“It was a sweet morning – Everything green and overflowing with life, and the streams making a perpetual song with the thrushes and all the little birds” / An extract from Dorothy Wordsworth ‘The Grasmere Journals’.
Tucked away off the main road in Rydal at the heart of the Lake District is a hillside woodland. For most of the year, this place feels ordinary and unassuming, it’s easy to pass it by on a walk to Rydal Water. But from early March, this forgotten corner bursts to life with daffodils that have a connection to the famous poet William Wordsworth.
After a period of time living in Grasmere, Wordsworth moved to Rydal in 1813 and rented nearby Rydal Mount. In 1826, the landlady Lady Flemming announced she was considering offering the tendency to a relative, on which Wordsworth bought the field in front of Rydal Mount intending to build on it to obstruct the view. The intention was later withdrawn but Wordsworth kept the land and gifted it to his daughter, Dora.
Tragically, Dora died of tuberculosis in her mid-forties. After her death, William and his gardener planted hundreds of daffodils in Dora’s memory. In 1935 the field was gifted to the National Trust and is now free for the public to enjoy a peaceful moment.
The gardens have two entrance gates, one from the main road and one quieter, more meandering entrance from the neighbouring St Mary’s churchyard. Go through the rusting kissing gate and follow the winding stone steps that have been added up the hillside.
An undulating, stony path leads across the top, with benches dotted along the way allowing you to pause and take in the view. Encasing the field is a drystone wall covered in spongey moss, gnarled and weathered by the changeable Lakeland weather. A few smaller, grassy paths lead you astray off the main path for a closer look at the sea of daffodils.
There is a delicacy to these daffodils. Not the familiar vibrant yellow kind, these are smaller, softer, a first morning light kind of yellow with opaque petals and brighter, butter yellow trumpets. The flowers sway and nod together in the gentle spring breeze.
Intermingled are ageing trees, some of which now lay sleeping on the ground, covered in debris after last year’s brutal winter storms. Nestling underneath the tree’s broad, shady roots are more signs of spring with tufts of emerald wild garlic and lemony wood sorrel. The branches are still in bud, waiting for warmer days to burst to life. This bareness allows you to catch glimpses of the deep blue Rydal Water to the west of the fields.
Set back from the main road, there is a low hum of the weekend traffic on the day I visit, but as I pause to sit on a cast-iron black bench, I tune into a host of birdsong. The rhythmic hum of a woodpecker high up in the trees and the piecing squawk from a murder of crows.
As I unwrap my sandwiches, I’m joined by a friendly robin who perches hopefully at my feet, waiting for crumbs. Continuing on the main path, a set of steps descend to a lower path where the flowers sit and nod more tightly together. From this direction, the high Lakeland hills peek out from behind the church in the foreground. The path meets another kissing gate leading out onto the pavement humming with visitors and hikers, back out into the hub of everyday life.
Soon, the sunny joy of the daffodils will fade and be replaced by bluebells and the full green leaves of high summer. And whilst the blooms fade, the memories of Dora and the springtimes of years gone by will forever live on.
Dora’s Field is around 1.5 miles from our Ambleside store in Rydal next to St Mary’s Church and is open to explore at any time of the year.
Rebecca is a writer and hillwalker based in Ambleside, find her on Instagram at @lookwithneweyes and at www.lookwithneweyes.com.
Visit to Wordsworth former home Dove Cottage and Museum, 29th March to 30th October (Tuesday to Sunday), 10am–5pm (last entry to Dove Cottage is 4.20pm & to the Museum is 4.30pm). Booking advised.