BEATRIX POTTER & Me

Oh, Girlfriends!  We made it!  Finally, to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for years.

  I brought my camera, my sketch pad and my journal and now I want to take you on the tour!  (This is Part One, at the bottom of Part Two there are lots of books and links to Beatrix Potter inspired places on the Internet. )

We started out from the little town of Ambleside in the Lake District where we’d rented a flat ~ Hill Top Farm was in Near Sawrey, about a half-hour drive. Here’s the music that was playing in the car as we drove along the narrow winding lanes . . .

Good thing a picture is worth a thousand words, because I don’t think a thousand words could ever tell the beauty of the Lake District.   This photo (above) is taken just around the corner from our flat in Ambleside, and that’s just the beginning.  It’s not that I only took pictures of the “pretty parts” ~ it’s all pretty.

Here’s a view of some of the countryside you see between villages.  The town names around the Lake District are familiar to me, although we’d never been here before, the village names ring out in my mind like a fairy story: Ambleside, Grasmere, Keswick, Near Sawrey; I’ve been reading about them in stories about Beatrix Potter all my life.  It was startling to see those names on actual road signs.  

We didn’t plan to go to Beatrix Potter’s house the day we did.  Although we’d traveled across the ocean to do this, the way it happened turned out to be kind of a surprise.  It was the Queen’s Jubilee holiday weekend all over England and just like our Fourth of July, people were off work; kids were out of school, the Lake District was crowded with families, cars, hikers, bikers, and caravans.  So our plan was for us to wait to see the house until later in the week, when the crowds went back home.  But, we thought, it might be smart to just drive by Hill Top to get the lay of the land. . .

As it turned out, it was the only sunny day we had the whole week we were there ~ a perfect day to go out and explore.  By the time we got to Near Sawrey, home of Hill Top, it was after lunch . . . way too late to even hope to get into the house. Because friends had told us before leaving for England, “Forget about getting in unless you arrive first thing in the morning. You have to be there early to get tickets.  Visits to Hill Top are timed; its just a little house and they only let in a few people at a time. You’ll probably have to get your tickets, drive away, and come back later.  There will be a line.”  That was OK with us, we didn’t care because we had a week; we’ll go, we thought, leisurely, when the minibreak people go home.  We just wanted to know how to do it, so we’d be ready when the time came; where to park, how the tickets work, etc.  I didn’t expect to get Hill Top all to myself, but I wanted to come as close as possible.

Signposts point the way to Windermere, to Wray Castle (the first place Beatrix’s parents rented for her childhood holidays where she fell in love with the Lake District); this way to Hawkshead, now to Sawrey.  Such familiar names.  We must be getting close.  My heart is beating.  There’s a bunny!  

It’s hilly and green with cottages and farm houses, and it feels like a fairy tale.  Suddenly we round a bend. A big green sign says “Hill Top.” What?  Already?  Is this it?  We’re there?  It’s the car park (British for parking lot) for her house!  There’s a parking attendant right there, and the very first spot, the first one, is empty.  He’s waving us into it with a big smile on his face.  But we are confused. Joe leans out the window to ask, “Is there ROOM inside the house?” Because we know there can’t be. 

“Oh yes,” he says, with a lilt, and his rosy cheeks get plumper with his smile, “Just right!”  We look at each other.  OKaaaay, we say, thinking should we?  It was a definite change of plans.  What are we thinking?  YES, of COURSE WE SHOULD!!  Let’s GO!

 We get out of the car.  My eyes are darting everywhere.  I am scanning the rooftops of Near Sawrey.  I’m thinking, This doesn’t LOOK like it.  I thought somehow I would recognize it, why, I do not know.  Maybe we’re in the wrong place (I’m fretting a little because this is too easy).  But we see a sign that says, “Tickets.” Inside the little stone house we get a guide book along with our tickets for the 1:40 house entry.  It is now 1:20.  Heart is doing back flips.

We’re told to walk along the lane, through the village, around a bend and  ”Look for a little green gate.”  Now we are the ones whose footsteps scrape the pebbles along the narrow road where Beatrix once walked, past the little tea rooms with their flower boxes overflowing, beside a meadow under the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds, to the picket fence gate that says, “entrance.”  We stop.  Give heart a rest.

 Big deep breath, and then, go.  Up Beatrix Potter’s very own narrow stone steps, s l o w l y, savoring every bit of it, along a little path, past a fenced and hedged meadow with buttercups, lambs kicking up their heels (all white and one little black one).

Under a tree with a huge twisted trunk, we see . . .

. . . two bunnies grazing on buttercups (See them?  The second one is just off to the left of the crook in the tree); of course there were bunnies!  There had to be bunnies!  A discussion ensues, like Morning Science, I ask Joe, “Do you think they’re trained to stay there?”  He says, laughing,” I think they can’t get out!” pointing down at the chicken wire encircling the pen.  

Up a long stone path we went, where clumps of old-fashioned perennials ran all over each other, blurring together like a green watercolor.

XOXOXO

I took this little video so you can feel it along with me!  And there it was, the house itself, Hill Top.  Beatrix wrote, 

“As nearly perfect a little place as I ever lived in.”

 

 Sweet as pie, exactly as I have dreamed it, her real house, real to touch, two-story, grey rock with dark green trim around all the windows and doors and along the roof line, dripping with white wisteria.  

The front wall was covered in rambling roses and festooned with Union Jack bunting (like all the rest of England during the Jubilee).

Only two more minutes before we could go in, I’m checking out every detail of the outside of the house, looking for clues!  I smell the roses, then peek around a gate, seeing that one of her side windows was lined with the same Beatrix Potter People I’ve had on my kitchen shelf since I was in my twenties.  (I wrote about that BP awakening in my journal ~ it’s too long to put here.)  It’s really her house!  So excited!

A dream is a wish your heart makes . . .

In through the front door we went.  (More MUSICA?) They didn’t allow photos to be taken inside the house so this is where I pulled out the piece of paper I keep in my purse for sketching emergencies.  I stood still in her rooms, writing and drawing, because I know you’re going to want to see it in our journal and I wanted to “remember” as much as possible.

