres, it has been closed for nearly half a century.
“I feel like the heart of the family home has been dead. Now it’s being brought back to life,” said Charles, who pointed out that William Wordsworth’s father worked for his family as a land agent for the estate.
On a clear day, the Lake District is regarded as England’s most picturesque region. Within this tourism hot spot is the country’s highest mountain – Scafell Pike – and its deepest lake, Wastwater.
Towering fells are coveted by climbers, hikers and mountain bikers for the panoramic views over the lakes and countryside. But if you are a first-time visitor to this pristine region – get a map or you could end up walking or driving for kilometres to a dead end. On the brighter side, you could find a beauty spot that few know about.
For the less adventurous, the northern Lake District is peppered with attractions, such as quaint market towns, historic houses and gardens, museums and Aira Force Waterfall at Ullswater – the romantic location that inspired to pen his most famous poem – Daffodils.
Written and images by John Newton