Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part III

The second day of our visit was fully focused on Branwell and his Cumbria/Lake District experience.
Our destination was Broughton-in-Furness, situated in the southern part of the Cumbrian Lake District. This pretty little market town on the Duddon estuary was once home to Branwell for a short time when he was tutor with the Postlethwaite family. It is advertised as being  “an ideal base for a walking or climbing holiday, with ample opportunity to explore the rugged beauty of the Duddon valley and the quieter Lake District fells.”

The weather was not so kind to us that day, it was raining cats and dogs. We arrived in Broughton via the road from Coniston. Branwell would have taken another way: he would have travelled from Haworth to Kendal where he stayed for the night (and according to one of his letters to John Brown, got drunk for the last time), then to Ulverston (which was the administrative centre of the Furness district then) by coach and would have travelled the last 10 miles to Broughton probably by gig. The area around Broughton is  very wild and mountainous and was a source of inspiration to many poets, such as Wordsworth. To the west of Broughton you can see (on a good day) the peak of Black Combe mountain which is a landmark for the area. One can imagine that Branwell would have been very happy and excited  with this sight, it certainly would have stirred his poetic nature. Branwell described Broughton in a letter to John Brown (dated 13 March 1840): “I am fixed in a little retired town by the sea-shore, among woody hills that rise round me – huge, rocky, and capped  with clouds.”

We parked the car on Station Road, and armed with an umbrella, went to look for Broughton House.  We did not have a map of the town, so we asked  a passer-by for directions and he showed us the way. We did not have to go far and we could not miss it: Broughton House was just down the road in Griffin Street, on the corner, opposite the 17th century Old King’s Head Inn:  a big three-storey house in scaffolding. This was the home of the Postlethwaite family when Branwell arrived in Broughton on New Year’s day in 1840. He had been employed by Mr. Robert Postlethwaite as a tutor to the two young sons John and William, aged respectively 12 and 10½.  Branwell described his employer in his  letter to John Brown (dated 13 March 1840)  as “a large landowner, and of a right hearty  and generous disposition“,  his wife as “a quiet, silent and amiable woman” and the two boys as “fine, spirited lads”. Branwell was certainly determined to make a good impression on his employer. And he seemed to have had quite a lot of freedom in tutoring the boys. He seemed to have had enough leisure time to sketch and write poems (a sketch of Broughton Church and a poem on Black Combe are clear evidence of this).

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part II

Grasmere is a pretty little village, but a little bit too busy and touristic to our taste. We still had to visit one more house in the area where the Wordsworth family moved to after Dove Cottage, and that is Allan Bank which is a short and steep walk away from the village Centre. When it was being built on a fell side outside Grasmere, Allan Bank was described by William as “a temple of abomination”. 

The Wordsworth graves

The family and some of their  literary friends lived here from 1808 till 1811. It was not a house that Wordsworth liked, but it had space, and with an expanding family (two more children were born here) the family needed space. Allan Bank is a National Trust property. It was purchased by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust) who came to live here in 1917. Upon his death in 1920 the property was handed over to the National Trust, on the condition that his wife could continue to live there until her death. The house was seriously damaged by a fire in 2011, but the National Trust restored it and opened it again to the public. However, do not expect a nicely decorated house with all the fine trimmings! 

Allan Bank

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part I

 2017 is the bicentenary celebration year of Branwell Brontë’s birth, so my husband and I decided, as we were coming back from our holidays in Ireland, to make a stop in the Lake District and explore the Brontë links with this area, with a particular focus on Branwell. As we were staying in the area for two full days, we decided to also visit the places linked to one of the most famous Lake District poets, William Wordsworth.

We found lodgings in Rydal Lodge hotel, a beautiful historic house located near Rydal Water “in the heart of Wordsworth’s English lakes” and situated just opposite the entrance driveway to Rydal Mount, last home of William Wordsworth. It is ideally located for exploring the Lake District, with a bus stop just outside the house connecting the main Lake District destinations.

Rydal Church

On the first day of our visit to the Lake district the weather turned out very well (bright, sunny and dry) and we decided to explore the immediate area first, so this meant that we were going to visit the houses associated with William Wordsworth. It was evident that our first visit would be Rydal Mount, as it was just a few meters from our lodgings.

On our way up to Rydal Mount, we also passed Rydal St Mary’s Church. Wordsworth and his family worshipped here. Wordsworth was also church warden from 1833-1834 and inside the church there is a memorial plaque to him. St Mary’s is built on rocky ground and that is the reason why there is no cemetery. All burials were done at nearby Grasmere , in St. Oswald’s Church,  and coffins (amongst others with the remains of the Wordsworth family and Hartley Coleridge) would have been carried to their final burial place via the “Coffin route”. Adjacent to St Mary’s Church is Dora’s Field which was bought by Wordsworth originally to build a house. This plan never materialized and after the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, Wordsworth and his wife Mary and sister Dorothy planted hundreds of daffodils as a memorial to Dora.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Kilkee (Ireland): another stop on the Irish honeymoon trail of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls - Part II

The Kilkee cliff walk is a scenic loop walk which follows a cliff path along the coastline, passing the truly breathtaking and very varied rugged coastline and returns to Kilkee via the ingoing road. It is certainly worthwhile doing this cliff walk as you come along truly magnificent and stunning sea cliff views around every corner you take.

It is of course impossible to know where exactly Charlotte and Arthur sat at the cliffs to enjoy the scenery, but there was one place that I really thought could have been the place described in Charlottes’s letter to Catherine Winkworth (dated 27 July 1854),  in which she expressed great enthusiasm for Kilkee and its surroundings:
“… - went to the coast - such a wild iron-bound coast - with such an ocean-view as I had not yet seen - and such battling of waves with rocks as I had never imagined. My husband is not a poet or a poetical man - and one of my grand doubts before marriage was about 'congenial tastes' and so on. The first morning we went out on to the cliffs and saw the Atlantic coming in all white foam, I did not know whether I should get leave or time to take the matter in my own way. I did not want to talk - but I did want to look and be silent. Having hinted a petition, licence was not refused – covered with a rug to keep of the spray I was allowed to sit where I chose - and he only interrupted me when he thought I crept too near the edge of the cliff. So far he is always good in this way - and this protection which does not interfere or pretend is I believe a thousand times better than any half sort of pseudo sympathy ...”

Friday, 18 August 2017

Kilkee (Ireland): another stop on the Irish honeymoon trail of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls - Part I

As becomes tradition on our annual holidays to Ireland , Paul and I do “something Brontë”.
This year our holidays allowed for a two night stay in the area of Kilkee. We stayed in Hilltop B&B,  close to the town of Kilkee.

Kilkee (Irish: Cill Chaoi, meaning "Church of Chaoineadh Ita - lamentation for Ita") is a small town located on the South West coast of Ireland, in county Clare, on the Wild Atlantic Way.
It was in this town in July 1854, that Charlotte and Arthur stayed for about 10 days on their Irish honeymoon.

At that time, Kilkee, situated at the Loop Head peninsula - with its unique climate, natural amenities and bathing areas, beautiful sandy beach and spectacular Atlantic shore and cliff scenery - had become a very popular tourist destination for the Victorians. In July 1854 Kilkee was then little more than a village of about 419 houses and a total population of about 1869 people.