Starting point

The grave of Rasselas Belfield in St. Martin’s Church

The forth section of the Fair Trade Way comes to an end at the church of St. Martin in Bowness-on-Windermere  where there has been a religious foundation for over 1,000 years. The original structure was burnt down and rebuilt in 1484, and restored in 1870. The east window contains 15th century stained glass, depicting red and white stripes and three stars, the arms of John Washington who was an ancestor of George Washington, the first president of America.

To one side of the church, away from the main burial ground is the grave of Rasselas Belfield that was listed by the Government in Aug 2008 as a UNESCO Heritage site for the International Day of Slavery. The inscription on the grave reads, “In memory of Rasselas Belfield, a native of Abyssinia, who died on 16 January, 1822 aged 32 years.  A slave by birth, I left my native land, and found my freedom in Britannia’s strand.  Blest Isle!  Thou glory of the wise and free, thy touch alone unbinds the chains of slavery”.

Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere became a recognised parish in 1894 but the parish church of St Martin dates back to 1484 and the former rectory is said to have been built in 1415. In 1905, the council merged with that of Windermere, and the two civil parishes merged in 1974 under the name of Windermere, but the two towns still have their very distinct centres.

Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere, Bowness is Cumbria’s most popular destination that proudly declares its Fairtrade Town status with a plaque erected at the quayside. The lake provides facilities such as sailing, fishing and water sports and the town itself provides a beautiful and relaxing setting. There are many Victorian and Edwardian buildings throughout Bowness, but if you wander behind the church into Lowside you will get a feel for life in Bowness before the advent of the railway.

William Wordsworth was a regular visitor to Bowness and the White Lion, now the Royal Hotel is mentioned in ‘The Prelude’. Other attractions and events include ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’, the Windermere Steamboat Centre in Rayrigg Road and the British classic motorboat, model boat and steamboat rally.

On the darker side even the beautiful Bowness cannot distance itself from its slave trade past. To the south of the town you will find Storrs Hall, once the home of John Bolton who dealt in slaves, rum and cotton all imported through Whitehaven.  There are many tunnels in the basement that were once used to restrain slaves; some still have the metal rings on the walls.  One tunnel extends under the lake supposedly for the purpose of bringing in slaves after the abolition. They were brought under cover of darkness from Lakeside via the Furness railway from Barrow.  In his time Bolton was considered a philanthropist and ran regattas on the lake for the local people during the 1820’s. There is a legend that a slave girl put a curse on the house that no family living there would ever produce live children. So far this has proved true with the house now running as a hotel.

En Route

Windermere Chain Ferry

Day 5 of the walk starts with a scenic ferry crossing from Ferry Nab to Far Sawrey a distance of some 1,500 feet (460 m). There has been a ferry at this site for over 500 years; originally rowed across the lake then steam powered and now diesel powered. Wordsworth was a regular user of this ferry and wrote, ‘I bounded down the hill shouting amain/ A lusty summons to the further shore/ For the old Ferryman’.

This chain ferry is one of only seven of the original 17 British ‘floating-bridge’ chain ferries remaining in operation. The current ferry boat, named Mallard, was built in 1990 and can carry up to 18 cars and over 100 passengers. The ferry operates all year, with services every 20 minutes from early morning to mid-evening although services will vary between seasons.

Hill Top, Near Sawrey

Hill Top was the Lakeland home of Beatrix Potter. It is a small 17th Century house with an attractive cottage garden. The building is conserved as if she was still living there.

Beatrix Potter wrote many of her famous and well-loved stories here. Hill Top contains many physical references to the pictures that were so important to the success of her books such as, The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. These stories have been translated into many languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide.

The house is small and can be very busy. Tickets cannot be bought in advance so a timed-ticket system operates at the busiest times.

Lake Windermere

At 10.5 miles long and approx 1 mile wide Windermere is England’s largest natural lake. It is a ribbon lake formed13,000 years ago during the last major ice age by two glaciers, one from the Troutbeck valley and the other from the Fairfield horseshoe. The word “Windermere” is thought to translate as “Vinandr’s lake”, from the Old Norse name Vinandr and Old English mere, meaning lake. It was known as “Winander Mere” or “Winandermere” until at least the nineteenth century.

