A year ago I moved across the country for two weeks to do a work placement at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. It was a really valuable experience and I want to document my experience here.
In my second year of university I studied a Romantics module and we visited Grasmere (best trip ever). I had the most amazing time climbing Easedale Tarn and getting emotional in Dove Cottage knowing so many great writers occupied this space.
On the last day of the trip, my friends and I returned to the Wordsworth Trust to buy some gifts and a member of staff told us about their internship programme. Flash forward to summer 2016 – and having that conversation in mind – I decided to see if the Trust had any volunteering opportunities.
On the 16th July 2016 I moved into my room and on the 18th July I started my first day. I will admit, I was a little bit nervous. I walked around Grasmere alone on the Sunday not knowing a single person and getting very lost on walks. I didn’t have much mobile data on my phone so I felt very disconnected from the world. However I met some people on the night and after my first day I settled pretty quickly.
My main duties were to work on the front desk of the museum and to give tours around Dove Cottage. As these were both public-facing roles, I met many people from across the world. Some visitors were huge Wordsworth/Romantic fans and others were not aware of the Romantic movement at all. Some people stumbled across the Cottage by chance and others were visiting for the nth time. It was heartwarming to have people come up to me and give such positive reviews of the place.
One of the highlights of my experience was all the time I spent in Dove Cottage – William Wordsworth’s home from 1799 to 1808. It was here the famous Daffodils poem was written and where Dorothy Wordsworth started her journals. I could tell you the entire tour – I still remember it. My first tour was nerve-racking but my tour group were patient with me and supportive.
Before I started volunteering, I read Thomas De Quincey’s Recollection of the Lakes and the Lake Poets. In this collection of essays, De Quincey discusses his relationship with Wordsworth and how he was a huge fan of Wordsworth’s work. I had watched a documentary previously in which punk poet John Cooper Clarke visits Dove Cottage whilst researching De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. A few of De Quincey’s items are in the Cottage so I used my research to discuss his objects in further detail.
I cannot express how much I loved being inside Dove Cottage. Knowing William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (to name a few) walked its floors was overwhelming. Being a massive history and literature nerd it felt surreal working inside an influential building.
Speaking of history, I was lucky enough to be volunteering at the same time the Trust were celebrating the 125th anniversary of Dove Cottage being open to the public. I had the opportunity to dress up as a Victorian and feel like a celebrity with the amount of photos I had to pose for. It was nice seeing so many enthusiastic visitors and seeing people become so involved with the celebration of a former poet laureate.
Grasmere is a beautiful place and gave me the opportunity to go on walks most nights after work. I went to Silver How and Grasmere lake most of the time because they are close by but thankfully I had company because I would get lost A LOT. One day I tried to find Rydal Cave without a map and ended up walking one hour in the wrong direction. I found the cave eventually and it was worth all the unnecessary walking.
I would visit the Wordsworth family graves, like the good literature student I am, and limit my amount of visits to the village bookshop so I didn’t look weird. I caught the ‘Romantics bug’ and wrote a lot of poems and short essays in my spare time. Spending time outside of city life and barely using the internet cleared my head.
My short two weeks at the Wordsworth Trust were incredible. I learnt a lot about the upkeep of such a valuable building and why the Romantics still influence us today. However the most valuable skill I gained whilst volunteering was presentation skills. After giving tours of the Cottage, I have noticed I am no longer nervous when speaking in public. In the last year I have noticed I don’t feel ill before interviews and presentations and my voice shakes a lot less. I also gained a lot more confidence and it’s incredible how much I changed in two weeks. I couldn’t be more thankful for my experience and I hope to return to Grasmere soon.