Here are some of the squiggles and descriptions I jotted down in the house, and here’s one of the pages I’m translating into the diary, sitting at the table in our flat at night.  I can faithfully report that Beatrix is alive and well and still living in the house. Her spirit is fully there, in her very own straw hat that hangs next to the fireplace in the kitchen, her worn clogs at the foot an old Chippendale chair, in all the little bits and pieces of her life displayed in hutches and cabinets all through the house.  Views from her upstairs windows remain unchanged because the village is unchanged.  Looking through the same panes of leaded glass she looked through, I was touched knowing I was seeing what she saw, rooftops and fields, green hills, wildflowers and hedges, her view of the place she loved most.  Her childhood dolls were there; and standing by her draped 16th century carved walnut bed, seeing the embroidery she did for it herself, I felt her presence in the nicest possible way.  Everything is in soft warm colors, she loved this house the way Joe and I love ours . . . she treasured old things like we do, did most of her furniture shopping at auctions.  There are antique hutches with flowered teacups and teapots, one of them is shaped like a pink crown; there were layers of thick flowered carpets  – and lots of wonderful art on the walls.  Paintings, watercolors and oils, mostly images taken from nature.  The green and white floral wallpaper in the 

kitchen went up and covered the ceiling too.  Everything in the house belonged to Beatrix.  Most of the things in her dollhouse, the furniture and the miniature food, were bought for her by the first love of her life and publisher of her “little bunny books,” Norman Warne.

We stayed in the uncrowded house, soaking it in, for two glorious hours, peppering the lovely National Trust guide (Jenny Akester was her name and she seemed as excited to be there as we were) upstairs with our questions (both the ones we thought of ourselves and the ones you were whispering in our ears).  Jenny was gracious enough to share her wealth of Beatrix Potter knowledge with two (maybe thousand, including you dear readers) pilgrims from America.

Here’s what I didn’t know.  First off, her first name is actually Helen ~ Helen Beatrix Potter, named for her mother.  And if you’ve seen Miss Potter, which you would love, you know that Beatrix was in love with Norman Warne.  Against her parents wishes, they became engaged (she was thirty-nine, but there were many constrictions for women in those days and she was a dutiful daughter).  Just one month later, while Beatrix was away with her parents on holiday in the Lake District, Norman fell ill, and died. Can you imagine the shock?  Something changed in her, and that very same year, 1905, at age 39, she took her first step toward independence from her parents, and bought Hill Top Farm (many think owning a bit of the Lake District was a dream for both she and Norman).  But despite what I thought to be true, she never lived at Hill Top full time.  I didn’t know that, I thought she moved to Hill Top and lived there the rest of her life.   Instead, it became her getaway ~ she continued to live with her parents in London, but she visited her house often. She decorated Hill Top, furnished it, turned it into a working farm, raised sheep, planted the garden, painted there, embroidered things for it, loved it dearly, but she didn’t live there.

 In 1908, she met the man she was to spend the rest of her life with, William Heelis, tall and handsome and five years her junior, who was a local solicitor from nearby Hawkshead (where we also went and visited his offices which have been turned into an adorable little museum). William had been helping Beatrix with her real estate purchases in the Lake District (she was busily using her “little bunny book” money to buy up old Lakeland farms to save them for posterity).  They fell in love, the old-fashioned slow way, and she married him (against her parents’ wishes) five years later (in 1913 when Beatrix was 47) and that’s when she moved permanently to Near Sawrey and into Castle Cottage with William where they lived together for thirty happy years. 

People have told me they are surprised and a little sad that after marrying Mr. Hellis, Beatrix fairly soon stopped writing her little books.  Beatrix and WillieI wondered about that too, but when I read the biography about her (Linda Lear, Beatrix Potter, Life of a Victorian Genius), I saw it was more of a transition, the way life goes sometimes, that at one time you might be a certain kind of person, but later as your passions and interests change and you mature and become braver, you might have a wider understanding of what matters to you, and become another person. You don’t lose the old thing when that happens, you just become more.  She had this sort of compartmentalized life … passion as a scientist for years, then as an author and artist, then as farmer and conservationist – she put her genius into each of her passions and they have endured but always, always her love for nature was reflected in everything she did. 

William and Mrs. Heelis, as she was known from that time on, moved into Castle Cottage (that’s it above) just across the meadow from Hill Top. Hill Top, it seems to me, represented a dream for Beatrix — she decorated it all her life, even bequeathing specifically chosen personal items to it after her death, to be left on permanent view for the public to the National Trust.  Beatrix died in 1943.  William died with a broken heart, eighteen months later in 1945.  And that’s just part of what we learned at Hill Top Farm.

It sometimes happens that the town child is more alive to the fresh beauty of the country than a child who is country born.  My brother and I were born  in London . . .  but our descent, our interest and our joy were in the north country.  ♥ Beatrix Potter

 We walked out the front door, eyes blinking in the sunshine (they keep the house dark, to protect the things inside, but also, that’s how it would have been in Beatrix’s day, she never put in electricity), completely fulfilled and happy, back along the garden path, into the gift shop of course.

I bought a couple of little things for my Peter Rabbit Room at home, just a little door hanger with a drawing that says, “Peter Rabbit’s Room” on it, and a perfect little coaster for next to the bed.  There was an expensive limited edition of her book Peter Rabbit in there (those little lavender things in the very back on the left, behind that girl’s head, see them?), a first-time ever reprint of the one Beatrix paid to have published herself; and only 1000 made.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.  Don’t I have enough?  I thought, erroneously, still reeling, brainless, from the wonderful visit.  I will have to see if I dream about it, I thought . . . I’m coming back anyway.  We have a whole week here!  There is no saying goodbye.  Not yet anyway.

Joy ‘O Joy ‘O Happy Joy . . .

TO BE CONTINUED . . . see Part. 2

119 Responses to BEATRIX POTTER & Me

  1. This is a pleasant little trip back to England. Perhaps you’re reminiscing about your earlier travels? I can still picture the cover of my childhood book that held wonderful stories of Peter Rabbit and his siblings.

    Enjoy your upcoming weekend, Susan.

    -Karen

  2. Jane S. says:

    Oh how I love seeing your travel photos! I’m sure the English people think American tourists are very silly getting so worked up over places like Beatrix Potter’s farm, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, etc. We just don’t have places like that here though. I must have fondled nearly every square inch of ruins at Kenilworth Castle. If only walls could talk…

    • sbranch says:

      We have Mark Twain’s house, which was tears in your eyes wonderful — Louisa May Alcott’s too, and we loved Abraham Lincoln’s Library. There are actually quite a few wonderful memorials here, but of course, the history in England is so much longer than ours.

