Hilltop Farm, Beatrix Potter's Cumbrian stomping grounds, has been on my bucket list since at least 1988 when Victoria Magazine ran a feature article about the area. I still have that magazine, as you can see. Little did I dream then of actually walking through her gardens myself, nor running my hand along her railings as I climbed the steps of the old farmhouse.
Miss Potter fascinates me for many reasons. There are of course the little books. There was a quiet determination to be true to her own heart which grew slowly to maturation, as she attempted to reconcile that with the approval of her family. That approval was not to come. There was her love for all things domestic and rural, a passion for farming and preservation. And art. And tea. It was quite a thrill to retrace her steps this way.
Hilltop is a composed of a number of snug rooms with low slung ceilings. It is dark inside but cozy with paneled walls. Patterned drapery hung from bamboo poles. Her secretary sits with the desk top open and facsimiles of her correspondence - farm orders as well as notes from her publisher - lie strewn as they might have so many years before.
If there was a little book open in the room it meant that the illustration contained something you could still see. The children scanned the rooms to match the pictures to the furnishings. They found mouseholes and fireplace hobs. I was particularly fascinated to see the coronation teapot from the Patty-Pan book because that piece would have been a brand new souvenir for her when she wrote the story, although it seems very old to us.
The gardens were likewise very tight and of small scale, yet lush. Walkways of local slate led through rows of flowers and vegetables, exactly as they were pictured. Sheep grazed nearby and up along the hillsides. It was serene and intimate, a world I pray my children carry with them wherever they go from here.
The children - big and small - have rekindled their love for hedgehogs and naughty bunnies and and silly ducks. They are drinking out of new Peter Rabbit cups and rereading little books with great gusto right now. One grown girl purchased a few Potter souvenirs herself, for 'someday'. A peaceful, inspiring trip for all.