Beatrix Potter’s Lake District



Guest Post, by Susan Wittig Albert

I want to start by thanking Pam for inviting me to be a guest on her blog, which I always enjoy. We are both nature-lovers, so it’s a very good fit. Thanks, Pam, for the invitation!

The Tale of Hawthorn HouseI’m doing a blog tour for the latest book in my mystery series, The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. The book is The Tale of Hawthorn House, and like the previous three books, it is set in the beautiful Lake District of England, in the early 1900s. It features Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit and a series of other wonderful books for children. She bought a farm in the little Lake District village of Near Sawrey and lived there from 1913 until her death in 1943. So I thought I’d share some of the photos I took when I went to the Lake District to do research a few years ago.

Beatrix was always most at home in the natural world. Her family lived in London, but they spent their annual two-month holidays in the North Country. When she was 16, her family rented Wray Castle, Wray Castleon Lake Windermere, an honest-to-goodness castle. In her journal, Beatrix remarks wryly: “The architect, one Mr. Lightfoot killed himself with drinking before the house was finished.” I think we can see why! But Beatrix loved taking long walks. After walking to the market town of Hawkshead (about 15 miles round trip!), she recorded in her journal, “Had a series of adventures. Inquired the way three times, lost continually, alarmed by collies at every farm, stuck in stiles, chased once by cows.” Beatrix had a healthy sense of humor about her adventures.

On her walks in the Lake District, Beatrix encountered lots of interesting fungi. Fascinated, she began drawing and studying them. You can find some of her paintings of fungi she found near Lake Windermere on the website of the Armitt Museum. The paintings, done with astonishing attention to detail, show you what a passionate naturalist she was, incredibly careful to get it exactly right. When I look closely at her paintings of fungi, I often think that the fungi themselves have distinct personalities, much like the personalities she gave to the animals in her children’s books. She captured what was unique about each one, so fully that you can almost hold it in your hand!

In 1905, after the death of her fiancé, Norman Warne, Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm, Hill Top Farmin the village of Near Sawrey. She loved the seventeenth-century house and the old farm, with its lovely green fields, mature trees, and stone fences, and she immediately began restocking it with cows, pigs, and Herdwick sheep. Herdwick SheepEven in those days, the Herdwicks were an “old-fashioned” sheep, because their wool was so wiry. But Beatrix loved them and wanted to ensure that the breed did not lose out to other, modern breeds.

Hill Top Farm (which you can visit today—it belongs to the National Trust) is nestled against a beautiful little lake called Esthwaite Water. Esthwaite WaterBeatrix thought it was the loveliest lake in England, and I’m certainly not going to argue with her! If you climb the hill above the village, along Cuckoo Brow Lane, you can look out toward Coniston Old Man, the fell on the other side of the lake. If you look closely at this photo, you can also see how the hawthorn has been trimmed against the stone fence. When it’s allowed to grow up, the hawthorn makes a lovely, leafy tangle above the fence, a beautiful home for birds. The stone fences in the Lake District are all works of art, and I took dozens of photos of them.

If you follow Cuckoo Brow Lane a little further, you’ll come to Moss Eccles Lake, Moss Eccles Lakewhere Beatrix and her husband Willie Heelis (they were married in 1913) kept a rowboat. Willie loved to fish and often caught brown trout for supper. Beatrix went to the lake to draw, because it was such a cool, peaceful place, home to birds, badgers, squirrels, and hedgehogs.

The two villages, Far Sawrey and Near Sawrey, are separated (or joined?) by fields fenced with stone walls Fields fenced with stone wallsand filled with grazing sheep. St. Peter’s Church, built in the 1880s, is in Far Sawrey, which was also home to a hotel and a shop. Another shop, which Beatrix immortalized as “Ginger and Pickles,” was in Near Sawrey, along with the Tower Bank Arms, a smithy, and a joinery. Altogether, Beatrix once wrote, it was as nearly perfect a little village as one could imagine.

In 1909, Beatrix bought Castle Farm, on the north side of the village, and after she and Willie were married, they lived there together, in Castle Cottage. Castle CottageShe kept the farmhouse at Hill Top for herself, though, and often went there to work in the garden, to visit the sheep in the meadow, or just to be alone.

