24 Aug 2020

Somerset's captivating countryside can stir the emotions, and has fed the imagination of some of this country's most esteemed romantic poets. The romantic movement in particular owes much to Somerset's rugged moors and rolling hills. It was the stunning landscape of the Quantock hills that inspired Coleridge to produce some of his best known work, and was where he developed friendships with fellow romantic poets. 


Poet-1.jpgColeridge’s connection with Somerset began in August 1795, when he and his wife Sara spent their honeymoon in a cottage overlooking the sea in Clevedon.

In 1796 the couple moved to Nether Stowey, a small village at the foot of the Quantock Hills, thanks to the local tanner who gave them a rent- free cottage and paid off their debts. Coleridge referred to this damp and mouse-ridden cottage as ‘the hovel’ but nevertheless spent many happy years here reading, composing, cultivating the large vegetable garden and taking long walks in the countryside, often with Wordsworth and Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy.

During this time, Coleridge wrote some of his most famous poems, including Frost at Midnight and This Lime-tree Bower My Prison. Coleridge’s masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, inspired by a neighbour’s nightmare about a spectre ship, features the local port of Watchet. The ancient mariner sets out on his voyage from the harbour, and returns there to tell his woeful tale.

In 1797, Coleridge was inspired to write Kubla Khan after walking from Porlock to the tiny church at Culbone. Tradition has it that the poem came to him in an opium-induced dream while staying at nearby Ash Farm.

On waking he managed to remember and write down half of the poem before being interrupted by ‘a person on business from Porlock’. Coleridge was believed to have drawn on the mystical atmosphere of Culbone Church, possibly 1000 years old and the smallest church in England, for his images of Kubla Khan’s ‘Xanadu’.

It has also been surmised that the poem’s ‘caverns measureless to man’ were Cheddar Gorge, which Coleridge had visited.

Poet-2.jpgAnother friend of Coleridge’s, Robert Southey, was Poet Laureate and most famous for writing The Story of the Three Bears, more commonly known now as Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

His poetry left vivid descriptions of the coast between Minehead and Dunster, and he was particularly inspired by a stay at the Ship Inn in Porlock, which still exists today, where he composed the sonnet Porlock.

Poet-3.jpgIn 1797, Wordsworth was living with his sister Dorothy in Dorset, when his friend Coleridge persuaded them to move to the Quantocks. They took up a one-year lease at a large house in Alfoxton, near Kilve.

This proved to be a very creative period for both Wordsworth and Coleridge, who frequently
visited each other and walked together. In fact, their unusual habit of walking at night aroused such suspicion they were mistaken for French spies! The friendship led to the publication of Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798, a collection of poems by both poets, which marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature.

William’s dynamic sister Dorothy influenced his poetry immensely. He frequently studied her famous journal, which held powerful descriptions of everyday surroundings. When the year’s lease on the house in Alfoxton expired, the Wordsworths settled in the Lake District where they remained.

Checkout more of Somerset's incredible history here in our interactive E Book 

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