Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District


William Wordsworth

Apart from wandering the Fells and spotting the daffodils, there are two excellent houses to visit associated with Wordsworth.

After University at Cambridge and a spell living in Dorset, in 1799 Wordsworth now aged 29 moved back to the Lake District to Dove Cottage in Grasmere; and in 1813 he moved six miles East to Rydal Mount,a house between Grasmere and Ambleside, where he lived until he died in 1850.  Both houses can be visited and are about 20 miles from our cottage.

Rydal_Mount_-_geograph.org.uk_-_959824Rydal Mount is a privately run house with beautifully landscaped gardens shaped by Wordsworth.  Their website can be reached here.

Dove Cottage is the home of The Wordsworth Trust, an independent charity, set up to preserve the house and its neighbouring buildings.  The Trust also looks after works by Wordsworth and other writers and artists of the period.  At the heart of this collection are the manuscripts that Wordsworth’s descendants donated in 1935 so that they could remain at Dove Cottage.  The Trust has an excellent programme of exhibitions and activities.  Their website can Dove_Cottage_-_geograph.org.uk_-_70618be found here.


The wall walks the fell …

dry stone wall “A dry stone wall

Is a wall and a wall,

Leaning together

(Cumberland and Westmorland

Champion wrestlers)”

so says Norman Nicholson.

What a wonderful image!  For the walls here are often made up of two separate walls enclosing a centre filled with small stones called “heartings”.  The construction has long “through” stones to tie the two outer walls together and is finished off with a final top course of thinner slab-like stones on top of which the “cams” or coping stones were placed.

And Cumberland Wrestling is a traditional sport you can often still see at the Summer Shows including our own Broughton & Millom Show.  cumberlandThe origin of this style of wrestling is a matter of debate, with some describing it as having evolved from Norse wrestling; others associate it with a Celtic tradition.  It’s great fun to watch and as they start, gripping each other around the backs, it is easy to see why it reminded Nicholson of the Lake District walls which are some of the most distinctive and most loved features of the fells.

“The wall walks the fell –

Grey millipede on slow

Stone hooves;”

Quotations taken from Norman Nicholson’s “Wall” in his 1981 collection “Sea to the West”.  © The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited.


Dorothy’s Christmas Birthday

dorothy-wordsworths-christmas-birthday-978144727150501

“Up, rapt at her gate,
Dorothy Wordsworth ages
one year in an hour;

her Christmas birthday
inventoried by an owl,
clock-eyed, time-keeper.”

It was published as a small hardback book by panmacmillan in 2014 and is a perfect Lake District Christmas present.


Norman Nicholson: “a unique and unjustly overlooked Cumbrian”.

norman nicholsonThis January marks the 100th anniversary of Norman Nicholson’s birth in Millom and BBC is marking the occasion with a half hour radio programme presented by fellow Cumbrian, Eric Robson, on Sunday 5th January.  The Corporation’s press release describes him as “the unique and unjustly overlooked Cumbrian” and I guess a short radio documentary might help raise his profile a little – though calling the programme “Provincial Pleasures” is, I feel, damning the man with faint praise as “Provincial” was a phrase he fought against all his life.

Nicholson was championed by TS Eliot, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney though he remains little known because he chose to stay in the little town of Millom than move south.  On the western edges of the Lake District, in this desolate, post-industrial landscape, Nicholson wrote a lovely meditative poem about his craft and about his middle name (which was also his mother’s maiden name) “Cornthwaite”:  “… I lop, / Chop and bill-hook at thickets and rankness of speech, / Straining to let light in, make space for a word, / To hack out once again my inherited thwaite / And sow my peck of poems, not much of a crop.”

This poem was first published in “Sea to the West”, 1984 and can be found in Collected Poems. pp.354

To learn more about him, you can visit the Norman Nicholson Society’s website.  The link is here.

