You asked! I suppose you could say that I have been on three pilgrimages – even though they were done on the same holiday. It was eerily heartfelt to walk where they had walked, to touch the very walls where they had lived and to sit where they had sat.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH 1770 – 1850

William Wordsworth’s birth home is situated in Cockermouth, a large two story, Georgian townhouse. In 1783, at age 13, Wordsworth was orphaned and his world seemingly fell apart. In 1790, while travelling in France, he formed a passionate attachment to a Frenchwoman, Annette Vallon. All too soon, Wordsworth had to return to England and due the outbreak of war between England and France he could not return. The three or four years that followed his return to England were the darkest of Wordsworth’s life. He was not to see his daughter Caroline until she was nine. This dark period ended in 1795, when a friend’s legacy made it possible for Wordsworth to reunite with his beloved sister Dorothy – the two were never again to live apart.

Wordsworth helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature. Dove Cottage became his first true home, after his parents’ deaths. It was where he and his sister spent eight years of plain living, but high thinking.  I walked through the garden at Dove Cottage, inspired by Dorothy’s quotes, then touched the walls of Dove Cottage eager to soak up the inspiration that Wordsworth felt when he had lived there. The rooms are neat and tiny and I thought, ‘Yes, I can visualize the great man sitting there, and there, and there.’

Wordsworth later moved to Rydal Mount with his sister, wife and children. Through the years Wordsworth was assailed with vicious attacks by contemptuous reviewers; the kind of which no great poet has ever had to endure. But finally, with the publication of The River Duddon, in 1820, the tide began to turn, and by the mid 1830s his reputation had been established with both critics and the reading public. His masterpiece, The Prelude, was published, in 1853, three years after his death. 

THOMAS HARDY 1840 – 1928

Thomas Hardy’s birth home, a small cob and thatch, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, is long and narrow with two stories and a sloped roof on the second floor. The gardens are neat. Hardy lived there until he was 34 and his early novels, ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, were written there. At back of the house is a monument, to the memory of Thomas Hardy, erected, in 1931, by some of his American admirers. The floorboards of Hardy’s room creaked as I walked from doorway to window, aching for the view that had inspired such great writing. Then I strolled along the garden path, kept as it had been in Hardy’s early days.

In 1874, Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, but almost immediately following the marriage, Hardy felt trapped, and romance no longer existed. All the excitement of courtship was over. Opposite natures often match well – drawing one another together. Unfortunately, these two were alike in ways that clashed because they rivalled one another. That which first attracted them – a love of books, poetry, beauty of nature and a longing to express their feelings in some creative way – ultimately pushed them apart. Emma became plump and ordinary-looking, even dowdy, no longer taking the trouble. Nor did she approve the content of his fictions, nor his romantic beauties that she could no longer match, some of which Hardy encountered while in London. Emma kept a secret diary in which she recorded her remarks and her complaints about her husband.

Once married, Hardy more than fulfilled his professed ambition and published ten novels over the next twenty years. On the 25th of November 1912, Emma took to her bed. Hardy was asked to come up to her, which he did with ill grace – weary of such summons. Within five minutes she was dead. But…now that he no longer had the real woman, his heart and soul had found a place to dwell; on the dream, the romance, on his ideal view of the girl with streaming auburn hair, riding her horse, so beautiful against the blue of the Cornish sea. Although the real person could never live up to that glorious lost romantic vision, when Emma Gifford Hardy died, she came to life in all her youthful charm and beauty and his old love was reborn. From her death until the end of his days, he wrote wonderful love poems about Emma, even after he had remarried. Hardy was by nature a scholar and a writer. It is what goes on in the mind that holds us, and Hardy’s mind was rich with impressions.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 1564 – 1616

Shakespeare was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, a market town with more than 800 years of history and contains many buildings that would have been familiar to Shakespeare. The great playwright and actor was widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. He received a good education but at age 13, as tradition held, William discontinued his education in order to help his father. At age 18 he married Ann Hathaway and had three children.

Nothing much is known about how he became involved in the theatre and became a writer, but by 1592, he had apparently became known as an actor and playwright – based by a comment from a rival about an “upstart crow”, meaning Shakespeare, of course. With the end of a lease on the Blackfriars Theatre, in 1597, The Shakespeare Playing Company needed a place to readily perform  plays and the Globe Theatre was constructed. The 3 storey, 1500 capacity, Shakespeare Globe Theatre was build from oak, backroom deals, and stolen playhouse frames, in what was the ‘bad’ part of Southwark, now the heart of London. It was not only one of most famous playhouse’s of all time, but the play house where Shakespeare performed many of his greatest plays. In 1613, the original theatre burned down but has since been rebuilt on the same location.

Shakespeare, dead at age 52, was survived by his wife Ann, to whom he bequeathed his second-best bed – leaving one to wonder who inherited his best-bed!

It was surreal to walk along the Avon, knowing that I was quite likely walking where Shakespeare had walked, four hundred years earlier. I sat in the garden when Shakespeare sat as a child and looked up at the very room in which he was first inspired to write great works.

Literary walks are a great way to get a

better understanding of the lives of great scholars.

Video documentaries: Wordsworth – Hardy – Shakespeare

“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”