Literature and the Lake District

The Lake District is culturally significant for literature. It is well known for the literary individuals who have lived here and written about it. The dramatic changes taking place during the industrial revolution inspired the Romantic Movement in literature and the Lake District was an escape from the harsh realities of city life at the time. Many literary figures chose to live in the Lake District during this era such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Both were members of the group known as the Lake Poets.

The Lake District has the idyllic and lush qualities of quintessentially English rural countryside but also harbours the darker more dramatic landscapes of rugged fells and pikes. Many Literary figures have found inspiration from its unique landscapes and features detailing the many fell walks, the surrounding Lakes and their unique qualities. If you are interested in visiting these culturally significant areas of the Lake District, here are some of the places written about by some well-known poets and writers.

William Wordsworth

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Wordsworth, one of most sought after of the Romantic poets lived in Dove cottage in Grasmere. He used to sit and compose poetry in his garden there. It is now owned by the national trust and it is open to the public for viewing. Wordsworth resided in Grasmere for much of his life describing it as,

“The most loveliest spot that man hath found’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Keswick and Scafell Pike, Wastwater

Coleridge, also a prominent writer during the romantic era was a friend of Wordsworth having lived in Keswick he is known for his darker, more troubled personality. It seems fitting that he should mention Scafell Pike in his writing, in what was one of the first written records of a recreational rock climb. Wastwater surrounding Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak, is one of the more dramatic and rugged parts of the Lake District in contrast to the pastoral and peaceful setting of Grasmere preferred by his friend William Wordsworth. Here he describes his descent of Scafell Pike on a particularly dangerous route down

‘The sight of the Crags above me on each side, & the impetuous Clouds just over them, posting so luridly & so rapidly northward, overawed me / I lay in a state of almost prophetic Trance & Delight’

John Ruskin

Brantwood, Coniston and Friars Crag, Keswick

John Ruskin was a political and social thinker and also a keen painter. He lived in Brantwood, in Coniston, where he saw out the latter part of his life. You can take a boat ride from the side of the lake to his house on the steamboat Gondala. John Ruskin’s Gravestone is also situated in Coniston Village. Ruskin also noted Keswick as a significant place of his childhood, visiting when he was five years old in 1824. It was here he saw Friars Crag. This is his description of it

“The first thing which I remember, as an event in life, was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water; the intense joy,mingled with awe, that I had in looking through the hollows in the mossy roots,over the crag, into the dark lake, has associated itself more or less with all twining roots of trees ever since”


Orrest Head, Windermere and Haystacks on Tarn

Wainwright is famous for detailing in his work, the many walks and sights of the Lake District and describing the unique characteristics that the Lake District has to offer. His fascination with the geography and landscape started in Windermere at Orrest head. He described it as

“Magic, a revelation so unexpected that I stood transfixed, unable to believe my eyes … I had seen landscapes of rural beauty pictured in the local art gallery, but here was no painted canvas: this was real. This was truth…”.

One of Wainwright’s favourite places was Haystacks in the south eastern end of Buttermere valley. Wainwright’s ashes at his request were scattered here by his wife.

‘All I ask for, at the end, is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravelly shore and the heath blooms and Pillar and Gable keep unfailing watch. A quiet place, a lonely place, I shall go to it, for the last time and be carried: someone who knew me in life will take me and empty me out of a little box and leave me there alone. And if you dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me . . .’