The building of the Kendal and Windermere Railway branch line in 1847 brought the lake closer to the masses and it has been one of the country’s most popular places for holidays and summer homes ever since. Entirely within the Lake District National Park Lake Windermere has been a water highway for centuries and is the greatest centre in the district for cruising, water-skiing, underwater swimming and yachting.

Rydal Mount House

In order to accommodate his growing family and many visitors William Wordsworth left his home at Dove Cottage (see below) in 1808. They stayed in Grasmere for a further five years, first in Allan Bank with their friend and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge and then in the Old Rectory, before moving to Rydal Mount in 1813.

Rydal Mount was Wordsworth’s best loved family home for the greater part of his life until his death in 1850 at the age of 80. He became Poet Laureate whilst a tenant at Rydal Mount and was the only person to accept that honour to write absolutely nothing while holding the post. Wordsworth spent most of his time at Rydal Mount editing, revising and improving much of his earlier works as well as relaxing and gardening. It was during his time here that he published the final version of his most famous poem ‘Daffodils’.

With its glorious views of Lake Windermere, Rydal Water and the surrounding fells the house has retained a lived-in, family atmosphere. The dining room, part of the old Tudor cottage, with its original flagged floor and oak beams, contrasts with the larger proportions of the drawing room and library, added in 1750. There can be fewer places better to relax and enjoy a cup of Fairtrade tea and a home made cake than ‘The Tea room’. This area was originally the saddlery with the coach house below, but Wordsworth converted it into a schoolroom for his daughter Dora where his sister Dorothy gave her niece private lessons.

Rydal Mount was acquired in 1969 by Mary Henderson, William Wordsworth’s great great grandaughter. It remains in the ownership of the Wordsworth family, and has been open to the public since 1970.

The Coffin Route

Between Rydal Mount and Grasmere the Fair Trade Way takes in the beautiful and scenic ‘Coffin Route’, so named because coffins used to be carried from Ambleside to Grasmere along this route until 1821. Walkers should look out for the flat stones beside the path – used for resting the coffins when the bearers became weary. Commonly known as corpse roads these routes have also been called: bier roads, burial roads, coffin roads, coffin lines, lyke or lych ways, funeral roads, procession ways, Corpse ways, etc and have often been associated with folklore regarding spirits and ghosts.

Corpse roads came about in late medieval times when minster officials felt their authority (and thus their revenues) was threatened due to the building of many churches that encroached on the territories of their existing mother churches or minsters. They therefore instituted corpse roads connecting outlying remote communities to the cemeteries that had burial rights, such as parish churches and chapels of ease. For some parishioners this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the ‘new’ churches were eventually granted burial rights and corpse roads ceased to be used as such.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Likely to have been built in the early 17th century Dove Cottage was formerly the ‘Dove and Olive Inn’ in the second half of the 18th century. The Inn closed in 1790 before it became the home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth in December 1799. They decided to use the upstairs bedroom as their sitting room and the old drinking room downstairs was used as Dorothy’s bedroom until William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802 when it became theirs. The upstairs room was much brighter making it better for reading, writing and entertaining their many guests which included Sir Walter Scott in 1805 and Thomas de Quincey in 1807, who moved into the cottage when the Wordsworths left a year later. But their most frequent visitor and close friend was the poet Samuel Coleridge.

There has been speculation about the identity of the ‘the malay’ who called at Dove Cottage one night when Robert de Quincey was the tenant. Was he a seaman on his way to Whitehaven? Had he been delivering a cargo? Could that cargo have been human? Was he an escaped slave himself? In any case, de Quincey treated him with hospitality, let him sleep by the fire and was thoughtful enough to give him a large lump of opium to take away with him. De Quincey was shocked when the man ate the whole lump in one go!

