Walking with Wordsworth and Waltzing with Third-Party Providers

In summer of 2014 I led nine students to the Lake District for a ten-day program on British Romantic literature, with a particular focus on long-time Grasmere residents William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Thomas De Quincey. I called the course “Walking with Wordsworth,” and the goal was both to introduce students to the places that inspired particular poetic and prose works of the Romantic period and to encourage students to question whether and how the geographical context matters to the reader’s interpretation of the texts themselves. Planning for the course began a year prior to departure and, per university regulations, required working closely with the coordinator of the study-abroad office at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), who strongly advised using a third-party provider based in Texas with whom UTEP has successfully partnered in the past. This article describes the classroom work prior to arriving in the UK, the lodging, travel, and instructional components of the trip itself, and the benefits of using a commercial provider in planning and managing the logistics of the program. The article concludes that while using a commercial provider adds a necessary bureaucratic layer to the instructor’s planning and comes at some additional cost to the students, its professional resources can offer significant time savings and peace of mind to faculty, especially those planning a study abroad for the first time.

Walking with Wordsworth and Waltzing with Third-Party Providers

Thomas Schmid
University of Texas at El Paso

Special thanks to R. Paul Yoder for his great help and encouragement in my initial consideration and planning of a student trip to the Lakes.

1.        In summer of 2014 I took nine students—six undergraduates, two MA students, and one non-degree seeking—to the Lake District for a ten-day program on British Romantic literature, with a particular focus on long-time Grasmere residents William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Thomas De Quincey. I called the course “Walking with Wordsworth,” and the goal was both to introduce students to the places that inspired particular poetic and prose works of the Romantic period and to encourage students to think anew about the relationship and relative importance of place to these literary productions—to consider the poetic and other works in their natural habitat, so to speak—and actively to question whether and how the geographical context matters to the reader’s interpretation of the texts themselves. Planning for the course began a year prior to departure and, per university regulations, required working closely with the coordinator of the study-abroad office at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), who strongly advised using a third-party provider based in Texas with whom UTEP has successfully partnered in the past. UTEP often contracts with several such providers, including International Studies Abroad (ISA) and Academic Programs International (API), all of which have extensive expertise in developing academic programs around the globe and in coordinating travel logistics, itineraries, and in-country services; international programs and study-abroad offices on local campuses will almost certainly have recommendations for appropriate providers, depending on individual faculty needs and the institution’s contractual arrangements, if any. In my case, since I had never run a program abroad before, I agreed to use the recommended company (name withheld to protect its privacy) and their on-site UK co-director, the latter of whom oversaw the logistics of all in-country travel and activities and who participated with the group throughout the program, from greeting us at the Manchester airport to dropping us off for departure back to the US. I believe the course was a success and that my own curricular goals were met: the students and I walked in the footsteps of the Romantic writers who were inspired by the fells and lakes of Cumbria, and the students evinced in their journals and final papers an enriched understanding of the history and aesthetics of Romantic-period literary responses to these northern landscapes. However, before walking the environs of Keswick, Grasmere, Rydal, Langdale, Buttermere, and Ullswater with my students, I had to waltz with my own study-abroad office and the third-party organization, not always a smooth or easy task. While the benefits of using a third-party provider in planning and delivering this student class trip to the Lake District were substantial, they came at some cost both in time and money; and while I will certainly consider partnering with the same organization in the future—and recommending the company itself to interested colleagues—an assessment of the advantages and frustrations may be useful to faculty contemplating similarly structured study abroad courses of their own.

2.        I need to stress from the start that the third-party organization—hereafter referred to as TPO—proved a responsive and helpful partner and that it in no way took control of the content or scope of the course or its in-country activities. I brought the initial plan for the course to them and together we worked to make it feasible, with all components and suggestions subject to my final approval. That said, the initiative and experience of the resident UK co-director proved invaluable in matching my course goals to specific activities, transportation, housing, and meal options in England, and I endorsed nearly all her suggestions. Once we finalized the itinerary, my co-director also took care of all hotel and special-event reservations, secured blocks of tickets for admission to museums and other venues, and planned group meals at various notable eateries, including the Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite which Coleridge and Southey frequented; she also arranged chartered transportation for each day of the trip, a significant convenience given the comparative lack of public transportation options to a few of the Lake District’s more remote locations. Stateside, TPO produced an extremely eye-catching and professional flyer for advertising and recruiting (using some of my own photographs from a previous research trip) and provided pre-departure faculty and student handbooks (in PDF) as well as an extensive on-site booklet with airport maps, helpful information on all activities, emergency and other contact numbers, and a detailed itinerary for each day that included interesting historical information on each site; participants were given a printed copy of the booklet (along with a free umbrella) when the director met us at the Manchester airport—where it was, in fact, raining when we arrived.

