Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Not Just the Lake Poets!

I’ve recently updated my Literary Guide to the Lake District, so that this comprehensive and entertaining guide is now easier to use and more helpful than ever. One of the fullest and most readable guides to the Lakes, it now gives websites, where these exist – and they usually do – for all properties that are open to the public and that have literary connections.

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Castle Crag and Gowder Crag, Derwentwater between

Arranged in five easily-followed routes so that you can drive or walk to any location with a minimum of trouble, or simply check out places as you get to them, the book is a guide to the places in the Lakes where writers have lived, or that they’ve written about, from Roman times up to the present; and it goes far beyond what you’d expect.

Of course the usual suspects are there. The Guide will take you, if you like, to every place that Wordsworth, or Coleridge, or Beatrix Potter, or Arthur Ransome wrote significantly about. But did you know that Thomas Hardy went boating on Windermere, rather than waste his time attending George V’s coronation? That Oscar Wilde lectured on Beauty in the Cumbrian coastal town of Maryport? Or that James Joyce wrote, in Finnegans Wake, about a monument in Penrith Churchyard? Or that First World War poet Edward Thomas was a keen walker in the Lakes and wrote a poem about a friend’s house there?

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Greta Hall, Keswick – Coleridge’s home from 1800 to 1803

The literary connections of Lakeland are rich and incredible, and this book will open them up for you – as it did for me when I researched it! I’ve been over every mile of the Lakes on foot for many years, and exploring its writers, both famous and little-known.

To quote some reviews, ‘The book is a joy and will be my constant companion’ (Angela Locke, Cumbria Life); ‘Deserves to be a classic of its kind’ (City Life); ‘Packed with enjoyable stories and excellent pictures’ (Manchester Evening News); and from Melvyn Bragg (Sunday Times): ‘For those who know the area well, the book will be a treat. For those who never set foot there, Lindop provides a book-lover’s feast.’

To order A Literary Guide to the Lake District, just click on the cover-image at the right hand side of this page; or find my page on Amazon.

COLERIDGE: SPIRITUAL MARINER

The poet, critic and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite is writing a new life of Coleridge. It’s going to be called Mariner, and it will focus on Coleridge’s inner life – his spiritual quest. Malcolm’s idea is that Coleridge prefigured the pattern of his future life in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and the book will take its shape from the poem. A brilliant idea, I think.

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Malcolm Guite on the shore of Ullswater: October 2014

 

There have been excellent lives of Coleridge before – Richard Holmes’s wonderful and readable two-volume biography, and Molly Lefebure’s books on Coleridge’s opium addiction and his family – but none of them has really been deeply interested in Coleridge’s religious life and ideas. Yet this aspect of life was, for Coleridge himself, the most important of all, and it conditioned everything else.

In October I spent a few days exploring the Lakes with Malcolm, visiting some of Coleridge’s haunts; and this post is going to be an unashamed flashback because I’m recalling that time, and want to put some of the pictures from it on my blog. So here we go.

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Aira Force waterfalls – maybe the most spoectacular torrent in the Lakes

 

Malcolm and I met at Penrith rail station and went south along the shores of Ullswater to Aira Force with its amazing multilevelled waterfalls. We explored the network of footpaths that wind up into the woodland around the falls. We also relaxed on the shores of Ullswater, where Malcolm – though not I – ventured into the water for a paddle.

We went on to Keswick, where we stayed at the Queen’s Hotel – only realising after we checked in that this was where the John Hatfield, the conman who posed as an aristocrat and seduced the famous Maid of Buttermere, had also stayed, in 1802.

We visited Greta Hall, where Coleridge lived from 1800 to 1803 – not usually open to the public, though you can rent self-catering accommodation there,  – see www.gretahall.net – and it has the most amazingly interesting and beautiful house with wonderful views over the Vale of Derwentwater. Profound thanks to Jeronime, who welcomed us there and told us all about the house’s history.

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Greta Hall, Keswick

Malcolm, a keen waterman, insisted we go out in a boat on Derwentwater, and generously did all the rowing, so I was able to enjoy the views and the fresh air without effort.

We stayed the next night at How Foot Lodge, my favourite hotel in Grasmere, and visited the Wordsworth Trust, taking a tour of Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, including the Jerwood Centre, where Jeff Cowton, the Curator, had with enormous generosity arranged to have a number of Coleridge manuscripts out for Malcolm to examine, as well as one of the several fine portrait drawings the Trust owns.

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Bravely, Malcolm prepares to paddle in Ullswater!

 

From there we went on to Rydal Mount, Wordsworth’s home in his later years, and wandered around the gardens as well as exploring the house: not quite as dramatically atmospheric as Dove Cottage, but a fine, comfortable Victorian family home, with Wordsworth’s study right up in an attic looking south towards Windermere.

Altogether a wonderful few days in what was, I think, the last spell of fine golden autumn weather during 2014. Very good to look back on from a bleak chilly January; and of course on the other hand I am now looking forward to Malcolm’s book about Coleridge which, from what I know of Malcolm’s work, will be beautifully readable and also very profound.

Alan Hankinson – Genial Author Who Scaled the Heights

Looking around for something to read recently, I spotted Alan Hankinson’s biography of Geoffrey Winthrop Young. It had been on my shelf for years and I didn’t even recall clearly who Young was. What the heck, I thought, I’ll give it a try.

It turned out to be totally gripping. Young had been a pioneer of mountaineering and a brilliant climbing writer, a heroic ambulance driver in World War I (where he lost a leg) and after the war pioneered mountaineering with an artificial leg. He had many German friends, and worked secretly with Germans opposed to Hitler to try and bring about the dictator’s downfall. His exploits were incredible, literally, and Hankinson’s book brought the whole thing to life, telling the story with such verve that I couldn’t stop reading.

But also the book reminded me of Alan. I first met him when I gave a talk on Thomas De Quincey in Cockermouth in 1981. Alan was a deep-voiced, jovial, lionlike chap with a mane of white hair: hugely well-read, deeply friendly, vastly intelligent and entirely likeable.

After that I bumped into him quite often around Cumbria (he lived in Skiddaw Street, Keswick); we talked about this project and that, and I was delighted when he won prizes for his wonderful book Coleridge Walks the Fells, in which he retraced the course of Coleridge’s great 1802 walk around the Western Lakes, comparing how places are now to how they were then. The book is a classic.

When I came to write my own Literary Guide to the Lake District he took a great interest – and showed it with practical help. One day I phoned him and asked if he remembered whether a particular plaque was still at the top of Grisedale Hause – because last time I was up there, I’d forgotten to check, and I needed to know for the book. There was something similar that I’d neglected at the summit of Great Gable too. The upshot was that Alan said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go up and take a look, and let you know.’

When my book came out I was able to thank ‘Alan Hankinson, who with memorable generosity volunteered to climb both Grisedale Hause and Great Gable to find things I had forgotten to look for.’

Alan was himself of course a fine climber and The First Tigers, his history of the beginnings of british rock-climbing, is another classic and fascinating even if you’ve never set foot on a mountain. In fact, it’s hard not to keep throwing in the word ‘classic’ when writing about Alkan: he wrote so well, telling so many stories that needed to be told, and produced the perfect book on each one.

He was loyal too. Towards the end of his life he turned up more than once at poetry readings I gave at Dove Cottage and elsewhere, although he clearly wasn’t well and admitted that he was finding it difficult to write. And yet really I must have been someone he knew only peripherally, an occasional contact. But the thing about Alan was that when you met him his warmth and interest made you feel that you and he had always known each other.

Alan died, sadly, in 2007 and I didn’t hear about it until some time afterwards. Only when I read the obituaries and found out abaout his amazing career in TV, film, radio and journalism, and his war service with the Gurkhas, did I realise how many other aspects he had besides those I’d seen.

Earlier this year I was asked to run a course on English Literature for trainee Blue Badge Guides. It turned out that my predecessor in the job had been Alan. I felt proud, as well as a bit intimidated, to find I was stepping into his shoes. It certainly gave me something to live up to, though I didn’t do the job with a pint always at my elbow, as I’m told Alan used to!

Sadly his books (apart from two US publications on American Civil War battles – yes, he was an expert on that as well!) seem to be out of print. A bit of a scandal really when you know how good they are. Alan deserves to be better known. Some enterprising publisher should at least put out digital reprints of The First Tigers, Coleridge Walks the Fells, and his biography of Young. Meanwhile, I never go to Keswick without thinking of him and missing that deep-voiced laugh, and that encyclopedic knowledge of literature and the Lake District. Here’s to you, Alan, and thanks for telling so many great stories.