“ Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top in 1905 with the royalties from her first few books, written at her parents home in London, but inspired by her annual holiday visits to the Lake District. She visited as often as she could, but never for more than a few days at a time, sketching the house, garden, countryside and animals for her new books. „
My Dad and I were on holiday in Grasmere (reliving old times) earlier this month, but at the start of the week the weather wasn't so brilliant so we put off the walking and decided to do some things that had an under cover aspect to them. One idea that came to mind was Beatrix Potter's famous home of Hill Top farm.
Have to say that unless you already know where you're going, this wasn't the easiest place to find and my Dad's got a pretty good sense of direction. I would have expected signage at key points, at least those near to the destination, but don't recall seeing any so if you're not familiar with the area then I certainly suggest use of a map or good sat nav or you'll be driving about for ages. I did notice a bus stop opposite, so public transport does seem to be a possibility. It's a couple of miles from Hawkshead, a slightly bigger village where there's a lot of Beatrix Potter themed shops.
The car park is located 'down hill' from the house itself - it's of a half decent size, but was fairly busy when we were there and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up full during peak season and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of alternative parking nearby. When we parked there was a man in a high vis jacket directing cars into spaces - seemed a bit unnecessary to me. At the back of the car park is a barn where you go to purchase tickets to the house (which have times written on them), from here you have to walk back out to the road, and up the hill (don't worry it's not a strenuous walk) to get to your destination.
Coming off the road you enter Hill Top farm via a small gate and turn right up a slightly inclined path between attractive flower beds. At the end you're greeted by a rather attractive old building, where there's at least one member of staff standing outside - they will check your tickets and give you a brief history on the property and Beatrix Potter's association with it.
You're allowed to walk freely around the house rather than having to take part in a tour, however there are staff on hand to ask questions. It's a very dark property with dark wood panels lining many of the walls, fairly small windows and no ceiling lights.
The property has been kept as much like it was when Beatrix Potter lived there (early 1900's) in terms of both decor and furniture - specifically furniture and other items actually belonging to Beatrix Potter herself which I think really adds to the experience and you really do feel like you're stepping back in time. There was also a great deal of personal correspondence and other original work of hers so the connection remained strong throughout the property.
The rooms were of a decent size and the staircase is fairly wide, but obviously due to the nature of the property access for the disabled in fairly poor and I see no way that wheelchair users would be able to get upstairs. The 'living room' was lovely - really cosy feeling with a nice log fire, I could easily imagine myself curling up in a chair opposite the fire in winter, reading a good book. I was also intrigued by the wallpaper on the ceiling in this room and a large piece of dark wood furniture with a date on it somewhere in the 1600's. The kitchen is all set out but roped off just beyond the open door so you can't go in - not really sure why this is. There are some other closed doors throughout the property, but when we asked about these we were informed they're 'just cupboards'. I also loved the sheer number of desks and writing spaces in all the rooms - I have a pen palling hobby so this was like my idea of heaven!
Back outside there is a small vegetable/fruit garden with a short path to the middle of it - even in October there were still some raspberries growing. Coming out of here and walking down a slightly narrower path, next to the one you came up on, there is a field bordering one side - in here were a small number of sheep and a few wild rabbits (if you look close enough). At the end of the path is a small building housing the shop.
As you'd expect most of the items in here are related to Beatrix Potter with everything from factual books on her life, to her stories, and a great many kids toys (Dad said he wished I was still a child as there's so much he would have loved to buy me). There were a few other slightly more 'generic' items such as fancy jars of food, that have no specific relevance to the property or Beatrix.
The National Trust are the owners so my Dad and I got in for 'free' as Dad is a member. If you're not a member then you can currently expect to pay £8.50 for an adult, £4.25 for a child or £21.25 for a family. Personally I think this is fairly expensive as the property doesn't take a huge amount of time to walk round, even when dawdling. If you're a national trust member though then great. You may also want to consider that you can access the shop and gardens without a ticket, so effectively membership just covers entry to the house.
There are varying opening times and days for the house and the gardens as well as being dependent on the time of year, so it's always a good idea to check on the national trust website to check it will be open when you plan to visit - I won't give any specifics here as it seems to change on an almost weekly basis. Suffice to say the gardens and shops tend to be open for longer than the house.
Like many National Trust properties, you're not allowed to photograph the inside (which is explained before you step into the house) however there appear to be no such restrictions on the outside and I took a few photos of the house exterior and garden.
There is no on site cafe and the shop doesn't really sell any good that would be suitable for lunch/picnic. If you do want to make a bit more of an event from your day out though then there is a pub called The Tower Bank Arms which is located between Hill Top and the car park - it's a quaint little pub and was featured in 'The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck'.