      • Essuzy says:

        And we have Carl Sandburg’s home where you may pet the descendents of his goats.

        • sbranch says:

          There is really much more than we know! So much to be learned by visiting these places. Norman Rockwell’s Studio in Stockbridge.

  3. Pom Pom says:

    Wow! It’s my next summer’s stop. This summer: Amsterdam and Munich. I love BP and thank you so much for touring us. I can’t wait for my book to come!

  4. Dear Susan,

    Thank you for visiting Beatrix and sharing the tale with us! You left me all misty eyed with your vivid recollection. So lovely!

    xo,
    Christy

  5. I think if I went to visit…I’d never want to come home. Ahhh…

  6. Carrie says:

    Reading, listening and devouring every morsel you have so carefully, artfully and reverently shared in your exquisitely moving account of your pilgrimmage to Hill Top has put me over the moon, never wishing to return from this sweet utopia.

    You literally and figuratively have painted such a multi-dimensional journey that it feels as though I walked those paths, saw the bunnies, smelled the heavenly roses and followed in the very steps of Miss Potter.

    The music you selected to accompany this very nearly spiritual journey, was poignant and swept me right up with my heart swelling and my ears welling right up; pure unadulterated bliss.

  7. Nellie says:

    How I would LOVE to follow in your footsteps! What a marvelous trip you had, and how wonderful it is that you share it with us in such a beautiful way!

    xo Nellie

  8. Julie Marie says:

    Eeek!… I am so excited you “took me with you” to Beatrix Potter’s House!!!… it is just as wonderful as I imagined it to be… bunnies even!!!… I have the chills, just thinking you walked the very steps she did, and looked at the same countryside she did… what a wonderful experience!… I cannot WAIT for “our” journal to see every single bit of this… you know, because of YOU I have a “Peter Rabbit” corner in our bedroom… not a whole Peter Rabbit room, but just right!… Ooooh, and her little figurines in the window… just like yours!… I have several of those too… and I LOVE that you are wearing your precious grandmother’s ring!… these things matter so much to me…. thank you sooo much for today… bunny hugs!… xoxo Julie Marie

  9. Amanda says:

    Oh it looks all so lovely and reminds me of our own Castle on the Hill here in Connecticut.
    I must say I am a bit too curious not to see the inside – no pics allowed – I dislike that rule. After some internet snooping I see that the national trust (http://www.ntprints.com/) has some photos of the inside. Your sketch of her bedroom, absolutely on point and magical!!!

    • sbranch says:

      I sketched a lot of things inside the house for our book — I know how you feel, especially because we don’t need flash for cameras anymore. But in this case I think it’s because the rooms are small and if people were in there with cameras, they would never be able to keep things moving. Also, it’s good that some excitement is saved for the moment of savoring.

  10. Marie Hill says:

    Last summer I took my 5 year old daughter to Hilltop, we stayed in the Tower Bank arms next door and spent an amazing weekend exploring the Lakes and dreaming about Peter and company. It was a magical time and will always hold a special place in my heart, I am now stitching a memory book for my daughter from all the photos and bits we picked up on are visit. I live on a farm in Somerset England and am lucky to have an amazing amount of wonderful National Trust Properties around me , but there was something very special about Hilltop and the peaceful feeling it leaves with you along with print it leaves in your heart. Thank you for bring that back this morning with your memories.
    ps. my amazing husband went for a walk one afternoon and came back with the book we have number 179 (His old school no.)

  11. Becky Bruner says:

    My dear Susan, what a gift. I seriously had a lump in my throat the whole time I read this post (the background music didn’t help!). Purely magical … thank you for sharing this with us!

  12. april says:

    Wow. Thank you. I am pushing back silly tears reading this and trying to absorb all your wonderful pictures.
    Of course there were bunnies. Of course!!!! LOVE! Oh, and lambs. And wisteria….
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for SHARING!
    ~april

  13. Michele says:

    Aaaaaa! I didn’t expect it to end…You SO left me hangin’! :0) Can’t wait to see Part 2 (or “our” journal!)

    Thanks for posting, today, Susan, (esp. about Beatrix Potter) and I needed a little getaway!

    • sbranch says:

      You can click at the end of Part one — and you’ll go to part 2.

      • Michele says:

        Thanks Susan! :0) (I’m a bit dingy, today, with allergies)
        Still love, love, LOVE the posts of Beatrix. It was like I was almost there…almost :0)

        Do you have any pictures of Beatrix with her border collie? Our “fur~baby” is a border collie, too!

  14. Judy in Oregon says:

    Only you can make us feel as if we had been there! Thank you for sharing this once again. I loved reading it the first time and it is even better this time. Some day I hope to make it to Hilltop.

  15. Re says:

    Oh, Susan, I have tears in my eyes reading and feeling your passionate words about actually being at Hill Top! I’ve recently fallen in love with Beatrix: I read all of her Little books, her diary, her journal, a biography, and all of the BP Cottage Mysteries. One thing I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do since being a schoolgirl, was go to England! My mum’s side came from England, and I’ve so wished to see the English countryside – the villages, towns, garden, and now HILL TOP and the Lake Country. I get excited when I look at that area on a Google map – seeing all of the names for the places around and near Hill Top, like you did when you saw them for real!!!
    Thanks for the lovely pix and video – every time I see a real little bunny outside, I call him Peter! They do love to nibble!!!
    Will look forward to your journal!!

    • sbranch says:

      I know you’ll get there someday and you will see that’s it’s all real and it all really happened!

  16. Janet Reilly says:

    Dear Susan,
    I read your wonderful blog in high delight every time you post a new entry. During the late 80s and early 90s I took Victoria Magazine and I have the same feeling when you have posted that I used to have when that magazine arrived. Happy anticipation and the knowledge that what I was about to enjoy was best savored with a cup of tea and uninterrupted time.
    I’m sure that your many devotees (we’re more than fans!) feel the same way I do. I love the fact that you have such great appreciation for the small but most meaningful comforts of life. Your connection with the natural world and love of its beauty shines through in all you write.