Beatrix herself loved the land so much that she wanted to preserve it forever. Her “bunny books” brought her a good income and her parents’ estates (when they died) made her wealthy. During the 1920s and 30s, she used this money to purchase some 4,000 acres of land in the Lake District, to keep it from being developed. She renovated the cottages and farmhouses and employed farmers and shepherds to keep the livestock on the land. When she died, she gave this rich treasure to the National Trust, a gift to all the people of England.

One of the things I’ve tried to do in The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter is to give the reader a strong sense of the places in the Lake District that Beatrix Potter loved. There’s a map of the village and its environs, and a great many descriptions of the beautiful fells and fields. I hope, when you read the books, that you’ll feel as if you’ve visited Hill Top Farm and the little village of Sawrey—and that you’d like to return for another visit very soon.

For a one-page gallery of the photos I’ve linked to in this post, go here.

About the book drawing:

If you would like to enter the drawing for a copy of The Tale of Hawthorn House, go here.

We’ll be giving away three copies of this book. You may also be eligible for the grand prize drawing, which will be held at the end of Susan’s blog tour. But you’d better hurry. This drawing will close at noon on November 12!

Want to read the other posts in Susan’s blog tour? Go here for the schedule.

Cottage Tales

Mystery Partners

blogging at:


Pecan Springs Journal

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Judith Shaw
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 12:37:40

    Thank you for the wonderful description and photos of the area! Makes me feel as though I were actually thre.


  2. Kathy Hyle
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 12:52:43

    Lovely visuals to acompany the words tumbling off the pages, thanks for sharing!


  3. Paulette Schubert
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 14:09:55

    Dear Ms. Wittig,

    This posting, as are its predecessors in the series, is a delight. The photos are glorious. I only wish it were possible for me to enlarge them a bit. (No doubt it is possible, but I don’t know how it is done.)

    I loved B. Potter’s drawing of fungi at the Armitt Museum. Thank you for sharing them with your readers. How I would love to go to the Lake Country to see all this in person.

    Although I have truly enjoyed the work of Beatrix Potter throughout the sixty some years of my life, as a child, as a mother, and as a teacher, through your work, my appreciation of her contribution to our world has grown.

    Again, I will tell you that your writings and your musings on this and on other topics have truly enriched my life.

    Cordially, Paulette Schubert


  4. andylynne
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 15:40:02

    Isn’t it amazing that Ms. Potter was so far ahead of her time in so many things. I am finding her more and more intersting as time goe on. I have also come to understand, that there have always been many interesting and passionate people in the world. I’m having fun discovering them, even at this late date . Thank you for writing these wonderful books, I have enjoyed them. Funny things is ,I have always admired fungas for their interesting shapes and colors. Thank you for the educational link to those pictures. And thanks for the discovery of another interesting blog!


  5. Dani
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 19:53:50

    I learn more about BP as I follow the links and visit all the blog book tour stops. I feel such a kinship with her and it’s not just our mutual love of the land. Thanks for a good read and great photos!


  6. lizalee
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 20:50:51

    I have read the first in your Potter series and loved it. I plan to get more of them and keep reading. You really have created a fun world! Thank you!


  7. mon@rch
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 23:52:24

    Great description and glad you have assisted Pam with this guest posting!


  8. mary
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 23:05:43

    Wonderful! Full of great reading. Pam must be thrilled with your grace here!


  9. Sharon
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 17:51:59

    Love the books, the photos make them even more vivid. Can’t wait for more!


  10. JoAnn Buswell
    Nov 15, 2007 @ 12:04:37

    Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to communicate with Beatrice back then? Such a progressive woman! I have followed the book(Linda Lear), your lovely stories, the pictures you took and the maps you’ve made. I know I will never get to England but all your information makes it seem real. Thank you.


  11. Susan Albert
    Nov 15, 2007 @ 15:39:04

    Hello, everyone–I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the photos and the post! I had such fun sorting back through the disks on my camera (it was one of those early digitals that stores the images on floppies.) I almost felt as if I were back in the Lake District, enjoying it all over again. I’ve tried to get some of the descriptions into the books, but it’s such a magical place, almost impossible to describe. Thanks for dropping in and leaving your comments. It’s been fun to read them.


  12. Trackback: Beatrix Potter’s Journal: 2008 Wall Calendar « Nature Woman
  13. Trackback: Nightshade, by Susan Wittig Albert « Nature Woman
  14. Doug Keachie
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 23:54:57

    My “Bunny Book” was my first read many many times book. Just saw the movie and came here to learn more. Have to add this area to my bucket list.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: