Back to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm we go ~ is everybody ready? Grab your galoshes, you’re going to need them! It’s our second visit in a week — you knew I would have to go back!
Remember how gorgeous the sky was on the first day we found our way to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm? It wasn’t like that the second time . . . here it was on June 7, over the Lake District, dark, rainy, and moody. Musica? Yes.
Before we left the Lake District, I needed one more look at Castle Cottage (the light beige house above) where Beatrix lived happily-ever-after with her husband Willie for thirty years. The house is privately owned now so this was as close as I wanted to get, but there it was, sweet and comfortable-looking, just across the meadow from Hill Top. (Can you imagine living in the same house where Beatrix Potter lived for thirty years? Early mornings in her kitchen with only the sound of birds and baaaing of lambs? Talk about “House of Creativity!”)
It still felt funny that we could just drive here. Beatrix Potter has been so far away from me for so long, almost on another planet. But shockingly, like any other place, like any old McDonald’s on the corner, you can drive right up, put on your blinker, turn in, and park. Go through a little gate, walk up a path and there it is! Where it’s been for over a hundred years, with visitors just like me, coming and going.
I didn’t get a ticket to go into the house this time because I have that vision permanently pressed into my heart. I will never forget looking at the view through the wavy old glass of her bedroom window, the same ripply view of hills and green and cottages she saw all those years ago. But there were a couple of things I needed to do before we left — I had unfinished business and one more lucky bit of discovery. As I was walking through the rainy garden for the last time I noticed little wet side-path I hadn’t seen before. At the end there was a green door in the garden wall. I went to investigate. I didn’t want to miss anything.
I pushed the door open slowly, making sure I wasn’t going somewhere I shouldn’t — then ducked under the dripping lilac to go inside. It led to the walled vegetable garden in front of the house, and gave me a slightly different perspective on the house. I was inside the iron gate for the first time. All alone, in the rain, in Beatrix Potter’s garden.♥ (I hope you can feel the thrills and chills running through me at that moment.)
Of course, Peter Rabbit was bound to get in trouble in this neck of the woods! Such springtime temptation; rhubarb patch and strawberries too.
There were little details I couldn’t see from the other side of the iron gate, like this recess in the rock wall. It’s called a “bee-bole” ~ it’s made for sheltering bee skeps like this charming white box hive that Beatrix had “fixed up” — she also painted it into The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck — later I painted it into the journal I kept of this visit. (You would have enjoyed watching me juggle camera, umbrella, hood on rain coat, purse and tears while taking photos.)
I also came back to get the name of the roses climbing over the front of the house. I asked the person at the door but she didn’t know. Which surprised me . . . they must get asked that question two-hundred times a day because those roses smell like heaven. Don’t inquiring minds want to know? So they can grow them all over their barn? Or something? So I emailed the gardener, and guess what, he didn’t know either! They must be very old. My blog girlfriends thought maybe Zephirine Drouhin.
Here they are, up close. They also look a little David Austinish with so many lovely petals, they smell like David Austin roses too, really strong, but the gardener called them cabbage roses.
The other thing I had to do was to take a photo of my miniature Beatrix Potter book (which I had packed and brought along for this very moment) as it soaked up some local ambiance, so I could bring it back to the Peter Rabbit Room to spread the wealth (a little more magic is always good). The little book is so proud in that room since we got home, its buttons almost pop, bragging around to the Beatrix Potter People of where it’s been and what it saw!
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail hoist it on their shoulders like a returning hero.
But this is what I really came back to Hill Top for . . . I knew, the moment I left the first time, I had forgotten something. I must have been crazy to even think of coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to England, then to the Lake District, over the narrowest rock-lined roads you can imagine, on the wrong side of the road, risking life and limb, and then leaving this behind? I scare myself sometimes. I’d picked it up in the gift shop and then put it back, regretting it every moment since, dreaming about it!
It’s an exact copy of the first book Beatrix Potter (who, as you can read in my journal of this visit, A FINE ROMANCE, is not only an illustrator, but so much more. Most importantly, a conservationist savior of the Lake District, but also a respected natural scientist and regular person, despite being a genius, who was very proud of her prize-winning sheep) paid to have published herself, exactly the way she wanted it to be. For this special, first-time-ever reprint, they used the same cover she designed originally, but they also added a dust jacket taken from editions published in 1903 by Warne ~ in a charming calico pattern supplied by Edmund Potter and Company (Beatrix Potter’s family business, her grandfather actually designed this fabric himself, isn’t it adorable? She must have loved adding this touch to her book). They put the book in a special little bag and the only place you can buy one is at the gift shop up the garden path at Hill Top Farm in the Lakeland North Country. ♥ I could not go home without it.
