Not a big Wordsworth or poetry fan? You don’t have to be to visit Dove Cottage. In fact, on its own, Dove Cottage offers huge insights about life in the countryside of England in the 1800s. We can thank Wordsworth for the fact that Dove has been kept close to original condition enabling us to imagine — and wonder if we could have survived happily.
Yes, many people visiting the Lake District in Cumbria often include a stop at Dove Cottage in Grasmere where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived for eight years entertaining and accommodating writers in this cozy 8 room rustic home. If you’re interested in the Wordsworth siblings and the Lake poets there’s zillions of books, blogs, lectures, programs, and videos easily found.
So take an hour and maybe try what I did? My little experiment had me working hard to visualize myself on a day-to-day schedule living at Dove Cottage in 1800.
First of all, the exterior is delightful. The yard was, and remains, rather wild with a wide variety of flowers, ivy, vines and assorted greens. Like the majority of Lake District stone buildings, lime washed over local slate rock, contrasts to great effect with the colorful palette of green hedgerows and flowers that define the pathways between buildings. With the wind sweeping across the lake free of the pollution that plagued London and other industrial towns, I can easily see that the phase “a breath of fresh air” could have easily originated here. Likewise then, as now, country living was less expensive than city living. In fact, the rent for Dove Cottage in 1799 was £5 (about US$6.60 or Euro 5.65) — for the year!
The house itself is set a bit into a hill with the majority on the slightest of slope. For example while the main room in front is ground level, the kitchen in the rear is inset about a third of the way into the slope. There’s a tiny entryway that functions as a wet room that was well needed as the roads were alternately dust or mud. Then another small door leads to the main room with a wood/coal-burning fireplace (at Dove the fireplaces stopped using peat in the 1790s). The wide window facing toward the lake has diamond panes and lets in some light, but evenings depended on the fireplace and candlelight.
Walking into the small and dark ground floor slated rooms I immediately wondered how was it ever possible to have company here. The books and journals mention many visitors and festive nights talking in fire and candlelight. No doubt many an evening ended up with people in a variety of upstairs/downstairs rooms dividing up by conversational interest and roaming back and forth room to room.
The claim of four ground level rooms is perhaps stretching it a bit considering that one of those rooms was a small buttery/larder. So you have the main room, the kitchen, the larder and a bedroom. The second floor consisted of 3 bedrooms and again, the fourth room a very small bedroom more suited for a baby. Of course, the loo was outside in the garden area and the house itself had no running water and had to be scooped and carried in by hand. And the ‘washing’ was dried in the kitchen near the fires. Damp in the winter and wet in spring, it was well known that rain easily entered the upper rooms.
That’s your home. Now add on the fire wood chopping, the cleaning of the fireplaces, composing, raising the odd vegetable, toasting bread, making tea, cooking then cleaning, washing not only laundry but yourself, boarding guests, making bread, making curtains, mending, and if a baby then all that too. Walking in the heat, the rain, the snow and the cold to the village to buy a thing or two or to the post letters to family and friends would also figure in your week.
As you make you way through Dove Cottage, remember ultimately it was inhabited by four adults and three children: Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Mary his wife, Mary’s sister and three children. And amidst all the obligations of country living and family, Wordsworth created his most memorable poetry at Dove Cottage.
Dove Cottage, Grasmere is heavily signposted and will be one of the first sights on the right as you travel north on the A591, with the village of Grasmere further onward. It’s almost immediately across from the Daffodil Hotel & Spa. There’s a small parking lot off the A591 that can hold about 20 cars and is next to the Dove Cottage Tearooms & Bistro. Entry fee includes the museum.