“ Located in the heart of the Lake District Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum and Art Gallery is located on the A591, the main Kendal - Keswick road through the central Lake District. „
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I recently convinced my best friend to accompany me on a family holiday to the Lake District with promises of lots of Wordsworth themed entertainment. Neither of us are fans of Wordsworth but she's an English teacher and I love history so both of us were interested in finding out more about him. I think in some ways it was an ideal starting point. Neither of us had particularly high expectations but both had a vague interest which meant that we weren't likely to be disappointed by our trip nor were we likely to be bored. Our trip to Dove Cottage was by far the highlight of the week, it was a simply wonderful experience.
==What is Dove Cottage?==
Dove Cottage was the home of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy from December 1799 until May 1808. Before taking this trip to the Lake District I knew very little about William Wordsworth. I have some vague recollections of being bored by the Prelude during GCSE English and I had visited a grammar school where he had been a pupil during my trip to the Lake District the year before but I actually knew very little about him. It seemed to me that Dove Cottage would have little significance because he was resident there for such a short period of time. I was wrong of course and found it interesting to find out more about Wordsworth's time in this house. It was while living at Dove Cottage that Wordsworth wrote a lot of his poetry. Before my trip to the Lake District I had never heard of Dorothy Wordsworth, William's sister and it was interesting to find out more about her. She was a writer too and while living at Dove Cottage she wrote her (apparently) famous Grasmere journal. I was also interested to hear about the various guests that they welcomed into their home during their time at Dove Cottage and in particular Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I've always really enjoyed Coleridge's poetry and found it fascinating to hear about his visits to the Wordsworth's and the close friendship that he shared with William Wordsworth.
Although the main focus of Dove Cottage is Wordsworth there is so much more history to the building. It's original purpose is unknown but prior to Wordsworth living in the house it was an Inn. There have been a succession of tenants since the Wordsworths moved out, notably writer Thomas de Quincy.
Dove Cottage is located in Grasmere, a small village not far from Ambleside. If you're making your first trip to the Lake District you probably have no idea where these places are but directions are available on the website. My friend and I attempted to walk from Ambleside to Grasmere twice. The first time we took the "Coffin Route" (named because it was the route that coffins were carried at some point history) but due to the rain the path became quite slippery and we were convinced that if we went further we would slide to our deaths and never see Dove Cottage. This route is described by every guide book I've read and every person I've spoken to as an easy walk. I admit that I'm very clumsy and what some people may find easy I find difficult but I'm sure that in this case we must have taken a wrong turn. Taking the coffin route is most definitely the more scenic way to get there and if you are more adventurous than I am I would certainly recommend walking this way but take a map or make sure you know where you're going.
On our second attempt we walked along the road. This was a much less pleasant walk and we could only get so far before having to hop on a bus because there was no longer a path and the road was too busy. The bus journey was an easy one and stops across from Dove Cottage so it really is a good way to travel there if you're not feeling up to the walk and don't drive. We did find the buses to be a little bit on the expensive side. We didn't buy a return ticket and ended up paying about £4 each (not an exact fare) for the return journey, for a short journey (20 minutes at most) it seemed on the expensive side but perhaps we're just used to paying £1 for a bus trip in London.
Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum are located in what I guess must have been a little hamlet. Walking through this you feel like you've been taken back in time. Unfortunately there are still signs of the modern world (electricity and so on) but if you can ignore these it's really easy to believe that you've stepped back in time. My friend and I spent about ten minutes just walking around the area taking pictures of each other and admiring the area. If you're staying in Grasmere it's worth going down to Dove Cottage just to look around the outside, even if you don't feel like going in. The whole area is just really picturesque and it was such a pleasure to look at. Being the Lake District it started raining quite soon after we arrived so we didn't get to spend as much time looking around the outside as we would have liked but the time we did spend doing this was very enjoyable and I felt that it really set us up well for looking around the actual house.
We found that everything was very well sign posted so you knew exactly where you had to go and what was what.
To access Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum you have to go to the gift shop to buy a ticket. You're then given a time to go for your tour of the house. The waiting time for us was fifteen minutes which I thought was quite reasonable. The gift shop isn't huge but it's big enough to fill ten or fifteen minutes so waiting around really wasn't a bother and as I've mentioned it's nice to look around outside of the buildings too. The staff who sold us the tickets were so friendly and helpful. We already had a great impression of the place because of the environment and the staff really added to that. I think it's always nice to feel that the people working in places that you're visiting for pleasure are enjoying their job and the staff in the gift shop certainly seemed happy in their jobs. They were very helpful and answered some questions that I had as well as making sure that we got the correctly priced tickets (we're both students).