  17. KarenP (Wisconsin) says:

    My heart was almost beating out of my chest as I was reading this and I found I was holding my breath!! The way you described everything was filled with all the wonder and excitement I felt when we visited there in 2010. I cried when I saw the house and garden….and her clogs!! And I know just what you mean about seeing the sign posts with the town names…seems surreal! Love this post so much!!! xo…Karen P.

  18. Debi Said says:

    So dreamy and magical, you bring all of the good stuff to life. Susan everything you do is precious. Everything I love in life, you sum it up in your books and blogs, you make it all seem so easy. I can never put into words what I feel but you certainly do that for me. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for this tour and for sharing what you experience, you deliver it so naturally. xoxoxo Debi

  19. Melissa Andrew says:

    Thank you! I eagerly awaited your posts during your trip last year … how lovely to be able to re-visit with even more detail. A delightful way to start this day.

  20. Linda Lee Miller says:

    Susan,
    Loved your account of “Hill Top” with your video and photos. My husband and I had the good fortune of visiting Beatrix Potter’s place a few years back. I, like you, was overwhelmed by seeing the little house! Also staying in a Bed and Breakfast that was once her family’s vacation spot was delightful. I agree that the movie, Miss Potter, was a wonderful, informative story of her life.

    Thanks for the lovely memories, Susan,
    Linda

  21. Joy Pence from Ohio says:

    And to think that this is just a small glimpse of what is to come when we get to read “our” journal. Thank you so much for sharing your life and travels with us. You are a true treasure,!

  22. Sharon Maier says:

    Since I will more than likely never be able to visit Hilltop, this is a treasure beyond words for me…it’s like I was tagging along with you. I’m a long-time collector of everything Beatrix Potter…so I’m truly enjoying every bit of this. Thank you thank you! I’m in your debt… And, incidentally, I have a Beatrix Potter room…my granddaughter calls it “The Peter Room,” and she has visited it since she could walk (she’s now 13 and still loves it). All the best,
    Sharon

  23. Maria Penner says:

    Dearest Susan….I have been a follower of yours for almost thirty years!!! I have your big calendar in my hobby house…I listen to Frank and Tommy all the time and today when I played The Things We Did Last Summer…I had tears in my eyes from the joy of listening to it…I was born on December 12, 1940 and had a twin brother who passed away of cancer seven years ago….Our whole family loved Sinatra and I can recognize a song of his by the opening bars!!!!
    I love Beatrix Potter and have a book I know you would love…It’s called Beatrix Potter A Journal…the ISBN is 0-7232-5805-8 It is amazing with all the little things to open and close. I got it on Amazon after seeing it in a bookstore and regretting not buying it!!! Let me know if you can get it…if not, I will mail you my copy for you to enjoy. You bring so very much joy to all and I’d want you to have it. I loved Father’s Day stories you wrote on your blog…I loved my Daddio and learned all about wood from him…He made everything by hand and I have these treasures along with his workbench in my little hideaway in the backyard that I call my hobby house…Our grandkids LOVE it too and they call Pacific Grove in their own words…CHRISTMAS GROVE….Isn’t that delightful!!! Love and hugs for making the world a more beautiful place. Maria

  24. Judy English says:

    I loved reading your account of your visit to the Lake district and to Beatrix Potters Home, Hilltop Farm…We must have crossed paths as we were there staying in a stone cottage at Lake Coniston at the same time as your visit, and one of the main highlights for me was going thought her home and the museum that showed her beautiful watercolours. The scenery in that part of England was stunning and will remain as a very memorable journey. Judy

  25. Carol Ahlgren says:

    I have always dreamed of visiting England. My ancestors came from the Shropshire Area. I recently inherited many family treasures, one of them being a almost 200 year old watch that is from one of the first ancestors to come to Canada. I never new where to begin planning my trip. With your blog and your upcoming book “A Fine Romance” (which I have pre-ordered) they are going to help me plan my dream vacation. Thank-you for your Blog.

  26. D'Anne R. Paratore says:

    My Mom and I have pre-ordered your new book – “A Fine Romance” I don’t know who is more excited to receive it!! Read that you will be signing your new book on August 15th. This will be our second attempt to meet with you – Mom so much wants a picture with you and for you to sign your new book. Could not think of a perfect Birthday gift for her than to drive down to meet with you Aug. 15th
    from Upstate NY. Could you please confirm the Bookstore and where you will be for this signing? I am in the process of making reservations Aug. 14th and to stay a few days. She wants to enjoy some of the island life you have shared with us in Willard. She can go back as far when you had personally wrote your letters and sent them in the mail “before” the computer. No, she would be upset with me if I told you her age – You never ask a Lady her age – old is not in her vocabulary.
    Thank you for sharing – your kindness and love
    drp

    • sbranch says:

      Yes I can. I will be at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore here in Vineyard Haven on August 15, 4 to 5:30. I will also be at Edgartown Books in Edgartown, also on the island on August 17, 4:30 to 6. I am looking forward to meeting both you and your mom!

  27. Aletha Riter says:

    I just wanted to say… that I didn’t know the real history of Beatrix Potter. For some reason I just thought that she was an imaginary soul.. you brought out the true person in the above information. I felt like I was right there with you. I have several Potter pieces myself, as my mom gave them to me when I was younger. I never knew she wrote a book either. I will have to try to find it in the library. Thank you so much for the insight.

    • sbranch says:

      There seems to have been a period of time when no one really knew much about Beatrix (or maybe that was just me), but since the 90′s, more biographies have been written, her diary was translated from the code she wrote it in, and all the pieces of her amazing life have come together for all to see. Lucky us!

  28. Catherine says:

    Dear Susan,
    I just spent the weekend traveling with you and Joe through England….reading ‘A Fine Romance’. It is the most beautiful book I’ve ever owned and I can hardly put into words how much I enjoyed it. No use mentioning everything…every page was a delight. I just found you a couple years ago, so I’m a new ‘girlfriend’, and I so admire you, your art, your words, the quotes…however do you find them all?…just perfect for every page, every occasion! Thank you for a most enjoyable weekend! Now I’m going through the ‘I Love England’ drop box. So much more wonderful things to read….I’ll be busy all week! Hope your garden was wonderful this summer. Love to the kitties and all the critters you love!
    C

    • sbranch says:

      Thank you Catherine, I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Jack just came to my art table to give me a kiss! Happy to have you as a new Girlfriend!

