Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ambleside, Windermere, and Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm

On our final day in the Lake District, we left Keswick and headed up the hill towards Watendlath. Along the way, we passed the famous Ashness Bridge, which was built for packhorses to get across the beck, or mountain stream. I assume this means that goods were regularly transported over this high mountain range.

The view shown in our picture below looks towards Derwentwater and is one of the most famous views in the Lake District.

Ashness Bridge 
The cottage beside the beck
Ashness Bridge from the other side
We continued up the steep hill that was barely wide enough for a car, and parked beside a spot known as Surprise View. From this viewpoint, you can see the whole of Derwentwater, as well as Bassenthwaite in the north and Borrowdale to the south. It truly is a stunning view, and according to our tour guide from our cruise on Derwentwater, it has been voted one of the best views in the UK. I couldn't find anything about this on the internet, but I can see how it might be true!

Our tripod earns its worth!
Next was a whistle-stop visit to Windermere, where we had a tasty lunch from the 'Apple Pie Bakery'. The best part was CUSTARD-SQUARE!!! Yummo. Over here they call it Vanilla Slice, and sometimes it is just whipped cream between the pastry. But this was the real deal.
(This particular custard square is actually from Bristol, eaten in October 2011. The only other proper one we've had in the UK - though the Bristol specimen did have a layer of jam beside the pastry.)
After lunch, we drove to a lovely homestead garden rated the number one attraction in Windermere (on Trip Advisor). I'm not big on fancy, manicured gardens, but Holehird Gardens were gorgeous. There were lots of secluded pathways and hidden bench-seats, and it was all very lovely. The gardens reminded me of "professional" botanic gardens (such as in Christchurch) but Holehird is entirely tended by volunteers. Well done, those people!

There was also a short walk to the top of a hill in the neighbouring farmer's paddock, and the view from there was wonderful.

After we left Holehird, we had to wait one hour for the next ferry to take our car back across Windermere Lake so that we could visit Hill Top. Luckily there was an icecream stall beside the ferry queue...

In 1906, Beatrix Potter purchased a home and 34 acre working farm near Hawkshead, in the small village of Near Sawrey. This was to be her artist's retreat, and somewhere she could go to have a break from London. Miss Potter learned farming techniques and soon purchased additional properties in the area, and in the wider Lake District. Her solicitor, William Heelis, assisted in making these purchases, and the two became firm friends. In 1913, they married, and Hill Top Farm became their main home.
Hill Top Farm House
Beatrix Potter was very interested in the breeding and raising of sheep, and, over time, she was to win many prizes in local agricultural shows for her Herdwick sheep. (Sheep are a big thing in the lake district, and there were sheep things galore in the tourist and gift shops!)

Another thing that Potter was known for was her desire to conserve the Lake District. She restored and preserved the farms she purchased, keeping them running and applying new techniques to look after the health of the sheep. Potter also partnered with the National Trust, buying and managing a number of farms in Lancashire. Some of these farms, she sold back to the National Trust, and the rest she bequeathed in her will. Over 4,000 acres of land, sixteen farms and cottages, and all her sheep and cattle were given to the Trust (as well as most of the original drawings to her books).

Beatrix Potter died in 1943 (and her husband in 1945), having made a huge contribution to the preservation of the Lake District.

As we entered the gardens at Hill Top, I was thrilled to see an enclosed paddock full of plump rabbits. There were also lovely vegetable gardens, and in general the gardens were a lovely oasis - I can imagine feeling inspired to write children's books there!

You are not allowed to take any pictures inside the farm house, as flash photography can damage fabrics and paper. The house is very dark, as there is no lighting and the windows are small, and they do warn that if you go in winter you may not be able to see very much of the house!

The house is set up with Potter's furniture, and it feels as if she has just popped out and will be back at any moment. Several of her books were directly inspired by Hill Top Farm and the house, and the National Trust have set up books around the house showing that many of Potter's illustrations mirror her furniture, house, or gardens. In particular, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly Poly Pudding is set inside Hill Top Farm, and was penned after an invasion of rats at the property. This is one of my favourite Potter stories, as I like the idea of the rats baking the naughty Tom Kitten inside a pudding!! Although I wouldn't be lining up to eat a piece of that pie...

The village of Near Sawrey really is very pretty, with most of the houses being built from slate, which is typical in the Lake District. We loved the area, and decided that if we ever come back to the UK (and win lotto) it would be wonderful to own a pretty cottage in a sweet village like this one - so deliciously English!

Well, all too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Lake District. We were pleased to have finally got a trip there, as it really was as picturesque as we had heard. For comparison purposes, it was similar to Queenstown (in NZ) though on a bigger scale, and with buildings that were so much more beautiful. We are going to miss that when we're home in NZ - the houses in Somerset/Wiltshire (around Bath) and in the Lake District are so pretty, and we have nothing like that in NZ. We will really miss the UK when we leave in a month's time!

Ambleside's pink sheep say farewell!

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