The mortal meandering of a corpse way


My first full day in the Lake District was wet. And soggy. Though relieved to have packed my enormous (and bright) parka, I did not have the foresight to pack my camera bag – therefore the combination of startling color and the strange protuberance underneath my parka dispelled any notions I had about fading into the scenery. (Which, I admit, I don’t tend to do very well on bright and sunny days)

Ambleside in a brief moment of non-precipitation 

We left Ambleside intending to head toward Windermere, and after carefully inquiring at the information office, we promptly headed the wrong way. Luckily, England’s perception of pedestrians is much more evolved than what a hapless walker might find in the Bluegrass, and sidewalks (or more properly “footpaths”) lined most of the major roads. And who can complain about getting lost in the Lake District even when the weather is most dismal? The scenery never disappoints, and for some reason, the 300th sheep I spot is just as fascinating as the first.


A charming house in Rydal
At the next village a pronouncement concerning peckishness was made (not by me, as  oatmeal is always most fortifying) so we began to look for the nearest tea room. Love the English – such a delight is never far away! The hamlet of Rydal includes the last home of Wordsworth (he lived there from 1837 to 1870), Rydal Mount, which is still owned by his descendants.


There was also a big pile, Rydal Hall, (the technical term for a large house constructed by individuals of means; i.e. rich people), constructed in several phases (beginning in the 16th century) by the Le Fleming family.  There was some interesting art incorporating textiles with old CDs, a waterfall, and the tea room.  Oh, thank you for tea rooms – caffeine and sweets.

Rydal Hall
Obviously I will be making some of this art for my garden when I return….

We left Rydal in a gentle drizzle of rain, directed by the kind tea room staff to take the coffin trail on the next leg of our journey.  This was not a malicious wish of harm upon us, but rather a fascinating bit of local lore (material culture!).

Coffin trails or paths, also known as corpse roads or church ways, wound between rural settlements and their mother churches – the churches in more populated areas that alone held burial rights. Bodies would often be carried in slings (not coffins) along these unpaved routes,  and it was bad luck if the dead had to be taken another way.  Inevitably, the paths became imbued with otherworldly associations, thought to harbor ghosts and restless spirits. The “church ways” are even referenced by Puck in A Midsummer’s Night Dream:

Now it is the time of night,
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide
There was no unease or malingering haints to be found on our path, but it was, as most of our time there, absolutely beautiful.


The Coffin Trail (along the route we chatted with a very nice German lady with a puzzling English accent) ended in Grassmere, home to Dove Cottage, one of the most iconic Wordsworth spots in the the Lake District. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived here for eight years, during which time he produced the poem known to almost everyone, especially the scads of tourists crowding the tiny house and museum on a rainy day.

Dove Cottage – originally an inn.
            I wandered lonely as a cloud
          That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
          When all at once I saw a crowd,
          A host, of golden daffodils;
          Beside the lake, beneath the trees,


The day ended in the small town of Troutbeck, at a pub known as the Mortal Man. A pub, first known as The White House, has been on the site since 1689. It apparently served as a watering hole for all of the famous Lake District writers and artists, including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Hogarth.

The only honorable thing to do was to sample all five beers on tap, and then take the suggestion of a wandering Swedish man from Manchester on a good walk up the nearby fell (Wansfell). I don’t normally go for a hike after a pint, but the sky had cleared, and it seemed like an excellent idea.

A stone barn in Troutbeck, built in 1890.
Ascending the Wansfell
Descending the Wansfell
Stone barn and attached outbuilding on the trail up the Wansfell
All the fresh air inspired us to return to the Mortal Man and have a very carnivorous feast: leg of lamb, a steak and potato pie, and local Cumberland sausage (this was split between three people, so don’t judge me). 
The peas were really, really good. As was the meat explosion. 
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  1. ELB says:

    Thank you for all the beautiful and evocative pictures. I’m glad you got that Rydal to Dove Cottage hike in; I didn’t know it was called a coffin trail. So interesting!

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