3.        The course itself included both on-campus classwork (including three examinations) before departure and a full schedule of activities in the Lake District. On campus I held two extensive orientations and planning meetings in the spring semester, during which I described the course goals and requirements and provided the students with pictorial and narrative information—including mileages—for the variety of walks we would be undertaking in England. These orientation sessions also provided an opportunity to talk about Cumbrian weather, including rainfall averages for May/June, recommended clothing and footwear, exchange rates, cash recommendations, and so forth.

4.        Once the summer session began, we held five campus classes of 130 minutes each as a kind of crash course in late eighteenth-century and Regency landscape aesthetics, including a fairly hefty reading list for a short “Maymester” course. We read and discussed selections from William Gilpin’s Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland in 1772, Thomas West’s Guide to the Lakes (which includes his famous descriptions of optimal viewing “stations”), Burke’s Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 Observations during a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland, William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes and the entirety of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, along with a generous selection of William Wordsworth’s poetry, including the appropriate books of the Prelude, Book Two of the Excursion (Complete Poetical Works), the “Poems on the Naming of Places,” “Idle Shepherd Boys,” “Home at Grasmere,” “Michael,” and so forth (Major Works). Among the primary texts, we also read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Narrative Concerning George and Sarah Green and De Quincey’s “Memorials of Grasmere,” which give two contrasting representations of the 1808 accidental deaths of George and Sarah Green in a snowstorm atop the high fells between Langdale and Easedale. The loss left a number of impoverished and orphaned children to the dubious charity of the Grasmere community (about which Michelle Levy has written so insightfully); the Green cottage can still be viewed in Easedale, just a few minutes’ walk from the center of Grasmere.

5.        During the week of classes in El Paso, we also read several standard critical assessments of the role and representation of nature in British Romanticism as a way to contextualize the primary readings and structure our consideration of literature and landscape in Cumbria. Only two of the student participants had already taken a full semester course in British Romantic Literature from me, so most of the students needed a basic background to the period before making sense of the literary representations of landscape we would be considering both on the page and on the ground in England. The primary readings, especially Burke’s chapters on the sublime and beautiful, were of course central to our discussions, but the students also benefited from the smattering of secondary critical literature. We read and discussed Aidan Day’s introduction to seminal scholarly definitions of Romanticism, the “Perspectives” section on “The Sublime, the Beautiful, and the Picturesque” from the Romanticism volume of The Longman Anthology of British Literature (edited by Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning), Jonathan Bate’s chapter on “The Picturesque Environment” from Song of the Earth, Geoffrey Hartman’s classic essay on “Nature and the Humanization of the Self in Wordsworth,” and generous portions of David McCracken’s Wordsworth and the Lake District: A Guide to the Poems and Their Places. The primary essays, guidebooks, and poetry introduced students to the aesthetic vocabulary of the period, while the secondary critical readings—especially Bate’s chapter—encouraged resistant readings of the ideological investments in the various Romantic-period representations of nature and the self; Dorothy Wordsworth’s writings brought particular focus to the question of gender in the Romantic representation of nature and landscape; and McCracken’s latter-day guide helped immeasurably in mapping the literary/geographical reference points for Wordsworth’s poetry before and after we set foot in Cumbria. To facilitate our discussions while in England, each student brought with him or her a laptop or tablet with key primary and secondary texts uploaded in PDF form, including the relevant pages from McCracken describing the daily walks on the itinerary; each student was required to keep a daily journal and to write a final response paper analyzing the role of place in a particular poem, journal, or guide from the period, both of which were due by either electronic or paper submission on the final morning before departure.

6.        In the Lake District, we were headquartered in Greta Hall in Keswick, Coleridge’s home from 1800–1803 and Southey’s from 1803 to his death in 1843, now run as a B&B. The availability of the hall was an inspired discovery by the UK co-director, who secured the main house and coach house for the exclusive use of our group and arranged with the Greta Hall owners, Scott Ligertwood and Jeronime Palmer, for packed lunches on most days and breakfast each morning. Both the main house and coach house also included kitchen and common-room spaces where we could eat and hold informal discussions on the day’s—or next day’s—activities and readings. One afternoon, Scott and Jeronime served afternoon tea in Southey’s study, during which Scott gave an animated reading in his broad Scottish accent of Southey’s “Three Bears” (written in that very room)—a huge hit with the students. Greta Hall is an award-winning Green Tourism-designated B&B, and I can highly recommend it for a group of 10 or 12. The owners are well versed in the literary history of the property, and it makes a perfect base of operations.

