On the 150th anniversary of her birth, Julie Marshall heads to the Lakes to go exploring in Beatrix Potter country.
The National Trust owe a debt of gratitude to the children’s author Beatrix Potter. But for her patronage, vast tracts of the Lake District National Park, now under its control, would have been sold off to land-hungry industrialists from Lancashire – keen to expand their empires in the wake of the industrial revolution.
When Potter died in 1943 she left the trust 14 farms, 4,000 acres of land and her flocks of Herdwick sheep.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth this year, and to recognise the enduring legacy she left behind, the National Trust and Cumbria Tourism have put together a year-long programme of special anniversary events to pay tribute to this remarkable woman.
Potter first came to the Lake District with her family as a young girl and fell in love with the wild landscape. She sketched and painted from an early age and was inspired by the natural world all around her.
When Beatrix was 16 years old the Potter family stayed at Wray Castle, then owned by the Rawnsley family. Hardwicke Rawnsley, the owner’s cousin, who was the vicar of Wray church and one of the founders of the National Trust, came to dinner and was instrumental in encouraging the young girl to publish her first book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, as well as igniting her passion for the Lakes and conservation in particular.
Wray Castle has been owned by the National Trust since 2011 and, because it contains no furniture nor priceless artefacts, is a wonderful place for children to visit; they can run around and treat it as a giant playground.
Potter bought her first Lakeland property in 1905, Hill Top Farm in Sawrey, and it is now one of the most visited literary shrines in the world – the Japanese, in particular, make the pilgrimage in their thousands each year.
Seven of Potter’s books were written here and it’s fascinating to walk around the tiny house picking out scenes from the books, which are placed in the rooms, open at the corresponding pages. Visitors need to book a tour in advance as entry is timed, and, as you can image, tickets are at a premium.
The car park at Hill Top is small so, rather than drive, take the ferry from Bowness then take the Cross Lakes shuttle bus up the house.
Once you’ve visited the farm hop on the bus and carry on to Hawkeshead to the Beatrix Potter Gallery which has many of her original illustrations on show.
In 1915, after the death of her father Potter bought Lindeth Howe, Bowness-on-Windermere, a house she’d stayed at numerous times during visits to the area.
Now an award-winning 36-bedroom hotel and restaurant, it’s a magnet for Potter fans from all over the world and commands beautiful views towards Lake Windermere and the fells beyond.
Yew Tree farm, another of Potter’s homes, contains many pieces of her furniture, ornaments and letters and can be hired as a holiday cottage; it was used to represent Hill Top Farm in the film Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger.
During our visit there was an open day and we toured the cottage and watched a butchery and cooking demonstration. Small children will love the World of Beatrix Potter in Bownes-on-Windermere. It is imaginatively laid out with tableaus of 23 of her stories and a live show Where is Peter Rabbit which runs until September 4.
For more information visit www.golakes.co.uk
Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel, Lindeth Drive, Longtail Hill, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3JF
Yew Tree Farm, Coniston, LA21 8DP
World of Beatrix Potter, Crag Brow, Bowness on Windermere, LA23 3BX
Hill Top Farm, near Sawrey, Ambleside, LA 22 0LF
Beatrix Potter Gallery, Main Street, Hawkeshead, Ambleside LA22 )NS