Exploring The Romantics

English Wordsworth trip to Bristol

Last Friday a small group of 6.2 headed to the West Country to explore the works of The Romantics, part of the A2 syllabus. On arrival in Bristol we walked across Clifton Down to the Camera Obscura where there was a brief class on the ‘Sublime, Picturesque and Beautiful’ before we headed down inside the cave for a practical illustration of the sublime – and Brunel’s magnificent engineering.

After a brief visit to the English Gothic Wills Building and City Museum, we headed to the hotel for a swift change ready for the ‘New Lyrical Ballads’ poetry reading in the regenerated docklands quarter.

AS Byatt as Chair of the Arts Council introduced the evening and compère Ian McMillan whose pithy and enthusiastic introductions to each of the 23 poets showed the huge variety of contemporary writing in English. The commission, probably the most wide-ranging and significant poetic enterprise undertaken in modern times was for established poets to ‘write back’ to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Unsurprisingly, a large number of the poets were inspired by ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ -Fleur Adcock’s harrowing depiction of a dying albatross being just one. Similarly affecting was Alice Oswald’s modern ballad to platonic love which culminated in a ‘kiss of life’ in a pub. Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion and literati-favourite Ruth Padel also offered short poems. The Scot’s Makar, or Laureate, Liz Lochead closed the evening with a challenging poem in a distinctly vernacular mode -something Wordsworth and Coleridge would have wholeheartedly approved. Gillian Clarke, who will be speaking at Bedales this Autumn also presented and mingled during the interval.

English Wordsworth trip to Bristol 2

The following day consisted of breakfast in Chepstow, a brief look at the castle and a glance at the ballad inscribed in the pavement about a wine merchant called Dick before moving deeper inland, following Gilpin’s 18th century tour. Some time later we arrived at Tintern Abbey where we explored the ruins, now far more ordered and manicured than Dorothy and William Wordsworth’s trips in 1793 and again on revisiting in 1798. We read arguably Wordsworth’s most powerful poem, named after the iconic building and soaked in the atmosphere of the ‘sylvan Wye’ and looked on at the ‘wreathes of smoke’ through the silhouetted East window.

Thanks to Melissa Bagg who accompanied the trip, the staff at @Bristol and The Clifton Observatory who made it all possible.

By Ed Mason, Teacher of English and Day Boys’ Housemaster


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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