Walking with Coleridge

Coleridge the Traveller

Coleridge was a great traveller – particularly on foot.  He walked prodigious distances, through Wales: “there are immense and rugged clefts in the mountains, which in winter must form cataracts most tremendous”;  Scotland: “…huge mountains, some craggy and bare, but the most green with deep pinky channels worn by Torrents“;  and the Lake District, scene of his famous, dangerous descent from Scafell: “…when the sight of the Crags above me on each side, & the impetuous Clouds just over them, posting so luridly and so rapidly northward, overawed me;  I lay in a state of almost prophetic Trance & Delight “.

He read the works of other travellers too, and we can see elements from his travel books re-appearing in Kubla Khan. We know he read of William Bartram’s “subterraneous rivers” and of James Bruce’s “…his long hair floating all around his face.” He must also have read Sir John Barrow’s ”Travels in China” in which he describes the emperor’s garden at Yuen- min-Yuen: “Bold rocky promontories are seen jutting into a lake, and vallies retiring, some choaked with wood, others in a state of high cultivation. In particular spots, where pleasure-houses… were erected, the views appeared to have been studied.” As this account was not published until 1805, it supports the argument that Coleridge worked on Kubla Khan between its initial composition and its publication.

Travelling, either in the real world or in his imagination, was central to Coleridge’s pleasure in life. You can follow him on many of the tours he took, and see what he saw (with little alteration in some instances – especially in the Lakes or in Scotland). These brief notes will help, but the usual caveats and warning apply if you’re contemplating the wilder routes.