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Ambleside 2008 by Jennifer Spencer


It was an ordinary day in March.  I was at school checking my email during my planning time when I saw a curious message from Carroll Smith.  It said, “Please call me when you get a chance.  I have something very important and exciting to share with you.”  Of course, I called him immediately.  After exchanging pleasantries, he began to explain that a grant had been obtained to send five people to Ambleside to set a research agenda around the life and work of Charlotte Mason.  As he spoke my heart began to race, but I dared not hope he would ask me to go.  I assumed he needed me to take care of something while he was away doing this important work.  He began to list the names of the people who were going.  “It will be Deani Van Pelt, Jack Beckman, Lisa Cadora, and me, and we would like to ask you to be the fifth person.”  All of a sudden, I found it difficult to breathe.  Aside from the fact that I had always dreamed of being able to travel to England, two of my heartiest interests (“Mason” and “research”) would be the reasons for the trip.  I was overcome. 

Armitt Museum

Armitt Museum

The next four months were full of preparation.  After obtaining a passport, arranging air travel, buying new luggage, writing two research proposals, packing, checking on airline security regulations, and then re-packing, I took the eight-hour flight, three-hour train ride, and thirty minute taxi to Ambleside.  But, like Deani, my excitement won out over the physical exhaustion.   I think Jack had similar feelings, because we all decided to take a hike rather than a nap.  I am so glad we did, because the beauty of the Lake District that I saw from LoughriggFell helped me feel revitalized and centered.  In my mind’s eye I could see Mason’s student teachers walking the same path.  I could imagine that they would be having conversation very similar to what I was having with Jack and Deani.  My soul involuntarily cried out praise to the Living God because everything around me magnified Him.  


Ambleside Viewed from Our Hike

Ambleside as viewed from our hike

I wonder if Mason chose to establish her college in Ambleside because she had a similar experience.  This area was obviously home to many writers, artists, and philosophers, including Wordsworth, Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter.  I think what drew them to this seemingly sleepy little town may have been that the natural surroundings invoked such powerful reflection.  It makes sense to me that Mason would need a place free from the distractions of city life in order to develop such a profound and practical educational philosophy.  Being in a place where the works of God push the works of men so far into the background probably helped Mason retain her focus on education as a means of getting to know the Character of God, as well as her insistence that it was the work and not her name she wished to bepreserved.  Of course I am merely speculating.  But when I read Mason’s work now, my perspective is different than it was before this trip because I have in mind a setting and context.

Rydal Hall as viewed from our hike

Rydal Hall as viewed from our hike


I am extremely excited by the dialogue which took place within this research team over the course of our week in Ambleside.  As we shared our thoughts and ideas it became obvious that we each had very different interests, including historical and biographical research, teacher training, empirical studies, practical application, and theological and philosophical considerations.  But for all this diversity, it seemed to me that we were all working toward polishing a different facet of the same diamond.  I am so glad to be a part of this work, and I am eagerly anticipating being able to see what God is going to bring out of it For the Children’s Sake.


View from Loughrigg

View from Loughrigg

Observation House at a waterfall

Observation House at a waterfall





This entry was posted in: Ambleside


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

1 Comment

  1. storybookfamily says

    Thanks for sharing all the lovely photos from Ambleside and about your exciting research. What a wonderful opportunity! I’m very curious to know if any of you came across art prints from CM’s time used for picture study and if they were printed in black and white? Her comment in vol. 1 on page 309 has given me that impression (and it wouldn’t be a surprise with the economics of the printing process of her day): “It is a mistake to think that colour is quite necessary to children in their art studies. They find colour in many places, and are content, for the time, with form and feeling in their pictures.”

    Thank you!
    Beth S.

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