Worth a visit?
I think I'd have to say yes - Beatrix Potter is a well loved historical figure of not just national, but international importance and she had a huge impact on children's literature, one which is still very much felt today. Hill Top was a large part of her life and being in such 'original' condition does make you feel like you're getting to know her and her life that little bit better. I know it probably costs quite a bit to maintain, however I can't help but think the tickets are rather pricey considering the length of time you're likely to spend there - enough probably to justify becoming a fully fledged member of the National Trust.
Beatrix Potter's Home
Last time we came up to this part of the world it was in early December and all the National Trust properties were closed so we decided then and there that we would come up before they all shut down for winter. I wanted to see some of the places connected to Beatrix Potter. I have loved her books since I was a child and still have my childhood copies. I also wanted to see places connected to Wordsworth and so this was our itinerary basis for this visit.
The former farm house was bought by Beatrix Potter as an adult and thus is where she created most if her beautifully illustrated books. When visiting this property you need to park in the clearly signed car park which is free but fairly small so I would imagine a visit in the summer would be a real challenge. It was empty when we arrived and packed by the time we left and that was in October so out of season and out of school holiday times.
Once you park you need to go to the ticket office to buy your ticket even if you are a National trust member you still need to get a ticket as entry is in timed blocks so that tiny house is never too crowded to allow visitors to move around and see what is there.
PRICES AND OPENING TIMES
This property is closed from the end of October through to early March and it is not open on Fridays. On the day it is open you can visit from 10 am or 10.30 through to 5pm or 4.30 so it would be advisable to check if you are planning a visit . The website always has the opening times for each week updated.
Adults are £8, children £4 and a family ticket costs £20 and you get a discount when visiting the Beatrix Potter gallery in Hawkshead Village.
If you are a National trust member then entry to both places is free.
IN THE VILLAGE
As you walk up from the car park up to Hilltop you pass several sights which starred in some of Potter's books. The map that you are given with your ticket shows these clearly so have a look as you make your way up to the house or if you are close to your entry time check them out as you walk back.
I will point them out going from the car park up to the house. The first of these sights is 'Anvil Cottage which is used by Potter in the 'Tale of Samuel Whiskas' and opposite this cottage is another white cottage which is the inspiration for 'Ginger and Pickles Shop' in 'Ginger and Pickles. Between these two cottages on the opposite side if the road is the local post box which Potter incorporated into 'Peter rabbit's Almanac'. The pub known as the 'Tower Bank Arms featured in 'The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck' while 'The Old Post Office ' was seen illustrated in 'The Tale of the Pie and the Patty -Pan'. Lastly a little gate just near the entry to the Hilltop house was in 'The Tale of Tom kitten.'
This is the first place you come to as you enter the Hilltop property and you can either ignore it or visit it before you go into the house or on your way out again. We actually went in after the house vsit but as it is first I will comment on the shop first. This is pretty tiny but does have a huge range of Beatrix Potter books, collectibles and even has the tiny figurines about a cm high which I was very taken with until I saw they cost about £80 each. There were toys and postcard, ice cream and dvds and books as well as guide books and more. While we were there 'Miss Potter' was showing on the TV screen in the shop. I still haven't seen that so I must get hold of a copy somewhere cheaper than in this shop.
This reminded me of Mr McGregor's garden in 'Peter Rabbit' with large flag stone pathway leading up to Hilltop House. There are all the traditional English border and perennials as well as vegetables and herbs in different parts of the garden. As you are walking back down from the house down the path furthest from the road on the right hand side are fields. In the fields we spotted lots of wild rabbits relaxing and looking perfectly at ease with no fear of being disturbed. I did wonder how much of the NT garden they helped themselves to once the visitors had left.
You are greeted at the door and the guide tells you that the house is self guided and you are free to walk around throughout the house. You are asked not to wear high heels that might damage the floors or touch any of the artefacts as they are all authentic Beatrix Potter owned furniture and possessions.
The room you come into is a front parlour with a dresser, a fire place and a central table. On the window shelf is a basket with some of her books open on specific pages showing scenes in the books painted in the room. This was the same in all the rooms each had books open on specific pages showing scenes set in that specific room.
The tiny kitchen was pretty hard to see in as it was roped off and you could only poke your head around but it looked pretty old fashioned and not a kitchen I would want to cook in.
Making your way upstairs you become very aware of how wealthy Beatrix Potter's family had been as her father was a close friend of Millais the painter and there was one of his paintings signed on the wall. Around the walls on the landing were several other paintings some by Beatrix Potter and others by other artists known to the family.
