I think I was around 10 years old when my aunt and uncle moved to the Lake District. Until then my experiences had been lovely Sunday excursions of the sort we used to make in the 1950s, the family all piling into a chunky car (wow, but cars were SO different back in those days!), eating ice cream, feeding ducks on lakes and going across Lake Winderemere on the ferry if I was really lucky!
When Uncle Jim and Auntie Dot moved to Bowness-on-Winderemere my vacations and experiences took on a whole, new meaning, especially when I was old enough not to be accompanied by my grandmother, and we had freedom to explore the countryside in a very “Swallows and Amazons” sort of way. Back in the 1950s it was safe for kids to roam a bit, and let our imaginations have full rein…..but that’s the subject of a whole other post one day.
I have the most vivid memory of the first time I saw the village of Grasmere. We’d walked en famille from Rydal Water, through knee-high bracken and over hills, my stoic grandmother, handbag on the crook of her arm, as was the habit then, more like a Sunday stroll than a hike, but I knew that it was my first real hike, even then. Grasmere gave me a little thrill when we arrived. It was so like the villages I imagined from books, quaint, pretty, with a neat church alongside a brook, and a few scattered houses. In essence, despite the increase in traffic and the hoards of tourists who now come from every corner of the world, it hasn’t changed. Off the top of my head, I can think of nowhere else I know which has retained its atmosphere in the face of the modern world in the way which Grasmere has.
When I came to study Wordsworth in high school it added interest that I’d seen his grave and the village he loved. I like to think I wouldn’t have needed the extra encouragement. Wordsworth remains one of my favorite poets. He has always filled my soul with his words, produced an almost physical response in me. Later in my high school life there would be visits to Dove Cottage, his home for 8 or 9 years, and then and still a museum.
Grasmere has drawn me back so many times over the years that I couldn’t possible even attempt a guess at how often I’ve visited – there have been family afternoon teas in the cafe beside the river on whose other bank lies the churchyard, both with my parents and later with my own children; it has been the starting point and the finishing point for hikes around the area; and in the last few years somewhere for a gentle amble and a re-living of memories with my father.
That was what October of this year was. A stroll along the main street, these days much, much busier than it was in the 1950s of course, although in October not too bad, and tea and scones in one of the excellent cafés; a turn around the churchyard ……..and a visit to the Gingerbread shop.
Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread is world-famous to those in the know, and the story of how it came to be is both heartbreaking and inspiring, take a minute to read it in the words on their website, which are far more eloquent than mine would be. As you approach the tiny shop your nose begins to twitch, and when you enter, the warm and comforting smell of ginger fills the air. It’s very addictive! Moreover, the taste totally lives up to the anticipation the aroma produces! The gingerbread is hard and crunchy, but then disintegrates in the mouth in a burst of flavor, leaving the sugary, gingery crumbs to be licked off the lips. Oh, yes, it’s addictive!
The only problem I have with it is that it’s also dense and heavy, meaning I can’t bring too much back with me in these days of low-cost travel consequences, but perhaps that’s just as well!