In the late summer of 1803, Coleridge and the Wordsworths (William and his sister Dorothy) embarked on a tour of the Highlands by ‘jaunting car’ – a horse drawn open carriage with sideways facing seats. Setting off from Greta Hall in Keswick, Coleridge was in poor spirits, and the travellers were finding it hard to take much pleasure in their adventure.
They made it together as far as Arrochar at the head of Loch Long. There it was agreed that in view of Coleridge’s health, he would return to Edinburgh, then back to Kewsick, leaving the Wordsworths to carry on their tour without him. “Our thoughts were full of Coleridge” lamented Dorothy in her notebook a day or so later… “I shivered at the thought of his being sickly and alone, travelling from place to place”. She needn’t have worried – Coleridge’s mood had picked up somewhat having abandoned the Wordsworths. Released from the restrictions of company – he could now move at his own pace and direction. Having travelled some way with ‘home’ vaguely in mind, he began to find other options also had powerful appeal. After a dram or two with a friendly innkeeper, and a nights rest, ‘home’ simply dropped off the agenda and he set off in the opposite direction – due north towards Glen Coe.
This was the start of an epic solo walk of 263 miles in eight days along the length of the great Glen from Fort William to Fort George, then south to Perth. We have Coleridge’s own detailed notes and impressions scribbled on the hoof standing as testimony to the whole breathless adventure. The journey is the subject of “Breaking Away: Coleridge in Scotland” by Carol Kyros Walker (Yale University Press 2002) – which traces the journey in colour photos of the route as it looks today.