Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Lake District, Part One: Hill Top Farm

Visiting Hill Top Farm in the Lake District filled me with so much excitement and childhood nostalgia. I can't remember a time before the tales were a part of my life. I watched The World of Beatrix Potter over and over again as a child, my Mum having recorded as many episodes as possible on VHS. Remember doing that with your favourite TV shows?
I even, for a few seconds in the gift shop, contemplated buying them on DVD... but knowing how the story of VHS ended I am anticipating DVD to die a similar death soon. Luckily though I found them on youtube, HERE, if you're interested in a walk down memory lane. I realised when watching some of it that the opening and closing sequences were filmed in and around Hill Top. I don't know why that surprised me, but again, it adds to their charm. These will always be the best small screen adaptations of Beatrix's work. There is a magic to them that is lost in the modern computer animation versions.

Anyway, back to Hill Top. Beatrix's beloved farmhouse is in a tiny Cumbrian village called Near Sawrey, where the neighbours are sheep.

Her home is a time capsule to her inspiration, her curiosity, her brilliance. I'll admit, I had to suppress some tears on the doorstep. What a magical world she had inside her mind.

In each room is a little corner recognisable in her work. The staircase from Samuel Whiskers, a sideboard from the same tale. All over this part of the Lakes are the real life scenes immortalised in her little books. Her husband's solicitors offices in Hawkshead feature in The Pie and the Patty Pan. The garden path at Hill Top is drawn in The Tale of Tom Kitten. I think if I read back through all the tales now, I'd recognise so, so many of her real world inspirations.

This is what she called her entrance hall, a typical room in farmhouses in this district, a room that is more commonly referred to as the firehouse or houseplace by Lakeland farmers. It is obviously the heart of her home. Repeatedly featured in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Tale of the Roly Poly Pudding. 

It feels very untouched, much like she just walked out of the door.

Her love of nature is evident in all the curiosities and collections that the farmhouse holds. 

About a one mile hike up from Near Sawrey is Moss Eccles Tarn, a favourite fishing spot of Beatrix and her husband, Mr William Heelis. We had beautiful sunny weather when we walked up. Quiet, except for the sheep in the fields.

On the banks of the tarn heather is in bloom. Bright, iridescent blue dragonflies were flitting about. It was entirely impossible to capture them with the camera as they are so quick, just a flash of brilliant blue on the surface of the water.

It was so warm and sunny that I pulled off my wellies and socks to paddle.

On the same day we checked out other National Trust properties in the area. The Beatrix Potter Gallery in her husband's old offices at Hawkshead is rather lovely, and free for trust members. The Little Ice cream Shop around the corner is also worth a stop.

Wray Castle is very close by, but I think if you weren't a member of National Trust it wouldn't be value for money. It was actually built in victorian times as a retirement home for a couple with clearly too much money and time on their hands, and little sense. It is completely empty, so in essence it is just a house without any tangible history, charm or personality. The views are spectacular from the front entry though. On the afternoon we stopped by the skies were roaring with fighter jets and spitfires flying low over Lake Windermere for no conceivable reason.

Townend, on the other hand is a very pretty and rather interesting National Trust property at Troutbeck. It is a 17th century farmhouse with similarly old farm buildings and barns. Owned and occupied by the same family for about 5 or so generations it is very well preserved and contains much of their loved possessions. With 400 years of family history, there are some treasures in the house, including 45 books in the library that are the only remaining copies in the world.The kitchen is so beautiful and contains some spectacular hand carved furniture, made by one of the men who lived there.

I love an outbuilding, and the washing room at Townend is so pretty. Lace edged aprons hanging on an airing rack gives the place such atmosphere.

This is the view over the top of the centuries old barn, still used by the farm across the road.

Signs of summer are still surprisingly abundant in the Lakes. Hydrangeas are everywhere, in all the villages, the odd foxglove is still in bloom along the drystone walls too.

Beatrix Potter called the Troutbeck Valley her favourite in the Lake District. It is very pretty, traditional fell farming still very much the focus of the district. 

It is such a priceless legacy Beatrix created and left for the British public. With UNESCO World Heritage status just being given to the Lake District, hopefully these beautiful valleys, fells, lakes and farms will remain just as they are for always.

Kate  x

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