Anyone who loves for old Dake’s sake a bit of coaching, can find a choice of sixteen well-appointed four-in-hands ready to scamper off north, east, or west, to any part of the Lake District from Windermere, on any day of the week during the tourist season. (p. 256)….
There is not anywhere in England a drive so full of that mingled natural and human interest which makes scenery so impressive. It is well-nigh impossible for sensitive minds not to feel something of ‘the light that never was on sea or land’ as they pass the thresholds of the good and great, whose thoughts have helped our England to be pure. In this coach drive to Keswick they not only go by the homes of the thinkers and poets and philosophers, but their foreheads feel the wind and rain that gave such freshness to the seers of the last generation; the sunlight on lake or mountain head that filled their minds with glory fills ours to-day. The woods and waterfalls that speak to us upon our way spoke also to them. We can in fancy see their familiar forms upon the road, and, as in eastern travels the ‘weli’ or wayside tomb made the journey’s stage rememberable, so we find in this pilgrim stage through poet-land that the great dead lend it a kind of solemn sweetness, and the dust of two Laureates hallows the wonder-giving way. (pp. 256-257)
Taken all in all, there is no twenty-one miles’ coach drive that so stirs the imagination as this coach drive from Windermere to Keswick, and yet, as one listens to the chatter on the box or the chaff on the seat behind the driver, one feels that few journeys are so little known about as having worthy associations. (p. 257)….
We note the simple beauty of a Westmorland farm-house, its milk-white porch, its welcome retirement in the fields just off the road to the right, wish we were lodgers there, then plunge into the Ecclerigg woods—the air full breathed of the sweet rowan flowers. How gay the rhododendrons shine, and if it were but rose time we should marvel at the show of roses in this close-kept sanctuary of rest on our right. (p. 260)
Now Lowood is seen—the tall dark pines by the lake shore, the white water gleaming across to Wray, with its castled height not old in story, for the castle was only built this century, and that too out of a bit of spleen with the wild north-wester which had unroofed Dr. Dawson’s little cottage close by. But, if the castle is but young, so well is it built of native stone that it seemeth truly no new or inharmonious thing, and high above it towers the larch-covered barrow where Lather the Norse chieftain had his village and found his burial. (pp. 260-261)
One cannot gaze from Lowood across to Wray without going over the hill beyond, I fancy, to that little Norwegian-looking town of Hawkshead, lying in its happy hollow by Esthwaite Lake, and thinking of the schoolboy who was there
From Nature and her overflowing soul
. . . . received so much that all his thoughts
Were steeped in feeling;
And here at our feet, as we sight Lowood, is running across the road a little unpretending rill, whereby that schoolboy, grown to be a man, once rested with his sister Dorothy as they were trudging from Kendal to pay their first visit together to the land they have jointly immortalised. (p. 261)….
That house in its sloping garden grounds to the right is still tenanted by a lady who remembers how half afraid of Hartley Coleridge the little girls with whom he played, when he was at school at Ambleside, were. Scale How to-day, it was called Green Bank in the time half-a-century ago when it received as tutor to the boys of the family a man of whom Wordsworth used to say, ‘He is the only one I know who sees more things in Nature than I do in a country walk.’ (p. 264)
There Father Faber, then fresh from Oxford, lived and wrote. One cannot, as one gazes across the field to the left and sees the shoulder of Loughrigg Fell glimmer into green and gold between the houses, forget that day by the Brathay stream in those meadows Faber poured out his soul in verse, and on that bossy upland height of broken ground thought out the broken snatches of his son and refreshed his soul. (p. 264)
The house to our left, behind the chapel, is the Knoll. There Miss Harriet Martineau dwelt, and still in the north terrace garden stands the dial, with her prayer inscribed thereon, ‘Come light, visit me.’ A little further, and the one time home of a learned man of the old school, old Doctor Davy, is passed—Lesketh How. There in the old days was often seen the manly figure of Sir John Richardson, of Arctic fame, for Doctor Davy, Sir Humphrey’s brother, married the sister of beautiful Lady Richardson, one of the Fletchers of the country, whose name is gracious still. We look now keenly to the left, for away under Loughrigg may be seen Dr. Arnold’s haunt, Fox How. (pp. 264-265)….
