Get spooked this autumn!

13 Oct
Costumed servants hard at work in Wordsworth House kitchen

Hard at work: My friends the costumed servants in Wordsworth House kitchen

There’s so much going at on Wordsworth House and Garden this October holiday that I hardly know where to begin. There are family trails, spooky storytelling sessions or kitchen activities every day.

On Monday October 27, Wednesday 29 and Friday 31, you can get cosy by the kitchen fire as my friends the costumed servants tell some of the traditional Cumbrian ghostly tales young William and Dorothy Wordsworth might have enjoyed. Sessions are at 11.30am and 2.30pm and last about 20 minutes. They’re free with entry and suitable for children aged seven and above.

Children can roll up their sleeves and have a go at making clapbread on Tuesday 28 or Sunday 2 November, while on Thursday 30, they can fashion a pastry pumpkin, dinosaur, Tardis – or anything else they fancy. Drop-in sessions run from 11.30am to 3.30pm.

There’s even a chance to listen to the servants’ stories after dark – and explore the whole of William and Dorothy’s childhood home by lamplight – on Saturday 1 November from 6pm to 9pm. Spooky storytelling sessions are at 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

Meanwhile, a host of ghostly characters, including 13-year-old William and Bill, the grumpy manservant, have taken up permanent residence in the cellar, where they’re waiting to share their own haunting and often heartbreaking tales of life in this late 18th-century household.

Every day during the holiday week, families can borrow an Explorer Bag full of trails, toys and tools to help them delve into the nooks and crannies of the house and garden. There are also lots of reproduction toys and dressing up clothes in the children’s bedroom.

In the clerk’s office, you can write with a quill and ink. In the kitchen, there’s always a Georgian recipe to taste, and anyone with a musical bent can play the reproduction harpsichord in the drawing room.

We’re open, in the centre of Cockermouth, from 11am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm, so why not come and visit us?

Normal admission price applies to all activities. Entry is free to National Trust members. Call 01900 820884 for more information.

An inspiring way to learn

30 Sep
Head Gardener Amanda and Fletch the Perchcrow

Discussing poetry: Me with Head Gardener Amanda

I’m proud to say the garden that inspired some of William Wordsworth’s best-loved nature poems is firing the imagination of today’s young poets too.

The selection below are the work of year 5 and 6 pupils from nearby Eaglesfield Paddle School, who came to visit recently. School groups are among my favourite visitors because they always come to say hello and are so enthusiastic about everything they see and do – in other words, they learn without realising it!

I love reading the thank you letters they send, as the things they pick as highlights are so delightful. Kate wrote: “The flint was so fascinating – it must have been hard to set the candle alight.”

And Emily said: “My favourite thing that I learned was about the horrible medicines that they had eg a live frog being strapped to your neck, crushed snails and hare’s brains.” Wonderful! Emily also wrote me a lovely poem:

The Scarecrow
A smiling face with the most perfect grace
With a hat of flowers, most beautiful powers
He stands still over the days.
Flowers surround going round and round,
In the different blustering ways.
Flowers of blue, white and pink – all those colours
Help me think.
On the days path, he has a woolly scarf
His jacket grey and tall, it makes him
The boldest scarecrow of them all.

Pretty Pink Flowers by Sophie
Pretty pink flowers,
How you glisten in the sunlight.
Your pink, light petals are so so
Bright and beautiful.
Oh pretty pink flowers.

Me as a Bee by Caitlin
Thin strands of yellow placed aside an endless well
Sweet sour emerald tears that sop down its twisty stalk
I sit in the flower with my big stripey body
Buzz, buzz, buzz!

Season of mellow fruitfulness

4 Sep
Harvest time: Apple picking in William's beloved garden

Harvest time: Apple picking in William Wordsworth’s beloved garden

I think we can all agree that summer is finally over, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in my wonderful heritage garden. The trees are laden with apples, and the terrace – where William and Dorothy Wordsworth loved to play – is dense with orange and black hips.

If you would like to find out more about the fruits of this abundant season, why not join my friend Amanda, the Head Gardener, for a special tour?

She will be exploring the highlights of William’s childhood garden, which inspired many of his best-loved nature poems.

The tours are on Wednesday 10, 17 and 24 September and 1 October at 11.30am, and they’re free with the price of a ticket to the house and garden.

If you don’t want to pay anything at all to come in, why not take out membership of the National Trust? You can visit my garden any time you want (from mid-March until the end of October) as well as hundreds of others that are in the care of the Trust!

PS The glamorous apple picker in the picture is my other good friend Alex, who despite now working mainly as a duty manager and in our office, can occasionally be persuaded to frock up in 18th-century costume.

Autumn colour: Sweet briar hips on the terrace

Autumn colour: Sweet briar hips on the terrace

Why Felix the perchcrow needs your love

25 Aug

Felix the unloved perchcrow

New friend: Felix, the unloved perchcrow

I’m thrilled to tell you that I’ve got a new penfriend. Felix the perchcrow has written to me from Caversham Court Gardens in Reading, home of my lady admirer Flora.

I was very touched by his letter because he explained that he lives in the shadow of my love rival, Fred the under-gardener. Felix wrote:

Dear Fletch,

This is to introduce myself as Felix the Perchcrow. I was built using beanpoles at a beanpole day in May at Caversham Court Gardens. Sadly, I am not allowed to go back there on display as I am not considered to be good enough.