The room on the right as you get to the top of the srairs has a small round table in the middle and huge rather ugly paintings on the wall which were apparently the creation of Beatrix Potter's brother. I have to say they were dark and rather depressing landscapes and not my taste at all.
Beatrix Potter's bedroom had a small farmhouse four poster bed with canopy and handmade patchwork quilt. The bed looked small but we were told it was pretty much the same size as a standard double today. The view from the window looked out over the fields and was a pretty pleasant view.
The other bedroom was set up as another sort of drawing room and had |Beatrix Potter paintings and illustrations which were much more to my taste. All around were little signs with snippets of information about the lady and her work which was interesting to read but so much to take in that I can't remember all of them. Anyway it would spoil your enjoyment if I told you everything in the house.
You were not allowed to take photos inside at all but you could buy postcards showing the inside of a few rooms in the shop.
The house is tiny and so those with disability or mobility issues including children in pushchairs would find considerable difficulty inside the house. Pushchairs are not allowed inside and a wheel chair may get in the downstairs room but upstairs would be out altogether.
There are toilets outside the house but I can't tell you what they were like as I didn't notice them while we were there and we went for a coffee down near the car at Sawley's Cafe park and used those facilities instead.
If you are in anyway interested in Beatrix Potter then you should pay this house a visit. It was lovely to see the books of my childhood open in the rooms where they were created. Her work is such an English institution and so iconic. Apparently Beatrix potter books are used in Japan to teach children English which is why her books and characters are so popular with Japanese people. According to the NT guide 25% of visitors to Beatrix Potter's house and the gallery are Japanese which is a pretty large percentage when you think of how many nations visit our country and of course a lot of Brits visit this area as well.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username
I have been visiting a few National Trust places recently, mainly due to the fact that I became a member a few months back so I thought I'd put some fuel in the car, (which is pretty expensive these days so getting into places for free is a boon), and not only educate myself and my children but have a fun day out as well.
Firstly, for those people who have never heard of the National Trust, I can tell you that they are an organisation that own several properties and land, be it through donations, purchase or 'care-taking', through out the UK. There aim is to keep the properties and gardens in good order and to do this they open up the properties and gardens to the general public, at a cost of course. This in turn allows the public to learn about the history of the UK and it's buildings and land.
One such property which the Trust own, due to a donation, is called Hill Top, and was the setting of many a books created by the word famous Beatrix Potter.
And for those people who have never heard of Beatrix Potter, she was born in London in the summer of 1866 and began writing short stories for children.
As a child she holidayed in the Lake District with her family and fell in love with the beautiful surrounding that she came upon. So, using money she earned from her books, together with money that was left to her from an Aunt, she bought several properties in and around the Lake District in order to stop any building development spoiling the scenery, eventually buying Hill Top in 1906.
When she died she donated them to the National Trust with the intentions that the properties would remain as they were and would not be sold off. This was her way of keeping the Lake District exactly as she loved it, small hamlets, beautiful quaint buildings and gorgeous scenery.
In all, when she died, she donated over £210,000, 14 farms and over 4000 acres of land to the National Trust.
As for her writing, well her books have become world famous, translated into many different language for all to enjoy, creating animal characters such as Samuel Whiskers, Jemima Puddleduck and her most famous character being Peter Rabbit. With many of her ideas coming from the many things she could see around Hill Top's house and garden, such as rabbits running around the grass, ducking under fences into the farm on the other side, taking the fresh carrots and being chased by the farmer. This may or may not have happened in real life but in her imagination it certainly did.
Anyway, straying from the path a little there, so back to Hill Top itself.
** WHAT EXACTLY IS HILL TOP..?
Well, to be honest, Hill Top is a normal looking house, (sort of), with a normal sized garden, and in fact could actually be walked passed if it wasn't for the small signs stating what it is.
The house contains a few rooms, such as a living room, kitchen and bedroom, which were all used by Beatrix Potter when she lived there. Whilst the garden is split into sections, such as a vegetable plot and lovely colourful flower beds.
The house and garden was donated to the National Trust by Beatrix in 1944 on the proviso that it was never to be sold off and that it should remain as it was, to which the National Trust took the latter literally, leaving the interior exactly as it was when she Beatrix was last there.
There is not a lot more to say about the house and gardens as they aren't the usual National Trust properties, it is not a grand castle with ornamentally designed turrets, nor is it a massive hall with more rooms than a 5 star hotel, it is simply a house with a garden where a certain well known writer chose to spend her days creating children's book for all to enjoy.
