Wordsworth’s Kites

red-kite-over-mountains

 

Red Kites were alive and well in the 1800s in the Lake District. I have found three separate references to kites in the poems of William Wordsworth and one mention by his sister, Dorothy. There may be more references than these but they alone prove that the iconic birds were a common sight in the Lake District just over two hundred years ago.

The first two instances are from Wordsworth’s narrative poem, Michael and from Dorothy’s Journal, dated 11 Oct 1800.

Greenhead Gill, mentioned at the beginning of Michael is a mountain stream/ravine behind the Swan Hotel, which is north of Grasmere.

If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
The mountains have all opened out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.
No habitation can be seen; but they
Who journey thither find themselves alone
With a few sheep, with rocks and stones, and kites
That overhead are sailing in the sky.

As was usual with Wordsworth, some of his lines were prompted by his sister Dorothy. It seems Wordsworth was writing the early drafts of Michael in Oct 1800. She writes in her journal:

After dinner we walked up Greenhead Gill in search of a sheepfold. . . The colours of the mountains soft, and rich with orange fern; the cattle pasturing upon the hill-tops; kites sailing in the sky above our heads. Sheep bleating and in lines and chains and patterns scattered over the mountains.

The third reference is from the autobiographical The Prelude, Book First:

The heart is almost mine with which I felt,

From some hill-top on sunny afternoons,

The kite high among the fleecy clouds

Pull at her rein like an impetuous courser,

*

The fourth from his long poem, The Excursion:

With care and sorrow; shoals of artisans

From ill-requited labour turned adrift

Sought daily bread from public charity,

They and their wives and children – happier far

Could they have lived as do the little birds

That peck along the hedgerows, or the kite

That makes her dwelling on the mountain rocks!

In many of Wordsworth’s poems place-names are mentioned so it is possible to walk in his footsteps. When my parents were alive they lived at Troutbeck Bridge and I would often set off from there to walk behind Rydal Mount (one of Wordsworth’s residences) in the White Moss area. Easedale Tarn, accessible from Grasmere village, was another favourite, and nearby Helm Crag with its famous ‘Lion and the Lamb’ rock.

A mere decade or two after Wordsworth’s sightings, Red Kites began to be persecuted by Gamekeepers and by the closing decades of the nineteenth century they were extinct in England and Scotland. In the 1990s reintroduction programmes were established in England and Scotland. Our North East birds came as chicks from the Chilterns. They were released in the Derwent Valley in Gateshead in a four year project. There is a link in my blogroll to Friends of Red Kites.

I have been in touch with a curator-trainee at Dove Cottage (Wordsworth’s residence at Grasmere) and she tells me kites have been seen recently soaring overhead, so that is good news!

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Mallorcan Day Trip

This is an extract from my diary.

Mallorca: 27/04/13 – Pollenca, Rain, 14 centigrade.
Heavy constant rain; think of the Lake District on a rainy day! I got the coach to Pollenca and visited the municipal museum where there was an interesting collection of paintings, pottery and sculptures. The highlight however was a Tibetan mandala sand painting. In this traditional Tibetan/Asian art, coloured sand is channelled down tapering hollow pipes to draw incredibly detailed shapes. Usually the images are destroyed after completion, presumably to emphasise the impermanence of life. This relatively permanent example was displayed under gIass horizontally. I spent about half an hour absorbing the ‘presence’ and Buddhist symbolism. Most of the few visitors gave a cursory glance at this supreme work of art and walked out of the small room. Everyone to their own taste; I’ve done the same when looking at some paintings! This work of religious art was donated to the museum by the Dalai Lama.
Of the paintings an Antilio Boveri (early 1900s) had a room to himself. Some were pale Van Gogh-influenced landscapes but others captured the Mallorcan seascape/landscape vividly. According to the notes he also wrote short stories and was Argentinian.
After seeing round the museum and photographing the building which was a former monastery I walked to the main square and went inside the Lady of the Angel’s Parish Church. A visitor from another planet would no doubt get the impression that humans gain some sort of pleasure from gory crucifixtions and gloomy alcoves. The main altar was very ornate with predominantly dark gold colours. The much vaunted rose window looked poor in comparison with Durham Cathedral’s
It however, was the only bright, uplifting, redeeming feature in an otherwise dismal display of baroque over statement. The English version of the tourists’ leaflet provided some unintentional amusement, for example: “There are two graceful piles of holy water and some objects. . . remembering different events.”
From the church I headed to the 365 Calveri steps which I climbed in the steady rain. From the top the panoramic views were swathed in low cloud and drizzle. As the small chapel was closed I retraced my steps and stopped for a latte coffee in the Café del Calvari which provided welcome shelter. In the guide books a popular walk along the Ternelles is recommended; this was not much of a temptation for me considering the weather! Re-reading the guidebook on my return I realised I could have visited another museum/art gallery; the Marti Vicenc.
The coach back was punctual, as was the outgoing one and cost 3 euros return. A worthwhile trip for a rainy day!

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