Flora and Fred are regularly put on display there but I have been consigned to the back garden. I have asked my maker Mike to send you my photograph.

I am a much troubled perchcrow and I know I am not good looking, but I feel I deserve more public acclaim. Look at my attributes. I am made from wholly recycled materials, and my hazel beanpole structure is sourced from sustainable environmentally friendly coppicing.

I feel you and I have much in common. We understand what it is like to live out in the wind and the rain. Perhaps a sympathetic reply would make life more bearable.

Yours truly, Felix

I’m so pleased to have heard from a fellow perchcrow who isn’t as sartorially perfect as Fred.

We perchcrows are by nature very sensitive creatures and we all want to be loved, so I’m delighted to have this chance to introduce Felix to a wider world, where I’m sure he’ll find the recognition he deserves to boost his confidence.

Wordsworth’s haunted house

11 Aug
One of Wordsworth House's current maids encounters her ghostly 18th-century counterpart

Face-to-face: One of our current maids encounters her ghostly 18th-century predecessor

Do you believe in ghosts? I didn’t until I heard from my friends Amanda and Alex about the spooky goings on in the cellar of the house.

It seems that a group of spirits from Wordsworth House’s past have taken up residence.

A host of characters, including 13-year-old William; Bill, the grumpy manservant, and Amy, the maid, have moved in to share haunting and often heartbreaking tales of life in this late-18th-century household.

Cockermouth was William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s home until the death of their mother Ann. The cellar ghosts tell the story of their childhood, their traumatic separation and their eventual reunion as adults.

Amanda says if you think you might encounter them, make sure you have a tissue in your pocket, as you’re bound to shed a tear or two.

Unleash your inner poet – like my friend Chloe did

28 Jul
Old friends: Chloe and Fletch

Reunited: Chloe and Fletch

An old friend of mine came to visit Wordsworth House and Garden for work experience last week and thoroughly enjoyed taking part in one of our “unleash your inner poet” workshops led by my pal Dave Cryer, the storyteller. (See note at end for details of upcoming sessions!)

The last time I saw Chloe was when she came to the launch of her grandma Alex’s novel Tandem, which was held in the house a few months ago. Before that, I hadn’t seen her since a couple of years ago, when her dad and step-mum became the first couple ever to get married in the house.

Chloe spent her week with us helping in the house, reception, café and shop. I’m going to hand you over to her, so she can tell you about the highlights herself…

Even though I was 150 miles away from my home town, I felt just as at home in Wordsworth House. Meeting my friend Fletch again kind of sparked my imagination, and I made up millions of things that he could have seen or heard – for example, the birds in the sky migrating or the adults’ laughter if they were hit on the head by an apple off one of the trees!

On my second day, I got to dress up and become a costumed maid. At first I was not looking forward to it – I felt that I’d look like a right numpty – but the visitors enjoy the atmosphere in the kitchen (and the tasters on the side) so they make you feel appreciated and you fit straight in.

Gwen (who was dressed as Amy, the maid-of-all-work) taught me how to decorate the food for the table, even the chocolate tart that looked like it had a sausage hidden in it (not sure how that happened – it really was all chocolate).

Keith (the manservant) taught me how to make clap bread. I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to keep an eye on the time and ran over into lunch. Whoops!

Later in the week I was in costume again. This time Julia (the other maid) decorated the food and I got to place it on the dining room table as the Wordsworths would have eaten it, while also helping Gwen make yummy celery fritters.

Then, still dressed as a maid, I headed for the garden, where I met Fletch’s new girlfriend Little Bo Peep and her sheep. Dave, one of the volunteers, was leading a poetry workshop all about where William Wordsworth got his inspiration from. Dave read out a lovely poem and asked us about our inspiration, then we wrote one of our own. If my evil grandma Alex has her way, my poem will be put on the poetry tree.

Note from the evil grandma (who also works as Fletch’s typist): Dave will be leading sessions on Wednesday, July 30 and August 6, 13 and 20 at 11.30am and 2.30pm. They are free with entry to the house – so why not come along and join in? Your poem could end up on our poetry tree too!

Leaves of literature: The Wordsworth House poetry tree

Leaves of literature: Our poetry tree

If you go down to Great Wood today…

28 Jul
Walk in Great Wood

Outing: A walk in the woods. Picture: Robert Bellett

When my best friend Head Gardener Amanda visited the enchanting Great Wood in Borrowdale recently, she paid attention to the words of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic and didn’t go alone.

As well as several other members of the Wordsworth House and Garden team, she took National Trust woodlands ranger Maurice Pankhurst. Amanda thought she was knowledgeable, but when it comes to trees and the great outdoors, no one knows more than Maurice.

Amanda told me: “I’d never been before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was the most magical place. We had a fascinating and informative walk with Maurice, and I’m looking forward to taking my daughters there soon to share the magic.”

If you’d like to visit – and Amanda recommends that you do – the wood has its very own car park off the Borrowdale Road. National Trust members can park free. If you’ve not yet joined, just have a chat with the recruitment ranger when you get there – you won’t regret it!

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