The House of a Famous Character

This year, we spent our holidays in the Lake District in North West England. The plans was to go for hikes, which we had practiced for the last couple of weeks. Taking a 16-month-old with us was a bit of a gamble. We had no idea what his reaction would be to sleeping in a tent; we expected the walking part to be fine, since he did not mind the walks we had done so far.

One of the walks we set out for would go through a hamlet called Watendlath. A place where we not only could enjoy a lovely cream tea in the teahouse, but also visit the farm where Judith Parish lived. The house has a plaque and everything. The name did not ring any bells. Luckily, the description of the walk informed us who this illustrious person was. A famous character from a best seller in the 1930s.By not available (Hampshire Bookshop Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1920s, writer Hugh Walpole moved to the Lake District. Walpole was a famous writer in his time, he wrote countless books between 1909 and his death in 1941, an average of one book per year. An impressive feat that critics used against him, they considered his work outdated and described Walpole as “a sentimental ego” and “workmanlike writer who was not much appreciated among other writers”.  In 1921, he settled in Keswick, Cumbria, where he wrote The Herries Chronicles – a series set in the Lake District.

The familiar setting of the story made it famous among the local Cumbrians. Famous enough according to our walking guide[1] that the border between fiction and reality became rather indistinct. Up to the point where two farmers asked Walpole to identify the farm that Vanessa had lived in. Walpole tried to convince the famers none of The Herries Chronicles had actually existed, but ended up choosing one of the farms instead. To this day, a slate plaque adorns that farm.

However, our trip got horribly messed up. Instead of turning left after 250 meters, we turned left after climbing a steep hill about 2 kilometres farther. Our map showed a tarn, we did see a tarn, be it was a far smaller one than our map indicated. It turned out we were on our way to Grasmere. A shy 10-kilometre walk over the rugged hillsides, steep slippery ascends and descents, boggy grasslands, and at times poor visibility with only a pile of stones to indicate the path.

It was a lovely walk looking back now. I truly wished I had made more pictures, but not knowing how long of a walk we had ahead of us, and the prospect of thunderstorms, did tamper with any joy we felt, so we made sure we kept up our pace and I kept my camera packed away. When, after 8 hours of walking, we reached Grasmere, we did come across a small memorial for Wordsworth. Giving the walk a literary touch after all.

Begin a bit annoyed with ourselves for not reading the instructions properly, we set out the next day to visit the hamlet after all. There was a small, two-way, bendy road leading up to the tearoom and the fabled farm. There were hardly any bypasses, so I truly hoped there would not be oncoming traffic. At half past eight in the morning, we reached the hamlet and the end of the road. The tearoom, obviously, was not open, but we did see the farm.





Cecile Koster

[1] The 50 Walks in the Lake District, AA Publishing