7.         My co-director also arranged for transportation by chartered van for each day’s drive to specific locales and, again, her choice proved perfect for us. We used Furness of Keswick and were driven everywhere we needed to go by the same driver (I only knew him by his first name, Dave), a canny Lakeland native who became a great companion on many activities, including the steep climb to Dungeon Ghyll Force, about which I’ll talk in a moment. Related to the issue of knowledgeable climbing partners, my co-director also retained the services of a local Keswick mountain guide and author, Keith Richardson, for several of our more extended Wordsworthian rambles. Keith has published several books on the area, including a beautifully photographed history of the River Greta (which flows through Keswick), and his knowledge of the Wordsworth/Coleridge connections with particular places is extensive. My co-director’s hiring of Keith proved invaluable: while I had prior knowledge of the area from a research trip to the Wordsworth Trust archives years earlier, Keith knew the history and geography intimately, was an experienced fell walker, and was immediately popular with the students for his humor and colorful anecdotes. Since study abroad should encourage as much immersion in local histories and cultures as possible, having a local guide on staff was an instructive addition.  

8.        On our first full day in Keswick, Keith led us on an engaging walk from Greta Hall along the Greta River, through Lower and Upper Fitz Park, and a short climb to Latrigg and Windy Brow cottage, William and Dorothy’s home (thanks to William Calvert) in 1794. Though the prospects from Windy Brow are not quite as open as in the Wordsworths’ day, the view is still impressive, providing the perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of William and Dorothy’s “pilgrimage,” as they themselves termed it, to this modest home together, and recalling Dorothy’s own description of the view at the time:

This vale is terminated on one end by a huge pile of grand mountains in whose lap the lovely lake of Derwent is placed, at the other end by the lake of Bassenthwaite, on one side Skiddaw towers sublime and on the other a range of mountains not of equal size but of much grandeur, and the middle part of the vale is of beautiful cultivated grounds interspersed with cottages and watered by a winding stream [the Derwent] which runs between the lakes of Derwent and Bassenthwaite. (qtd. in Newlyn 27)
Later, we were treated to a different angle of the view of Derwent valley and the southern vale toward Thirlmere and Grasmere from the Castlerigg Stone Circle above Keswick. At this point the views back to Skiddaw become more extensive, and Keith regaled the students with the story of the raucous Southey/Wordsworth party atop Skiddaw in 1815 to celebrate the fall of Napoleon.

9.        Throughout the week, Keith led short hikes to other notable spots of time and place: Blea Tarn, where we saw the “Solitary’s” cottage and where Keith and I took turns reading aloud the sections from The Excursion describing the tarn and the Solitary’s life; Dungeon Ghyll Force in Langdale, where Keith read “The Idle Shepherd Boys”; Easedale, where we discussed the George and Sarah Green story and talked about the composition of The Prelude; the shores of Ullswater, where I led a discussion of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”; Aira Force above Gowbarrow Park, where I read Wordsworth’s short poem on the waterfall; and Buttermere, for a leisurely stroll around the lake and a drink in the pub where the famous Maid of Buttermere once served the gawking tourists in Wordsworth’s day.

10.        Keith’s mountain savvy proved particularly welcome on the short but steep climb to Dungeon Ghyll. As R. Paul Yoder discusses in his essay for this issue, most of my students, too, experienced surprising difficulty with the walking, something I will keep in mind for future iterations of the program. In the case of Dungeon Ghyll, not only is the initial climb steep and on a rugged trail, but the force itself can only be viewed by a fairly precipitous climb down into the ravine cut by the beck, which is overarched with trees: only by climbing down can you then look straight up the gorge to the water plunging beneath the bridge of rock the idle shepherds dare each other to cross. The view is worth seeing, especially for students of Romanticism, but the terrain is challenging enough to give any instructor disturbing visions of insurance claims and parental lawsuits. Keith and our Furness driver, Dave, insisted that students climb down one at a time, see the view, then climb back up, all with their assistance. They personally guided each student down and back before taking the next, insuring the safety of each. The students were thrilled. They still talk about it as one of their favorite days on the trip and they keep joking about creating “I Survived Dungeon Ghyll Force” t-shirts. I have included a photo of Keith Richardson reading “The Idle Shepherd-Boys” to the group, the dark depths of Dungeon Ghyll behind and below him, into which the students would soon descend.