** WHERE IS IT THEN...
You can find information about Hill Top on websites such as the National Trust, but briefly it is situated in a small Hamlet called Near Sawrey, (SatNav... LA22 0LF), which is a couple of miles outside of Ambleside and a short ferry ride from Bowness on Windermere.
You can get there by car along the B5285, by bus, on the cross lake experience from pier3 in Bowness or the 505 from Hawksheaad. Or by foot along a well trodden path from the Ferry.
** OPENING TIMES...
The opening time vary depending on the season, but the house is always closed on a Friday, although the garden and shop are open daily.
The house 'visits' are on a timed ticket system so that the house is never over crowded.
National trust members can get in for free
Access to the garden is free during opening hours
Other information can be found at the National Trust website.
** MY OPINION...
I've visited many grand places owned and run by the National Trust, wandering around some splendid castle, halls and gardens, so I knew that a trip around Hill Top was not going to take too long to get around, and it didn't.
But, even though it took a fraction of the time to get around than your normal National Trust property, it was still a remarkable place to see with some very interesting history to get to know.
The actual place itself is not that well advertised, compared to some other National Trust properties, maybe this is down to the fact that the small village is as it always was and putting up big brown signs would spoil the area. But you will know when you're there due to the mass of people standing outside along the road, a lot of them being Japanese, as for some reason they simply love Beatrix Potter and her little books of joy.
When we got there we parked up in the small car park, which was almost full when we got there and there was still a long queue of cars waiting to find somewhere to park.
There are only about thirty or so spaces which can become filled very quickly, and with very limited parking around the area itself the busy season can be very difficult finding somewhere to actually park.
The ticket office and information centre is set just off this car park, this looks like it was either an old barn or maybe an old cottage, but has now been converted and contains a desk and some information on the walls. Then you have to follow the road toward Hill Top itself after you have bought the tickets, this is about 150 metres and as there are no real footpaths, and some passing drivers seem to be practicing for the next grand prix, this walk should be taken with care.
Then we carefully headed along the road, towards the house, arriving there in a matter of a minute or so, with it only being a short distance away, then we headed into the garden itself.
To get into the garden you can either walk through the gift shop or walk around the outside of it, I chose the latter so my kids wouldn't want to borrow the contents of my wallet yet again.
Once we were in the garden we walked along the narrow paths, and I mean narrow, so you will have to pause and maybe lean to one side when someone needs to pass you.
As we walked along the path I was in awe at the myriad of colours blooming from the flowers which were beautifully placed all over, (although the blooming depends on what season you go in). Then, heading to the house, which was at the far end of the path, I came across the vegetable plot, which was hidden behind a small wall and a very rickety looking gate, and was filled with the vegetables which I knew Beatrix Potter had once grown and eaten, although the rabbits would have munched on many of the fresh food from the gardens.
It was walking through the garden that made me think just how the scenery around me had made such an impact on Beatrix's books, surrounded by the beautiful scenery and watching the many rabbits calmly eating the grass.
The garden there are many flowers with some lovely colouring and smells, such as lavender, lupins, Philadelphia and more. Then there's the many fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and the like
The house itself, at the end of the path way, although you can see it as you walk along. It doesn't look like much from the front, or the sides come to think about it, with its rough looking grey brown walls, dark green window frames with small squares of glass, the solid looking dark front door being covered by a strange shaped canopy and a rickety looking wooden bench sitting just outside. But this small, almost strange looking house contains something rather special indeed, a story that tells us a few things about the life of the well known writer Miss Beatrix Potter.
When we actually arrived at the house we only had to wait a matter of minutes until our timed ticket time came about, so we went in.
As we entered the house we were greeted by a guide who offers us a Beatrix Potter book from a pile behind the door in order so that you can see how much Beatrix's books are written around the house itself. How many of her s drawings and descriptions are actual taken from with in the house itself.
She gently explained to my kids about how the rats had gnawed away the bottom of the table legs in the kitchen, showing them that the tables remained exactly the same, with the rats gnawing marks still there. She also told my kids other stories about the house and Mrs Potter and how it took her so long to write one of her books due to the fact that she spent most of the time chasing and catching 93 rats who were running around her house... I think she said 93, I know it was a lot. Just imagine that many rats running around such a small place.
Each room had many lovely features, such as the rat bitten table in the dining room/kitchen. Also in that room there is a teapot on a dressing table which has not been moved since Beatrix was there, (allegedly).
In the room just off the kitchen there is more furniture such as a desk where she wrote her books, a few chairs and a rather welcoming window seat, which I could almost see myself sitting at, looking out over the garden.
When we climbed the narrow staircase we came upon the bedrooms, one of them having a small four-poster bed in it, another looking more like a small office where a bureau and chair stood proudly amongst the furniture.
