Secret Wordsworth journals revealed in new Dove Cottage exhibition

Dove Cottage Education Officer, Catherine Kay, holding Dorothy Wordsworth's diary entry on the day o

Dove Cottage Education Officer, Catherine Kay, holding Dorothy Wordsworth's diary entry on the day of William's wedding (04-10-1802). The portrait show William Wordsworth at age 74 years. - Credit: Archant

Sue Riley takes a trip to this beautiful village and discovers the relationship between Dorothy Wordsworth and her brother is under the spotlight

Dove Cottage

Dove Cottage - Credit: Archant

Grasmere is revealing one of its secrets - private journals written by Dorothy Wordsworth dating to 1834 have just gone on display as part of a year-long exhibition at Dove Cottage. For the first time the Wordsworth Museum is concentrating on Dorothy, rather than her more famous brother William, who spent more than 50 years in the Lakeland village.

His name is inextricably linked with Grasmere and his homes, Dove Cottage, Rydal Mount and Allan Bank are all major tourist attractions in the area. Since the National Trust opened Allan Bank last year it has already attracted more than 27,000 visitors.

The new exhibition, Dorothy Wordsworth: The Wonders of the Everyday, will examine Dorothy’s long life. ‘It’s about how she saw the world and found things which we may think are a little bit mundane, to be magical,’ said Paul Kleian at the Wordsworth Museum. ‘The most interesting artefacts are the 1834 diaries which have never been seen by the public before.’

The exhibition, which runs until January, also touches on the much discussed intimate relationship between Dorothy and her famous brother, particularly on the day in 1802 when he married and she didn’t attend the ceremony. The exhibition is just one of the many attractions at the museum this year – two watercolours of Coniston and Windermere by 19th Century British artists Francis Towne and Thomas Girtin (who never actually visited the Lake District) are going on display and a series of family friendly events are being held throughout the summer.

Yet not all of Grasmere’s attractions are about the past. Chefs Maggie Preston and her daughter Gina set up their chocolate making business last summer. Gina had been working as a pastry chef at Miller Howe and Maggie at the Wordsworth Hotel before they started selling and making chocolates in their spare time.

The cottage industry took off and in July they opened Cocoa Hearts in Grasmere. Now they offer very popular workshops where people make and decorate their own box of chocolates – all for £15. Hen parties, friends and tourists wanting something a little different have all signed up for the workshops since opening in July. Maggie, originally from Sydney but who has lived in the Lakes for 25 years, said: ‘People had been saying how good Gina’s chocolates were, she is the chocolatier and she taught me.

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We started as a cottage industry and it’s just grown.’ One of their first customers in Grasmere was storyteller Taffy Thomas MBE who asked for figs dipped in chocolate, saying he had been promising his wife such things for 28 years. Now he is a regular customer. Taffy’s storytelling garden is just a few metres away where he holds events during the summer for all ages and says one of his aims is to create a new generation of storytellers.

More than a hundred thousand people visit the village every year and some locals despair that the Tourist Information Centre was shut a few years ago, meaning most shopkeepers act as informal tour guides if visitors get a little lost. Although most walkers who visit know where they are going, targeting nearby Helm Crag or Loughrigg Fell.

The area also attracts coarse fishermen who for £8 a day can fish in the lakes although a local warned there’s ‘nowt but pike’ and the green-fingered potter about in Grasmere Garden Village. Keen runners will be taking part in a charity Grasmere Gallop on June 8 where you can choose from a 6k fun run, 10k Nordic Walk or a 10k or 17k trail run. ‘We did get a telling off from one group of runners last year who suddenly came to a halt at one point on the route. Apparently we hadn’t warned them how glorious the view was and it took them by surprise,’ said Jonathan Smith, one of the event organisers. For a true Lakes experience there’s the Poets Punt, guided Swim-Hike days held in July and August where you get the opportunity to wild swim and hike in the area, just like the Romantic poets did 200 years ago.

For those who prefer to watch rather than partake, Grasmere Sports Day which has been in existence for 161 years offers visitors the chance to experience Cumberland Wrestling, Hound Trails, Fell Running and more when it is held on Bank Holiday Sunday, August 25. And talking of tradition no visit to Grasmere is complete without a mention of daffodils in tribute to what is arguably Wordworth’s most quoted poem. If you visit in the spring a treat awaits, beside St Oswald’s Church where the poet and his family are buried, a garden has been planted with 20,000 daffodils by local volunteers to raise money for charity. Rev Cameron Butland says it’s all part of the community spirit alive and well in Grasmere. ‘It’s a very friendly place. People at St Oswald’s on a Sunday moring will notice if there are visitors in the congregation and will stop to chat to them afterwards, they like visitors in the church.’ The same can’t be said for the vicar in the daffodil garden, ‘They do not like me helping out, I do not know what I am doing!’ he said.


You really are spoilt for choice. In the centre of Grasmere there’s a range of accommodation for most budgets. In the heart of the village there’s a triangle of prestigious hotels comprising of the Wordworth Hotel and Spa, Dale Lodge Hotel and Moss Grove Hotel which prides itself on using natural, organic and Fair Trade products.

One of the newest hotels is Daffodil Hotel & Spa which has 78 bedrooms and a fabulous looking spa offering mud treatments, relaxation rooms (tepadarium), pool, steam room and sauna.

White Moss House Hotel is on the outskirts of the village and is the only house that William Wordsworth ever owned. Situated at the northern end of Rydal Water is offers five en-suite bedrooms with bed and breakfast and a cottage which can be booked for self catering.

The Red Lion Hotel in Grasmere is a former coaching inn now owned by Best Western. It’s centrally located, offers free parking and allows pets.

Places to eat

Tweedies Bar at dale Lodge does excellent food as well as very good beer while Miller Howe Café offers a range of fare from jacket potatoes to toasties but also has interesting additions like the South African dish Bobotie and Homity Pie. A spin-off from the prestigious Miller Howe Hotel the café is simple and stylish.

Baldry’s teashop offers a traditional and pretty place to pass an hour while watching the tourists.The Potting Shed at Grasmere Garden Village has a varied menu, offering hearty items like chicken, rabbit and pearl barley hotpot and fresh mussels with coconut and lemongrass

Walkers’ favourite Wilf’s Café is next door Dove Cottage, this offshoot of the popular café in Staveley serves good, basic fare at decent prices.

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