LITERARY LEGACY OF THE LAKES: BEATRIX POTTER
The literary legacy of the Lake District is a rich one. Famous authors include Arthur Wainwright, who walked the length and breadth of the Lake District, writing seven revered guidebooks; poet William Wordsworth whose work, ‘Daffodils’ is the quintessential Lake District poem; John Ruskin - a renowned Victorian poet, artist and philosopher and Arthur Ransome, writer of 12 ‘Swallows and Amazons` children’s books, set mainly in the Lake District, with sailing activity taking place on a fictional lake inspired by both Windermere and Coniston. But perhaps the most universally recognised and best-loved author to be inspired by the Lake District is Beatrix Potter, whose legacy to the area is so much greater than just her timeless children’s books.
As a child, Beatrix was inspired by summer visits to the Lake District where she avidly sketched the house, garden, countryside and animals. Her first books were written at her parent’s home in London but Beatrix’s long-felt connection with the Lake District was realised in 1905 when she bought Hill Top Farm, close to Lake Windermere, with the royalties from her first published book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
A working farm, Hill Top was more than just a house to Beatrix – it was a place where she could come to paint and write as well as learn farm management. She continued to write one or two new books a year for the next eight years, but her focus began to move towards a new life in the Lake District. In 1909, Beatrix purchased Castle Farm, a second property in Sawrey just across the road from Hill Top. When she married local solicitor William Heelis four years later, the couple moved into Castle Cottage on Castle Farm.
Beatrix was deeply involved in the community and developed a passion for breeding and raising Herdwick sheep. She became one of the most admired Herdwick breeders in the region and won prizes at all the local shows. Beatrix's expanding estate, funded by revenue from her book sales, allowed her to fulfil an ambition to preserve the Lake District's unique landscape and its traditional farming methods. When she died aged 77 in 1943, she left 14 farms and more than 4,000 acres to the National Trust – still the largest single owner of land within the Lake District.
You can get an insight into Beatrix Potter’s wonderful imagination by visiting The World of Beatrix Potter, less than 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel – especially convenient as tickets cannot be purchased in advance. The attraction recreates the Lake District of the much-loved books with interactive displays including a Peter Rabbit Garden, Jemima Puddle-Duck’s woodland glade and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen. All 23 of Beatrix Potter’s tales are brought to life and there’s plenty to keep children engaged.
To step into her real world, visit Hill Top itself – a Beatrix Potter ‘time capsule’, furnished and filled with all her favourite things, just as she requested when she left it to the National Trust. Every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'tale' and there’s a lovely cottage garden too. It’s easy to see what Beatrix loved about this place and why it inspired so much of her writing.
Hill Top is incredibly popular - and compact - so booking beforehand, which you can do two weeks in advance, is highly recommended. It’s a fun outing from the hotel, which involves catching the ferry at Bowness Nab and crossing the river, either as a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist. There’s an off-road path for the 2 mile walk from the ferry or a short drive to the main car park at Hill Top.