What a site for a house is yonder! How the stateliness of the hills and the majesty of the woods enshrines the Rydal Hall! In silver tones, after flood, comes borne down the ox-eye daisy strewn field a sound of falling waters such as makes one feel the presence of an enchanter’s wand, and possibilities of the merry greenwood faerie. (p. 266)
And we are back in old days truly here, for yonder crag on the left of Loughrigg goes by the name of the ‘Gate’ Crag. In early British times the wild goat sprang from ledge to ledge, while the deer swept up the lawn, and, dark against the sky, stood magnified. Blow your horn, coachman, blow your horn, and wake all echoes that will not break our dream. (p. 266)
‘Pelter Bridge, sir,’ said the coachman, ‘it was a most partic’ler favourite walk over that bridge, and round by Red Bank, for Mr. Wordsworth and his sister, Miss Dorothy, so the saying is. And that is Backhouse’s spot. You have heard tell of Backhouse. He was Mr. Wordsworth’s man i’ the house, you know, sir. He was living to within a year since, and I used to see him creepin’ along with his stick to bridge end and back. Ah, many a crack he and me have had together about Mr. Wordsworth. He used to break plates, you know, at his master’s study door, to bring him to his dinner, so the sayin’ is, for Mr. Wordsworth was that deaf in study. Ay, and he had his master’s old stable lantern which he and Miss Dorothy used to walk the roads with after dark; he was as proud of that lantern as if it was his only child, was old Backhouse, sir, and no wonder either, for Mr. Wordsworth, so the sayin’ is, did a deal of his po’try after dark.’ (p. 266)
‘You see these spruces, sir,’ continued the coachman, who, from pre-Amblesidian silence, had warmed up to Rydalian volubility, ‘they was the first spruces planted in this part, so they tell, and they’ve done their best, sir, them; none this-a-way better.’ (p. 266)….
The coach-driver caught up the infection of the scene and sunlight, and saying, ‘Nab Cottage, where Hartley Coleridge lived and died,’ he cracked his whip and whistled to his horses, well content. (p. 268)
Nab Cottage, or, as it is better known, the Nab, who can ever pass its homely little roof-tree without trying to spell out the meaning of the quaint letters on the black, lozenge-shaped stone above its door? Those initials, I. A. 3. P., are meaningless, but the date 1702 beneath tells us that the yeomen of nigh two centuries ago built themselves houses into which they built their hearts’ blood, even as they built in the solid walls the initials of their names. (p. 268)
The great ash-tree, the twin sycamores, red with a thousand seedlings to-day, tell us little of the Nab proprietors of old, though the yew-tree at their side proclaims that they came of a stock of men who handled the bow in the rude border days, and grew, by edict of Henry VIII., the tree that should supply their battle-arms. (pp. 268-269)
But there is about the Nab a graciousness of creeping foliage and flowers, a gentleness of order in its tiny garden plot, a fragrance of refined care from the great laurustinus that shades the tiny dormer window, that one feels that Nathaniel Hawthorne was right when he described it as ‘a small, buff-tinted, plastered stone cottage, I should think of a very humble class originally, but it now looks as if persons of taste might sometimes or other have sat down in it and caused flowers to spring up about it.’ (p. 269)….
But other persons of taste, as Hawthorne suggests, have sat down at this cottage. Here Derwent Coleridge dwelt a while, and here, too, affectionately cared for by one of Nature’s gentlemen, lived till his death one who to the end preserved ‘A young lamb’s heart amid the full-grown flocks,’ one who ‘without a strife slipped in a moment out of life’ on Saturday, January 6, 1849,—Hartley Coleridge. (p. 269)
Truly Nab Cottage has seen the tragedies of heavenly minds at war with human frailties. Hartley Coleridge, stumbling along the road after dark; De Quincey returning from a midnight ramble—the little candle in the window ever kept to light the weary dreamers home; the fair form of Margaret Simpson; the tall figures of Southey or of Wordsworth bending as they stoop to pass the low doorway; the sound of high argument, such impassioned discourse—these are memories of sight and sound that haunt this little roadside cottage. (pp. 269-270)
(Cornhill Magazine, 11 (September 1888), 255-70)
[This article was published, along with Parts II and III, in book form - A Coach Drive at the Lakes: Windermere to Keswick (Keswick, 1890)]