And each room had several pictures of Beatrix and her family hanging on the walls.
The building itself allegedly remains exactly as Beatrix Potter left it when she died in 1943, apart from the odd bit of feather dusting, leaving even a teapot exactly where Miss Potter left it.
The lady at the front door of the house itself was so professional and so helpful, lending my kids a books which she took from a pile behind the front door, explaining which pages led to each room, telling them the story of the many rats that had chewed to bottoms of the legs on the dining table and how Beatrix had spent an age writing a certain book due to the many rats that she had to deal with when she first moved in, and there were a lot.
She explained how the books related to the house and how Beatrix spent her time writing and chasing rats away. Talking to the children with so much knowledge and in such a way that even my kids were intrigued as they hung on her every word.
Even asking my youngest daughter questions about what she had seen around the house, such as what she thought the mattresses were made of? Explaining to her that the mattresses were not filled with straw but were actually filled with...??? I won't tell you just in case you don't know and you want to visit here to find the answer.
Unfortunately, it is not really a place for wheel chairs as there are some steep steps into the garden itself, the paths along the garden are narrow and the building itself is quite small indeed, with steep steps leading to the second floor.
And as for toilets, these are situated in a small hut inside the garden area, plus, there's some in the local pub, the Tower Bank arms, which offers a very nice meal indeed.
Although the house was on a timed ticket system once we were in we didn't feel rushed at all as we walked around, climbing the stairs to see how the creator of Peter Rabbit and his furry friends had once lived.
And as for a nice energetic way of getting there, I was chatting to a couple who had walked there, after coming off the ferry from Bowness on Windermere, (60p one way), and had told that the walk to Hill Top was quite a pleasant one, passing Claife Heights as they went, taking about forty minutes at a gentle pace. So next time I'm staying in or around Bowness I may have to walk this way.
* ADDED BONUS...
Outside the main grounds themselves, in the village of Near Sawrey, there are a few other things to see, such as when I was last there my kids had the chance to have there pictures taken with a scarecrow which was sat in a seat outside the Buckle Yeat guest house. This scarecrow was supposed to resemble Mr McGreggor, this photograph is for the cost of a donation which went to help the MacMillan foundation. The scarecrow, sorry, Mr McGregor can look quite scary to some younger kids, with his long white beard and floppy legs, but it does look funny in a way
And when looking for something to eat we decided to have a bite to eat in the Tower Bank Arms, which is mentioned on one of Beatrix's books, as we had heard that the food there was nice. But nice was not the word, the word should have been 'delicious' as the food served was mouth watering and very 'morish' indeed, but this review is not about the Tower Bank Arms.
Again, I'm wavering from the house itself, so I'll simply say, if you like historical properties, or you simply like the author Beatrix Potter herself, and you're anywhere near Bowness on Windermere or Ambleside one day, then this little house is a must to visit. It may not be as big as other National Trust properties and you certainly can't make a full day of it wandering around the grounds, but it is a fascinating place to visit with a lot to offer.
I know £17.50 for a family ticket does sound a bit excessive, considering the size of the place, but it's worth a look, just to see for yourself how Mrs Potter came about her ideas which have entertained many children for many years.
There is something quintessentially very English about the children's author Beatrix Potter so it isn't too surprising that she chose the picturesque setting of the Lake District to spend much of her life. Although Beatrix was born in London her parents were very wealthy and she spent many childhood holidays in The Lake District. During her adult life and equipped with the wealth that her books had brought her Hill Top Farm was just one of around a dozen farms that she bought in this area, although it is here that she lived most of the time. The other farm purchases were merely to prevent to land falling into the hands of developers.
She had purchased Hill Top Farm in 1906 and when Beatrix Potter died in 1943 she bequeathed it to the nation, with the instruction that it and its surrounding farmland should be preserved for future generations to enjoy. It is now in the hands of the National Trust who open it for visitors and they also farm the land and gardens by traditional methods (hand ploughs etc). A gift shop near to the house sells produce that has been grown here.
Hill Top Farm is located in the small village of Near Sawrey, on the opposite shore of Lake Windermere to Windermere town itself, although a ferry takes passengers across to the other side, so visitors staying in Windermere can visit Hill Top Farm quite easily.
I visited Hill Top Farm in June 2010. I had planned a 13 mile walk from Windermere, across the water on the ferry to Hawkshead and I knew that my route would take me right through Near Sawrey so it seemed like an ideal place to stop. I was surprised that there are no road signs (or at least I didn't see any and the footpath kept pretty close to the road most of the time) but since there is only one road that runs from the shore to Hawkshead it is quite easy to find. The first indication that I was somewhere near came from the large number of people with their cameras round their necks and a sudden traffic jam ahead of me, which I was not expecting to encounter on a narrow country road.
