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Excursion To Wordsworthshire
Excursion To Wordsworthshire
Early in the railway age, William Wordsworth mused wistfully in a letter from London to his family in the north,'O that there was a railway to take me to Kendal or Lancaster or Preston'.
On an August day eight years later, after the 'iron road' had reached many parts of England, the Johnson family from Essex caught a train at Euston Station and, within little more than twenty-four hours, were gazing in rapture at their first view of mountain scenery. The illustrated record of their 1844 sojourn in the Lake District, now in the Wordsworth Trust Collection, contains an engaging account of their adventures, often enriched by their use of Wordsworth's own Guide to the Lakes and enlivened by unique glimpses of the poet himself and members of his family.
Hardback; 200 x 145mm
Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
When they took the carriage from Ambleside to Ullswater, they had to get out and walk the four miles up the Kirkstone Pass "in a broiling sun". When they succeeded in getting to the summit, they partook of a" a glass of cold milk at the highest inhabited house in England". The view, however, offered ample compensation for their exertions: "The whole Pass has the same character of desolation and grandeur, almost awful shut in between the mountains."
The "they" in question were a Mrs Johnson, her son and four daughters from Essex. At the end of August in the year 1844 they set out from their home and reached Euston Station "in ample time" to catch the mail train to Preston, where they caught a second train and eventually arrived at Fleetwood at 8 o'clock in the evening. The next morning they boarded a steamer to cross a calm Morecambe Bay to Bardsea Island.
They visited Conishead Priory, Furness Abbey and Ulverston and then, still experiencing "brilliant weather", they travelled to Bowness and Windermere and eventually made their holiday base in Ambleside.
During the sermon on the Sunday in Ambleside, "even the Curate's dog found a seat on the pulpit stairs where he reposed very quietly".
Two days after the trip to Ullswater, they were near Wordsworth's house at Rydal. "We met the poet walking down the steep descent by the side of a 4-wheeled chaise . . . he was a tall, active man" - he would have been 74 at the time -"with a broad-brimmed straw hat and green spectacles. He looked at us with a most good-natured expression of countenance."
They moved on to Keswick, and, on the Sunday afternoon: "We strolled to the edge of Derwentwater and following a pretty walk among the trees by the side of it came to Friar's Crag where there are seats and from whence the Lake can be seen to advantage. . . . The scene altogether is of a sublime and magnificent character and is generally preferred to any of the Lakes." The weather, however, was now "cold and cheerless" and they made the most of it "by observing and admiring the effects of light and shade on the mountains".
On the Monday, they took a carriage through the Newlands Valley to Buttermere and returned in the dark over the Whinlatter Pass. On the Tuesday, they rode up Borrowdale, climbed the ladder to the top of the Bowder Stone, saw Lodore Falls and Castle Crag and, having seen the four Borrowdale Yews and walking two miles up Sty Head, they had a picnic at Seathwaite, even though the weather was "gloomy cold and unfavourable".
The cloudy weather forced them to abandon a scheme to climb Skiddaw and they went to Southey's "ugly square" and "comfortless" house, walked out to the Druid's Circle and visited the pencil manufactory. There "we saw the lead in its various stages of preparation and made some pencils ourselves." Of course, they also took advantage of the shopping in Keswick, to purchase some plaid shawls.
Mrs Johnson, the wife of a retired surgeon, George Johnson of Guys, was 60. Of her four daughters, Eliza, was the eldest at 37 and Harriet, at 22, the youngest. Between them they wrote a journal of their travels and illustrated it with pen and wash drawings, sketching waterfalls and houses, bridges and lakes and anything which took their fancy.
It is a delightful journal and here it is reproduced looking exactly as it did when they first wrote it. The scholarly introduction and notes by Cecilia Powell only add to the pleasure of these holiday mementoes from the Lakes.
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