Potted Guide To The Vale Of Rydal
The village of Rydal nestles between the two larger villages of Ambleside and Grasmere, sitting alongside the River Rothay and nearby Rydal Water.
The name Rydal is from the Old Norse, meaning ‘valley where rye was grown’, nearby Rydal Water, which sits between Nab Scar and Loughrigg Fell, was formerly known as ‘Routhmere’; the lake of the River Rothay, which runs eastwards from Grasmere on its way to Ambleside and Windermere.
The Rydal was largely made up of scattered farmsteads, sitting astride an ancient trade route from Ambleside to Keswick. The village escaped major development over the years due to the fact that it was incorporated into a medieval deer park in the 13th century, and the area as a result was deliberately kept devoid of buildings. That said the area boasted the three inns, a fulling mill, a corn mill, and even a smithy as well as a number of farms and cottages.
One such farm was the Nab, built in 1556, which during its life has boasted a number of famous literary residents; including ‘Opium Eater’ Thomas de Quincey, a former editor of local paper the Westmorland Gazette, and later noted writer Hartley Coleridge, the eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Other influential residents of this idyllic spot included the Le Fleming family of Rydal Hall, who moved to the area from Coniston Hall in 1575, living at the ‘Old Hall’ which later fell into disrepair. The present ‘New’ Hall was built by the first Sir Michael Le Fleming in the 16th century, and was subsequently enlarged and altered in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.
The gardens at Rydal Hall were designed by the garden designer, landscape architect and town planner Thomas Hayton Mawson in 1911. The Italianate terracing includes fine herbaceous borders and lawns set against the imposing architecture of the Hall. The gardens also include an informal woodland garden, with ponds leading to a restored summer house overlooking the dramatic Rydal Falls.
Frederic Yates a notable portrait and landscape painter, who studied in the Paris ateliers of Léon Bonnat, Gustave Boulanger, and Jules Joseph Lefebvre, moved to the village in 1901. He and his family lived at Cote How until 1907. During his time there he painted some notable visitors, including American President Woodrow Wilson.
Illustrious Romantic Poet William Wordsworth also has a long association with the village. He moved to Rydal Mount perched on a hill overlooking the village in 1813, remaining there until his death in 1850. During his tenure here he revised many of his key earlier works and wrote many more inspirational poems. It turns out he was also something of a green fingered genius as well… extensively landscaped and remodelled the four acre gardens at Rydal Mount, creating rock pools and hillside terraces and vast areas of planting containing many rare shrubs.
Nearby is a field formerly known as ‘The Rashfield’, which sits next to the churchyard of St Mary’s. This plot of land was originally bought by Wordsworth as a site for a future home. Sadly, his daughter Dora died in 1847, mourning her death Wordsworth, his wife and their gardener planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs in her memory. The field, is now known as Dora’s Field and every spring it comes to life with a carpet of ‘Golden Daffodils’.
Notable events include Ambleside Sports, a traditional Lake District sporting event, which takes place each July, competitors take part in Cumberland & Westmorland wrestling, a range of fell races including the gruelling Rydal Round, with its brutal ascent and heart-stopping descent of the fells. There’s also hound trailing, track foot races and grass cycle races; including the infamous ‘Devil Takes the Hindmost’ race.
You can also further immerse yourself in traditional country life by paying a visit to the annual Rydal Sheepdog Trails and Hound Show held at Rydal Park each August. Where competitors take part in a range of events, including sheepdog trials, hound and puppy trails, Beagle and Fell Fox hound shows and gun dog demonstrations.