Poetic licence: Dove Cottage, the home of William Wordsworth, and a former inn

The exterior of Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove Cottage, once an inn called the ‘Dove and Olive Bough’

This year marks 125 years since Dove Cottage, the former home of one of our most famous poets, William Wordsworth, first opened its front door to the public. To celebrate the occasion, Dove Cottage hosted two special event days, and invited me along to take a tour of the house and Wordsworth Museum so that I could share it with you here on the blog.

Dove Cottage is probably one of the Lake District’s most celebrated gems, so if you’re like me, it might be somewhere you are normally tempted to shy away from – show me a crowd and I’ll usually head in the opposite direction! But it can be so easy to overlook something great by doing this. If you haven’t yet visited Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum for yourself, I hope this post will inspire you to do so.

Celebrating the 125th anniversary of Dove Cottage being open to the public

To celebrate the 125th anniversary, the staff all dressed in costume – and I just happened to be leaving when they all gathered for a celebratory photograph!

William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy apparently arrived at Dove Cottage one dark December evening in 1799 – just imagine how cold it probably was! William was born in Cockermouth, in the north of the county, in 1770, and went to school in Hawkshead, so the siblings already had many ties to the local area (Dorothy was born in Cockermouth too). Separated from Dorothy for some years at quite an early age, William then spent periods of time abroad and in the south of England before they both decided to return to their Lake District roots by moving to Grasmere.

From previous reading I’ve done on Wordsworth, the eight years he spent at Dove Cottage were some of his happiest, and also his most productive as a poet. It was here that he married his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson, and eventually the Wordsworths moved out in 1808 as the house became too small for their growing family.

On a visit to Dove Cottage, you get to experience the house almost exactly as it would have been when the Wordsworths lived here, and you can take one of several tours throughout the day. I like house tours like this, as you get to hear the interesting and sometimes amusing details of the occupants’ day-to-day life. Some of the downstairs rooms are incredibly dark – so dark that they were beyond being photographed (without a tripod and plenty of time that is)!

Pepper the dog at Dove Cottage

A portrait of Pepper, the Wordsworths’ dog

The downstairs bedroom at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The downstairs bedroom with wash stand for two people (I’m starting to sound like an estate agent now!)

The sitting room at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The sitting room upstairs, where William wrote his poetry

The sitting room at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The bedroom at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

William Wordsworth’s suitcase sits on the washstand in the main bedroom – and although you can’t see it from the photograph, when writing his name on the inside of the case, he didn’t leave enough room for the final ‘H’. I like little details like this – it means he was human like the rest of us!

The bedroom at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The main bedroom

The guest room at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The guest room

The newspaper room at Dove Cottage

Inside the newspaper room, which is assumed to have been lined with newspaper to insulate what was the coldest room (it was re-papered in the 1970s with newspapers from the Wordsworths’ time)

I think it’s also important to point out that you don’t have to be the biggest fan of poetry to get a lot out of a visit to Dove Cottage. Although I studied for an A level in English Literature, I enjoyed the work of some poets and not others, and I think this was because I engaged the best with the work of those poets I learned most about. And what better way to learn about a person than to visit their home?

Following a tour of the cottage, it’s quite nice to enter the pretty little back garden which slopes up the hillside behind the house. It’s worth making your way to the top of the garden as you’ll come across a gorgeous little arbour, and when the sun’s shining you’re greeted with what Wordsworth probably found a very inspirational view! The Wordsworths believed in gardening with nature rather than against it, and grew fruit and vegetables in their garden too.

The garden at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The garden behind Dove Cottage

The arbour in the garden at Dove Cottage

The arbour at the top of the garden

The view from the arbour at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The view from the arbour

The arbour in the garden at Dove Cottage

The lovely textured roof of the arbour – you see, I told you it’s the small details I like the most!

The view from the terrace at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

The view from the terrace

The garden at Dove Cottage

The front garden

Dove Cottage wasn’t always a house – in fact it was once an inn called the ‘Dove and Olive Bough’, and the tiny hamlet of Town End in which it is situated would have been on the main road between Grasmere and Ambleside.

The tiny hamlet of Town End

Dove Cottage is situated in the tiny hamlet of Town End, on the edge of the village of Grasmere – the main road between Grasmere and Ambleside once passed through here

After exploring the garden and outside, I then moved on to the Wordsworth Museum, which is situated in one of the beautiful slate buildings next door. Here there are lots of interpretation boards, video and audio displays, and original items such as books, letters and personal objects, as well as a series of paintings, all of which help you to learn more about Wordsworth and how he came to create his work.

There are plenty of other literary displays relating to the area too, including one about Lake District dialect.

Dove Cottage and Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

The gift shop in front of the Wordsworth Museum

The Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

Inside the Wordsworth Museum

The Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

Quills and ink at the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

Try using a quill for yourself!

Paintings at the Wordsworth Museum, GrasmereDownstairs at the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

The Wordsworth Museum's room on Lakeland dialect

Learn more about Lakeland dialect

The family room at the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere

The family room inside the Wordsworth Museum

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I don’t go anywhere without having planned where my next cup of tea is coming from (!), and there’s good news on that front, as there is a tearoom belonging to Dove Cottage, which is just a short distance away. There’s also a pay-and-display car park next door to this, so you can park on site.

The tearoom at Dove Cottage

The tearoom next to the car park

For more information on visiting Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, take a look at the Wordsworth Trust’s website.

Related articles:

There are several places in the Lake District with links to Wordsworth, including Dove Cottage, Rydal Mount and Wordsworth House. Which have you visited, and do you have any recommendations on things to look out for? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

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3 Responses to Poetic licence: Dove Cottage, the home of William Wordsworth, and a former inn

  1. Janine John 19/08/2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Thank you to Dove Cottage for inviting me along to their celebrations – I do particularly love that arbour at the top of the garden!

  2. Angela Cowell 25/10/2016 at 7:09 am #

    Hi Janine, another great blog post. We too are ones to steer clear of crowded places but on a wonderfully sunny afternoon in August when walking around the outside of Dove Cottage we found it to be very quiet so decided to pop in. I have to say I found the inside quite dismal and the best part by far was the little back garden. We stayed up there for ages as it was so peaceful and calm.

    Your photos were wonderful both of the inside and outside. I concentrated mainly photographing the outside as it was so pretty. As our ticket is valid for a year I feel sure we will be back, if only to see the garden in another season, maybe Spring.

    Thank you for your blog posts, I really love them.

    • Janine John 25/10/2016 at 12:08 pm #

      Hello Angela – thank you so much for another very thoughtful comment. Funnily enough I was thinking of you yesterday, as you commented on my Claife Viewing Station post and I went back yesterday morning to get some autumn photos there. I was fighting the direction of the sun a little, so am yet to see if they’ve come out!

      I was amazed by just how dark it is inside Dove Cottage – especially bearing in mind there was no electricity back then. It must have made domestic chores very difficult! The arbour at the top of the garden was a lovely surprise, and definitely my favourite bit. I can’t believe it was quiet in August – I would not have thought that!

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