“The whole Vale of Grasmere suddenly breaks upon the view in a style of almost theatrical surprise, with its lovely valley stretching before the eye in the distance, the lake lying immediately below, with its solemn ark-like island of four and a half acres in size seemingly floating on its surface, and its exquisite outline on the opposite shore, revealing all its little bays and wild sylvan margin, feathered to the edge with wild flowers and ferns,” Thomas De Quincey eloquently remarked in his Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets.
Visit the Lake District village of Grasmere and you too might conclude that it’s a lovely place where you can sample some world-renowned gingerbread, take home a fine art print of one of this region’s many beautiful landscapes and pay tribute to a Poet Laureate.
In 1854, a 39-year-old cook named Sarah Nelson began making a unique kind of gingerbread and selling it to villagers and travelers outside her home, Church Cottage, a tiny whitewashed cottage in the heart of Grasmere that dates to the 1630s, when it housed the village school. In 1869, she turned Church Cottage into a shop, expanding her offerings to include Helvellyn cakes, named after a Lakeland mountain. In nice weather, she sat outside and talked to her customers; during slow winter days, she sold spices and taught local children how to spell using gingerbread letters. She baked most of the gingerbread herself, even until she died at 88 in 1904. Today, people still line up outside the cottage to purchase the famous Grasmere Gingerbread, which is still made from Sarah’s recipe, wrapped in parchment, and marked “Sarah Nelson’s Celebrated Grasmere Gingerbread.” The shop also sells its own version of Cumbrian rum butter (also known as hard sauce) and several ginger-themed treats and gifts, such as sticky toffee sauce, ginger beer and knitted gingerbread men.
In 2012, the Grasmere Gingerbread shop celebrated Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee by decorating and planting a wooden spoon outside the shop. More and more spoons were added, and the spoon garden has become a Grasmere attraction. Each month, the shop gives away a Grasmere Gingerbread mini-hamper to the person who submits the best-decorated wooden spoon reflecting a theme, a season or a special event. All of the best entries are planted in the spoon garden.
Sarah Nelson’s cottage is nestled beside St. Oswald Church, the parish church of Grasmere and neighboring Rydal and Langdale. The church was founded in 642 by King Oswald of Northumbria, who is said to have preached on this site as he promoted the spread of Christianity in Northumbria. Compassionate and generous to the poor and sick, Oswald was made a saint; his feast day is celebrated on August 3.
In the 13th-century nave, you can see a memorial to William Wordsworth, as well as his prayer book.
Wordsworth planted eight of the yew trees in the churchyard, and he was buried underneath one of them after his death in 1850. His wife Mary, his sister Dorothy, his children and other family members are also buried here.
The Heaton Cooper Studio was established in 1905 by the landscape painter Alfred Heaton Cooper. His son, William Heaton Cooper, who was also an artist, built the present gallery in Grasmere in 1938. The studio also features the work of William’s wife, Ophelia Gordon Bell, a sculptor who is best known for her bust of Mount Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary, and their son, painter Julian Cooper. Some of the most well-known paintings of Lake District landscapes were created by the Coopers.
Perched on a hillside above Grasmere is Allan Bank, a Georgian home where William Wordsworth and his family lived from 1808 to 1811. It was sold in 1915 to Canon Rawnsley, the founder of the National Trust, who bequeathed it to the organization upon his death in 1920. Rescued from a large fire in 2011, the house was restored and opened to the public in 2012. The building was left undecorated so that visitors can help decide what it will look like in the future.
For more on Grasmere, read The Church of Grasmere: A History, by Mary L. Armitt. To discover the work of the Heaton Cooper family, see The Lakes, by W. Heaton Cooper; Wild Lakeland, painted by A. Heaton Cooper and described by MacKenzie MacBride; and The English Lakes, painted by A. Heaton Cooper and described by William T. Palmer.