Near Sawrey is a picture postcard sort of place. It has a lovely historic church and a few pretty cottages, but not a lot else. A few of the cottages and nearby farms have turned their hand to offering Bed & Breakfast, cashing in on the tourists, but on the whole, everything is still quite un-commercialised. It is a very rural setting surrounded by England's highest mountains and deepest lakes.
There is a large car park close to Hill Top Farm but the house itself isn't visible from the road. Instead there is a building (a former cottage) that has been converted into the visitor centre and gift shop, which you have to enter. Once you have parted with your admission free a gate then leads out of the visitor centre and it is a short, uphill walk to Hill Top Farm, which is now visible. The footpath cuts through the gardens and as it was in June when I visited everything was very pretty and in full bloom.
I'm ashamed to say that I didn't take note of whether access to the house was suitable for wheelchair users but I think that it should be as it is a good quality footpath and the slope isn't too steep. Within the gardens an outbuilding has been converted into a toilet block and beyond the flower beds there were row upon row of vegetables.
Entry to the house is by numbered ticket only. Since the house is quite small it can only be toured via a guided tour and only about 8 people can go in at a time. We had about a 15 minute wait but once inside the first thing that I noted was it was quite cramped. All of the rooms are filled with original furniture, which are constructed from dark oak and the small windows don't let in much daylight so it was also quite dark and dingy as well as a little claustrophobic. The tour includes all of the rooms including the bedrooms upstairs and the kitchen. There is the actual bed where Beatrix slept, the desk where she sat and illustrated her books and the range in the kitchen where she cooked etc.
I enjoyed my visit to Hill Top Farm but I did feel that it was a bit expensive considering that we probably only spent about 15 minutes inside the house and also that none of the 45 acres of farmland are accessible, except the small garden. It is also not permitted to take photos inside the house. On the whole though I'm glad that I visited here and I would recommend it to others.
The current admission charges are
National Trust members - Free
Adult - £6.50
Child - £3.10
Family ticket - £16.00
Hill Top Farm
"Thank God I have the seeing eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough land seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again."
We owe the vast majority of the Lake Districts immaculate preservation to a set of little hardback books. The authoress, if indeed that is the term for a female author, was besotted by animals, their natural form and also the lives that she imagined they led out of human earshot.
This lady, of course was Beatrix Potter. Originally a young lady with a wildly active imagination and a massive talent for art and story telling originally dismissed by her parents as a flight of fantasy. This long dismissed talent led to Beatrix amassing one of the biggest personal fortunes of her time, allowing her to purchase great swathes of the land that she loved and indulging in her next great passion of sheep farming.
Rough, Tough and exceptionally knowledgeable, beatrix had a reputation amongst other farmers that lead to her being greatly respected if a little feared!!
On her death Beatrix bequeathed the entirity of her estate to the National Trust and this land now forms virtually 80% of the national park of the lake district. Trout Beck and Derwent Water form a part of this bequest amongst others.
"Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work"
Beatrix's most famous work, without a doubt, and one that has had the privelege of being translated into hundreds of differeent languages is "The tale of Peter Rabbit"
One day, young Beatrix, having seen the gorgeous farmhouse and adjoining land by the name of "Hill tops" for sale in her beloved Lake District on a recent family holiday, payed a visit to her accountant to enquire, whether, with a few more books she may be able to afford a house of her own. Naively unaware of her wealth Beatrix was amazed to hear that she could buy ten houses if she wished. Not surprisingly the purchase of Hilltops came not long after!!
Today Hilltops stands exactly as Beatrix left it, Set out according to her wishes the house is, as a tourist attraction, the jewel in cumbrias crown.
Situated about 2 miles outside of Hawkshead in a small hamlet named Near Sawry (not to be presumed to be close to far sawry a good 5 miles further down the road!) the house draws thousands of visitors from near and far year round.
Entering the free car park, the farm outbuildings are still evidently within use today and off limits to visitors. A small hut in the cornor of the car park serves as a ticket office and again this is one of the original outbuildings to the property, I much prefer this to the addition of a purpose built building and it added somewhat to the authenticity of the experience.
Stepping out of the car park and walking along the road towards the gate is an almost time travelling experience. The hamlet itself retains such character that it is easy to imagine Beatrix and William coming out of their wooden gate and heading off down the road towards their favourite fly fishing spot.
