William Wordsworth in Yorkshire
One of the most rewarding pleasures of walking in the countryside is to follow in the footsteps of distinguished writers, and accordingly to see the scenery and environment through their eyes. Although the relationship between the Lake District and William Wordsworth has been well documented by walking book writers, his visits and walking tours to Yorkshire and particularly Craven have been largely overlooked. William Wordsworth is recognized as a founding father of romanticism in British Literature, it was his search for the picturesque and the sublime in nature that inspired his many walking tours and his early trips to Yorkshire.
One of the earliest known visits which Wordsworth made to Yorkshire was shortly after he returned to England from France in October 1793. William arrived in Yorkshire in February 1794 to stay with his sister Dorothy, who was living with her aunt, Elizabeth Rawson (formerly Threlkeld), at the Rawson family home Mill House, Triangle near Halifax. William stayed with his sister and the Rawsons at Mill House for six weeks before departing with her for the Lake District in early April. During his stay William and Dorothy explored the lovely Ryburn Valley with its riverside walks and superb woodlands. While it is appealing to speculate that William climbed the steep wooded hillside behind Mill House to Norland Moor, and the vista of the moors and Blackstone Edge beyond, there is little or no documented evidence of his short sojourn at Triangle.
William embarked on many excursions across the Pennines in the latter years of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th. Several of these journeys were made to the Hutchinson family and in particular to call on the Hutchinsons’ daughter Mary, whom William later married and took back to Grasmere to live with him and Dorothy. In December 1799 returning home on foot to Grasmere, after a visit to the Hutchinsons, who at that time were living on the family farm at Sockburn-on-Tees County Durham, William and Dorothy, visited Aysgarth Falls on the river Ure. On their journey through Wensleydale they stopped at the village of Askrigg and later explored Hardraw Force.
Continuing on their journey towards Grasmere they passed through Garsdale and on into Sedbergh. In a letter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written over Christmas 1799, four days after settling into their new home at Dove Cottage, William describing the journey home wrote “Well!, we rested in a tempting inn, close by Garsdale chapel, a lowly house of prayer in a charming little valley, here we stopped a quarter of an hour and then off to Sedbergh seven miles farther in an hour and thirty five minutes, the wind was still at our backs and the road delightful”.
In October 1802 when returning home to the lakes following his wedding to Mary Hutchinson at Brompton by Sawden near Scarborough, William, Dorothy, and his new bride Mary rested their horses at Kirbymoorside. Passing the time there, they sauntered around the local churchyard in the sunshine, reading the gravestones. The group stayed overnight in Helmsley where they visited the castle, the next day travelling on to Rievaulx Abbey and Duncombe Park. The party stopped to look at “a wild and bottomless tarn” Lake Gormire lying in a natural hollow beneath Whitestone Cliff, before spending the next night in Thirsk.
On this occasion the Wordsworths returned home to Grasmere along Wensleydale passing through some of my favourite walking country, Middleham, Leyburn and Aysgarth. The newlyweds broke their journey home through Wensleydale to once again visit Aysgarth Falls. Dorothy later wrote in her journal, “There was too much water in the river for the beauty of the falls”. Wordsworth in Yorkshire continued... Two years Earlier, in May 1800 on a walking tour to the Yorkshire Dales, William and his brother John visited Yordas Cave in Kingsdale, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove.