“My heart beat fast as I climbed the hill. To visit the old home of one who was Poet Laureate of England is no small event in the life of a book lover. I was full of poetry and murmured lines from The Excursion as I walked. Soon rare old Rydal Mount came in sight among the wealth of green. I stopped and sighed.”
So wrote Elbert Hubbard, the founder of the Roycroft Arts and Crafts community in East Aurora, New York, on his visit to William Wordsworth’s home, Rydal Mount, which he described in his Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great.
Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, his wife Mary and their three children moved to Rydal Mount in 1813. The original cottage was built in 1574, one addition was made in 1750, and Wordsworth added a top floor in 1828, topped with an Italianate roof that he admired on one of his visits to Italy and one of the round chimneys that he favored. Many of his neighbors copied his round chimney on their own homes as a tribute to him and his good taste.
The dining room features a portrait of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, given to the Wordsworths by Burns’ sons, a spice cabinet that has hung next to the fireplace since 1710, a Tibetan prayer gong, and chair seats needlepointed by Dorothy and Mary.
Books line the study, which led a Wordsworth family servant to famously quip, “This is my master’s library, but his study is out of doors.”
And what a study it is. About 100 feet from the front door is a mound that dates back to the days of skirmishes between the English and Scottish people. When a Scottish invasion was imminent, the English lighted bonfires as a signal. Over time, the ashes from these fires formed mounds that became part of the topography of the land. The mound at this house in the Lake District village of Rydal gives Rydal Mount its name.
Wordsworth built stone terraces on which he paced as he composed his poetry, chanting the words in time with his steps, just as he had done at Dove Cottage. He also added natural water features to the garden, creating a series of waterfalls and strategically placing fern-covered rocks to divert the water and vary the sounds as it flowed from a nearby stream.
The native trees that Wordsworth worked so hard to save still shade the grounds and perennial gardens, with their beautiful views of Lake Windermere and Rydal Water, the largest and smallest lakes in the Lake District, respectively. Rare trees include a fernleaf beech that has been named to a champion tree list, a Japanese red cedar and a sycamore tree more than 230 years old. William planted a French medlar tree to remind him of the days he spent in France as a young man, and it still bears enough fruit for the home’s caretaker to make medlar jelly.
After William and Mary’s 42-year-old daughter, Dora, died of tuberculosis in 1847, her parents and her aunt Dorothy planted hundreds of daffodils in a neighboring field next to St. Mary’s Church in Rydal that they had purchased with the intent of building a home there. Every year, the ground becomes a vibrant yellow carpet when the daffodils honoring Dora bloom.
For more on Rydal Mount, read Wordsworth’s Gardens, by Carol Buchanan. It’s also mentioned in Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave, Simon Goldhill’s account of his literary pilgrimages.