Entering the gardens in which the house stands and you are immediately greeted with a market garden in front of you. Now here I must be honest, on first siting Hill Tops I was a little underwhelmed at the side that greeted me. The drab grey exterior with a somewhat spartan climbing rose didnt quite match with the country cottage image that I had envisaged. And then I gave myself a damn good talking to. This was an authentic farmhouse to an authentic working farm, that hadnt been lived in for a number of years and had no cause or reason to be spruced up just to appeal to my stereotypical nous. Casting aside any expectations I excitedly headed towards the house awaiting my allocated time to enter.
"Don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor"
Standing outside the house I was met with a truly puzzling site which i still havent got to the bottom of! Mr Mcgregors garden!! absolutely picture perfect, painted wrought iron gate and everything exactly in situ as it is in the book. Now, Peter Rabbit was written while Beatrix was still a resident in South kensington, London, so would have had no knowledge of this garden at all to base her illustrations on. Did Beatrix add this at some point during her life as a tribute to her most famous work? Was it created after her death according to her instruction? I have no idea and internet research leaves this question a mystery. The house was awash with guides. Having one or two also within the garden area would've been a very nice touch indeed.
Entering the property that remains devoid of the charms of modern life to this day, candle light, dark woodwork and a wallpapered ceiling between the rafters left the atmosphere closed in and a touch oppresive. I could imagine Beatrix sat at her table in the great room, with the rain lashing outside on a dark winters night could've had quite a struggle to read anything at all!
To my immediate childish excitement I instantly recognised items of furniture that featured in the books illustrations!! the victorian oven from the tale of the pie and the patty pan, the dresser complete with blue and white china from Jemima puddleduck, the rug from "two bad mice" was all there to see! it was like fantasy coming alive in front of my eyes! the downstairs of the house consists of 4 rooms one of which is a tiny scullery, which would be immediately knocked down and extended in todays modern age. All of which contained items of furniture laid out according to Beatrixes wishes. The items continued to look familiar and my jaw gaped further open with each stride.
Heading upstairs I was sad to see that the stair treads were wearing very thin with the amount of visitors this house has seen. I wonder what lasting effects are being inflicted on this property due to its popularity? I was also amazed to see in this area, several portraits of fox hunting scenes hanging on the panelled walls. Surely our Beatrix, the out and out animal lover wasn't an advocate of fox hunting?
And then there it was, Tom thumb and hunca muncas house, the dolls house, sat as if it was yesterday that it was last played with. Reminiscent of a bygone age and a symbol of Beatrix's childish innocence that many say she retained until her dying day.
For me, a life long admirer of her works, visiting Hilltops was an amazing experience and one that I would recommend to anyone. The suthenticity of the display and the retention of the character in the house, grounds and surrounding areas themselves are there to be admired, and preserved in equal measure.
Wishing to stretch our legs and shake off the closed in feeling of the house we decided to head out for a walk. Lying within a miles walk of the property is moss tarn, a lake on which William and Beatrix used to spend many hours fly fishing, playing about on boats and generally enjoying the scenery. After William, Beatrix's husband passed away, she never again visited the tarn and it is this that I believe she is referring to in the original quote above. Passing through a local farm yard we were soon out in the broad countryside and passing the edge of the tarn. Sat on a rocky precipice overlooking the tarn it was easy to imagine the fly fishing scene in front of us. continuing on we passed through some glorious countryside and a brief area of woodland for about 3 miles before emerging back out onto the road a mile between Hawkshead and Near Sawry.
overall I feel that a visit to Hill Tops and Near Sawry itself is a must during any visit to the lakes. I felt wholly enchanted by the experience and the short walk was accessible to anyone of a moderate fitness level.
The house itself had quite ricketty pathways although a disabled access was present via the gift shop. Access to the lower level of the house would only be accesible to wheeelchair users.
I would say that unless your child was familiar with the works of Beatrix Potter this is a visit that the adults would enjoy more than any children.
The car park was relatively empty when we arrived but within the 3 hours we spent in teh area was totally packed. However I did visit during the Easter holidays and as such was to be expected.
The ordnance survey reference for Hilltops is SD370955
The Postcode for SatNav purposes is LA22 0LF
Opening hours and prices can be obtained on the national trust website
All quotations used are freely available across the internet and reproduced from non-copyright websites.
Beatrix Potter is one of our most famous children's authors and whilst we were in The Lake District recently we visited her house, Hill Top, which now belongs to the National Trust.
Where is it?
Hill Top is in a village called Near Sawrey which is situated about one mile to the west of Lake Windermere, about halfway along the lake and about two miles south of Hawkshead.
How do you get there?
