Ambleside, Childlight USA Conference, Christianity, Mason Graduates, Mason Schools, Nature Study
Comments 5

In Her Footsteps: A Young Scholar’s Pilgrimage to Ambleside by HollyAnne Dobbins

“Sun, moon, and stars, by day and night,

At God’s commandment give us light;

And when we wake, and while we sleep,

Their watch, like guardian angels, keep

The bright blue sky above our head,

The soft green earth on which we tread,

The ocean rolling round the land,

Were made by God’s almighty hand.

Sweet flowers that hill and dale adorn,

Far fruit trees fields of grass and corn,

The clouds that rise, the showers that fall,

The winds that blow—God sent them all.

The beasts that graze with downward eye,

The birds that perch, and sing, and fly,

The fishes swimming in the sea,

God’s creatures are as well as we.

But us He formed for better things,

As servants of the King of kings,

With lifted hands and open face,

And thankful heart to seek His grace.”


“How All Things Praise the Lord”

from The Ambleside Geography Books- Book 1 by Charlotte M. Mason

I’m sitting in the Armitt library. It seems just a week ago that I stood up in the 2008 (or was it 2009?) ChildLight Conference and asked how to get here. At the time I thought I might come as an assistant to help digitize the archives. I was too young then to dare dream of being able to come all by myself. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve worked who knows how many different minor positions at a small TV station near Covenant, nannyed, and gratefully accepted generous gifts to fund my adventure. After five weeks of studying at Oxford, I packed my bags, put them on a train, and managed to find my way to Stepping Stones, Under Loughrigg. And today, through the rain and “under my own steam,” I adventured to the upper floor of the Armitt to this high backed wooden chair with a lovely portrait of Charlotte Maria Mason presiding fifteen feet to my left.

I came to this lovely place with several goals:

1)    This is my pilgrimage. I was raised by parents who lived CM before they even knew her name, then at dear Perimeter, a CM school. In high school I helped teach Nature Study at Perimeter School and learned about ChildLight USA. Now I’m at Covenant College and have sat under the teaching of Dr. Beckman. I want to teach and someday raise a great big family: both using CM’s ideas and methodologies. But this—this week in Ambleside and this afternoon at the Armitt—is a light post in my Mason-ness. At my first ChildLightUSA conference I realized that I was joining a club of sorts; maybe I should call it a family. And I realized shortly thereafter that I was looking forward to coming here someday and soaking in all the beauty that was so special to Charlotte (I confess, I usually call her Charlotte because I feel like we are nothing but the oldest and dearest of friends). And, someday, maybe when I’m teaching, maybe when I’m explaining nature study to my firstborn, or maybe when I’m struggling through my oh-so-distant-and-yet-greatly-desired doctorate, I’ll look back to this light post. It’s a light post of Mason-ness (I traced her name with my finger on the stone outside the Armitt when I first walked into town yesterday), but it’s also a light post of God’s faithfulness and a dream come true—each in far to many ways to explain.

2)    I wanted to take a closer peek at Mason and literature. I’m an English major, and exposing young children to living books is very important to me. I knew it was to her, too, (obviously with a phrase like “living books”), but I haven’t had much of a chance to explore her ideas about literature in “non-literary” disciplines like math or science. Lo and behold, I walk into the Armitt today, and the first book I pulled off the shelf was Mason’s first book on elementary geography. And Lesson One was the poem above, setting the tone and focus of the whole subject: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). In fact, the whole book is smattered with poetry! These aren’t simple rhymes, either but rather rich poems by the likes of Shakespeare and Coleridge (I must note that poetry is scarcer in the latter books of the series, but of course by then students will have grown in their attention to the subject of geography itself, their appetites whetted by the savory nature of the poetic word).

3)    I wanted to walk and paint as Charlotte and her students did. It’s been breathtaking to walk on, along, and by the fells in both sunshine and rain. The way the clouds settle low reminds me so much of Lookout Mountain. I found a lily pond on Loughrigg Fell, the most fascinating white flowered succulent-like moss along a stone wall, Ent-trees in the fields, raspberries along the lane, and little springs and becks practically at every step. I painted some foxglove I found along Under Loughrigg, Stepping Stones where I’m staying, and my view of the fells over the pasture. I don’t feel like my work compares to the beauty of the nature studies I saw in the Armitt today, but they offer inspiration and joy that Mason-ites before me have learned and grown even as I am trying to do.

On the very first day of our very first ChildLightUSA Conference, Mom and I stumbled into Carroll Smith’s office and saw hanging by his desk a large rubbing of Charlotte’s gravestone. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of this. What kind of group was this, anyway? I visited Charlotte’s grave today. I sat at her feet (literally and metaphorically, I suppose) for a long time. Charlotte went to be with Jesus 68 years before I was born, yet she has had a profound impact on my life. Her wisdom and godliness rubbed off on a long chain of folks leading to it rubbing off on me. What a legacy! I feel like I know her. I certainly admire her. It was a long time ago that I was puzzled by Dr. Smith’s rubbing of her gravestone and nearly as long since I ceased to be quite so puzzled, but today I wished I had brought a large piece of paper and a crayon so I could have made my own rubbing.

I’m thankful for Charlotte: for her work, her legacy, and her faith. I’m thankful that I was raised in her shadow: that, because of her work, my teachers viewed children as persons. I’m thankful to walk in her footsteps: in Ambleside as I explored the place that inspired her, as well as at home where I seek to be like her when I teach or nanny. And I’m thankful that there are others who are living and learning as well: we are a community of people who admire Charlotte, but, even more, a community who seeks to reflect the love of Christ in the way we design and “do” education.

© 2012 HollyAnne Dobbins


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. HollyAnne, It has been for a long time a desire of mine that we begin to grow the next generation of Mason teachers. I am getting older and I believe we need Mason thinkers that are in their 50s, 40s. 30s and 20s. I am very thankful for you and other young 20 somethings who have a deep interest in Mason and understanding the life giving ideas that come for children out of such a wonderful way of educating. On a more practical level, I am very thankful that you were able to put your hard earned money to good use. I am thrill to know that you were able to go and enjoy not only Oxford, but Ambleside as well. Blessings to you!

  2. What a time you are having and sharing with us! I’ve been to Oxford but not to Ambleside. One day! Wonder what other treasures you have had along the way. Thank you for opening with her poem. She loved poetry and I read this in Van Gogh’s letters yesterday: “For poetry is so deep and intangible that one cannot define everything systematically.” Enjoy Beatrix Potter too. So much to thank her for in giving the land to the trusts.

  3. Lovely post, thank you for sharing. What a tremendous experience for you to visit the very place where the CM legacy began. Your future looks bright, and the more passionate young people (like you) we have in the world, the more precious children can be nurtured to become inspired individuals!

  4. Dear Holly

    I am glad you have been having a lovely time in Ambleside but I am sorry you did not get in touch with me when you were in Oxford as I live here and could perhaps have pointed out some more things to look for in Ambleside but never mind – I am sure there will be other occasions when you can return. I am just finishing off my long biography about Charlotte Mason – Have a safe journey home.

    Margaret Coombs

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