Whatever the time of year, Hawkshead is busy but this gentle stroll finds undiscovered paths, extensive woodlands and tiny rippling streams that are full of wildlife.
Open areas reveal splendid views of Esthwaite, one of the more underrated of the Lakes. This is unspoiled Wordsworth country literally within a stone’s throw of the centre of Hawkshead.
From the car park, toilets and the splendid Tourist Information Centre, find a narrow sloping track up to Hawkshead Grammar School. This has a Wordsworth connection but, even if it didn’t have this accolade, the institution would have merit in its own right. It can be visited at a very modest cost. It was founded in 1588 by Edwin Sandys, the Archbishop of York, who was born in Esthwate Hall on the banks of that attractive stretch of water. On the outside wall is a sundial dated 1675 and set up as a memory to the founder. The school had an excellent academic record and sent many scholars to Cambridge, including William Wordsworth.
From the school, ascend the gentle slope to the parish Church of St Michael and All Angels.
I saw the snow-white church upon the hill Sat like a throned lady sending out A gracious look over her domain.
These lines were written by Wordsworth on his return from Cambridge in 1788 but the white lime wash has now gone to the reveal natural colour of the local stone.
The church dates from the late 15th century, with the massive tower being the oldest structure. Inside are memorials to the Sandys family and to Sir Thomas Rawlinson, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1706. Allow plenty of time to explore St Michael's before proceeding uphill.
Pass through gates until a sign post to the left indicates a footpath to Roger Ground. The word ground has great significance and indicates that there were small settlements there. The area to the left indicates the ownership of the Keens, while to the right is a very attractive small beck. Pass through a hedged and easy-to-follow track with mainly conifer woodlands to right and left. To the right is Hawkshead Moor and a tiny turn.
Cross a minor road and continue on to the High Barn area and then turn left for a short distance along the road linking Newby Bridge with Hawkshead.
Just beyond Howe Farm a track leads to the left. Soon bear sharp right to reach the hamlet of Roger Ground. Time should be taken here to enjoy the views of Esthwaite water. This measures 1½ miles by ½ mile and the margin is a tangle of alder and reed which offers protection to wintering birds. Until its dissolution in 1536 the monks of Furness Abbey used Esthwaite as a fish farm. There is nothing new under the sun and the water still functions as a fish farm to this day, as the menu from the Queen’s Head proves. The monks also had a substantial farm (called a grange) in Hawkshead. Cross the minor road.
The final stretch into Hawkshead is a delight for those who love unspoiled English countryside.
This is the place to read Wordsworth, not as an academic exercise but in a deep appreciation of the joys of nature.
Upon a slope above the village school And there, along the bank, when I have pass'd At the evening I believe that oftentimes a full half-hour together I have stood Mute All should copy Wordsworth. This stroll should not be rushed!