When I first visited about 25 years ago I was staying in Ambleside and walked from there down to Bowness on Windermere where I caught a ferry across Lake Windermere and then walked to Near Sawrey from there.
This time we were travelling by car and drove to Hawkshead and then travelled along the B5285 to Near Sawrey, where there is a free car park for visitors to Hill Top.
It is also accessible by a variety of local Stagecoach buses and details can be found on their website.
When is it open?
It is open from the middle of February until the end of October each year, every day except Friday. It opens at 1100 and closes at 1530 until the middle of March; after that it opens at 1030 and closes at 1630 for the rest of the season.
How much does it cost?
As I said it is owned by the National Trust so members can get in for free. The current charges for everyone else is as follows; adult £6.20, child £2.10 and family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £15.50, children under 5 go free. Admission to the garden and shop is free when the house itself is closed.
The path up to the house, the shop and the ground floor of the house are all accessible by wheelchairs and pushchairs however there is no lift to the upper floor of the house. Guides are available in large print or Braille for the visually impaired.
Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top in 1905 and lived in the house until her marriage to William Heelis, a local solicitor, when they lived in a farm in the village. She then used Hill Top as a place where she could write her books. When she died she left a lot of property, including Hill Top, to the National Trust. She also left instructions as to how the house should be arranged after her death so that it could be viewed by a public that she realised would be interested in her.
What is there?
Well first of all we parked at the National Trust car park where we purchased our tickets which gave us a time to enter the house. It was about 15 minutes from the time of purchase so we didn't have too long to wait. I assume that, in high season, this could be a longer wait.
We then walked a short way along the road to the entrance where we went into the gift shop until it was almost time to go into the house. The shop sold a selection of general National Trust gifts together with fridge magnets, books, cards, figurines, baby items, money boxes and more showing Beatrix Potter figures from Jemmima Puddleduck to Peter Rabbit and Mr Tod to Jeremy Fisher.
David treated me to a figure of Jemmima Puddleduck and bought one of Hunca Munca, the mouse, for his mom - they are both gorgeous!
There are toilets to the side of the shop if you need to spend a penny.
We walked a few yards from the shop to the front of the house where we waited until the guide at the front door called our entry time.
As we stood at the front of the house we could look over the garden gate to see the cottage garden beyond. It all looked so much like her illustrations that I half expected to see Jemmima Puddleduck looking back over the gate at me.
On the ground floor we had access to the two main rooms and could look through the door into the scullery. As we walked into the house we entered the main living area with the black leaded range and bodged rug - I remember my grandmother having both of these! There was a beautiful wooden dresser and sideboard in here as well.
The other downstairs room was laid out with a writing desk and one or two other bits and pieces. Every room had a window seat built into the window recess.
Upstairs there were four accessible rooms. One was Beatrix's favourite working room with her favourite writing bureau in one corner of the room and a second one in the opposite corner. This room had huge paintings around the walls which, although seeming to be far too big for the room, seemed to work.
There was another working room upstairs with a keyboard, possibly a harpsichord, and another writing desk.
One of the rooms up here was obviously a bedroom with a lovely, if rather small, four poster bed. There were ropes through the base of the bed that could be tightened to make the mattress more solid to sleep on hence the expression 'sleep tight'. You see I was listening to the guides!
In the final room there was a beautiful dolls' house complete with some of the furniture illustrated in the book about the two bad mice. In the story the mice got into the dolls' house and generally trashed it. If you look closely you can see the mice in the dolls' house! There was also a glass case with various small items and toys.
Throughout the house there were many photographs of Beatrix Potter and her family and of course her husband. There were also sketches and paintings done by Beatrix, her brother and both of her parents.
There were four or five guides in the house all the while and they could answer any question put to them such was there knowledge of Beatrix Potter and her house. We did not feel rushed in our visit at all even though there were others waiting to come in.
I thought that this deserved a mention as the local hostelry is The Tower Bank Arms which also features in at least one of Miss Potter's books. Here you can get drinks, snacks and meals. This is, as far as I know, the only place in this small village where refreshments can be purchased.
Is it worth a visit?
I think so, yes. I have always loved Beatrix Potter's books but even if you're not a great fan the house is well worth a visit as it is in a lovely location and is perfectly preserved from the period 1906 - 1913 when Beatrix Potter was at her most prolific.
I did also notice that the guides were reading bits of the books to the children and showing them pictures and then relating them to items in the house - a good example of this was the dolls' house where the guide showed two young visitors pictures in the book about the Two Bad Mice and asked them to spot the items in the dolls' house. I can't go into great detail about this as we didn't have children with us, but the children that I saw certainly seemed to be fascinated by what the guides were telling them!