Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hill Top

Hill Top is the house Beatrix Potter bought when she began the process of moving from London to the Lake District in 1905, three years after her first book, Peter Rabbit, appeared in print. Even though our hostel was on the opposite side of the lake, Hill Top wasn't very hard to get to. Someone had the intelligent and lucrative idea of starting a combination ferry-bus service that takes you across the lake and then carts you the two miles to Hill Top in Sawrey, and then two more miles to the Beatrix Pottery gallery in Hawkshead. It's very convenient and relatively cheap considering the time it saves and what it would cost to take a bus around the lake. Plus, there's something about ferries that is rather fun. In Victorian novels people are always meeting interesting strangers on ferries. This did not happen to me. However, I did encounter The Nice Canadian we knew from the hostel, with whom I discussed the comparative merits of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Conclusion: The Nice Canadian (I never found out her name) and I agree that both actors make satisfactory Doctor Whos, but we are prepared to vehemently dislike the next one until such time as he grows on us and we forget about the others. So it goes with serial television. There is no loyalty.

Well anyway, Hill Top is set, as you'd expect, in a nice bit of countryside. This is a picture of the other side of the street.


Hill Top was (and I think still is) a working farm, and Beatrix Potter bought up the surrounding land when it became available. She continued to farm and to acquire land for just about the rest of her life, leaving all her property to the National Trust when she died. I like to think she single-handedly saved the Lake District.

She moved out of Hill Top in 1913, when she married William Heelis. (I would like to say she met him on a ferry, but in fact he was her lawyer.) However, in her typical independent fashion, she retained Hill Top as a sort of repository for all her cool stuff -- furniture, fancy dishes, figurines, art, merchandise made from her books, and various curios. I was particularly fond of the collection of tiny pitchers and watering cans. The house and its furnishings appear in a lot of her drawings. Naturally, pictures weren't allowed, but I have a great souvenir book detailing all this that I'm sure you'll all be banging down my door to see! I tell you, I squealed aloud when I saw the dollhouse ham that Tom Thumb tries to carve in Two Bad Mice. I frightened children, that's how delighted I was.

The garden path leading up to the house.

The same view as illustrated in The Tale of Tom Kitten.

Hill Top

It was impossible to get a good picture of the house on account of all the stinkin' tourists. In old pictures, it looks like the house used to be whitewashed (as half the town is) but evidently they've stopped doing that. You can't tell from this, but it's really quite cozy-looking.

Walking through the tiny town of Sawrey, not surprisingly, is like walking through one of the books.


Sometimes you meet people you know.


No wonder Peter ran away. Mr. McGregor is terrifying.

After we had seen the house and I had spent a million dollars in the gift shop, we hopped on the bus to Hawkshead, where the Beatrix Potter Gallery is housed in William Heelis's old office (on the left, behind the gaggle o' stinkin' tourists).


It looks tiny from the outside, but the drawings are tiny, too, and they fit a lot of them in there. The collection rotates, but I got to see a few drawings from Mrs. Tiggywinkle, which is my favorite (I don't know why, I hate doing laundry), and a large number from Squirrel Nutkin, which I hardly remember anything from. All of the drawings are extraordinarily impressive, though. It is easy to think, when you consider that she wrote about itty bitty bunny wunnies wearing itty bitty coatsie woatsies and having adorable itty bitty adventures, that Beatrix Potter was merely an overgrown child. But she was really a dedicated artist and naturalist who, in addition to drawing pretty landscapes and fuzzy creatures, took on studies in mycology and entomology. She and her brother boiled dead animals in order to examine their skeletons. And there's a decidedly gruesome element to her some of her stories. Peter Rabbit's father was cooked in a pie, for Pete's sake. In an early illustration for the story, the pie is shown, and on my honor, there is a little cotton-tail coming out the top. And do you know, I always had the sort of uncomfortable feeling that the tailor of Gloucester does not love his cat.

And you thought those stories were sentimental. Pshaw!

We headed home after Hawkshead, but as it turns out, crossing Windermere doesn't mean you have left Beatrix Potter's domain. She also owned land in Troutbeck, which is a small town just up the street from our hostel, which we had walked to a number of times. It's the quaintest town imaginable, with a fantastic view of some dramatic scenery.

Troutbeck looking south

Troutbeck looking north

A terrible picture of a wonderful garden

I guess these are called the Troutbeck fells. In spite of strenuous effort I can find no other official name for them.

I desire to live precisely here.

Finally, I have run out of things to say on this subject. At least, until Beatrix Potter's diaries arrive at the library for me to read. Gosh, I hope she writes about boiling dead animals!

One last picture from the garden at Hill Top.

1 comment:

Magusia said...

These pictures are wonderful. I think the place lends itself to writing colorful stories.