Soon after his engagement to Edith Fletcher in September 1877 Hardwicke accepted the living of St. Margaret, Low Wray, in the Lake District. The living had been offred to him by his cousin, Edward Preston, who had inherited Wray Castle and estate in 1875. Hardwicke and Edith moved into Wray Vicarage after their marriage in January 1878.
During his first summer in Wray, Hardwicke joined the campaign to re-open the footpath to the Stock Ghyll Waterfall. The waterfall, a 70 foot high cascade of water situated behind the Salutation Hotel, Ambleside, was a popular visitor attraction with people free to walk on a footpath that ran around the side of the falls. When Alan Mackereth, a local businessman, purchased land through which the footpath went he immediately blocked the entrance to the footpath at both ends and introduced a charge of 3p per visitor to enter. This access restriction and charge enraged many local people. A Stock Ghyll Footpath Committee was formed with Colonel G. Rhodes as its chairman and Hardwicke as its secretary. Hardwicke publicised the campaign to a national audience and also helped to raise funds to support the costs of fighting the closure. This was his first venture into the subject of footpath access and the rights of the public. His involvement was short-lived even though the dispute carried on for many years. Access to the Falls is now open to everyone.
After living in Wray for twelve months, and almost on the anniversary of their wedding day, Hardwicke and Edith took the momentous decision to travel to the Holy Land, a journey that would keep them away from his parish for almost five months. They sailed on 23 January 1879. Their first night on Egyptian soil was in Ismailia on 5 February. Arriving in Cairo the next day they stayed for four nights visiting as many of the ancient sites as possible. They left Cairo on 10 February with four travelling companions riding eastwards on camels and with Bedouin tribesmen as guides. For the next few weeks they traversed the Sinai desert and mountains often travelling up to 10 hours a day.
As well as crossing the desert they visited Akabar and Petra. They passed through Gaza on their way to Jerusalem seeing many sites with strong biblical links associated with, amongst others, Samson, Abraham, Rachel and Mary, before seeing the city for the first time on 9 April. They stayed two weeks at the Damascus Hotel. Prior to their arrival in Jerusalem they had travelled by camels across desert land. After leaving Jerusalem they rode on horses and mules across a different kind of terrain, ascending and descending ravines, ridges, valleys and mountains, with the sea often in the distance. They visited many biblical and historical sites including the Tomb of Joseph, the Church of St. John, Herod’s Temple, Mount Gerizim and Mount Carmel.
They arrived in Damascus on 21 May staying in a hotel for four days. Finally, after seeing the Cedars of Lebanon, they entered Beyrout on 1 June, the end of a tiring but memorable journey. They did not stay in Beyrout long, travelling back to England via Cyprus, Constantinople and mainland Europe. On their journey to Wray they stopped at Halton Holgate, arriving there on 12 June, and staying for about 9 days before making their way home. Over the next couple of years Hardwicke lectured extensively on his experience of his journey, with titles including ‘A Day in Cairo’, ‘The Pharaohs’, and ‘The Land of the Exodus’.
Hardwicke attended many meetings of the Ambleside District Literary and Scientific Society. He was a committee member in 1881 and a Vice-President in 1882. He contributed as a lecturer giving talks on Charles Tennyson Turner and John Ruskin, as well as on other subjects. Not all his lectures were local. No doubt drawing on his own experience in Bristol, for example, he gave a lecture in March 1880 in Uppingham on the practicalities of starting coffee-shop taverns. He is also known to have lectured in places as far apart as Lancaster and Spilsby. Along with other gentlemen in Ambleside Hardwicke formed the John Ruskin Library and Book Club, of which he was President.
Despite his many outlets, Hardwicke did not forgot that, first and foremost, he was a vicar in the Church of England. In late 1879 he applied to become Clerical Deputation Secretary of the Church Of England Sunday School Institute. In the years that followed he travelled widely in the UK promoting the aims of the Institute.
The Wordsworth Society held its inaugural meeting in the Rothay Hotel, Grasmere, on 29 September 1880. As one would expect, Hardwicke threw himself into the work of the society. His first notable achievement was the selection of a large rock at Grisedale Pass to commemorate the spot where William Wordsworth and his brother, John, parted for the last time on 29 September 1800. John drowned five years later. The Society chose verses by Wordsworth to be inscribed on the rock. Edith suggested the style of lettering to be used for the inscription and the carving was supervised by Hardwicke and W. H. Hills, another member of the Society. The rock and inscription became known as the Brothers’ Parting Stone.
For a number of years after Hardwicke moved to the area Wray Castle was leased on both short and long-term lets. During the early 1880s Edward Preston tried to sell the estate but was unsuccessful. As a result he continued to lease it, sometimes for the summer holidays. One such visitor was Rupert Potter who brought his family, including daughter, Beatrix, to stay at the Castle in the summer of 1882. Rupert and Hardwicke became firm friends with a shared love of photography.
Alongside all of the above Hardwicke continued to write poetry and in 1881 published his second book of poems, Sonnets at the English Lakes. The sonnets reveal a man immersed in the history, traditions, archaeology, landscape, and animal and plant life of the Lake District. Hardwicke emerges as someone who truly worships the land in which he now lives.
Personal happiness also enriched Hardwicke and Edith’s time at Wray. The birth of their only child, Noel, on 14 December 1880, must have been the culmination of their hopes during this period. A few months earlier, Willingham, Hardwicke’s eldest brother, had married Alice Argles on 21 September.
These years, however, were not without personal tragedy. In April 1880, one of Hardwicke’s younger brothers, Arthur, died. On 31 August 1882, Hardwicke’s father, Robert Drummond, died very suddenly. After his father’s death Hardwicke was offered the living at Halton Holgate but declined. The Lake District had got too much hold on him.
Prior to leaving Wray, Hardwicke was awarded a Master of Arts degree by Balliol College at a congregation on 11 May 1883.
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