Day Forty One

We are still in Coniston, in the Lakes District, as I call it “Beatrix
Potter Land”, or as the Japanese call it “Peter Rabbit Land”.
Today we plan on seeing the Beatrix Potter Gallery and then her
home, Hilltop. They are only a couple of miles apart, so in theory
this should be easy, but the size of the motorhome proves
problematic in the end.
First the Gallery, which is in the small village of Hawkeshead. It’s set
in the building that was her husband’s office. I’m not sure how he
managed that – the ceiling and doorways are so low and he was tall
at 6′ 4″.
2013 is the 100th anniversary of Beatrix’s marriage to William
Heelis, and the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Tale of
Pigling Bland. As there are over 500 original works in the Gallery’s
collection, and its a small space, the display changes each year. This
year, in recognition of the two anniversaries, the theme is
weddings…and pigs! There are original drawings from the Pigling
Bland story, letters she has written to family and friends that year
and details of the wedding that was held with some secrecy in 1913.
Her family did not approve, although why is unclear.
The art work is all original, and it’s exquisite. Her love of animals and
anatomical knowledge of them shines through each drawing. They
are perfectly preserved; the water colours glow, even after all this
time.
I cannot describe how much I love her work and how much these
visits mean to me. Those who know me well will know how much it
has influenced me and my love of animals. I was first introduced to
her as 7 year old in primary school. The school had obtained a set of
her work, which was not readily available at the time. We were sat
down in the library and read a story each week, throughout the year.
We weren’t allowed to borrow the books, but you were allowed to
make an an appointment to look at them, for which you had to don
white gloves, and do so under the supervision of the librarian. I was
there most lunch times for the better part of the year and often
throughout the rest of my time at school. Beatrix’s “little white
books”, as she called them, were simply enchanting. One of the first
things I did on leaving home was start my collection, which I still
have.
I photograph every frame so that I can share it with Sylvia – I am not
alone in my love of her work. I also buy a few books, two different
autobiographies, a rhymed reworking of Peter Rabbit that was
almost lost to history and a lovely little book of various letters
written by her characters to each other, and to children who wrote
to them, and to her.
Gallery tour completed (it’s tiny) we set off to Hilltop. And here the
fun begins. The car park is too small to take us, both villages either
side are too far for Chris to walk with his sore leg, and there is
nowhere to park in between. He patiently circles between the
villages as I organise timed tickets, and offers to wait for me in the
next village to see it alone if he can’t find anywhere to park. In the
end we drive to the location of the gallery and catch a tiny little bus
back to the house. Back and forth, Chris makes the trip 6 times to
explore all options to make sure we get there. He really can be
lovely when he want to be :).
Hilltop was the first farm Beatrix bought, and ended as one of 15, all
of which were left to the National Trust with strict instructions on
their preservation as safe havens for flora and fauna. Strictly no
hunting. Of all the properties, Hilltop remained her favourite and it
was where she wrote. Her instructions to the Trust, was that it was to
be preserved for her friends and visitors “as if they had come to visit
and she had just stepped out”. It’s still furnished with her
belongings, treasures and trinkets, with her writing table set up with
her writing and drawings in situ, and on display.
It’s quite small, even though she extended it to house both her and
he husband as well as the farm manager who ran her estate.
Downstairs is a sitting room, the kitchen and a parlour, and upstairs
is a bedroom, her room of treasures, where she kept all the things
she collected and loved, and her writing room. The rooms housing
the farm manager were not open. The cottage is surrounded by a
charming flower and vegetable garden. The highlights in both are
the things that appear in her books: the dolls house and its contents
that are destroyed by the two bad mice, the view from her back
room which appears in a sketch, the watering can that Peter hides in
from Mr McGregor, Tom Kitten’s gate, Peter’s letter box, and in the
village metres down the road, the house that is Ginger and Pickles
shop, Anvil Cottage that appears in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers
and the local pub, the Tower Bank Arms which appears in The Tale
of Jemima Puddle Duck. Am in snap happy heaven, her stories have
come to life around us.
After a very thorough look…and then another….we leave to wait for
our bus back to the village…and who do we spot in the meadow
opposite Beatrix’s house? Only Peter and Benjamin bunnies
frolicking in the afternoon sun. Could not have been more delighted
or had a better end to what has been a very special day.

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