Lyrical Ballads: exploring Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley

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From 4-7 February, 6.2 English students studying Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) visited Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley. We explored a number of sites that were important to the early Romantic poets and that were depicted throughout their poetry, and learnt about the poems’ historical and contemporary critical reception.

Below is our poetic response to the trip, which draws on the various forms and meters experimented with by Wordsworth and Coleridge. There is no “gaudiness and inane phraseology” as seen in many “modern writers” though, as Wordsworth continued, to say:

“Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.”

By Ed’s English Set, with thanks to Ed Mason and Clare Lock for an incredible trip!

A Romantic Road Trip

How to begin? What a wonder:

We rose with the dawn one Friday morn

And headed to Kilve’s shore;

Taking in Somerset’s landscape and croissants

on our Bedales bus to the rumbling of its core.

 

On the beach we contemplated Wordsworth’sIMG_8699

‘Anecdote for Fathers’, found fossils,

And maxed out on photographs

The rock formations afforded us.

 

To Watchet, to its harbour, to its sculpture

Of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

To coffee, cake and reading

‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Lime Tree Bower’.
Then arriving in Wells, the smallest city in the land,

The Good Earth provided us lunch and warmth of conversation

We met Agnes in her eighties

She is full of energy

Conversation turned to Bedales and she recognises the name

She mentions ‘riotous’ behaviour whilst chuckling into her soup.

Upon leaving we’re told to ensure we see ‘Quarter Jack’

Who, in Wells Cathedral, in his glorious mechanisation kicks

A chime from the bells each quarter hour.

 

Food filled, we ventured a cavern of vast size

The Wookey Hole.IMG_8714

Tracking the neoclassical footsteps of Alexander Pope,

the group entered an ancient Jurassic world guided by a Wookey enthusiast,

special effects enhanced tales of witches, Celts and cheeses

then out through a mirror maze and Victorian penny games

and away from the Bizarre.

 

Down the rained cobbles of the most complete medieval street in Europe,

In Wells. We entered the rib cage of the Cathedral

Following its high white bones arching upwards

To prettily painted veins of decoration,

Hearing the high notes of Wells choir rehearsing

For Handal’s Messiah in some hidden chamber.

 

Upon the hour, in the vestry we witnessed

Jack’s musical movement in all its glory

Thanking Agnes quietly.

 

Travelodge and shower

went another hour.

 

Out for food to be filled again!

Then Tesco for face masks and ice cream

Bed time. Sweet dreams.

 

We rose with the rain

Bus and breakfasted again.

To Tintern and its rustic ruinIMG_8755

Dancing in the rain drops

We frolicked among its

Battered buttresses

And tried to recreate Turner’s perspective

And Wordsworth’s words

‘with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy

We see into the life of things.’

 

Tintern Abbey to Clifton’s cave

Limboing we descended down a rocky oesophagus

To a viewing platform made from the cave’s mouth

Looking out toward the suspension bridge-

Sending us whistled complaints in the wind.

And there we read of how Coleridge struggled to define

the difference betwixt beautiful, picturesque and sublime.

 

Lunchtime.

 

Bristol – a tapas bar

Hummus, chicken, pesto, carrot and coriander

A market selling silver from Northern India

The seller selling Bristol

For the beauty of its people.

Beautiful.

 

We regrouped at the Arnofini Gallery

Watched John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo’ which showed

Humanity’s repeated history of atrocity

Aiming to encourage our sympathy.

A brisk walk in the rain to food

Quinoa and avocados-

Eating al-fresco in Nando’s,

To a show at the Wardrobe theatre-

‘The hours before we wake’ Prophetic and amusing;

A pill for dreaming in the 22nd century.

Bus, bed and lie-in until 9:30. Luxury.

 

We rose with the bright sky

Then drove into Glastonbury

And headed up the tor, losing ourselves in the breeze

Thinking of ‘these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door.’

Somerset and more.

Picturesque.

 

Then to the last

Stonehenge. our final pilgrimage

paying homage to the scene where Tess lay,

the stones of ceremony and great debate.

Those stones which seem to defy man’s possibility

On nature’s wind-wild verdant vast plateau.

Sublime.

Shuttling back to the Bedales bus,

we beetled home under one grey sky

on roads where two great Romantics roamed

along the Valley of the Wye.

