COUNTRY & GARDEN: Walks on the Wild Side No 2: Langdale Valley, Lake District ; in a New Series of Walks with Literary Associations, Christina Hardyment Explores Elizabeth Smith's Lake District

Article excerpt

WORDSWORTH'S AND Coleridge's long tramps across the Lake District are famous; less so are the exploits of their prodigiously talented contemporary Elizabeth Smith (1776-1806). An avid reader from the age of three, she taught herself 12 languages, including Welsh, Erse, Hebrew and African and Oriental dialects. She wrote poetry and a commentary on Locke's Essay on Human Understanding and produced a feted translation of the Book of Job. She also loved scrambling up and down "rude mountains, roaring torrents and rocky precipices". Panting behind her admiringly came Wordsworth's neighbour Thomas Wilkinson of Yanwith, who gave details of his jaunt with Elizabeth and her two sisters in his gossipy Tours to the British Mountains (1824).

This is a long trip, about 25 miles there and back, but if the Smith girls could do it in a day, so can you - though overnighting is easy in the Langdale valley, in either the campsite or the hotels in Dungeon Ghyll. Park in the car park at the head of Coniston Water and imagine you have just rowed there from the Smiths' house at Townson Ground, having breakfasted at 3am "in Queen Elizabeth style on bread and beef".

Walk along the head of the lake road, "light-heeled and light- hearted as the roes of the mountains", as far as its junction with the B5285. Turn right; then, at Boon Crag Farm, turn left on the footpath to Low Yewdale. Cross the Yewdale Beck, turn right to High Yewdale, cross the beck again and follow it up to Low Tilberthwaite. Pause on the ridge between Wetherlam and Raven's Crag to enjoy the view: "an immense assemblage of very lofty mountains - rather of clustering crags - rugged and broken in the finest manner. In the foreground, in solemn majesty, rose a stupendous mountain that bore in its frowning forehead the Pikes of Langdale, which seemed like pillars to support the heavens. …