What makes them extra special is, except for the surviving original books, there are only 1000 copies like this. On earth. (At least that’s what they told me, and I choose to believe!) And they all have “Limited Edition” numbers in them like this.
The book is written in Beatrix’s own handwriting; all the pen and ink drawings are in black and white, just as they were when she first published the book. Only after Norman Warne started publishing Beatrix’s books were they done in color. He believed in her.♥
I had (was forced by a power stronger than myself, therefore the court would surely rule me not guilty) to steal a flower from the garden to keep in my new little book. Stealthy, like a cat, despite the pouring rain, looking both ways and still seeing no one — into the dripping mock orange and climbing honeysuckle I went. Rain pattered my umbrella as I tucked the wet rosebud softly, ever so softly, into my raincoat pocket, and was out of there before anyone noticed, leaving only a trail of muddy footprints, a clue soon to be washed away by the deluge; because I needed to press a real Beatrix Potter flower into my book more than I cared if I went to the Far Sawrey town jail . . . in fact, I took an iris too, for my journal, I had to.
And then it was time to go. Other than going inside and asking to take a nap in her actual bed, I thought I had done it all. The rain was coming down hard, Joe was waiting on the other side of the little gate with the car running, reading his London Times. I stopped and took that one last photo of Castle Cottage in the rain ~ nostalgic, recalling memories that weren’t even mine ~ across green Post Office Meadow. Nothing in the village of Near Sawrey has changed since Beatrix walked the narrow lanes with her collie dog Kep at her side.
I hope you enjoyed our visit — I wrote more about this dream-come-true in our travel journal in case you also have a place in your heart for the life of Beatrix Potter . . .
Beatrix with her little mouse, “Xarifa” ~
And me too with my white mouse Pinky.
Over the years, I’ve discovered many books inspired by the life of Beatrix Potter. Thank goodness for these authors, I know how they feel; they found something they love and wanted to share it. These books came into my life slowly one by one ~ because of them I’m still learning new things about Beatrix. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order, because
Beatrix Potter, Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor, pub. 1986 is a book filled with wonderful photos and drawings. She calls Beatrix “a beguiling woman.”
The Tale of Beatrix Potter, A Biography by Margaret Lane, pub. 1964 ~ one of the first books I read.
Beatrix Potter, The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Genius by Linda Lear, pub. 2007 ~ winner of the Lakeland Book of the Year. (You can read my review of this book on Goodreads.) My book is marked with the places and things I want to find the next time I go to the Lake District.
At Home with Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer, pub. 2000 ~ This book is filled with beautiful photos of the inside of Hill Top.
Beatrix Potter’s Letters, a selection by Judy Taylor, pub. 1989 (Judy Taylor is the author of several books about Beatrix and a collector of her art and letters. HERE you can listen to a 1987 interview with her about how Peter Rabbit came to be written.)
Walking with Beatrix Potter, Fifteen Walks in Beatrix Potter Country by Norman and June Buckley, pub. 2007 ~ A charming little book with photos, drawings and maps of wonderful walks in the Lake District.
Beatrix Potter A Journal, (yes, I found it for our web store!). This book is a real treasure ~ they all are, but this one is filled with photos and Beatrix Potter’s handwriting and words ~ there are reproductions of cards and letters glued into the book, and in a hidden slot in the back cover is a “privately printed edition” of The Tale of Peter Rabbit that looks exactly like the one I got up at the Hill Top Gift Shop. (But it’s not the same because it doesn’t have the calico dust jacket, and mine came from the Hill Top Gift Shop! )
There’s a charming collection of mystery novels written by Susan Wittig Albert about “the adventures of Beatrix Potter” called the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. The first one is The Tale of Hill Top Farm, pub. 2004. Perfect books for pub and/or bathtub reading.
A short but sweet on-line biography covering the basics of Beatrix’s life is HERE.
Become a member of the Beatrix Potter Society (they have a wonderful website) and you will receive four issues each year of their Journal and Newsletter. They will be reviewing my newest book, A FINE ROMANCE, Falling in Love with the English Countryside in their October issue. (OH Yes, thrilled to the toes.)
Adorable, it’s The world of Peter Rabbit and Friends