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The Land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter

england-english-lake-district-bowness-on-windermere

An artist friend of mine contacted me this past summer to let me know that she had just seen the movie "Miss Potter" illustrating the life of Beatrix Potter in England's Lake District and quite glibly asked if I would build a painting tour for her to lead in this lovely corner of England. She didn't realize that I was thinking of looking into this very region to build a walking tour for Canadian Woman Traveller.

 

Author-and-Judy-from-Lake-Ferry It would be November before an exploratory trip could be fit in and so we went ahead with plans. After some preliminary research we decided to make our base in Bowness-on-Windermere. This would be very central as we realized that there is easy transportation to Grasmere for Dove Cottage and to Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's Farm), just two of our points of interest. In fact Bowness is right on Lake Windermere and the main street actually runs right into the town of Windermere about a mile up the road.


So, we flew into Manchester and then took a direct (two hour) train right from the airport to Windermere travelling through gorgeous scenery. We arrived shortly after 4:00pm and took a taxi for the whole 1¾ miles to our apartment in the centre of Bowness-on-Windermere. After a quick change of clothes we were out to explore and to see if there were restaurants open for dinner. It was a Monday evening in the middle of November and there were several options to choose from.

england-english-lake-district-countrysideThe English Lakes District is encompassed in a National Park entirely within the County of Cumbria that stretches from Grange-over-Sands on the coast of the Irish Sea up to valleys of Borrowdale and Muttermere with Honisten Pass joining the two dales and takes in sixteen lakes and all of England's mountains. The park covers a total of 2,292 sq.kms /885 sq. miles.

england-english-lake-district-sheepApparently, up until the end of the 19th century this region was considered wild, dangerous and foreboding with its barren hills and descriptive terms given by the Vikings like, becks, fells, tarns, pikes, riggs and forces.

In 1799 William Wordsworth (who in fact went to Grammar school in the village of Hawkshead) returned on a walking tour of the Lake District with his friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He fell in love with the village of Grasmere and Dove Cottage and within a few months he had set up home there with his sister, Dorothy, to live the life of a poet, at one with his surroundings.england-english-lake-district-dove-cottage

He later married and enjoyed a very happy eight years "of plain living, but high thinking" in Dove Cottage producing the most famous and best-loved of his poems including, Daffodils, My Heart Leaps Up and Ode to Duty. His sister Dorothy wrote her famous Grasmere Journals. Dove Cottage & Grasmere became a popular destination for writers, and artists of the time to gather. This would further establish the region's appeal to the romantics.

england-english-lake-district-william-wordsworthVery much like the Impressionists who gathered in Normandy, France to paint, many literary notables were travelling to and gathering in The English Lakes, many times as guests of William and his sister. Wordsworth, Coleridge and several other poets and writers would eventually link and forever tie this wild and wonderful region with the 'Romantic Movement' Grasmere is also home to the Heaton Cooper Studio with its permanent and changing exhibition of paintings by four generations of this family. The canvases depict the region with both bucolic and rugged scenes that will capture the interest of anyone who takes the time to stop in.

 

beatrix-potter-hill-topBeatrix Potter, the most successful classic children's author of all time is known around the world as the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Her charming farm "HILL TOP" which she purchased in 1905 with the profits of her first published books is very closed to the west shore of Lake Windermere. Hill Top was just the beginning of her farming and landowning careers. She began purchasing several properties such as Yew Tree Farm (which was the set for the 2006 movie "Miss Potter" starring Rene Zellweger) for the purpose of protecting and conserving the integrity of the region through its land and farms. She was in fact England's first Conservationist. Beatrix Potter's original watercolour illustrations for her books are housed in the Beatrix Potter Gallery (under the title "Because I Never Grew Up") in the nearby and lovely village of Hawkeshead. Here you meet the originals; Peter Rabbit, Jamima Puddle Duck, Mrs. Tiggy Wink and all the others. It's as much fun for adults as it is for children.