© The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited


Norman Nicholson : The Fierce South Lakes Poet

norman nicholsonThe sun has set / Behind Black Combe and the lower hills, / But northward to the fells / Like gilded galleons on a sea of shadow / Float sunlit yet. (South Cumberland, 16 May 1943)

Norman Nicholson was born in 1914 and so I hope there will be many celebrations of his poetry and writing coming up. Apart from the two year bed rest he spent in a sanatorium, Norman lived his whole life in Millom, writing poems both about the fells and the ironworks.

His poems have a honesty and a sometimes shy, sometimes defiant, open handedness about them which makes them very appealing.

His obituary in The Times described Norman as “provincial”.  He fought against this term as a put down and defended the label as a valuable, compassionate and humane perspective on life which we all respond to.  In his most famous poem, “The Pot Geranium”,  he describes the little plant thus: ” “A pot geranium flies its bright balloon … My ways are circumscribed, confined as a limpet / To one small radius of rock; yet / I eat the equator, breathe the sky, and carry / The great white sun in the dirt of my finger nails.”  Wow.

© The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited


Museums at Night Festival 2013

2013 Museums at NightThere is something deliciously exciting about being somewhere you are not normally allowed – especially at night.  Here in the South Lakes there are some fun things to do over the 16 – 18th May as part of the national Museums at Night Festival.

‘a greeting of good ale’ 16 May 7.30-9.00 £4 Dove Cottage. Wordsworth is famously known as the “simple water-drinking bard”, but the archives tell a different story.  Discover more about the history of Dove Cottage, formerly the Dove and Olive-Bough Inn,  and enjoy a free beer and food tasting.   Further details at The Wordsworth Trust website here.

Arts & Crime, Murder at Blackwell 16 May at 5.30, 6.30, 7.30, 8.30. Free but limited to 15 so booking essential.  You’ve mistakenly entered the end of a dinner party in the 1920s: what has happened and is someone still ‘at large’? Let the theatre company, Bear Necessities, lead you through Blackwell in search of the culprit.  Further details at the Blackwell website here.

Dozing at Dove Cottage 17 May & Secret Sleepover 18 – 19 May Dove Cottage  Dozing at Dove Cottage, for 14+, will be an eventful evening of activities exploring the cottage, a bite to eat, and a movie marathon followed by the sleepover.  Listen to some ghostly tales on the torch-lit trail and enjoy twilight arts & crafts activities before setting up camp in the museum for the night!  The Secret Sleepover is for children aged 7 – 13 years old, but adults will enjoy it too – a minimum of 1 adult for every 5 children. £10 pp includes breakfast, accommodation and materials for activities. Further details at The Wordsworth Trust website here.

Cranium Sculptorades at Abbot Hall 18 May From 6.00pm, games start after 7 until 10.  Free event, just turn up on the night!  Why stay in and play board games when the Lakeland Arts Trust team is challenging teams of visitors to a giant game of Cranium Sculptorades? Further details at the Abbot Hall website here.


1 Comment

Dorothy’s Daffodils

On Thursday 15th April 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her journal:

‘… I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested theirwordsworth daffodils heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway…”’

Two years later, her brother wrote: “I wandered lonely as a cloud …”, his wife, Mary, contributing what Wordsworth later said were the best two lines in the poem : “They flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude”.  This group collaboration for such an iconic poem always makes me think of how many other unseen contributors there must be to great works of art.

If you need a little inspiration, why not come to Sykehouse Cottage in March and search for wild Wordsworthian daffodils?  Wild daffodils are simpler and shorter than the tall, fancy ruffle cultivars we see in gardens.  They like to grow on damp ground under trees.  Dorothy and William Wordsworth found theirs at Ullswater but wild daffodils are more common in the South Lakes.  Probably the best place to see them from Sykehouse Cottage is on the banks of the Duddon.  A short drive and a lovely walk to find your own secret “host of golden daffodils”.

For further information about the Wordsworths and their time in the Lakes, including Dorothy’s journals, you should really visit Dove Cottage.  It’s open every day with a host of things to do and is just a 40 minute drive from Sykehouse cottage through beautiful countryside.  Follow this link to Dove Cottage.

If you would read another post about Wordsworth : The Westmorland Girl :  click here.