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  • Mandy Whitfield

Beatrix Potter & Hill Top

In October my niece Steph went to a weaving workshop at Swallows & Artisans on Coniston Water (Coniston is where the book Swallows & Amazons is based). So I went along to keep her company. We were only going for 2 nights and wanted to make it as cheap as possible so we booked into the Youth Hostel. I was a bit dubious, but Steph is not one for roughing it, so I trusted her judgement, I also thought I was probably a bit old for a youth hostel - wow how wrong can one be!! The hostel at Hawkshead is an old country house overlooking Esthwaite Water- the home of Jeremy Fisher. We stayed in a camping pod (again unsure), it was 'compact & bijoux Mostyn', just 2 beds (surprisingly comfortable even for me with my dodgy back) and hooks for hanging your gear. To my delight the thick quilts kept us very warm & snug in the October night! Breakfast, which was plentiful and cooked to order as there were not too many residents, was served in the house for an extra cost and the house also has living rooms where you could sit in the evening and have drinks & snacks. And, no, you do not need to be a 'youth', at 32 I think Steph was one of the youngest people there.

After dropping Steph off at her workshop I drove to Hawkshead village to start my Beatrix Potter day. First on my list was a visit to Hill Top Farm

Hill Top is about 2 1/2 miles out of Hawkshead, there is a path for part of the way, but it is basically following the road. A nice enough walk, but quite steep as you get close to Hill Top, as the name suggests. There is a minibus service, which I took on the way down.

The house is owned by the National Trust and beautifully looked after. Beatrix bought Hill Top in 1905 and many of her characters lived there; Tom Kitten and Family, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Samuel & Anna Maria Whiskers. The house is not only preseved by the National Trust but also in her stories.

The house is only small, filled with artefact and only takes about 15 minute to get around, but for all of that it is charming and has a wonderful lived in feeling, you expect a naughty kitten to pop out of the wainscot at any minute. As you go around the house there are books open to show where she used the house in settings for the stories.

Unusually for a National Trust property, there is no café at Hill Top, there are plenty of pubs and hotels in Near Sawrey village but I decided to stop off at the pop up café in one of the fields adjacent to Hill Top. It was a bright, sunny, slightly chilly day and I sat outside on the benches and had a lovely filling homemade tomato soup followed by hot chocolate and piece of cake. Sitting in this beautiful place, watching sheep grazing with the peace being broken by just the rustling of the trees I came over all inspired and decided to buy some paints when I got down to town.

Back in town I headed for the Beatrix Potter Gallery, which is housed in the building where her husband William Heelis worked as a solicitor. As a lover of the books there is something special and familiar about seeing the original paintings. In the little shop I bought The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher

for Steph as a memento of our stay at Esthwaite Water and for me The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or Roly-Poly Pudding, the first book I bought as a child. I also got a pot of paints, a paintbrush and a pad.

After second cosy night in our pod, preceded by dinner in one of the pubs in Hawkshead, day 2 was a little overcast and cloudy. I dropped Steph off at her workshop and spent the morning mooching around Coniston town. After lunch I went to the other side of the lake and found a spot to do my painting.

Not quite Potter's standard, but I enjoyed sitting on a log at the lake edge in the rain pretending I was a great artist!

Soon it was time to pick Steph up and make our way home, but not before I stopped off at the Swallows & Amazon Tearoom over looking Coniston.

I've not got a photo of the weaving Steph did, I saw it 1st hand and it was very impressive, but I will get a photo off her. Sufice to say, she really enjoyed the workshop and was please with what she had learned.

A lovely few days in a part of the country that is stunning even when its raining - as you can tell from my masterpieces!

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