  29. I was looking at the May/June issue of English Home and saw that Lingholm is for sale (but under offer). I thought you might like to see some interior pictures of it (second link). The first link talks about the estate and its influence on Beatrix Potter’s books:

    visitcumbria.com/kes/beatrix-potters-derwentwater/
    smithsgore.co.uk/property-for-sale-keswick-2731649

  30. Lynn Cunningham says:

    I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful tour through a delightful and lovely place. I played the music you provided as I read my way up to and through Hill Top Farm. It really does have a fairy tale like quality….I enjoyed every moment!! You have a real gift for observing and sharing.

  31. Jane F. says:

    Dear Susan: I love everything you say about Beatrix Potter. I have her books, and others about her, too. And I have a lovely 8″ figurine of Peter Rabbit — music box that plays “it’s a small world”! I just saw this article this morning!! Hooray for the Duchess of Cambridge!! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2388643/Peter-Rabbit-meets-Prince-George-Duchess-Cambridge-decorates-baby-sons-nursery-Beatrix-Potter-theme.html?ito=feeds-newsxml. She needs your book!!

    • sbranch says:

      That gave me chills Jane. Makes me so HAPPY to see Beatrix Potter recognized in this perfect wonderful appropriate way. She would be so proud! I’m proud! Thank you!

      • Jane F. says:

        I know! I first came face to face with everything Beatrix Potter in the 1980′s in California in a darling BP shop in Oak Glen, a charming apple growing area (foothills of San Bernardino mtns. east of Redlands). Books, baby things, furniture, fabrics china dishes and of course the loveable figurines. That’s where I bought my Peter Rabbit music box, and the little books. I just thought!! THAT might be a good place to do a book signing!!! lawscoffeshop.intuitwebsites.com/Apple-Tree—Gifts.html I was hooked! Hilltop and the Lake District is definitely on my bucket list for Trip to England! Thanks for sharing sooo much. I know it takes hours to get all of that together. Talk about uplifting the soul!! Wow!! I have tears in my eyes almost!!! I’m so glad the new little Prince will grow up with Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin, and friends!!

    • Jane F. says:

      Speaking of books, I am patiently (well, not tooooo patiently! :-) waiting for mine! A funny story! I pre-ordered mine on Feb. 14, and when they arrived early, I thought, Oh I should get mine soon! Then I did receive my e-mail on July 30th that mine was in the mail. Yea!!! I waited, and waited, and waited . . . and read all the wonderful reviews, and chewed my nails some more!! Then on Thursday I just couldn’t stand it any longer!! I emailed F.O.S.B. and Peg said I should call. I did, and Sheri couldn’t figure it out! Well, on late Thursday, dear Sheri called me. She had rummaged through your warehouse and discovered my book had, in all the excitement of getting them in the mail, somehow had my label with only my name and zip code! Those sneaky computers have minds of their own, don’t they!!! Mind does too!!! AND, . . . our local post office had returned my dear book to you since they didn’t know where I was (although that seems a bit odd — a little digging could have found me, but USPS is overloaded thes days, so I’ll forgive them!) Anyway, dear Sheri told me my book would definitely be popped in the mail on Friday (yesterday) with its new complete address label, and I would have it early next week. I know nothing happens by accident! I am sooooo excited to see how this all plays out! I just KNOW that my book is going to arrive at the perfect moment I need it and tea and scones will be waiting. And my reading of your wonderful book is going to be all the sweeter for the long journey it has taken to get to me!! In fact, if it HAD come as planned, I would not have been able to concentrate on it. I was weighing some heavy things in my mind (I won’t bore you with all the details!), and I have had some amazing insights the last 7 days and am out in the light again. I will be sure to let you know when my book arrives and give you my thoughts on it. I KNOW it is going to be wonderful. And I am so grateful for all the kind help I received. This is the greatest blog! You are all special!! God is good!!

      • sbranch says:

        As they say, there’s always something! You have been so patient! So sorry Jane — it won’t be long now, and it’s the perfect time!

        • Jane F. says:

          Oh, no problem at all! I don’t want you to feel bad. I’ve had much more exciting things to occupy me this morning — “doing battle” with technology and coaxing my computer back to life!!! Cox was involved, and in the end they triumphed! Yet another reason to look forward to escaping to England! Think how much I’m going to enjoy the book!! :-)

        • Jane F. says:

          Hi Susan! IT ARRIVED!!!!! YEA!!! Sheri said she would send it out again on Friday, and it arrived TODAY!!! Only 3 days including weekend. WOW!! I am impressed!!! I immediately flipped through and it looks absolutely delightful! So. . . scones in the oven first thing tomorrow morning and a big pot of tea!! Then READ, READ, READ!!! I’ll write again and give my “review”!! (I know it will be good!). Perfect timing!! I was dealing with some “stuff” and needed some uplifting news today! And it is supposed to rain tomorrow! Perfect!!! I am soo happy!!

