I always love hearing which are your favourite Lake District Gems, and it was thanks to the recommendations of two blog readers that I recently visited somewhere new to me: Allan Bank in Grasmere.
Allan Bank is a relatively recent addition to the National Trust’s visitor offerings in the Lake District, and was opened to the public in 2012. Previously they had let the house to private tenants, but after a devastating fire caused by faulty electrics, the building needed to undergo significant restoration. Georgian in design, its importance lies in the fact that it was once the home of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the National Trust’s founders.
Interestingly, it was the private sale of Grasmere Island (which can be seen from the house), along with the sale of other national landmarks, that encouraged Rawnsley to act on his belief that there should be a trust to preserve such places for the nation. This lead to him co-founding the National Trust, and as the organisation points out, ‘ultimately [to] the birth of the international conservation movement‘. This year the island made headlines when, amazingly after all this time, it was gifted to the National Trust.
Allan Bank was also once home to the poet William Wordsworth and his family, although only for a short time. In William Wordsworth by Stephen Hebron (2000), it is said that when Allan Bank was first built, Wordsworth wasn’t at all in favour of it. He described the Liverpool laywer building the house as ‘a wretched creature… of the name of Crump’. But as Dove Cottage became too small for the growing Wordsworth family, William presumably had to swallow his pride to move into it!
The book also says that the house was exposed to the wind on all sides, so that, during stormy weather, the rooms would fill with smoke from the fireplaces. In fact, one night the smoke was so thick that the family had to gather in the downstairs study, and even then they couldn’t see one another! Shortly after, the Wordsworths moved into a house in the centre of Grasmere and then made their final move to Rydal Mount.
Intriguingly, Allan Bank has not been completely finished off after its recent restoration. According to a National Trust video you see as part of your visit, its first visitors were asked what they would like to see the house used for, and the overwhelming opinion was that it should remain just as it is. That might sound a bit strange, but once you’ve visited for yourself, you’ll understand!
Although it’s not painted properly inside, the property is lovely and clean throughout, and has the most peaceful atmosphere. It’s an informal collection of rooms containing things to do for everyone, with places to craft, read, play games, or simply contemplate the view. Well-behaved dogs are welcome inside the house too.
This year, the house also tells the tale of Canon Rawnsley. As well as the video in the outside Billiards Room, there are some very ornate interpretation panels placed in the rooms, which are designed to look like enormous open books and are very effective!
Although there’s no café or tearoom at Allan Bank, there is instead a small informal kitchen from which you can buy tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. You can take your refreshments out to the garden, or bring a proper picnic lunch of your own. I had no idea that the view from the house and lawn would be so magnificent – right across Grasmere lake, and very tranquil with deck chairs and benches from which to enjoy it.
There’s also quite a lot to see in the grounds at Allan Bank. There are a couple of circuits of the garden and woodland you can explore, with wild play areas for children and a wild trail available too (you receive a map of the grounds on your entry to the house).
We actually ran out of time to look round all the grounds, so the rest is yours to explore when you visit! The longest trail is estimated to take around 45 minutes, and initially leads you up a steep hill and set of steps, and then through a fascinating stone tunnel, which children (and adults too!) will just love. There’s also a special feeding station for red squirrels, so if you’re very lucky you might just come across a Squirrel Nutkin!
The only thing to bear in mind when visiting Allan Bank is that there’s no parking (unless you have a Blue Badge, but check the website), which means you’ll need to use one of the pay-and-display car parks in town if you’re arriving by car. The driveway to Allan Bank can be accessed from the minor road next to the Miller Howe Café in the village, and the walk up the driveway takes you around 10 minutes.
It’s hardly a chore though, as the drive looks out over stunning scenery, and we saw a few Herdwicks on the way up too, sheltering from the intense heat of the afternoon. Just make sure you buy a long enough car parking ticket (unless you’re using the Lake District National Park Authority’s pay-on-leave car park), as once you arrive at Allan Bank, you won’t want to leave!
You can find out more about Allan Bank and visitor information on the National Trust website.
Have you visited Allan Bank in Grasmere? What did you think, and what else did you discover in the grounds?! Let us know by leaving a comment below!