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.

Writer in Residence: Elaine Proctor

We have been joined this week by our Writer in Residence, Elaine Proctor. Elaine is a novelist and a screen writer. She was born in South Africa and grew up highly politicized during the Anti-Apartheid movement. She began to document Black resistance to Apartheid in overtly political documentary films. Elaine went on to train in film and her work includes notable pieces such as ‘On The Wire’. She has recently published her second novel ‘The Savage Hour’ and her first novel, ‘Rhumba’ was shortlisted for the Anobii first book award in 2012. Elaine has had a very busy week meeting with our 6.1 English students and offering creative writing advice. She also ran a fantastic workshop on Tuesday evening; students have found her presence this week invaluable and we in the English department have certainly enjoyed her stimulating company. Hopefully we can invite her back to Bedales in the future.

By David Anson, Head of English


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.

The importance of reading

Bedales Library interior - banner

On 15 September I gave an assembly on the importance of reading. There is a growing body of evidence which illustrates the importance of reading for pleasure, for both educational purposes as well as personal development. Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment. Reading enjoyment has been reported as playing a greater role in a child’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status and this finding formed the premise of my assembly to encourage our students to GET READING. Evidence also suggests that children are more likely to read if they see their parents and other adults around them doing so. With this in mind I invited a number of teachers to share some of their favourite books with the school; Al McConville, Benedict Haydn-Davies and Susan Robson all offered their enthusiasm and I was only too disappointed not to be able to take up the keen offers of other members of staff who wanted to share their love of reading. With the advent of Firefly I will be setting up a page to inspire reading and to offer reading lists from departments and members of staff. In conjunction with the Library and Jane Kirby, I am also setting up book carousels in the boarding houses to complement the excellent collections Steephurst and Boys’ Flat already have, to help further encourage pupils to share the joy of reading when they are on flat or in the day house. There has been a very exciting response to the assembly and I have been impressed by a number of students who want to set up book clubs, either on flat or in their tutor groups, hopefully this will continue to go from strength to strength.

By David Anson, Head of English


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.

Wanted: paperbacks

The English Department is very keen to do all we can to encourage as much reading for pleasure in our young people as we can. Next year we will be adding to the reading material on flat and in the Day Common Room with carousels of paperback fiction that students can take, read, put back or pass on to others. We have been given a very generous donation from the BPA to get us started but we would be really grateful if you could bring in a book to donate to the collection on Parents’ Day on 28 June. We are looking for anything you think teenagers would enjoy, maybe something you read when you were younger or something you have recently read and think would be appropriate. It could be any genre, as long as it is a paperback. If you feel like writing an inscription in the front saying why students might enjoy the book then all the better – this initiative is going to work on personal recommendations with the hope that students will pass books on to each other. There will be a collection point in Reception on the day. If you can’t make the 28th then please feel free to make a book donation at the end of term and please don’t worry about duplicates of texts – this will hopefully add to the general cache of your choice.

By  David Anson, Head of English

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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.

12 Angry Men and Block 4

Block 4 BAC English Literature students recently went to London to see a production of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick Theatre; a superb production of the well-known, taut  jury room drama first seen in the Henry Fonda film of 1957 exploring not only a single case but the whole process of justice. Milo Howes said: “The visit was due to us studying the play in class and the production was a new way of helping us understand and connect with the plot. The performance was fantastic and many, if not all, the students benefited from it greatly; it was a brimming success which brought back many smiles on the coach. Many thanks to all the teachers who took us.”

By Milo Howes, Block 4 and Mary-Liz Houghton, Teacher of English

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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.

Students inspired by poet

Last week we were joined by Daniela Elza, a Canadian Poet (of Bulgarian extraction!) who was a gap student here 22 years ago. Daniela spent three days with our students running workshops, a lecture, writing clinics and a fantastic poetry reading in the Lupton Hall. Rosanna in Block 4 was one of many students who said they felt her to be ‘truly inspiring’ and felt they had ‘many refreshing ideas’. I for one found some great opportunities to write and I am feeling very excited about the possibility of making poetry slams and readings a more prevalent feature of our students’ experience here next year. Read Daniela’s blog on her visit to Bedales.

By  David Anson, Head of English

Daniela Elza

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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.