  32. Jane F. says:

    Oh Susan! My thoughts are just tumbling over themselves! I did it! Yesterday was so perfect. Pouring rain — all day — gentle at times and I even took a walk (after reading your book) with my umbrella near our lakes and saw a mother duck and her 5 ducklings in the grass right along the walk — like they walked out of Beatrix Potter country!! I’m getting ahead of myself. I made the scones, brewed the tea in my grandmother’s gold and china teapot and I READ A FINE ROMANCE (Perfect title, by the way) — the whole of it! What an extraordinary, enchanting adventure. “We” kept stopping for tea so often at so many charming pubs and tea rooms that I ate nearly the whole batch of scones, and drank countless cups of tea! (I didn’t have lunch — does that count?!) I couldn’t let you and Joe have tea without me!
    I don’t know where to begin! I loved your story about meeting Joe, but I’m going to leave that until last. Your first trip to Boston and all the landmarks made me so homesick! In a good way. Boston Common, Rt. 28, Berkeley Street, Newbury Street!! I could picture it all, exactly where you were. The voyage over to England and back on QM 2 reminded me so much of our cruise to Canada/New England in 2007. It was like a fairytale. I too got alone on the back of the ship and looked out to sea when we were far enough away not to see land — imagining the vastness of the universe, and our little but unique part in it. I can only imagine being way out in the ocean and knowing you would land in ENGLAND!!
    ENGLAND!! I have never read anything by anyone about England — and I have been doing this for 3 decades — that made me feel more like I was THERE!! I truly felt I was wandering the back roads and the foot paths and crossing the streams; seeing the gardens and fabulous architecture; meeting the people; eating the food. I’ve known for all these years I loved England and now I know why! I saw through your eyes an England more charming, good, friendly, beautiful and noncommercial than anything I could have imagined. And it is so good to know those places truly do still exist. I loved the way you went to ordinary “real” places in small villages – not the usual tourist places – and discovered their “hidden” history. What really came out was the importance and eloquence of everyday things done in a charming and “high art” way – my mantra for years. The English countryside is a motivator; seeing it that way and expressing it – the little things like a string of fairy lights in your friend’s kitchen – the bon voyage sign on the ship window. I saw all this in a new way so thoroughly enhanced by your well-chosen, depictive photos and utterly charming watercolor sketches. My own vision and hope were reinforced. I grapple every day with how to interpret the world around me with truth, beauty, goodness – and that special quality of enchantment. You champion that in a high profile way that is so helpful to all of us.
    A few specifics: The list of movies and books – so good and a guide I’m going to use. Many of them I’ve seen or known of and going to begin to look at again – especially Miss Potter. I loved that movie. When she sings “When you taught me how to dance” I will probably burst into tears again!! When the watercolors come to life is especially meaningful to Gene as he is a watercolorist.
    I’m going to grow the yellow tulips and Nemesia along my white fence in the back yard. Just lovely. Thanks for including these gardening details.
    I laughed out loud about the driving – feet jammed on the floorboard! Just like our family! How funny! We’d be driving on a vacation trip and Dad was such a good driver, navigating us through anything with perfect control, but mother was always a bit fearful (which is why she needed Dad!) and she’d have her feet firmly planted on her imaginary breaks in the passenger side! Dad would say, “Relax! Jamming your feet on the floorboard isn’t going to stop the car!!” And we’d all laugh (all except Mom!!) I thought I would literally wet my you know what!! when you and Joe drove away in the rental car for the first time!! I was there!!! Yes, we’ve done that only not on the wrong side of the road!! I can’t imagine!! We drove my parents to LAX (airport) (They were flying to Hawaii) from our mountain home in a San Bernardino canyon one time (2 ½ hours!) Never done it before! This will be a piece of cake, we said. We’ve lived here forever (Not flying much!) Dad & Mom in the back seat. I’m navigating. Gene’s driving – all those freeways with a million lanes. “Stay to the left”, I say. “Now move over one. Okay move to the left again. This exit is on the LEFT. Stay over. Over!” Now over to the RIGHT! QUICK! We have to get off NOW!” Dad, the veteran perfect Boston driver is holding on for dear life, his eyes out on stems! I think Mom has passed out!! Dad croaks, “I didn’t know it would be like this!” We made it!! And then reversed it 3 weeks later!! I loved the bit about staying on “your” side of the road and remembering how much of the car was to the left of the driver!! My dear friend Ann who traveled to England numerous times tells me the most harrowing experiences of her life have been when her husband was driving in the English countryside! But what took the cake was your hilarious story about retrieving the camera lens. But, you know, I would have done the same thing. You and Joe are such a team!! A hilarious one at times!! (More about Joe and you later!!) Is this too long?? I’m afraid it is, but I can’t stop!! I almost screamed out loud (but I knew I’d scare Gene to death, so I didn’t!!) when I read about your English friend’s mother Maisie’s stories about her sisters, GLADY and WINNIE!!! My mother’s name is Winnie, and her oldest sister was my Aunt Glady!! I am soo English!!! I knew it!! (Oh, gosh, I’m on a roll. I hope you don’t ban me from your blog!)
    I loved your hand lettering, too. That’s something like I did for Gene’s art books back in the 1980’s. I’ll send you one!
    As you are talking about coming home and how much you’ll miss it, I’m crying and I haven’t even been there! I think if/when – yes, when – I go I’ll join Gifford’s Circus and run away so I don’t ever have to come back!
    I was really in tears, though, when I read your final chapter when you talked about being home and hugging your kitties and being homesick for England already – reviewing all you had done – I liked that part, putting into perspective how all you saw fits into your vision for the heart of the home; giving joy and happiness to others. It was all there.
    But most of all what really moved me – (are you still reading? I can’t believe it!) Was your sharing your great romance with Joe, the love of your life. I really was in tears of joy for you. From the cufflink/charm to plowing through Beatrix Potter’s with you! And something astonishing happened for me. And this is the most important thing about your whole book. I remembered! I had a “Joe” — a younger man – a “baby” – in my life once. He just “showed up”, like Joe! I might write you a “snail mail” letter about it – I won’t bore all these girlfriends!! But all these years later, and thousands of miles away, I was reminded of all that relationship gave to me (it was pure and good as things were then – nothing “unseemly”, as O’Brian would say – DA!), and how I have been so focused the last few years, giving a lot to my dear injured husband, and had forgotten a part of who I am. I have been glad to do it, but had begun to feel dull and uninteresting and worn out, but I know I’m truly not. Somehow I think this “unlocked” memory may be an important piece of the puzzle to recapturing – in memory – who I truly am, and of the reinforcement that earlier relationship gave me when I needed it. And in so doing, help me first of all as a person, and then as a writer. It is important, as I’m sure you know, as a writer to see who we really are – to find our “voice”. I think your book has helped me to re-find my “voice” just as Joe has inspired you with yours – I see that. England would not have looked to you the same if he had not been there. And I won’t be the same for remembering a forgotten piece of who I am. I think by looking at who I am, I am able to be stronger and to give more unselfishly to those who truly need me now. Your book did that for me. Thank you so much.

    • sbranch says:

      You are not banned! :-) Thank you so much Jane. It’s more than I would have hoped for. Inspiration is my favorite thing in the world to receive, and of course, whenever I can, it’s my favorite of all things to give. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Life takes us all in surprising directions, it’s good to remember the joyful self that can sometimes be obscured by events. xoxo

      • Jane F. says:

        Thank you so much for reading this, and for not banning me! And for your comment: “Life takes us all in surprising directions, it’s good to remember the joyful self that can sometimes be obscured by events.” So true! It’s good to know you are all out there! I’ll be watching for a booksigning near me!! (Relatively! Have gun will travel!!) :-)

  33. Laura from England says:

    Susan, did you know there is an Emma Bridgewater mug with Peter Rabbit on it coming out soon?

