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Myths & Realities of The Golden Years

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Wisdom from Lord deVere

Wisdom from Lord deVere
Nab Cottage

Continuing with our theme of having a greatly-improved long-term memory when one enters The Later Years, Lord deVere remembers a ghostly encounter that happened many years ago when he and Lady deVere were visiting England…

In the heart of The English Lake District, not far from The Langdale Valley, there is a little whitewashed cottage nestled against the steep hillside overlooking serene and beautiful Rydal Water. The sign on the gate informs visitors that it is Nab Cottage.

Rydal, spelt several different ways, is recorded on surveys and census rolls as far back as 1240, although its name is rooted in a strong mixture of Saxon and Norse, both of which being pre-Norman Conquest, of course. For at least a thousand years this little area (‘Rye Dale’) was worked by farmers, who gradually gave up tilling and planting in favor of mining and quarrying in the late seventeenth century, and later still, turned to tourism for economic support.

Nab Cottage was built in 1732, according to the weathered datestone above its heavy oak door, and is dominated by the looming granite of Nab Scar. It has both the charm and character to be expected of its several-hundred-year sojourn in this magnificent part of English Lakeland.

The narrow Ambleside-to-Grasmere road curves around the drystone-walled parking area in front of the black and white cottage, separating it from the lakeside some twenty feet below. Lambs gambol and sheep graze on the grassy hillsides behind the stone cottage and, of course, there are roses woven through the wooden rustic porch over, and either side of, the door. Few of the drivers negotiating this curve, take their eyes off the beautiful view across the lake and seldom, if ever, notice the quaint cottage they are passing.

Nab Cottage is a small bed and breakfast place today and is owned by The Rydal Trust who lease it to Tim and Liz Melling, who are most hospitable and helpful to those not familiar with the ins and outs of this truly breathtaking part of the World. The six or eight bedrooms are a good size and comfortable. A couple of them even have their own en-suite facilities. The main bathroom has a large and deep bathtub, ideal for soaking away the aches and stiffness from over-exertion after a long day’s fell walking.

Hartley Coleridge, son of the famous poet Samuel Coleridge and for most of his life a close friend of the poet, William Wordsworth, as well as being a famous and talented author in his own right, lived in Nab Cottage for many years. He even died there, and is now buried close to his friend Wordsworth in the churchyard next to the small 12th. century village church in Grasmere, a short distance down the road.

Wordsworth’s former homes, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, are both just a stone’s throw from Nab Cottage. Dove Cottage, located above the tiny town of Rydal, attracts its share of the curious who pay a small admittance to peer into and around the unremark- able little home set on its steep, often slippery, slope. Rydal Mount, halfway up the old lane to Rydal Hall, is equally well-visited.

The bank of waving daffodils celebrated poetically as Wordsworth ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’, is claimed to be Dora’s Bank on the very edge of Rydal Water. And, the huge boulder standing at the edge of the lake that he loved so much, is known locally as ‘Wordsworth’s Seat’.

Nearby Hawkshead, is, of course, the picturesque village that has capitalized on the Wordsworth name by opening its grammar school to the public, which, founded in 1585, was where Wordsworth was a pupil. It is complete with artifacts and mementos of the great poet. Local residents pay for that notoriety every summer’s day when thousands of tourists arrive by the coachload. Even ‘Fox How’, the nearby retirement home of Doctor Arnold, Principal of Rugby School (Tom Brown’s Schooldays) where the game of rugby was created, is visited by the intellectually-curious as well as idle gawpers.

The quieter, less pretentious, Nab Cottage, with its own curious history and even more- curious present, is, however, where we choose to stay. Let us tell you why…

Just £30-£35 ($45-$53) per person pays the daily tariff, which includes a marvelous, stick-to-your-ribs, down-to-earth, full English breakfast, ‘The Full Monty’; and the tariff includes, more often than not, some unusual and definitely unearthly late-night entertainment. There are many stories of ghosts and apparitions being seen in various bedrooms and other parts of the house. And no wonder…….

The wild and depraved Thomas deQuincey lived there with his young wife, Peggy Simpson, in the early eighteen hundreds and was known as ’The Opium Eater’ for good and obvious reason. Other residents, too, lived troubled lives in the cottage and many of their spirits are claimed to make regular spectral appearances – such as ‘the sensuous young woman’ or ‘the Victorian lady’ who appear in room number seven, or ‘the guitarist’ who materializes on the stairs or ‘the man with the wooden leg’ who has been seen in several locations throughout the house. A group of Japanese recently saw an apparition outside in the barn. I don’t know what they named it – in either language.

Some of these phenomena have been written up in magazines catering to those interested in such ethereal happenings, as well as some more-conservative local publications. But we were totally unaware of these stories until quite recently and, to be perfectly honest, even now have no first-hand experience of them … except one.

We first heard the noises – laughing and shouting coming from the hallway outside our bedroom door – the first time we stayed at Nab Cottage in 1972. We passed it off as inconsiderate late-night revelers returning from the nearby Badger Bar or The White Swan, or some other pub or restaurant in one of the local villages. We heard it again, several times, on subsequent nights and on subsequent visits, each time believing that the door-banging, heavy footsteps, laughing and calling were the over- exuberance of alcohol-stimulated guests.

When my son and his new wife spent a couple of days of their honeymoon at Nab Cottage, many years later in 1995, it was the ‘off-season’ – September. When they checked in, they were told that they were the only guests and they were given a key to let themselves in and then lock up after they returned at night.

The owners were away in Spain and the lady who looked after things while they were away lived nearby and came in each morning to cook breakfast and clean and tidy. Neither our son, nor his wife, knew of the ‘noises’. We had had no reason to mention them to anyone, believing them merely to be the sounds of inconsiderate party-goers and nothing more.

During the night, both young honeymooners heard the noises – banging doors, laughter, footsteps passing the door and drawers opening and closing. They thought nothing of it, other than what we had thought numerous times – inconsiderate late-night revelers.

At breakfast, they were surprised to see that theirs was the only table set for eating. When they asked if the other guests were coming down for breakfast or whether they had risen early and already left, the lady caretaker informed them with a puzzled look on her face, that they were the only two people in the cottage and that there had been no other guests or staff in the building overnight!

Obviously, whatever restless spirit is responsible for the disturbances, it (or is it ‘they’?) is (are?) not malevolent. It causes no-one any harm and seems bent only on a perpetual ethereal revel – a party without end – permanently high spirits! (Joke)

However, the next time I stay there, I have resolved that I shall open the door and see whatever there might be to see. I just have to.

And as for Hartley Coleridge, who was half-mad and a hopeless raving drunkard when he died here; what his spirit gets up to… well, that’s anyone’s guess!

…Or, on second thoughts, could it be Hartley himself, who, along with Tom deQuincey ‘The Opium Eater’, Peg Simpson, and Hartley’s good drinking buddy, Bill Wordsworth, who are still living it up late at night in the cottage that they all knew so well…?


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