Kathleen Raine: The Poetry Stones of Ullswater

I've just been exploring the shores of Ullswater for a workshop I'm running in September, which involves Winifred Nicholson's paintings and the work of Kathleen Raine and Norman Nicholson.  The walk I've just been trying out is part of the Ullswater Way which stretches around the whole of the lake, though I was just doing a small part of it.

It was a typical Lake District day - cloudy, occasional sun breaking through the clouds, and a stiff breeze blowing up white caps on the water. It was a little damp, but not actually raining. We walked through the woods and had a picnic on one of the rocky promontories. Helvellyn drifted in and out of view.  Bliss!

The Old Vicarage, Martindale
During the war Kathleen Raine lived in the remote hamlet of Martindale in the hills above Ullwater.  It's not easy to get to and the Old Vicarage she lived in still has no road to the door; you have to walk across a field to get to it.  It's a short walk from her house to Sandwick on the shores of Ullswater and, as a memorial to her, lines from some of the poems she wrote while she was here are carved into stones in Hallinhag wood beside the lake. The inscriptions are weathered and mossy and the stones are not easy to see among the bracken.  This is what I was looking for.

"human word Carved by our whispers in the passing air" from 'Night in Martindale'

"The lake is in my dream, The tree is in my blood, The past is in my bones, The flowers of the wood  I love with long past loves." from 'On Leaving Ullswater'

"Words say, waters flow, Rocks weather, ferns wither, winds blow, times go," from 'Night in Martindale'

I'm not one of Kathleen Raine's greatest fans, though I loved her poetry as young girl.  I now find much of it just too abstract and fey. But she had a significant influence on twentieth century poetry and I still rate 'Shells' (which I know by heart) as one of the poems that best describes the sense of wonder and awe generated by contact with the living world (another would be Hopkins 'Pied Beauty'). The last line 'The world that you inhabit has not yet been created', strikes now with even greater force when we live in an age that is seriously interfering with the ongoing processes of creation.

The young Kathleen Raine - a lot of men, including Norman Nicholson, fell in love with her. 

Kathleen Raine was part of a group of artists and poets (which also included Ben Nicholson, Percy Kelly and David Jones) spending time at a house called Cockley Moor (later owned by Fred Hoyle) which overlooks Ullswater on the other side of the lake. It was owned by Helen Sutherland, a P & O heiress and a big patron of the arts. This bringing together of painters and poets during the war years and just afterwards had a tremendous effect on all of them. But the most important part of it was the landscape they were inhabiting - Lake Ullswater and the hills around it.  I'm hoping to take participants of the workshop on a walk to look at the Poetry Stones, via Martindale and the Old Vicarage.

Cockley Moor, the home of Helen Sutherland and the venue for the workshop.

The workshop runs all day on Saturday the 15th September.  There are only a few places left. Anyone interested should contact Antoinette Fawcett through the Norman Nicholson Society.  or get in touch with me via the email link on this blog. 


  1. As a hurt child........is a short poem of Raines that stays with me

    1. "As a hurt child refuses comfort
      We hide from one another, fearing to be hurt again
      Should we give love or receive,
      Vulnerable each time one small green shoot
      Breaks through the hard wood
      The years have ringed the heart with:
      Where love, there pain."
      It is so true isn't it. A beautiful poem.

  2. Really looking forward to this workshop, especially in such an inspirational location.


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