ENGLAND’S OTHER POTTER
The Lake District
article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Her real name is Helen Beatrix Potter. Notice that it starts with the same initial as Harry. And like J. K. Rowling, the author of the other Potter stories, Beatrix Potter, the author of the bunny tales, became wealthy from her writing. Hmmmm. Similarities end there.
As a child, Beatrix Potter spent many holidays in England’s glorious Lake District. Only 3½ hours from London by train, it is a land of stone houses, hedgerows, rolling hills, and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. The area holds 16 lakes, England’s five highest mountains, and thousands of miles of walking trails, and it is home to the country’s largest lake, steepest road, and tallest mountain. It is a wonderful place to visit with your grandchildren.
The best months are May and June, when lambs and wildflowers abound. But it is also heavenly in summer, when people crush in, and in September and October, when the leaves change and it becomes quieter. Many attractions close for the cold winter. Most foreign tourists come from Japan, probably because Potter’s books are used to teach English in Japanese schools.
When Beatrix’s “little books” finally started selling, she started buying land. When she died, she bequeathed her properties to the National Trust, which now is the area’s largest land owner. Of the 91 farms it owns, 14 once belonged to Potter.
The picturesque towns and landscape of the Lake District are bound to inspire your grandchild’s imagination, as they did Beatrix’s. You’ll be introduced to her beloved Herdwick sheep, walk well-marked paths, and eat in family-friendly pubs.
While browsing the Beatrix Potter Gallery, I asked two English sisters which Potter story was their favorite. Rebecca Williams, age 9, replied, “That’s hard. There’s lots of very nice books she wrote.” Lauren Williams, age 11, chimed in with a smile, “Probably Tom Kitten. It’s very funny because of the ducks. He gives his clothes away to the ducks.” Rebecca added, “I quite liked Hill Top Farm, because the docent gave you a book and you could see the item in the book.”
What to Do
The Armitt Collection In Ambleside.
Potter studied micology (fungi and mushrooms) at Kew Gardens and painted true-to-life specimens, but she ran into the glass ceiling of her day in this male-dominated field. In addition to seeing some of her early drawings, you’ll view a large collection of her more than 500 fungi watercolors and drawings—the False Death Caps and Scarlet Elf Caps are particularly lovely. A corner with interactive activities lets kids try their hand at drawing fungi and at making printing stamps.
Beatrix Potter Gallery In Hawkshead.
Beatrix was first and foremost an artist; writing was secondary. This becomes more apparent as you study her original sketches and watercolor illustrations, displayed here in the 17th-century building that once held her husband’s legal offices. Children have no trouble entering the low door openings of this old cottage, but adults are advised to mind their head. A free activity sheet keeps kids busy looking for items in the gallery.
image courtesy of venue
Hill Top Farmhouse In Near Sawrey.
Potter wrote most of her books in this tiny, creaky-floored 17th-century cottage. She purchased the property with royalties earned from her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, based on her pet bunny, Peter Piper. The furnishings, library, and gardens are maintained exactly as she left them. Like Rebecca and Lauren, you and your grandchild will be delighted to see the house depicted in illustrations in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, and the cottage garden as illustrated in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten. If you own the books, pack them along. Otherwise, just pop into the shop and purchase them as a souvenir.
Tarn Hows In Hawkshead.
The easy graded, paved path around this lovely forested lake—it’s name means “the tear lake in the hills”--is a popular one and takes only about an hour. Kids laugh and dogs bark while romping happily. Beatrix Potter bequeathed this land to the National Trust.
image courtesy of venue
World of Beatrix Potter In Bowness-on-Windermere.
Aimed directly at children, this indoor attraction begins with a charming animated film depicting Potter’s characters. You then walk past three-dimensional scenes from all 23 of her magical tales. They include Peter Rabbit’s garden and Mr. McGregor’s greenhouse, and each is portrayed with life-size creatures. A shop is stuffed with related goods, and the Tailor of Gloucester tea room offers refreshment. This is the perfect destination on a rainy Lake District day.
Where to Eat
Yew Tree Farm In Coniston.
Located just a short walk down a scenic lane from Tarn Hows, this farm was purchased by Beatrix in 1930 to save it from developers. You can dine here now amidst Potter’s original furnishings, paintings, and collectibles. Lunch and tea are also served at picnic tables out in the front yard, within the property’s rustic drywall fences. Try a ploughman’s sandwich, a country pie, or a Rum Nicky sticky tart made with rum, ginger, and dates. Personally, I would travel back here just to have another of their scrumptious scones served up with terrific clotted cream and delectable housemade wild Damson plum jam. Current owner Caroline Watson says, “When people get out here, they appreciate that our food is home-cooked.”
Herdwick sheep and black-and-white Belted Galloway cows (also called “Oreo cows”) graze on the property, which was a key location in the recent Ms. Potter film. Though the B&B upstairs is not set up for kids (the paneled walls are not soundproofed), Watson is herself the mother a toddler and will rent to a family that books all three rooms.
Where to Stay
Imagine the thrill of staying in one of Beatrix Potter’s original farmsteads! Six are available. Consider Yew Tree Farm (see above) or check with the Visitors Bureau and search for “farm stays.” Or stay in a bargain-priced camping barn. These old stone farm buildings are also referred to as “stone tents” and are great for groups.
Lindeth Howe Country House Bowness on Windermere.
Potter’s family once rented this property as a holiday vacation home. She fell in love with it and later bought it as a home for her mother. Beatrix wrote Timmy Tiptoes and Pigling Bland while staying here. It has two family rooms and an indoor pool, and children under 17 stay free in their parents’ room, breakfast included.
Visiting the Lake District
Visiting the Lake District with kids
Beatrix Potter sites
All about Peter Rabbit
discover Beatrix Potter with actress Patricia Routledge
•Lakes Supertours Mini-coach tours to places associated with Beatrix Potter.
•Mountain Goat Daily Beatrix Potter tours.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
Ms. Meyers is also the author of “Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities”
copyright 2020 Carole Terwilliger Meyers