The current tenants of Yew Tree Farm (which thanks to Potter belongs to the National Trust) run a lovely bed and breakfast on the property and raise the local native Belted Galloway Cattle and Herdwick sheep that were bred specifically for this region.beatrix-potter-jamima-puddleduck

We soon found out that there is so much more to the area. One bright morning we stopped into the Tourist Office by the warf in Bowness (which was quite busy) and established that the ferries to the towns around the lake were still running and decided to take one to the town of Ambleside. We were in search of "Bridge House", affectionately known as England's smallest house. It's right in the centre of town built over a small stone bridge of a stream (beck) that runs through the centre of town with two mill wheels in sight.
A lovely looking café called the Giggling Goose overlooked the babbling beck but was unfortunately closed for the week we were there – we made a note to try for this again the next time around. There is a lane that winds up from the main part of the town and climbs a pleasant path to Stock Gyll Force (Falls). This would be a refreshing and cool walk in the summer with benches along the way and even a picnic table at the top. It's a beautiful 70 foot cascade and one of many in the district.


beatrix-potter-peter-rabbitAnother day we met with Lindsay Gibson who owns and runs Destination Cumbria. He agreed to take us to Conistan where Judy could visit the Ruskin Gallery (that also features the De Havilland Goblin jet engine of "Bluebird K7" replica, (the last of the Bluebird series) which was piloted by Donald Campbell in his attempt to break the water speed record of 300 miles per hour on Coniston Water in 1966/7 . While she was enjoying that I was guided up on my first real Fells walk.

england-english-lake-district-author-taking-tea-debbie-lloydIt is the middle of November and although not busy I notice there are two different parties of 2 and 3 already well started ahead of us as we leave the car park. By the way, everyone you happen to talk to in Bowness (no matter what the age) will tell you "Oh yes, the fells are lovely, I (or we) were walking them the other day". Anyway it was a nice gentle climb that does in fact become steeper as you ascend. After about 40 minutes of climbing we took a break for a cup of tea which I found very fortifying and in fact carried on a little further over a ridge that offered a spectacular view. Then it was time to trundle down again taking pictures all the way of the spectacular view below, of the path and rock formations still going up, of the curious sheep (several different breeds) that graze along the slopes. We met Judy in a café for lunch and I was (as they say) quite chuff and energized by my proud accomplishment.

england-english-lake-district-ashness-bridgeAnother day we hired a driver to show us some other required landmarks, Ashness Bridge – it is soooo cute you have to have it on your list, Judy wanted to visit the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick, Tarn Hows, Surprise View and several others. All the roads are narrow and windy (not to mention driven on the left) making the thought of renting a car (for me anyway) rather intimidating. The bonus was to be taken on the even smaller 'coaching roads' from before the modern, narrow, winding, stone walled roads of today with many stories that brought the local history to life for us.

Upon enquiring what the numbers were of Canadian visitors to this region I was surprised to learn that we don't even makeup a percentage of the annual 18000 visitors to the Lake District each year. england-english-lake-district-stoned-wallsjpgThe thought was that we have lake districts too and therefore there is a similarity to our own lovely areas. I was quick to add that yes, we have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world but we don't have; the prolific stone walls (from the time of the "Enclosure Act" of 17--- advising the landowners to enclose their properties or lose them), the many small charming towns and villages all with stone, or stucco, or mud and waddle, slate roofed buildings, the cozy and cheery pubs (which by the way are very reasonable and offer local and homemade fare), and sheepdogs doing their job of rounding up the flocks. The weather of course is not the greatest in November but when the sun shines ( it did frequently for us) the fall colours, and the 'light' were magnificent.