Keith Richardson reading The Idle
                            Shepherd-Boys to students

Figure 1. Keith Richardson reading The Idle Shepherd-Boys to students

11.        It is not my charge in this essay to describe our entire itinerary in detail, but I do want to dwell for a moment on the high point of the course for everyone, our “immersion” day at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. This was where the rubber really met the road in terms of the students’ scholarly engagement with the archival material of the Wordsworth circle and the sights—and even tastes—of Wordsworthian life in Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount; it is also a day that proved the great value of having booked with TPO and being provided with a co-director, who had arranged everything for us in advance.

12.        As the Wordsworth Trust curator, Jeff Cowton, explained at the NASSR session that gave rise to this pedagogy issue, the Trust can provide customized immersion experiences of one or several days (even longer) for student groups, and I can recommend the activity highly. Our group worked with a Trust staff scholar all morning on several manuscripts and textual issues, a revelatory experience for my students, none of whom had extensive prior archival training. We then ate our packed lunch (from Greta Hall) in the gardens and toured the Wordsworth museum on our own. After lunch, the same Trust scholar led us on a personalized tour of Dove Cottage and a stunning walk over the old Coffin Trail to Rydal Mount for an hour or so in the house and grounds, followed by a leisurely stroll along the far bank of Rydal Water and back to Dove Cottage. While we were at Rydal, the Trust staff had prepared a meal in Dove Cottage from the Wordsworths’ recipe book for our return, which we ate in the downstairs parlor in the gorgeous early evening light; as Ghislaine McDayter discusses in her essay for this issue, food can and should be a part of experiencing cultural nuances and differences, and eating a typical meal the Wordsworths themselves would have served—potted trout, homemade bread, local cheese, potato-and-leek soup—enriched the students’ understanding and appreciation for Romantic-period life in the vale. While we ate, Jeff Cowton talked about the Wordsworths’ life in the cottage and read a few of William’s poems. He also talked about the death of John Wordsworth aboard the Abergavenny, Sir George Beaumont’s famous painting of “Peele Castle in a Storm,” and Wordsworth’s “Elegaic Stanzas” (as the painting, which depicts a ship floundering in a storm, reminded Wordsworth of John’s death). He then led us upstairs to where the painting hangs and had me read the poem while seated beneath the painting in Wordsworth’s favorite chair, the one in which he often read and composed. I have never seen my students so rapt. Jeff concluded this amazing day with a walk in the steep terraced garden in back of the cottage, where he had the students all ascend to the little hermitage Wordsworth built and read a stanza each from Wordsworth’s “A Farewell,” in which he says goodbye to the garden and prepares it for the arrival of Mary Hutchinson, who will soon return with him as his wife. The eight stanzas of the poem worked out perfectly for the eight students in the garden.

13.        The reason we had eight instead of nine is that one of the students had been gravely ill with what was diagnosed as dehydration and lack of sleep, and this is where I was again extremely grateful for my co-director. Early that morning in Keswick we were able to split up, my co-director taking the students down to Grasmere, Scott Ligertwood and I taking the sick student to the emergency room. Fluids and bed rest were prescribed, and my wife looked after the student for the rest of the afternoon, while I was able to take a cab to Grasmere to join up with the rest of the group for lunch and the following activities. The dehydrated student recovered nicely and was ready to go by the next morning. While a thankfully minor event, the emergency room visit highlighted for me the real benefit of working with TPO: superior organization and peace of mind. Having another set of experienced boots on the ground eases things tremendously, and one thing TPO is very good at—and I imagine this must hold true for most commercial vendors of academic study-abroad programs—is ensuring the comfort, health, and safety of all participants and being prepared for emergencies. It is worth noting in this context that my co-director constantly checked weather conditions each day and carried an impressive first-aid kit and other emergency supplies on each day’s outing. I am not saying that safety cannot be maximized on one’s own, of course, only that having a partner with local contacts and the support of an entire organization with hefty international experience can be a comfort. Having my co-director taking care of logistics in general freed me to do what I wanted most, which was teach.

14.        All this support came with a price, of course, and while the benefits largely outweighed the disadvantages, there were some frustrations working with TPO. For one thing, mediating between TPO and my university proved time consuming and added to the already thick layer of bureaucratic processes UTEP’s Study Abroad office piles on both faculty and students. Using TPO meant negotiating a contract with the university, which involved me in lengthy mediations between TPO, my department chair, the dean, the Provost’s Office, the university legal department, and the study-abroad coordinator, all of whom were supportive and efficient, but the process was more involved than if I had been running the program on my own. In addition, communication between the UTEP study-abroad coordinator, TPO, and myself was not always clear, especially in the crucial matter of airline reservations (unknown to me initially, the UTEP coordinator insisted for some reason on handling airfare reservations, though TPO would have provided that service, and through a series of miscommunications actually lost a block of reserved tickets; we all ended up getting tickets on the same flights regardless, but the initial loss of the reservations created a lot of stress for some students). On the UK side, the very efficiency I so appreciated in my co-director proved somewhat irksome to many of my students, who, a bit unfairly in my opinion, chafed against her crisp adherence to schedule: she became the unwitting bad cop to my good cop.

