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Sunday, 1 September 2019

In Search of Beatrix Potter

Hill Top
Beatrix Potter’s children’s books have captured the imagination of generations with their beautiful illustrations and witty tales. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate the woman behind the books even more. Potter was a strong-willed, talented woman who did not let social constraints stand in her way. She also played an important role in the preservation of farmland and Herdwick sheep in the Lake District. She bequeathed her property to the National Trust, ensuring their survival to the present day.

Hill Top in Near Sawrey is open to the public, and although she didn’t live there she did find inspiration and the peace to write a number of her stories there. It has been preserved exactly as she left it, including a room dedicated to her brother’s art. The garden proved the most evocative part of the property, overflowing with plants and a kitchen garden you can easily imagine Peter Rabbit scampering through. The property is very popular so be prepared to wait for your allotted entry time, or even to find it sold out.

Beatrix Potter's paint set
While waiting to explore the building itself it is worth taking the short walk to Moss Eccles Tarn where Potter spent many a happy evening boating with her husband, William Heelis. Despite the frequency of visitors it nonetheless retains a sense of seclusion.

A few miles down the road is picturesque Hawkshead village, home to the Beatrix Potter Gallery. The building itself is thought to be where she first met her husband, adding an extra sense of importance. The gallery showcases her original paintings for the books and offers some context into the process of getting them published and merchandised. I would have like to have seen more of her non-book art but it’s still worth a visit and as they have rotating exhibitions you never know what you’ll see.

Derwent Water
The landscape of the Lakes is familiar from her books and it’s easy to see why so many artists have found inspiration there. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin features red squirrels, not found in many parts of the UK today, and an adventure involving Derwent Water. A lake in stunning surrounds and small islands that promise adventure, it’s well worth getting out on the water if you’re able.

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