  34. ellen b says:

    Oh the Joy! My Dear, our oldest son and our lovely daughter in law returned from a 2 week trip to England in the middle of September. I had ordered your book a couple weeks before we left and it finally arrived a couple weeks ago. I had to read pages 132-134 out loud to Josh and Laura this past weekend. We all laughed so loud remembering our time in our Volvo Station Wagon with Sat Nav (yes and amen, praise the Lord for Sat Nav) My husband and son almost disowned Laura and me after some of our trips and our squeals of terror. I am so enjoying your book and it’s fun to see that we enjoyed some of the same sites. My first time in England was in 1973 and that’s when I started collecting Beatrix Potter figurines. I have a good collection. I also bought 2 sets of all her little books. Our firstborns room was all about Peter Rabbit. We were in the Lake District with friends in 2006 and I’m still a bit peeved we couldn’t convince our friends to visit Hill Top. I hope to visit in the future with my Dear as we are beginning to plan a trip…just the two of us. Here’s a link to a little post England party we had to honor our friend from England who let us use his parent’s home on the coast in Cornwall happywonderer.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/the-three-birds-pub/ Thank you for your wonderful book of experiences in England. It will remain one of my favorites…

  35. Connie Sue says:

    I just finished a fine Romance, I didn’t want the book to end!! I too have dreamed of going to England all my life!

  36. evangeline says:

    I enjoyed reading about your trip to Hill Top Farm… so romantic and lovely. It seems you can “find” yourself somewhere and realize…. I’ve been here before… or dreamed here before….that is how BP home and countryside feels…I am home… Thank you for sharing in such a beautiful way…
    happy days as you travel home this week of Thanksgiving.. evangeline

  37. Liz Hand says:

    When I was a child my best friends mother mesmerized me tales of Peter and his siblings. As an adult I was taking a children’s literature course and was assigned a paper on Beatrix Potter. Imagine my amazement when I learned that she had written all those beautiful stories not my friends mother. I have been in love with Beatrix ever since. This April, 2014 my husband and I are returning to England for our second trip and I am at last going to see Hill Top farm. I am reading your “A Fine Romance” book now and I only wish our entire trip was going to be in the countryside. I’ll be thinking of you when I walk though that front door. Thanks for such an inspirational book.

  38. So glad you got to visit Hill Farm. When I was in the Lake District I only got as far as the little Beatrix Potter museum & it was closed that day. Sadness. But it was wonderful to bask in all that beauty of the region & be chased by cheeky sheep. (I survived. They just wanted love, food… and my sweater). To complete your Beatrix Potter collection, I assume you own “The World of Peter Rabbit & Friends” which is an animated masterpiece. Its ‘Tale of’ vignettes truly look like Beatrix Potter’s lovely watercolors come to life. You can get them on DVD if you haven’t seen them. Here’s a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SptrqY51NM

  39. Zoe Howard says:

    Susan -I’m a Brit living in LA for 20 years and A Fine Romance was so nostalgic for me and a feast for the senses! Thank you! Have you ever been to Suffolk and Long Melford? If not, put that on your next “to do” list. Beatrix Potter used to stay at Long Melford Hall when she was young, she was a cousin of the family and there is her room still with all her little girl drawings of Peter etc. Long Melford is a delightful town and a few miles down the road we still own a little cottage in Hartest, next to a wonderful pub circa 1500 – another little bolt hole for you and Joe should you wish! Bury St. Edmunds is 8 miles away and was where the Magna Carta was written ! Yes, England is always full of more delights to explore! I have all your books and they have given me great pleasure over the years -can I please now be one of your girls???

    • sbranch says:

      Most definitely Zoe! Thank you for that lovely comment … I wrote down Suffolk, Long Melford and Hartest for our next trip. LA is so far from England! It makes me happy to think you had a bit of a trip home through the book. xoxo

    • Carrie says:

      Hello Zoe,

      You have one of my favorite first names. I like the saying of it and of course how it sounds but also think there is an appealing aesthetic to seeing those three particular letters put together, economical but so full of “life” – not sure how lucid that is but it just had to be said :)

      Ok, onward. Several years ago, I think it was in 2005, I travelled to Bury St. Edmunds from Cambridge for the day. The beautiful ruins in the back of the church were a wonderful surprise. Hours and hours I spent sitting amongst the stony ruins with the lush verdant grass and gloriously robust roses. It was heaven. I also visited “The Ship of the Fens: Ely Cathedral” and climbed to the top for a view of the octagonal tower and then outside for the most bucolic view of the fens.

      On the other end of the spectrum, a friend took me to the Thursford Christmas Show in 2004 – that was beyond anything I could describe. Sure enjoyed the stop in Norwich on our way to Thursford. The cobbled streets and the Wizard of Oz-like houses with wonky roofs that were something out of a storybook.

      Long Melford has been added to my list as well. So glad that you have a place to return to and visit. I would give just about anything to call England my home.

      Carrie

  40. Just saw Miss Potter last night and LOVED it; now want to return to England and visit and stay in the Lake District. It looks so much like where I now live.
    Did you know Beatrix was also a prize winning Herdwick sheep breeder? Those are the breed native to the Lake District.

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, they were “heafed to the fell.” very special breed, but the wool is like armor. Girls today were telling me she walked home during a rain storm wearing her skirt and coat made from Herdwick sheep wool, and when she got home, she wasn’t even wet.

  41. Charo says:

    I have just discovered your blog by chance and I love it. This post about Beatrix Potter brought to my mind the lovely moments I lived as a child while my mum read her books to my 5 siblings and me. I didn’t know your work, I ‘m Spanish and I live in a little island in the Mediterranean sea called Mallorca, but I have just become one of your fans! I love your drawings and I would love to have your books : A Fine Romance, I’m going to try to find it in Amazon but if not, do you ship it to Spain, is the shipping very expensive?

    I’ve just signed for your newsletter and I will follow you in your blog.

    Thanks so much for allowing me to read your blog and enjoy your drawings.

    • sbranch says:

      Happy to meet you Charo! So far away … lovely we have the Internet and can say hello so easily. I know they have the book on British Amazon, at least that’s a lot closer for shipping than here!

