Visits to English Writers’ Homes: Brantwood
Continuing my posts about the visits my mother and I made to writers’s homes in England in May, we’re on to the last such home we visited in the Lake District: Brantwood, owned by the Victorian writer and art critic John Ruskin. As it happens, we visited Brantwood on my birthday.
Having studied Victorian literature for my doctorate, I was familiar with Ruskin’s work (my favorite essay, if you’re interested in an introduction, is “The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century“), but before arriving in the Lake District, I wasn’t even aware that he had owned a house in the area. In fact he lived in it for nearly 30 years and died there. Like Beatrix Potter, Ruskin also visited the Lake District as a child on holiday with his family, and the early association obviously left an impression. Also like Potter, Ruskin bought a house in need of repair and made many alterations and improvements both to the house itself and the property.
Brantwood is situated on Coniston Water, which required the longest journey we took in the Lake District: we took quite a long and precarious bus ride (the roads certainly did not seem big enough for the large coach!) from Ambleside to Coniston Launch, followed by a ferry that toured the water and deposited us at Brantwood.
It took us so long to get there that we needed to stop for tea before we could tour the house! (At least, that was our excuse.)
Upon entering the house, we were accosted by a nice lady who insisted that we watch what turned out to be an amazingly dramatic, almost hallucinogenic video about Ruskin’s life that completely ignored what was arguably the greatest scandals of his life, his marriage to Effie Gray and infatuation with Rose La Touche. I feel a little bad about wanting to hear the gossip on one of the most influential men of the nineteenth century, but it seemed strange to leave it out completely. Oh, well. To my great surprise, I found the video on Youtube! I do not necessarily recommend watching it, but at the same time, it is unlike any other introductory video I’ve ever watched at a house museum. At one point, the narrator intones, “It was more than Ruskin’s fragile mind could stand!”
After the video, we wandered through the house (there was no tour). Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the inside, since photographs were forbidden. Suffice it to say the views, particularly from the dining room and Ruskin’s room, were spectacular.
The grounds at Brantwood are arguably more beautiful and impressive than the house itself. The estate sits on 250 acres of woodland, part of which is cultivated into mountainside gardens. Ruskin enjoyed experimenting with landscaping and designed the gardens himself.
Some of the highlights include Ruskin’s favorite, the Professor’s Garden:
and the magical Poets’ Glade:
And of course, the views from around the house were stunning:
I like to think of our visits to the Lake District houses as increasing in beauty and majesty as we continued. Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage (the only one I was familiar with before our visit) was the most modest, Potter’s Hill Top the most charming, and Ruskin’s Brantwood the most impressive. But with all of them, it couldn’t be more obvious why these writers were inspired by the tranquil beauty of the nature that surrounded them.