Lakeland and its Poets. Visiting Lodore Falls and the town of Keswick

‘How does the water
Come down at Lodore?’
My little boy asked me
Thus, once on a time;
And moreover he tasked me
To tell him in rhyme.

Robert Southey, The Cataract of Lodore, 1820

Having a genuine interest in English Romantic poetry, one December weekend, I decided to go to the town of Keswick (pronounced as [‘kesik] or [‘kezik]) located in the Lake District, Cumbria. My choice of destination was motivated by the fact that the poets Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey lived there at the beginning of the 19th century and where their friend William Wordsworth, a famous poet, visited them.

Below, I will reflect on the visual landscape of the area and nature as a public good. Finally, I will consider critically the issue of taste as defined by the Lake Poets[1]. Altogether, this reflection should explain the social, cultural and economic divisions that I found in Keswick and its surroundings.

The visual landscape of Lakeland

The Lake District, also known as the Lakes and Lakeland, is a national park of North West England. I had a chance to see its northern part with the town of Keswick situated along the northeast shore of Derwentwater lake and surrounded by picturesque hills and mountains, scary caves and magnificent waterfalls.

Alfred Wainwright, a British cartographer and illustrator, dedicated 13 years of his life to exploring the landscape of the area and created seven volumes of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells published between 1955 and 1966. Through fine detailing, Wainwright’s illustrations and maps depict not only the fells and paths of Lakeland but also the enigma of nature and its magnetism.

The cover of Volume One of Lakeland Mountain Drawings by Alfred Wainwright

My perception of Lakeland was conditioned by the fact that it was my first visit to that area. I was impressed by the beauty of unusual colours of nature which I have not seen anywhere in the UK.  The mountains of orange, green and brown with white snowcaps; the azure sky with lenticular clouds of white and grey shades reflecting in the surface of Derwentwater; black-and-white sheep feeding in the green meadows; trees and shrubs of marsh, sand and black; and pearl-white waterfalls altogether made up the palette of Lakeland in winter.

Having been waiting for a boat that should bring me to Lodore Falls from Keswick, I drew a pencil sketch of Derwentwater through the window of the café near the boat station. Even though I created the amateur sketch without any professional drawing skills, it can provide us with rich information.

© Sketch of Derwentwater made by the author

The sketch shows, firstly, the shapes of mountains and the convergence of their slopes on the background; secondly, the reflection of the sky and the island trees in the lake water; finally, the direction of tree branches without leaves indicating a winter season and a tile roof with window frames in the foreground telling us that the drawing was made from the shore, not from the water. Altogether the elements of the sketch convey the atmosphere of Derwentwater near the boat station and express my curiosity and confusion, while I was waiting for the boat cruise.

The nature as a public good: the fascination of Lodore Falls

Once the time came, I boarded together with other passengers. It felt more freezing on the water than on the shore. The wind was blowing my face and hair playfully on the boat. And the picturesque view of the mountains revealed from the water.

The view of Derwentwater from the Lodore Jetty boat station. © Photo by the author

When the boat reached the Lodore Jetty station, the spa hotel and Lodore Falls behind it were among the first what I saw there. It was not obvious how to get to the waterfall because of the hotel occupying the space in front of it. I approached one guest, the man in his 50s in a checkered suit smoking a cigar, and asked him politely whether he knew how to get to the waterfall. He replied lazily with the Scottish accent, ‘I have no idea’.

Then I noticed a path in the courtyard leading to the waterfall and a sign explaining that that path was only for the hotel guests. I entered the hotel and asked a receptionist the same question about the route to the waterfall. The receptionist, a welcoming young man, explained to me politely that I should go along the road in the direction of Keswick, then turn right near the countryside gate and go up along the public path. ‘It will take you about 10 minutes’, he added cheerfully. That is how I found the path for mere mortals.

As a foreigner, I never do hiking alone in the UK. But my curiosity of seeing Lodore Falls was stronger than my fear of getting lost. That is why I moved ahead. In winter, the public path was wet. Luckily, I had waterproof boots and damaged one of them on a slippery stone, while I was going up by following the sounds of water.

The fragment from The Cataract of Lodore, an onomatopoeic poem by Southey, describes beautifully the motion and music of the falls:

Retreating and beating and meeting and sheeting,
Delaying and straying and playing and spraying,
Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing,
Recoiling, turmoiling and toiling and boiling,
And gleaming and streaming and steaming and beaming,
And rushing and flushing and brushing and gushing,
And flapping and rapping and clapping and slapping,
And curling and whirling and purling and twirling,
And thumping and plumping and bumping and jumping,
And dashing and flashing and splashing and clashing;
And so never ending, but always descending,
Sounds and motions for ever and ever are blending
All at once and all o’er, with a mighty uproar, –
And this way the water comes down at Lodore.