Although the peak time is midsummer a favourite time is the month of May.england-english-lake-district-bluebells
At this time the weather is considered quite stable, the days are long and the fields are full of bluebells. Spring actually begins in March with the Rhododendron blooming followed by the daffodils in April. And of course the English roses climb garden walls everywhere the entire season.
england-english-lake-district-ashness-bridge-debbie-lloydWhile we were travelling from town to village it became very evident that there were no industrial parks, no shopping malls, no strip malls, and no suburbs. This whole region, once dependent on mining and sheep farming is now almost entirely focused on both land and cultural conservation, and tourism.

I was totally taken by the beauty of the entire area that I saw and would say that one of my most striking memories would be Ashness Bridge which crosses a lovely babbling beck that tumbles down a valley with a superb view of Bleaberry and Castlerigg Fells toward Derwent Water (Lake). I wanted to photograph it, Judy wanted to paint it and we both just sat for a few minutes to take in the unspoilt view. If you harbour the notion to experience the England of a bygone era you will not be disappointed with The English Lakes.

Painting Holiday in The English Lakes District - w/ Creative Arts Holidays at www.creativeartsholidays.com

Discovering and Walking in the English Lakes - w/ Canadian Woman Traveller at www.cwtraveller.ca

How to get there: There are direct trains from Manchester Airport right to Windermere with Southern Railways. There are trains from Euston Station in London to Oxenholme, close to Kendal. Another 20 minutes and your in Windermere. Taxis are available to go the 1 ½ miles to Bowness right on the lake.

Where to Stay: There are many styles of accommodation open all year. We stayed in a comfortable and central apartment owned by the proprietors of Lonsdale House Hotel. Lonsdale House is a lovely historic hotel named for the wealthy business man who built it as a manorhouse Now with modern comforts in a period style it makes an ideal base. Their location on Lake Road between the centre of Bowness and of Windermere is great. They also offer their guests in the apartment and the hotel free Wi-Fi. You can easily find little B&Bs, and even cozy cottages to make you feel like you belong even if for just a week or so.

Where to Eat: There are cafes, tearooms, restaurants and pubs in every village and town. The proprietors pride themselves to use locally sourced food and home-make their meals. Cumberland sausage (mild, lightly seasoned) comes in lovely coil and served with mashed potatoes and gravy and is also featured in the local Cumberland Pie. We found a lovely pub in Bowness called the 'The Albert' where there is (amongst several other choices) a daily 'roast'. The lunch offer is 2 meals for £10.00 and it lasts until the dinner menu comes out at 6:00pm.

Where to Shop: The art and cultural shopping opportunities abound everywhere. Local woolen products are easily accessible as are local foodie treats. Grasmere's Gingerbread Shop features Sarah Nelson's original and secret recipe. A visit to their shop in an original school house right beside the churchyard where William Wordsworth and his family are buried is a wonderful stop. This gingerbread smells and tastes divine. It doesn't have the molasses North Americans are used to and has a similar consistency of shortbread. And, it travels very well. You can't go into the factory though because the recipe is secret and closely guarded.

How to Get Around: Car rentals are easily available but if you prefer public transportation there is frequent bus service to all the towns and many villages. Ferries operate all year between the towns and villages on the lakesides. We hired our driver and car for 6 ½ hours from Pegasus Taxi and Travel which we highly recommend. If you look them up ask for Gregory to be your driver. He has lived in the area all his life and is happy to tell you interesting facts and stories and very patient to stop as many times as you want to take pictures or to just drink in the view.

Mountain Goat Park Tours and Travel have well organized day tours to all parts of the region. www.mountain-goat.com

Lakes Supertours offer both full and half-day tours.  www.lakes-supertours.com

Activities: The tourist information offices are packed with helpful information with people who genuinely love the area and are most cooperative to help you learn about what the area has to offer.

Destination Cumbria www.destinationcumbria.com is a wonderful source too. No matter what you want to do or accomplish, from a guided Fells Walk, to Ballooning, to boat rides, even a cookery school Lindsay Gibson can quickly put you in place to complete your Lakes District experience.

Debbie Lloyd