15.        Finally, the financial cost to the students of using TPO remains troubling. Despite repeated requests, I have not been able yet to get a clear declaration of what TPO actually charged for their services or of the itemized cost breakdown for the program; they have only given me lump sums for lodging, meals, and activity costs: one dollar amount for each of those broad categories. I do not know, for example, how much of a group discount, if any, TPO was able to secure for us with Greta Hall, The Wordsworth Trust, Furness of Keswick, or the Pheasant Inn, and I am amazed that the UTEP legal office approved the contract without such itemizations in advance (I have since learned that third-party organizations do not typically itemize costs to the extent I desired). TPO charged each student about $2700, excluding tuition and airfare, but including most meals, all lodging, in-country transportation, activity costs, guides, etc., for the ten-day trip. That is actually not horribly out of line with the program costs of similar study-abroad trips other UTEP faculty have developed on their own, as I understand them from anecdotal evidence and consultation with the study-abroad office, but it is much higher than, say, the cost of Paul Yoder’s trip, over a commensurate period of time, as described in his essay for this issue. My feeling is that in many ways the experience and service TPO provides are worth the costs, but knowing in greater detail how those costs are actually distributed and what, precisely, the company charges for their services would be helpful for future planning.

16.        When all was said and done, the students were given a first-rate experience (several of my students have repeatedly described it to me as a “dream trip”) with luxurious accommodations; worry-free, pre-paid transportation in country; and an impressive range of superbly guided activities related to the theme of the relationship of landscape and environment to Romantic literature. For my part, using TPO meant I could concentrate most on the pedagogical aims of the course rather than on the logistical details my co-director managed so ably, and that I had someone who could provide expert help in the event of an emergency. If the metaphor of “herding cats” is apt for leading a study abroad—and I think it is—then using a third-party vendor gives one another helpful wrangler or two, though at a cost, unfortunately, to the students. My students were eligible for study abroad scholarships and modest stipends from the college to help offset those costs, but I believe if universities are serious about encouraging the outsourcing of study abroad planning to third-party providers, they should consider underwriting some of that extra cost.

Works Cited

Bate, Jonathan. The Song of the Earth. Harvard UP, 2000.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful. Edited by Adam Phillips, Oxford UP, 1990.

Day, Aidan. Romanticism. Routledge, 1996.

De Quincey, Thomas. Collected Writings. Edited by David Masson, vol. 13. Edinburgh, Adam and Charles Black, 1890. AMS, 1968.

Gilpin, William. Observations on Several Parts of England, Particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772. 3rd ed., 2 vols., London, printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1808. Internet Archive, archive.org. Accessed 16 May 2014.

Hartman, Geoffrey H. “Nature and the Humanization of the Self in Wordsworth.” English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by M. H. Abrams, 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 1975.

Levy, Michelle. “The Wordsworths, the Greens, and the Limits of Sympathy.” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 42, no. 4, 2003, pp. 541–63.

McCracken, David. Wordsworth and the Lake District: A Guide to the Poems and Their Places. Oxford UP, 1985.

Newlyn, Lucy. William and Dorothy Wordsworth: All in Each Other. Oxford UP, 2013.

Radcliffe, Ann. A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany: With a Return Down the Rhine: To Which Are Added Observations During a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland G. G. and J. Robinson, 1795. Eighteenth Century Collections Online: Text Creation Partnership, quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/. Accessed 16 May 2014.

West, Thomas. A Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire. 2nd ed., Richardson and Urquhart, 1780. Internet Archive, archive.org. Accessed 16 May 2014.

Wolfson, Susan, and Peter Manning, editors. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd ed., vol. 2A, Longman, 2003.

Wordsworth, Dorothy. The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. Edited by Pamela Woof, Oxford UP, 2002.

---. A Narrative Concerning George and Sarah Green. Edited by Ernest De Selincourt, Clarendon, 1936.

Wordsworth, William. The Complete Poetical Works. Macmillan, 1888. Bartleby.com, www.bartleby.com. Accessed 16 May 2014.

---. Guide to the Lakes. Edited by Ernest De Selincourt, 5th ed., 1835. Oxford UP, 1970.

---. The Major Works. Edited by Stephen Gill, Oxford UP, 2000.

---. The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850. Edited by Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill, Norton, 1979.