Finally, Lodore Falls showed up behind the trees. I went further and got to the platform with a bench from which the waterfall could be observed well. It was a fantastic feeling to stay alone in the forest and be able to observe the flows of water running through the rocks and stones. It was a mixture of fear and fascination. At the moment, I remembered the Lake Poets and thought that that place was perfect for gaining inspiration for writing poems about nature like the following one:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze

William Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, 1807

I was almost ready to experience the solitude but suddenly a couple of hikers appeared from another side of the hill heading towards me. The noise from the wedding crowd at the hotel also did not let me feel lonely. I spent some more time near Lodore Falls and went back to the bus stop located in front of the hotel.

While I was waiting for the bus to Keswick running late, I had a nice talk with an English lady in her 60s who came to the Lake District from Cheshire for hiking with her dog Tobby[2]. She asked me where I was from. When I replied that I was from Russia and was based in Manchester, she shared with me her memories of visiting Moscow in 1980 to participate in the Summer Olympic Games. It was such a pleasure to talk to her about poetry, travelling, hiking and other things before the bus came.

A question of taste

In his Essay on Taste, Coleridge defines the concept of taste through the intellectual senses of perception helping to perceive the beauty of the outer world and nature. According to his definition, ‘taste is a metaphor taken from one of our mixed senses, and applied to objects of the more purely organic senses, and of our moral sense, when we would imply the co-existence of immediate personal dislike or complacency’.

In the same essay, Coleridge describes the situation when he was admiring Lodore Falls, and one lady, ‘not a commoner’, noted that the waterfall was sublimely beautiful and absolutely adorable. (I paraphrase here the Russian translation of the essay[3] because I could not find its full version in English). Coleridge writes that he could not help smiling when he remembered these utterances that he considered to be absurd and irrelevant to the situation.

From his essay (and cultural judgment), one can see that Coleridge juxtaposed the language of Romantic poetry marked by the linguistic taste from the absurd and irrelevant language of commoners and ordinary people. This partly explains why visitors of Keswick were more interested in the Victorian Fayre taking place in the town rather than in Greta Hall, the cottage that had been rented by Coleridge and Southey in the proximity of the main streets.

Greta Hall in Keswick © Photo by the author

The white three-storey building of Greta Hall of the unusual form is situated on higher ground and now in private ownership. Its entrance is elegantly decorated with two Greek-style columns, while its right wing of a rounded shape has an edged roof. The sign near the entrance showing through the evergreen shrub reads ‘ROBERT SOUTHEY lived here in 1803-1843’. Near the doorstep of the left wing, one can see another sign reading ‘COLERIDGE WING’.

Overlooking the mountains, Greta Hall provides a visitor with a fascinating view of the snowy tops immersing in the sky. I appeared to be the only person who was visiting that place into the sunset painted with light shades of blue, grey, yellow, red and orange. At that moment, I thought that the Lake Poets had good taste but even if it was so why disregard all good taste by other people.

A concluding remark

In The Country and the City (1973), sociologist Raymond Williams points out: ‘[p]oets have often lent their tongues to princes, who are in a position to pay or to reply. What has been lent to shepherds, and at what rates of interest, is much more in question’. Taking into account that Lake Poets made a significant shift in English poetry through the invention of new cultural forms for expressing feelings and sensitivity about the outer world, I am wondering whether their language can be used in socially responsible writing.

…Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty!…

Samuel Coleridge, This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison, 1797


[1] Lake Poets is a group of three English poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey associated with the Lake District.

[2] The dog’s name has been changed.

[3] The quote from the Coleridge’s essay on taste from the Russian translation: ‘Совсем недавно, совершая прогулку по озеру Кесвик — тогда как раз выпали дожди и водопады бурно низвергали воды, — я загляделся на знаменитый Лодор, представший моим взорам во всей своей величественной красоте. Неподалеку какая-то дама, отнюдь не простолюдинка, заметила, что водопад возвышенно прекрасен и совершенно прелестен. Я не могу удержаться от улыбки всякий раз, как вспоминаю ее слова, — улыбка вызвана не столько абсурдностью выражения, сколь его неуместностью в данной связи’. The source is here.

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