Exploring England in the Footsteps of Beatrix Potter

England is an excellent tourist destination. As I was planning an upcoming trip to the UK I was reminded of this fact while leafing through photos of a 2010 holiday there. From accessible transport and places to visit, to consistently excellent food and tour guides – that trip to the UK was educational and enjoyable. The quality and availability of many of the historic places and parks/gardens I had visited was due in no small part to the National Trust. Founded in 1895 to permanently preserve valuable buildings or beautiful countryside, this charity organisation protects over 300 historic houses and gardens, 49 industrial monuments and mills, owns more than 623,000 acres of countryside and over 700 miles of coastline. This vast organisation has positively influenced residents’ attitudes towards their environment; call it ‘national pride’ if you will, but I detected in people a real appreciation for their country’s history and environment.

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The setting for the Beatrix Potter movie. Photo: Brenda Daniels

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The map I misread

The Lake District is a fine example of the National Trust’s presence. I had stayed there in a tiny village called Far Sawrey, near Lake Windermere. Just a kilometre along the winding country road from the Far Sawrey Hotel is ‘Hill Top’, the house owned by famous children’s author, Beatrix Potter. Beatrix bought this house with the proceeds of her first book, Peter Rabbit, and donated it to the National Trust when she died. This unassuming cottage is left almost exactly as it was when Beatrix worked and lived in it – a testimony, perhaps to her attitude to the Lake District area in general. Keen to preserve the look of this landscape, as well as the original farming methods, Beatrix involved herself closely with the National Trust. Wanting to experience the modern charming countryside as well as get a feel of history I decided to explore in ‘Beatrix Potter’s footsteps’. So, using a guide book I set off on one of 15 simple trails. The trail took me through farmland and up a hill to ‘Moss Eccles Tarn’, a little mountain lake also owned by Beatrix Potter. As I crested a hill overlooking Esthwaite Water I misunderstood the map and veered off in completely the wrong direction. I wandered through forest, tramped through bogs, startled two deer and alarmed the grazing Herdwick sheep before finding the right path again. I was heartened to learn later that when Beatrix visited the neighbouring village of Hawkshead in 1882 she ‘had a series of adventures. Inquired the way three times, lost continually, ….. (and) chased once by cows.’ Seems I was in good company!

Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk for more information on the National Trust.

This article first appeared in the Umhlanga Globe newspaper in 2010.

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