This October we stayed in Cumbria, in the Yorkshire Dales. We booked a lovely AirBnb place which was situated close enough to the Lake District we could get to most places within an hour. While I knew she had lived in the Lake District, I had no idea how much Beatrix Potter and the Lake District were linked.
Beatrix Potter and the Lake District are so closely linked, with plenty of places to visit. Around the age of sixteen she visited the Lake District, staying at Wray Castle. As she started to make money from her Peter Rabbit books she bought land. She wanted to make sure the Lake District remained unspoilt and stayed the way she knew it. Often she would buy land with the National Trust, and on her death gave it all to them fully. This is the Lake District as we know it today.
Around Windermere are several National Trust car parks. We made our first stop at Fell Foot Park; situated at the bottom of the lake going towards Windermere itself. Windermere is so long you can’t see from end to end and Fell Foot Park is a good place to stop and wander around. There’s also an outdoor children’s play area which H enjoyed.
Mid-way up Windermere is Hill Top, the first house Beatrix Potter bought. She lived here before she married, afterwards as a writing retreat. She had bought farmland up the road and eventually lived with her husband there.
Hill Top is decorated in the style it would have been when Beatrix lived there. Changes have been made to the house, but in a good way. There is still a lot there from her time living there – it’s somewhere that comes alive in her books. Window ledges appear in some illustrations, and you can picture Beatrix sitting creating in that very room.
The dolls house on show within the house dates back to the 1800s though isn’t the one featured in The Tale of Two Bad Mice. Inside you can see wonderful decorations and furnishings if you have a peep through the windows. Now I’m curious, do those furnishings date back to the time of the book?
The National Trust describe Hill Top as a house for someone who ‘never grew up’ (Beatrix’s own words). Brought up in isolation with her brother Bertram, Beatrix sought solace in art and nature.
Around the grounds of Hill Top are Beatrix’s gardens – it feels like a house you would hide away from the world, yet still be very close to. You can see her vegetable garden as well as the rhubarb patch where Jemima Puddleduck tried to hide her eggs.
Outside Hill Top in Near Sawrey itself are houses which feature in the books, and indeed the area around the Stones Lane junction has several shops which feature in her books. Peter Rabbit by the red post box? It’s just around the corner from Hill Top.
Entry is free for National Trust members. On arrival you get a map of the grounds with a timed entry slot for the house, where you’re free to wander around.
Up the road is Hawkshead which is worth a wander in its own right. You need to park up (paid, think it was about £4ish for two hours) and walk to the centre of the town. You will arrive at an office where you get your tickets for a few doors down where there’s a Beatrix Potter exhibition and more interactive things to do.
The office in question used to house the solicitor’s office where William Heelis, her future husband, worked. Low wooden ceilings and a really interesting exhibition ‘The Right Sort Of Woman‘ were yet another fascinating insight. There was also an original Peter Rabbit letter that she had written on show.
The exhibition features contributions from workers – for example, Beatrix never paid the men for their work, always their wives.
Beatrix set up local health care, making sure there was a doctor in the area, fully paid for by her so that locals had access to medical care. She sounded like a great employer and one who seemed in touch with what her workers needed.
The exhibition is coming to an end, so don’t miss out.
Moving away slightly from Beatrix Potter, up the road is Wray Castle. It’s not a traditional castle, more a Victorian gothic mansion, but nonetheless it’s a great place to visit with lots of child-friendly things to do inside. There’s also a Beatrix Potter exhibition, ‘The Women of Wray Castle‘ which also features Margaret Dawson.
Beatrix and her family came to stay at Wray Castle one summer when she was sixteen. Maybe this is what made her love for the Lake District grow?
While at Wray, Beatrix drew lots of images of mushrooms growing there, making a name for herself in the mycology field. As she was female, her views and opinions were rejected. These days her work has been revisited and has been acknowledged as having great value.
If you’re looking for somewhere for your child to burn off some energy, Wray Castle is that place. As well as the inside of the castle, there is a big natural play area outside.
Close to Hawkshead and Hill Top is Esthwaite Water, another inspiration for Beatrix Potter’s books. It’s an unspoilt area where yet more of the books featured.
Tarn Hows is also nearby, a large man-made Tarn which has wonderful views, though was somewhere we didn’t have the time to visit.
I think we need to go back – three days wasn’t long enough to do everything we wanted to!