  42. Charo says:

    I finally got it!!!! I’m so happy. I’m enjoying each of the moments I’m reading it. I want that it never ends, it’s so short…, It’s an awesome book, your drawings, your pictures, the quotes, your words…. thanks so much for being such a wonderful writer and make us travel with you.

  43. You and Beatrix would have really hit it off if born and the same time.

  44. Dena Drum says:

    Hello,

    I stumbled upon your book in the local book store on a bone chilling -15 degree day and bought it. I read it sitting on our love seat in the library while a rare beam of sunshine streamed into the window on my shoulder. Thank you for the mini vacation as I really felt as though I was with you on your wonderful vacation and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!
    Your book is perfect!
    I had to keep getting up to make tea!
    Thank you again and what a treat to find you and your charming website.
    Dena

  45. Niki Foertsch says:

    Good morning,
    I am new to corresponding to you. I’m not new to your wonderful books which has uplifted, inspired and given my Soul the joy I long thirst to experience. I just finished reading “A Fine Romance”. After reading many of the emails, I don’t think there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been addressed. Once I finished the book, I instantly turned to the front and began to read it again. I read very slow and savored every moment. Thank you so very much. You have enriched my life more than I have words.

    If I can take just a couple moments more of your time I want to share with you a couple of thoughts. I was at the local library and they now subscribe to a couple of British magazines. One in particular is titled “The Official Magazine BRITAIN” (BRITAIN is written in red letters”). The back issue of July 2013 features Hever Castle. A picture of the castle is on the front cover. The article features beautiful pictures of the inside & outside of the castle and a delightful interview of Lord Astor reliving his exciting childhood days at the castle. There is also an article of the “Lure of the Lake District”. The article begins at Windermere and takes you on a 48 hour tour around the Lake District. It mentions Renee Zellweger stayed at Holbeck Ghyll while filming “Miss Potter”. Possibly you already are aware of this magazine. If not I so hope you can get access to it. The cover of the magazine is unique in that it uses thick stock paper with a glossy front. Where you are incline to display in on a coffee table!

    You are so helpful with sharing lists of movies for us to enjoy. I may be repetitive again as I’ve not checked your lists of movies, would like to mention this one movie. The title is “MY BOY JACK”. It’s a wonderful movie about the life and times of Ruyard Kipling’s son. It also features Mr. Kipling’s family, friends and the circumstances of the events in their lives. This movie will stay with you for weeks.

    Thank you again. Yours for exciting possibilities of boundless joy.
    Niki

    • sbranch says:

      I have seen that magazine before, and you reminded me — now I have twelve issues of it coming to my house for the next year! Thank you! Such a sad story, and true story, My Boy Jack.

  46. Lisa Perry says:

    I have tears in my eyes readying this, ( I am listening to the music you had on as well). I am only skimming over it right now, because I am reading your book and don’t want to spoil it, since I am not quite at this part yet. But, I am such a fan of Beatrix Potter(and you too! I have your first book Heart of the Home, among many others). I have been since my girls were little (they are 18 & 22 now), when they came out with the movies (VHS) of her stories. I became obsessed with them and my girls & I watched them over and over. We bought books, notepads, whatever I could find with her lovely drawings & stories. Not sure why I had missed her books when I was a little girl, but my girls grew up on the stories. One of my favorite movies is “Mrs. Potter” and I will never forget the day I watched it, while on vacation in my beloved getaway Lake Tahoe, CA. I read the book after I saw the movie, which is kind of backwards, but I wanted to make sure I knew everything that might not have been included in the movie version. I dream of someday visiting her home and property. I have tried to make my own little English garden at my house (circa 1938) in sunny/hot California.
    Sorry, I’m rambling…..but I feel I’m a bit a kindred spirit and I wanted to share:)

  47. Adele says:

    Hi Susan:

    Glad to catch up with you and chat a for a spell. For those of us that can only dream of visiting such a enchanting place, you’ve given us a first hand experience of being there through your pictures and words. Thank you from my heart for being so good to us. I’ve enjoyed the pictures and the visit with you. I wish I could see more of the inside of Beatrix Potter’s house. The flowers, the greenery, the countryside, the beauty. I spend most of my daylight out in my yard working in my gardens, both flowers and vegetables. I believe watching TV is wasting the wonderful time to enjoy God’s great creation He has given us. Although, I must admit, I love old movies. My favorite, is Hobson’s Choice. Love to watch that movie on a rainy day. Well my friend, take care until we meet up again. Sending you hugs.

  48. PAULA VOGEL says:

    Please add me to your newsletter. I love your work!

  49. Polly Fritts says:

    I have read your book from cover to cover and I am ready to begin again. It is certainly a love affair with England and by including your drawings….it is perfect. I’ve already bought many for gifts but no one will EVER get mine. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  50. Rita Bomberry says:

    Susan, thank you so much for taking me there in your journals and writings. You are living the life I would love to live. I enjoy your artwork immensely. An artist myself i am still trying to find my artistic self. though I do not have the money to buy your book ” A Fine Romance” , it is on my wish list. I will sit down with a cup of tea nad read and enjoy when I can get it. Thank you so much for bringing a little joy into my life!!

  51. Mary Jo Haack says:

    Wonderful story!!

  52. Anna says:

    I just received your book, A Fine Romance….and after reading all the way up to where you arrived in England( it’s so good I can’t put it down..had to drag myself away)….I took a break to run out and buy…The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter’s works. Now I’m here and hearing of your visit to her house!

    I am over the moon impressed with your telling of this visit. I can’t get enough of your telling of this trip. I can’t get enough of how you express it too. You are such a gift to those of us who need such happiness. You are on the level of Beatrix and her work. You really are. Thank you.

    Thank you for being you and allowing us to feel your joy; to hear your stories and live life with you is so wonderful I can’t describe how it makes me feel.

    I also purchased your 10th anniversary book, Autumn. I have the girlfriend’s book but I want all your books.

    Hugs and luvs….flowergardengirl

  53. Margie Smith says:

    Susan, every time I read about your visit to Hill Top Farm, I can imagine how it looked and how you must have felt on being there. I am a fan of Beatrix Potter, too. Have been to England twice and have not made it there yet, next time. In the mean time I can be there because of your words and pictures. Thanks of the visit.
    Margie

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