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Views from the top are worth the climb in Grasmere

By Rebecca Hay

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Dove Cottage was home to William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy.
Dove Cottage was home to William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy.

“Are we nearly there yet’’ was the familiar call from my children when they were small and fed up of all the travelling their mum was “forcing’’ on them.

But now Ruaridh is 13 and Flossie, 10, the moans and groans have been replaced with a more sophisticated and usually financial, ring to them.

However as we climbed and climbed the iconic Helm Crag in Grasmere , the old call returned. The fell, known locally as The Lion and The Lamb, was one of famous Lake District author and walker Alfred Wainwright’s favourites, his verdict being “The virtues of Helm Crag have not been lauded enough. It gives an exhilarating little climb, a brief essay in real mountaineering.’’

Ruaridh and Flossie’s verdict? “ Phew that was hard work, like climbing a stone staircase!’’ perhaps not as poetic, but in truth, it was a little taxing on the legs and as you reached every mini summit, there was another stretch in front of you, but the views from the top were worth the haul and now we can say we have bagged our number one of the popular 214 Wainwright fells, in the North of England’s jewel in the crown.

In 2017, The Lake District was officially declared a UNSECO World Heritage site and you only have to drive through the spectacular scenery to see why. There are so many lovely villages and towns to visit and so much landscape to wander in, so where to choose to stay is often a difficult choice. Even chart topping pop star Taylor Swift has declared her love for the area with her song The Lakes, whose lyrics pay homage to this really special place including the line “Take me to the Lakes, where all the poets went to die.’’

Taylor Swift is apparently a fan of the Lake District.
Taylor Swift is apparently a fan of the Lake District.

As well as the appeal of the mighty Helm Crag, Grasmere is also famous for the English poet William Wordsworth who lived with his sister Dorothy at Dove Cottage between 1799 and 1808 and they spent their years enjoying “plain living, but high thinking.’’

Grasmere has managed to retain its natural beauty since the days of Wordsworth, but the “plain living’’ has been enhanced with luxury hotels and shops to entice in the visitors.

Along with Ruaridh and Flossie and husband Kenny, we stayed in the heart of the village at The Victorian House Hotel, which was bought earlier this year by London hotelier Serena Van der Heyde as the Northern cousin of her Georgian House Hotel in Pimlico.

The garden room at the Victorian House Hotel.
The garden room at the Victorian House Hotel.

The London hotel has been in the family since 1851 and Serena transformed it from a six bedroom bed and breakfast into a 60 room boutique hotel, famed for its stylish rooms and antique furniture . The Grasmere hotel is furnished in a similar way and after a faltering start thanks to the COVID pandemic, business is brisk.

And you can see why, as the hotel is very swish, with each room individually designed and all light and airy and full of the usual mod cons. We had a suite of two attractive bedrooms overlooking the garden, with a shower room and for the more lazy, a sumptuous bath to sink in and enjoy using the luxury toiletries . Star gazing and dog friendly rooms are available as well as a shepherd’s hut which looks out onto a river.

The hotel has adapted itself well to the pandemic. A well stocked breakfast menu featuring local delicacies is served during timed slots and replaces the buffet and is served in the attractive Garden Room. You can retire here at night too and indulge in one of the hotel’s famous cocktails which include freshly picked herbs.

There is no restaurant on site, but the hotel has teamed up with nearby The Yan Bistro and you can order dinner from them and have it brought to the Garden Room. And it is well worth the splurge, with tasty starters including beetroot and horseradish cured salmon , ham hock scotch egg and home-made houmous . There are a range of mains from Sri Lankan spiced daal, to pork belly or sharing platters of meat, fish or a vegetarian option. The puddings are to die for, with sweet toothed Ruaridh especially enjoying the dark chocolate mousse with a salted sticky toffee crumb.

Once the stomach is satisfied, it is time to explore the nooks and crannies. Everything is in walking distance and a stroll along the riverside will bring you to Dove Cottage, which is run by The Wordsworth Trust.

Dove Cottage is full of period detail.
Dove Cottage is full of period detail.

2020 marked the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth and the cottage and museum is being given £6.2 m revamp. The cottage where Wordsworth wrote his famous daffodil poem has been restored to how it would have looked like when he lived there, to make it look less like a museum. Paint scratches were used to source or make furniture which fitted in with his time and the garden and orchard is full of Wordsworth quotes to complement the flowers.

A viewing platform and museum full of artefacts is due to open next spring in dedication to the place Wordsworth wrote in a letter to Lady Beaumont in 1805 “I think these years have been the very happiest of my life’’.

Grasmere is Wordsworth, his family grave lies in the village churchyard and a lovely daffodil garden has been created next to it, with the famous Sarah Nelson Gingerbread shop close by. The Victorian baker invented this culinary delight in 1854 and it is a special spicy-sweet cross between a biscuit and a bread.

No doubt if Wordsworth had lived to taste it, he would have penned his own words to describe something so tasty baked in “the loveliest spot that man have ever found.’’

Need to know

Accommodation: The Victorian House Hotel, Broadgate, Grasmere. This delightful boutique hotel has friendly staff and a lovely feel to it – www.victorianhousehotel.co.uk

Food: The Yan Restaurant at Broadrayne Farm serves modern European food with a twist – www.theyan.co.uk

Tasty gingerbread can be found at www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk

Attractions: Delve in to the life of William and Dorothy Wordsworth at Dove Cottage – www.wordsworth.org.uk

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