Cumbria Crack

Nostalgia trip: a day out on the charabanc

Horse drawn charabanc coaches outside The Rothay Hotel (now The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa) in about 1880, on route from Keswick to Windermere

During the Victorian period Grasmere was a key destination for charabanc operators bringing tourists from Windermere train station on tours through the Lake District.

By 1847 the London and North-Western Railway had reached the Lake District but following a public campaign led by William Wordsworth it stopped at Windermere, where visitors took horse drawn carriages and charabancs to their destinations. This opened up the whole of the region for tourists. The Grand Victorian Circular Tour become very popular, encouraging the building of new hotels and the conversion of existing grand houses to hotels. By 1903 a range of 20 different tours were promoted by the Furness Railway Company for late Victorian and Edwardian visitors to the Lake District.

Taking advantage of this boom, Joseph Fleming Green converted his family home into The Rothay Hotel which opened on 1874. Only two years later the eminent writer and political activist, Harriet Martineau, recommended going for dinner at The Rothay in the 5th edition of her ‘Complete Guide to the English Lakes’. At the time that the photos were taken outside the hotel it had been bought by the Hudson’s who also owned the Red Lion Hotel in Grasmere, which is still there today.

Holding the hoses for the charabanc coaches outside The Rothay Hotel (now The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa) in about 1880

In 1903 there was a significant visitor, Woodrow Wilson, president of the Princeton University in New Jersey (he later became president of the USA) who stayed at The Rothay with his wife Ellen. A keen cyclist he had spotted the hotel on two previous visits to Grasmere whilst exploring on two wheels and chose to bring his wife there to show her the Lake District.

Much has happened at the hotel with many other notable guests visiting across its history, including the Earl of Lonsdale in the 1920s, but sadly in 1970s it closed and fell into disrepair. Following a high profile campaign by the Grasmere Village Society, local residents and with support from the English Tourist Board and well known figures including Chris Bonnington and Melvyn Bragg enough money was raised to bring it back to its former glory. Now known as The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa, it was renamed and re-opened officially on the 11 March 1981, complete with a new sign incorporating the poet Wordsworth’s signature. So much love and care from many people has been put into The Wordsworth and the that same level of care and attention can be experienced by guests today.

There are few better places to inspire reflection and promote a sense of wellbeing than the English Lake District, now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vale of Grasmere, surrounded by magnificent fells and mountains and the ever-popular waters of Grasmere lake with its island, is truly magical at any time of year. In spring the verges and grassy areas are adorned with bright splashes of yellow daffodils and the sounds of new born lambs baa-ing and birds singing, floats gently on the air. It is this special blend of drama, fresh air and the picturesque that drew the Victorian tourists to the area and continues to have lasting appeal today. Why not discover the charm of Grasmere with The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa’s Spring Fever Offer.

Rachael Tigwell, Assistant Manager The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa says; “The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa has deep roots and very personal connections for local people as well as the many generations of visitors who have stayed here. Gone are the days of the horse drawn tours, but the village has a thriving flow of UK and international visitors travelling independently and on organised tours to delight in the tranquillity and drama that inspired great Romantic poet William Wordsworth and the Heaton Cooper brothers whose iconic paintings of the Lakeland Fells capture the drama of the ever-changing landscape.”

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