“Is this the way to Wordsworth’s grave?” asks a Japanese tourist emerging from one of the endless stream of coaches arriving at the picture-postcard village of Grasmere in the English Lake District.
By mid-morning the place is filling up with hordes of visitors taking photos, cramming into tearooms and buying souvenirs from gift shops. It is a sight that might have 18th century poet William Wordsworth turning in his grave at St Oswald’s churchyard, now a must-see on the tourist map. Forget wandering "lonely as a cloud” as he wrote in Daffodils – there is not much chance of that today.
Wordsworth himself once sought poetic inspiration at Castlerigg only to be disappointed by the crowds. The date was 1799 and people had started traveling to the Lake District as a break from urban life.
Such frustration didn’t stop the future poet laureate writing his Guide to the Lakes, though, promoting the beauty of the natural landscape to a nation eager to escape the growing cities. His book sold rapidly and encouraged many more Victorians to walk the fells and experience “Lakeland” for themselves. It was only later that Wordsworth realized the impact his words and the resulting number of visitors would have on this quiet, rural idyll.
“Is then no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?” he wrote, while waging a literary campaign against the Kendal and Windermere Railway. To no avail. The railway reached the Lake District in 1847, bringing with it ever-increasing numbers of tourists.
Some things never change. Fortunately, the beauty of the landscape here is also one of them.
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