An adult ticket costs £7.50, a child ticket costs £4.50 with under 6s going for free and there were student and family tickets available too. I think that this is really reasonably priced. As you'll see from the rest of the review this is a fantastic day out and worth paying for and at £7.50 for an adult it's amazingly priced, especially when you compare it to how much other attractions in other parts of the country cost.
The main part of our visit (and I imagine the reason why most people visit Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum) was the house itself. The ticket price includes a guided tour which I thought was excellent. I'm so used to going to places that charge extra if you want a guide that I was prepared to pay for our ticket and for the tour on top of that but it's all included. The downside to this is that you don't actually get to wander around the house on your own, it's all done as part of the tour and I would have liked to have spent some time just exploring the house and taking my time. However, the tour did more than make up for my disappointment at not being able to wander freely in the cottage.
It was just such a lovely, engaging tour. This is in large part down to the tour guide. He was just brilliant. He had so much charisma and was obviously very passionate about the subject. When he speaks you just can't help but be drawn in and I found myself becoming really interested in things that wouldn't have interested me if I had just been looking around the house. What impressed me most was his knowledge. You expect a tour guide to be able to give you a lot of information but I find that sometimes it's obviously scripted. Like the tour guide can give you certain information but only the stuff that s/he's rehearsed. My friend and I both had a lot of questions regarding the house, it's former occupants, Wordsworth and a few other things and the tour guide was able to answer them all. He really knew his subject very well. There were families on the tour with us and even the children seemed to be interested in what he had to say. He managed to add some humour to what could be quite a dull subject for those who aren't really interested in history and he managed to present everything in a way that was easy for people to understand but at the same time in enough depth to satisfy those who want something more.
Looking around the house was really interesting. The house is furnished with things that actually belonged to Wordsworth which added some additional authenticity. When I visit historic houses they tend to be very grand, this one wasn't and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed looking at it. I've always loved looking at grand houses and being awed by them but I found that I felt a much stronger connection to this small house, it just made me feel like I was really seeing history rather than seeing something that would have been unique in it's own time. I felt like I could have actually been stepping back into a place where normal people would have been and normal lives would have been lived which I guess is because that's the case. The Wordsworths though notable writers were ordinary people. They had family and friends, they had struggles and heartbreaks, ambition and careers. It makes it all so much more real and as someone who has an interest in social history it was really interesting to see this.
I'm not going to give away what's said on the tour, that would only ruin your own experience but I do highly recommend it. There are gardens to look around too but as it was wet we decided to give them a miss.
==The Museum and Art Gallery==
We visited the museum as an afterthought. It was included in the price of our ticket so we thought that we might as well take a quick look around before going back to Ambleside. I wouldn't visit Grasmere just to to go the museum but if you're there anyway and you've bought a ticket for Dove Cottage it's worth going into the museum too. It contains some really interesting information about the Wordsworths and other people connected to Dove Cottage. There are plenty of books and manuscripts on display for people to see. For me this was something that enriched my Wordsworth experience but wasn't really an essential part of it. It was nice to gather a bit more information about the family and the various people connected to the Wordsworth's but it seemed rather dull in comparison to the excellent tour we had just experienced. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy looking around and didn't find it interesting, it just wasn't the highlight of the trip. I was particularly interested in the information about Coleridge and the items that related to his poetry. I'm not usually particularly interested in art but there were some interesting pictures of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I think I liked them more because I like the poem than for their own sake.
I have to say that I didn't stop to look much at the art so I can't really comment on that aspect of the visit.
There is of course a gift shop at Dove Cottage. As you would expect it sells a lot of Wordsworth related items and books. As with most gift shops it wasn't cheap but I didn't find it overly expensive either. I was surprised to find that there were a lot of items on sale that weren't related to Wordsworth, although they did all seem to have a poetry related theme. There were lots of books on sale, which I loved of course. My friend and I spent a fair amount of time just looking at the different books. There were even some rare books for sale, although these were out of my price range. It's not all books though, you can get your usual selection of gift shop items, like rulers and pencils and fridge magnets, plus a fairly good selection of post cards.
I would highly recommend Dove Cottage. It's a wonderful day for all members of the family (although perhaps not suitable for very young children). Unfortunately it didn't appear to be accessible to wheelchair users but other than that I didn't find any faults with this attraction. We had a lovely, enjoyable day and I would love to go back at some point.