Grasmere’s enduring charm comes from its location in the heart of the Lake District. The village and its eponymous lake lie almost in the very centre of the National Park, completely surrounded by gorgeous fell scenery. As you wander its lanes, visiting various attractions and dropping in on any one of a plethora of good-quality cafés and pubs, your gaze will inevitably be drawn, time and time again, to those hills. The fantastically shaped summit rocks of Helm Crag loom to the north; to the west, wooded slopes lead up to Silver Crag and Blea Rigg; while, to the east, the high, windswept summits of Fairfield and Helvellyn are within easy reach. Needless to say, it’s a very popular place with walkers.
The village is closely associated with William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet who penned probably the most famous opening line in English poetry: “I wandered lonely as a cloud...” The quaint, white-washed Dove Cottage, on the edge of the village, close to the A591, was the Wordsworth family home from 1799 until 1808. When William’s wife Mary was expecting her fourth child, they moved to the larger Allan Bank which, like Dove Cottage, is now open to the public. In 1811, another move took them to the rectory opposite St Oswald’s Church in the village centre before they finally settled, in 1813, at Rydal Mount. This elegant house, a little over two miles from Grasmere, remained the great poet’s home until his death. Today, visitors can wander round much of the house, including three of the family bedrooms and William’s attic study.
Wordsworth, who died on April 23, 1850, and his wife Mary share a simple headstone in the graveyard of St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. Other members of the family are buried in neighbouring graves.
Next to St Oswald’s is Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop. This tiny shop, built in 1660, used to be the village school, and the children’s coat pegs are still there, as is the cupboard that housed the slates on which they wrote. The building began a new lease of life in the mid-1850s when Sarah Nelson moved in and began selling her spicy cake-cum-biscuit to tourists. It became so popular, she was forced to lock the secret recipe away in a bank vault – the same recipe that is used to this day.
The village is home to several galleries selling both paintings and prints. The most famous is the Heaton Cooper Studio, displaying the work of several generations of the renowned Heaton Cooper family of artists. Located opposite the village green, the studio also sells fine art supplies and has a café.
Grasmere could never be accused of lacking in tourist facilities. There are cafés, restaurants and pubs every few steps; and the broad range of accommodation covers everything from luxury hotels and guesthouses to camping pods and hostels, although you’ll struggle to find a place to pitch a tent other than in the grounds of the YHA hostel. For those arriving by public transport, the regular, year-round 555 bus provides a link with the railway station in Windermere, 35 minutes down the A591.