Tales from End to End
The Romantic’s Tale
by The Ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
When John and Nancy were planning their walk and decided to pass through Nether Stowey they did not realise what a wonderful place it is. Nether Stowey, in fact, is known as ‘The Gateway to the Quantocks’ and the Quantocks were England’s first officially recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (or AONB). It’s a place of gently rolling hills where buzzards and deer are seen and where the Old Red Sandstone rock has weathered into rich red soil.
The village has the well-preserved remains of its old motte and bailey castle as well as some fine old medieval buildings but it is a small cottage at 35 Lime Street that is the most prestigious dwelling in Nether Stowey. It is now called Coleridge Cottage and it was here that my master, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, lived between 1797 and 1798.
It was during this time that Samuel produced his most famous poems. The cottage was not very grand but it provided the quiet and solace needed for great inspired writing. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan were both composed while he lived here. In the Rime are some phrases that have become common in everyday English speech – phrases such as ‘an albatross around the neck’, ‘water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’ and ‘a sadder and a wiser man’.
A little while earlier, in 1795, Samuel had met William Wordsworth and in 1798 they combined together to publish a joint volume of poetry called ‘Lyrical Ballads’. This is said to have been the starting point of the English Romantic Movement. Together the two men set a new style for poetry by using ordinary language and by looking in fresh ways at the beauties of nature. Some literary critics have credited Samuel with the idea of ‘Conversational Poetry’ in which profound poetic images are expressed in everyday language.
Yet despite my master’s genius, his life was not a happy one. Throughout adulthood he was prone to bouts of anxiety and depression – it has been speculated that he suffered from bi-polar disorder – and this led to him taking opium as a relief. The drug took over his life as he became addicted to its power. Kubla Khan, Samuel once claimed, was written as a result of an opium dream, ‘in a kind of reverie’.
My master was a passionate walker – it is claimed that he once walked from Nether Stowey to Porlock in a single day – and in honour of his extraordinary talents the Coleridge Way has been established as a waymarked 36-miles trail between these two villages. The walk includes parts of the Quantocks, the Brendon Hills and Exmoor, all areas of great beauty and inspiration for present-day walkers just as they were for Samuel.
For many years, Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey has been an attraction for Samuel’s admirers and today the National Trust is undertaking a major redevelopment of the house. Presumably the idea is to attract many more visitors and to increase the appreciation of his genius. But I wonder if the increased pressure on this tiny dwelling will destroy the peace and tranquillity that made the place so important for Samuel?