Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Grasmere : An Autumnal and Eternal Slice of Real England


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!


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

14 thoughts on “Grasmere : An Autumnal and Eternal Slice of Real England

  1. Lovely to know how much you enjoy our village. Welcome back soon 🙂

  2. Oh enjoy isn’t a strong enough word :=) I adore Grasmere. That was just a short piece brought about by a quiet stroll with my dad a few weeks back. I have wonderful, wonderful memories!

  3. How nice to see your dad reflected in the gingerbread shop window – love the crafty way you photo him!! recently in the pre Christmas cookery write up Jamie Oliver was extolling Grasmere gingerbread and how he always gets some for Christmas, and has it crumbled over deserts etc. quite an endorsement for them and even more sales should ensue – a bit like the Delia effect on various ingredients in the past. like you, love the place and done so many walks from the village and had so so many teas by the river. nice memories to have eh?

  4. My dad’s reflection was quite accidental. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I do like the effect now, and I have a feeling I will value it in time to come. He looks much better in spontaneous photos, because when he is asked to pose he seems to put on his sternest face!

    Whilst I wish (almost) anyone success at the moment, I hope they don’t franchise Sarah Nelson. Right now I believe that the only place you can buy it is in the shop or via the shop online. If you looked at their website you can see that they very forward-looking and up-to-date in their approach to marketing, and yet retain that small-town, cozy feel, not at all an easy task in today’s skeptical world. I do hope they continue like that. So far they’re doing a great job, given they have customers like Tom Cruise!

    Plus – it gives me reasons to return, although I would most definitely not miss out on Grasmere whenever possible!

  5. LOL! Have you been reading my ‘Coast to Coast’ blog?

    • I’ve not read all of it yet, Gary! but I have been enjoying immensely – and have to admit wondering how feasible it would be for me!! I don’t know if you read the excellent blog, Fevered Mutterings, but Mike Sowden is going to be blogging about Hadrian’s Wall in the new year. Mind you he writes so well I’d read anything he writes!

      • My blog is just an account of the walk written from memory when I got home. I don’t give Grasmere a very good write up I’m afraid but I had just spent three days in the mountains, passing through only two villages and they didn’t have one shop between them. When I reached Grasmere, I just wanted to get out, it was so crowded. Early the next morning, without the tourists, it looked lovely. I actually finished the blog this week, it’s only taken 5 months!! I’ll check Mike Sowden’s blog.

      • I’ll check that out, Gary. I can totally understand it. I do tend to pick my times, because I know how busy it can get, but one thing my dad’s slowing down with age has taught me is that there are different ways to appreciate things/places. I do like to be more active, and sometimes get frustrated just pottering around Grasmere or Ambleside or Kendal, but when it’s forced on you, you begin to look around and see things differently. That said, one place I avoid as much as I can is Bowness, although my dad generally likes to go for a wee walk there too. Considering that when my aunt and uncle first moved there, and my eight-year-old cousin first went to school, it was just one building with one class to accommodate all Bowness’s children you can see how much it has grown! Come to think, one of the reasons Grasmere gets so crowded is that it hasn’t changed an awful lot.

  6. Just LOVE that photo of you and your Dad – some of the best photos involve something unexpected!

  7. it is the time of year for remembering…. looking at the Sarah Nelson’s window reminds me of the first time we took our American brother-in-law, now long gone sadly. he loved everything English and was so taken with the Lakes and English food. also memories of feeding a little robin who sits on the wall (which is about as far as most gingerbread goes before it starts to be eaten) and how could anyone not feed it. must have a job to fly away when the shop closes up for the day!
    I am quite amazed how the sun is just clipping that little corner and showing your dad’s proud expression watching you at your craft.

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