Where Ideas Grow

A blog for students of creative writing at York St John University

Writers Retreat: Grasmere 2024

From the 3rd to the 5th of May, publishing and creative writing students of YSJU were invited to a writing retreat in the village of Grasmere, Cumbria. There, we would stay in a hostel, enjoy meals together, explore the Lakes, and allow nature to inspire us to write.

A prompt 11:50 departure and off we went. Goodbye to the cobbled and winding streets of York, hello to the blue mountains and lush fields of Grasmere. An exciting bus journey was broken briefly by a trip to a hobbit hole converted shopping center that made for the fanciest of all service station experiences, and a healthy serving of pistachio ice cream.

I was never short on noticing the lambs that surrounded us on the fields as we drove past, thanks to Amelia who was sitting behind me pointing each one out. Given how much delight they filled her with, it became obligatory to let Amelia know if we had seen a lamb. The bus dropped us off aptly at the village book shop: Sam Read Bookseller. Clouds hung low over the hills, blanketing us inside our new home for the weekend. My first impression was how beautiful Grasmere truly is; frozen in time, where the ghosts of the romantic poets still meander through the hills. You are faced with a mirror that reflects your own creativity and calmness. You are allowed to breathe.

We walked up a short incline to our hostel, a beautiful building nestled in the woods. Slightly tucked away from the streets, it offered us refuge and comfort. The slightly mischievous and exciting feeling of being on a school trip was no longer a distant memory. Our first activity was writing, sitting downstairs, and sharing our creations. Some of us brought laptops, others opted for the more traditional pen and paper, allowing our ideas to flow freely. Yet, I admit, the sheer thrill of being around my peers in this new environment made it hard for me to concentrate on my current work, and I found myself wanting to be completely present in the moment. I wrote two full pages still and felt Wordsworth patting me on the back.

After a brief change, we headed down for dinner. A comfort meal of sausages and mash, followed by cookies and ice cream, filled us with the energy we would need for our first night in Grasmere. The girls and I headed out, full of giddiness, and after various expeditions, we settled on the pub that would know our orders off by heart for the rest of the trip: Tweedies.

I will be truthful, and that would involve me revealing I may, or may not, have consumed a tequila too many in Tweedies. Yet, I also tried (multiple) of the local lagers, and is that not what traveling to a new place is all about? A learning experience, too. Notes to self: do not go up to the man playing guitar in the pub and ask him to play Piano Man as he is packing away, and secondly, do not bark all night long about how brilliant you are at pool and then proceed to not pot a single ball in the games room later on in the night.

Awakened sharply the next morning by a 7am alarm and the smell of sausages cooking downstairs, we headed for breakfast. I had a hangover that was steadily cured throughout the day by crisp air and breathtaking views. Our first venture was Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum. This was a truly special experience, that involved us looking at Wordsworth’s original penned pieces and exploring his cosy home. We all agreed that we would give up a limb to live there. With the way I was feeling, the bed was starting to look extremely inviting.

Additionally, it had a perfect garden that sloped upwards to reveal stunning views of the hills and the village, with a bench that is the ideal writing and reading spot. It was an honour to explore and gave warm insight into the environment where such beautiful words and thoughts were born. Visiting Wordsworth’s home made me realise that I must definitely do my own writing by candlelight. However, maybe not with a quill – an activity we soon realised is a lot more tricky than they make it look in BBC period dramas.

We then did a writing workshop, inspired by local wildflowers and weeds. It was interesting to learn how we define weeds and flowers; one is beautiful, the other, a pest. The activity we were given was to try writing a piece about one and flip it – persuade the reader that the flower was a nuisance or negative, and the weeds were misunderstood and powerful. My peers and tutors shared their wonderful ideas, both at the workshop and during the reading we had later in the hostel that night. We really taught those self-absorbed flowers a lesson and found beauty in places where it can allegedly be hard to find.

A brief interlude of free time was filled with locating Grasmere’s famous gingerbread. When we were successful, many of us purchased extra to take home to our families. We met again at Dove Cottage and began our walk around the lake, a venture that was accompanied by wholesome conversations on favourite books, future plans, and my discovery that I can indeed skip stones. Well, maybe once out of four times I attempted it, but I was still thrilled.

Before heading back to the hostel for our final evening, two classmates and I had a swift pint in Tweedies (where else?) as the evening crawled onwards. In this moment as we sat outside, I felt so lucky to be in such a beautiful place, surrounded by like-minded people who all have the same dreams as me. Our conversations stay alive in the hills, and we could not have asked for a better place to manifest our hopes for the future.

Our final dinner consisted of chicken tikka masala and school dinner cake. A certain highlight, looking back it was special to see a room full of adults become so pleased to experience such a simple joy – a dessert created from nostalgia that fed the inner child within us all.

We then shared some of our writing in the cosiest setting. We all listened to each other with pensive minds, being attentive to each others’ creations. We clapped after each other, and I am grateful to those who shared and who allowed us to listen to their inner thoughts for a brief period.

Of course, we had to end up back at Tweedies. High on the atmosphere, I shared more laughter and conversation with my new friends. Not wanting the evening to end too early, a couple of us ended up at a social club that had cheap pints, a dartboard, and a room full of locals lucky enough to call Grasmere home. I will, however, keep its location a secret – it’s a challenge for future publishing and writing students to try and find this hidden gem.

The Writers’ Retreat 2024 was a truly special experience, filled with bonding, beautiful views, and memories to last a lifetime. We were enabled for a brief period to feel like Wordsworth himself and take away inspiration that will become alive again the next time we put pen to paper. I sit at home now, reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, and all 24 lines of it make sense to me more now than ever before.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth, 1807

I would like to thank on behalf of my fellow YSJ students: the staff of the Wordsworth Museum, the staff at Tweedies, and the staff at the hostel for making our experience truly special. I would also like to thank the YSJ staff who organised and accompanied us on this wonderful trip.

Anna Edwards

Next Post

Previous Post

© 2024 Where Ideas Grow

Theme by Anders Norén