String of Pearls: Landscape and literature of the Lake District by Compiled by Margaret Wilson and photographs by Helen Shaw: Mesmerising and breathtaking - book review -
It was described by William Wordsworth as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath found,’ and the Lake District continues to inspire a host of poets and writers.
For centuries, the magnificent fells, crashing waterfalls and dramatic still waters of the Lakes have acted as a muse to famous poets like Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and provided stunning backdrops for modern thriller authors such as Reginald Hill and Val McDermid.
In this beautifully produced and illustrated anthology, Margaret Wilson has selected the best Lake District literary extracts, each perfectly paired with specially commissioned, stunning landscape images from the camera of photographer Helen Shaw who lives near the picturesque village of Slaidburn in the Ribble Valley.
In her editor’s preface, Wilson tells us that the Lake District has been a draw for visitors for the last six thousand years, from the Romans who built forts at Hardknott and near Ambleside, to early Saxon settlers who farmed in the Lowlands and then the Norsemen who began building the dry-stone walls.
In the late 17th century and early 18th century, travellers to the Lakes who recorded their experiences included Celia Fiennes, a writer who explored England on horseback, and Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe who commented that the countryside was ‘the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed through in England.’
Encouraged by the first proper guide books, tourists started to visit the Lakes but the landscape was seen as wild and frightening and visitors were loath to attempt walking in the mountains, places intended only for sheep farmers and miners.
One exception was the popular gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe who travelled to the Lakes and wasn’t afraid to climb the hills and then describe the experience in extremely flowery language!
But the rugged beauty of the Lake District was put firmly on the map when the Lakes poets – with Wordsworth leading the charge – became central to the English Romantic movement which used the drama of Nature as its muse.
And when Blackburn-born Alfred Wainwright – whose life was transformed by his love of Lake District fell walking – produced his famous, beautifully illustrated guide books, the reputation of this corner of the country was sealed and millions have since discovered its majesty and charm.
Many writers born outside the Lake District have moved there and found inspiration – Beatrix Potter and Thomas de Quincey among them – each of them using the landscape to produce a wide variety of literary works.
With each gem in this gorgeous collection linking up to a string of pearls and a mesmerising photographic match, this breathtaking book is guaranteed to be a jewel in your own home library.
(Merlin Unwin Books, hardback, £20)