Another great friend and frequent visitor to Dove Cottage was the slave trade abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson was the workhorse and backbone of the abolition campaign, once riding 7,000 miles in one year to raise awareness of the immorality of the slave trade and obtain signatures for his petition. In 1793, suffering from exhaustion and ill health, he took time out to recuperate at the farm of his Quaker friend Thomas Wilkinson in Penrith and then went on to live at Eusemere Hill overlooking Ullswater. Clarkson loved the Lake District and when he spoke of abandoning further ambitions once the slave trade was abolished, and withdrawing into obscurity, he meant to Ullswater. While Clarkson was there, Wilberforce wrote to their mutual friend William Smith that ‘To live in such a Country seems almost like a continual Turtle feast.’

Although not a Quaker himself Clarkson’s greatest allies were Quakers, whose writings and pioneer abolition efforts had inspired him. When asked by Tsar Alexander 1 if he was a Quaker Clarkson replied ‘not so in name, but I hoped in spirit, I was nine parts in ten of their way of thinking’. Clarkson was the first to link Wordsworth’s poetry with the Quakerism which was his chief study in the Eusemere Hill years. He wrote his ‘Portraiture of Quakerism’, which was the first book to explain the principles and peculiarities of the Society to the world at large. He had a strong Anglican upbringing and believed that the abolition movement began with the earliest teachers of Christianity. The impulse that ‘forced [me] into the great work’, he was convinced, came from God. Coleridge said of him ‘He, if ever human being did it, listened exclusively to his conscience, and obeyed its voice’.

The Museum alongside the cottage has a permanent exhibition about Wordsworth’s life and his contemporaries, with some coverage of the politics of the time. It also presents a series of special exhibitions covering a variety of subjects.

Grasmere

Grasmere takes its name from the adjacent lake and thanks to William Wordsworth is probably Cumbria’s most popular village. Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for fourteen years and described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. When William and his sister Dorothy left Dove Cottage in 1808 they moved to Allan Bank, a large house that William had condemned as an eyesore when it was being built. They lived there for two years, with poet and friend Samuel Coleridge. They then moved to the Old Rectory, opposite St Oswald’s Church, a cold and damp house where his two youngest children died. In 1813 they moved to Rydal Mount (see above).

The majority of the buildings in Grasmere date from the 19th or early 20th Century, though the surrounding farms are much older and St. Oswald’s Church dates from the 13th Century. Today Grasmere is a tourist centre with its abundant gifts shops, restaurants and guest houses and there are many attractions and events held throughout the season. The Lake Artist Society Summer Exhibition, displaying around 300 exhibits by local artists and sculptors is held annually from the end of July to the beginning of September at Grasmere Village Hall. There is also an exhibition at Easter. On the Saturday nearest to St. Oswald’s Day (5th August) Grasmere celebrates its Rushbearing Festival. This custom dates back to the days when the earthen floor of the church was strewn with rushes to provide warmth and cleanliness. In late August Grasmere hosts its Sports Day; one of the oldest and most popular traditional events in the Lake District.

End point

Wordsworth’s grave, St. Oswald’s Church

The penultimate day of the walk ends at the grave of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in St. Oswald’s churchyard. Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in 1770 and spent all his childhood in the beautiful Lake District, until at the age of seventeen he left to study at Cambridge University.  He then spent twelve years travelling in Britain and Europe before moving back to the Lakes to take up residence in Dove Cottage (see above) with his sister Dorothy. He remained in the Lake District until his death at the age of 80 years. He died on St George’s day (23rd April) from a cold caught while out walking through the countryside he so dearly loved.

William Wordsworth planted eight of the yew trees in the churchyard and one of them marks his grave and that of his wife Mary. The simple tombstones are now one of the most visited literary shrines in the world. The Church that lies on the bank of the River Rothay is named after St Oswald, a 7th Century Christian King of Northumberland, who is said to have preached on this site. It is the parish church of Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale, and each township has its own separate gate into the churchyard. Wordsworth’s prayer book is now kept in a glass case near the church organ.

Nearby are buried his sister Dorothy, his children Dora, William, Thomas and Catherine, Mary’s sister Sara Hutchinson, and other members of the family. There is also the grave of Hartley Coleridge, eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.