Gift #1178: In the Lake District with Beatrix Potter

I hope you all had a wonderful week.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and one of the experiences of the year I was most thankful for was the opportunity to visit England with my mom.  Today on the blog we’re going back to the Lake District so I can share with you our tour of Beatrix Potter.  I was giddy for this tour –  so much of Miss Potter’s life and character fascinates me and I was very eager to see the places she loved.

Our first stop of the day was Wray Castle, where the Potter family vacationed when Beatrix was 16.  This was her first visit to the Lake District, and she immediately fell in love with the area.


Wray Castle was built in 1840 in a style to mimic the Medieval castles that had been bought by wealthy families.  Our guide informed us, with a slight note of disdain, that up and coming business owners were eager to flaunt their new wealth by building ostentatious estates to be more accepted by landed, established aristocracy.  From what we could tell, it didn’t seem to go over well as the neighbors were not impressed with the lack of attention to historic detail.  The owners decided to let (or rent) it and that’s how the Potter family found themselves there in 1882.  It is now just a facade, but you can rent out the building for business meetings or large celebrations.

However pretentious the castle’s origins, the land surrounding the castle was beautiful and you could easily see how it won the affections of Beatrix.


Our next stop was to Hilltop Farm, which is the first farm that Beatrix Potter purchased when she decided to move to the Lake District.  Once settled, she began to buy up additional farms as they went for sale, so that she could keep them running as working farms and protect the land from industrialization.  She eventually became one of the largest landowners in the Lake District.


I was so excited by this point I was vibrating from head to toe.  I’ve read many books about Beatrix Potter and one of my favorites was a series called The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert.  In these stories, the Hilltop farm is meticulously described and functions as an important character – I felt I knew it already from my time in these novels.  We explored the gardens first because the rain had slackened off to a light shower.

The gardens were as lovely as I could imagine, and had been maintained so that the plants that Beatrix would have grown are still in cultivation.  Everywhere you looked was a charming vignette.  Our guides pointed out a few views that Beatrix had painted that were included in her books.  I was especially fond of these sweet bronze hedgehogs that were scattered about the gardens.

As we got ready to go inside, I thought I might burst with anticipation and excitement.  We stood at the entrance and took a steadying breath before entering.  They had kept everything exactly the same as when Beatrix lived there.  And indeed, it felt as if she had just gone out for a stroll and would be coming back in any minute.  The home felt so peaceful and loved.


I was most charmed by her hat and outdoor shoes placed on the chair, as if they had just been removed.  Her spinning wheel was also exquisite.



Her china cabinet and dishes were displayed beautifully.


And her bedroom was a peaceful retreat.  She embroidered the bed curtains herself.  And look at the beautiful wallpaper!  I remembered the design being described in books I’d read about Hilltop.  It is lovely.   Scattered throughout the house were tiny felted animals from her books and little vignettes featuring her books, such as this one in the kitchen.


I was loathe to leave this home, but our guides gently ushered us back to our vehicle and took us to our next destination – the nearby town of Hawkshead.  Beatrix would frequently walk into town, or drive her horse and cart.  We walked about the town for a bit and then were brought to the Beatrix Potter Gallery.  The Gallery is housed in the building that served as her husband’s office.

Oh the gallery!  It maintains all the original watercolor illustrations from her stories and other works – over 10,000 of them!  And even includes her watercolors!


It was so thrilling to go through the rooms and explore the beautiful watercolors that Beatrix made.  To look on something that she had made with her own hands was just a dream come true.  I found myself quite envious of those who curate and manage this beautiful collection.  It is obvious that they have a great love for Beatrix’s work and her legacy too.

Here are a few of my favorites from the gallery.  The squirrels and mice are my absolute favorites.  Both Beatrix and I share a deep affection for small rodents.  Did you know that Beatrix drew her animals by using her pets as models?  Throughout her life she kept a variety of pets near her and enjoyed studying them for scientific interest as well as for her art.

We stopped for lunch at Hawkshead at a little tea shop our guide led us to.  It was raining again by that time and we had hot bowls of soup, scones, and tea.


We didn’t eat outside obviously, but it was a lovely front to the shop.  From there, we drove around the Lake District and they pointed out various scenes of interest for us, including some of the other farms that Beatrix owned and estates that she donated to the National Trust.  It was heart warming to hear the tone of respect and appreciation that they use when talking of Beatrix Potter.  She did so much to form and preserve the Lake District area and it is one of her greatest legacies.


In addition to being a formidable business woman, Beatrix also became a very respected farmer.  She faced prejudice on many levels, especially from local farmers who didn’t take kindly to an unmarried city woman moving in and buying up farms.  But she applied herself to understand the farms and how to best work them and won their eventual respect.  She was nearly single-handedly responsible for bringing back the native sheep breeds to the area, especially the Herdwick sheep, which now make up the majority of the flocks in the Lake District.  She was even invited to serve as the president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeder’s Association, an achievement of which she was deeply proud.  Her close attention to detail and deep understanding of sheep breeds allowed her to consistently produce award-winning sheep for her farms.


Our last scheduled tour was to the town of Ambleside, where the Armitt Library is located.  I picked this tour specifically because we made a stop here.  At the Library is where Beatrix Potter’s mycology illustrations are kept. Another area where she faced prejudice was in the scientific community.  Beatrix was a devoted and careful scientist in natural history.  She formed a close relationship with a Scottish mycologist, Charles McIntosh, who fueled her interest in fungi and honed her scientific skills.  She sketched around 350 plates of fungi, moss, and spores.  She also wrote scientific papers but struggled to get them published in journals at the time because she was a woman.  However, her work was presented at the Linnean Society of London (but not by her).


Seeing her mushroom illustrations with my own eyes was something I’ve longed to do for years and years.  It was absolutely thrilling to see some of them on display.  My mom and I collect books that have her mycology illustrations in them, but to see the originals was incredible.  They are so delicate and beautiful and precise.

I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to come here and see them for ourselves.  The museum also had a fine display on Beatrix’s forays into archeology, as well as her legacy in the Lake District.  In the front room was a little used bookstore and they also sold postcard sets of her mushroom illustrations.

Now that was our last scheduled stop for the tour, but we had special guides.  I didn’t mention this, but mom and I were the only ones on the tour that day.  I was afraid they would cancel, but instead they showered us with information, answered questions, and we had exciting conversations throughout the day.  I think they were happy that we knew a lot about Beatrix’s life, beyond her books, and had a deep appreciation for her.  Throughout the day, our guide realized we were fond of churches and she wanted to take us to her favorite church in the area.  So she directed the driver to the little village of Troutbeck.  And we got to see a beautiful country church with fabulous Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by William Morris.



I loved how each church had it’s own personality, and this was very clear especially in the churches of smaller communities.  Our guide explained how churches are the anchor of these tiny communities and provide support and a place of belonging.  The residents of this community took great pride and care of their church.  And the ladies sewing group and had made special kneeling cushions for the church.  They created patterns based on the local flora and fauna and decorated the pews with them.

I was beyond enchanted by this.  Aren’t they beautiful? On this note, we ended the tour with  hearts full of all the beauty we saw and the enduring legacy of a determined woman who loved nature and art and transformed her world forever.


Blessings to you,



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1 Response to Gift #1178: In the Lake District with Beatrix Potter

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Wonderful post, Sarah! Sounds like you got the A1 tour. 🙂 I have loved B.Potter since I was a kid and collected all her books by asking for them for Christmas and birthdays. I didn’t know about her other work and learned a lot from you here. Thank you!

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