A wet week in the southern Lake District

by David Murray on 5 August 2008

in Beatrix Potter, Events, General admin, Historic Houses, Indoor activities, Tourism, Visitor Attractions, Writers

My wife and I have just returned from another expedition to the English Lake District, this time to the southern lakes. We camped near the foot of Coniston Water with the intention of building up a better collection of photos of the Crake valley as well of the Coniston and Hawkshead area.

Well, things didn’t turn out quite as planned.  Several days and nights of frequent rain storms hampered the photography.  In spite of the damp, though, we had a great time and the limited number of good photos this time has the advantage of requiring another trip in the not too distant future.

Hill Top and Hawkshead – Beatrix Potter

On Friday we decided to have an indoor day and to visit the Beatrix Potter sites.  Why didn’t we take our National Trust handbook with us?  It would have told us that Hill Top is closed on Fridays.

Hill Top closedI really don’t understand this.  Certainly the property has to be protected against too much visitor stress, and limitations on the number of visitors per day are fully justifiable, but closing the region’s leading attraction on a weekday during the height of the visitor season is beyond my comprehension.

Initially my frustration was personal, but of course as a member I ought to have checked my handbook.  However, a large proportion of visitors are not members and would never imagine that such an important site would be closed.  Sitting in the car eating an egg sandwich before driving back to Hawkshead I watched car after car arriving, unloading children.  They would walk cheerfully as far as the “Closed today” notice board only to return dejected, almost tearful, anticipation squashed.

“Never mind,” parents were probably saying, “there’s the Beatrix Potter gallery in Hawkshead.  We’ll go and see Peter Rabbit there.”  Hmm!  If I don’t fully understand the closure of the house, I certainly don’t understand at all the mentality of closing both of the Beatrix Potter locations on the same day of the week.  This is just incomprehensible.

We did eventually get to Hill Top the following day, and enjoyed it.  I am an admirer of the National Trust and its work, but do believe that it needs to give much more serious thought to its closure policy. at least during July and August, when so many children are being sent away disappointed from both places – not to mention the thousands of gallons of petrol being burned up each year on these fruitless trips along the country lanes; should this be added to the Trust’s carbon footprint?

Hill Top - Lake District home of Beatrix Potter

The above photograph, taken last Saturday, shows the house as it is today, dressed in its summer greenery. This, however, is not as Beatrix Potter bought it. She added extensions to the original property. She was not a preservationist of the type that insists on keeping everything unchanged. She knew that one has to move with the needs of the times.

In this case, she wanted to install a farm manager so built the extension wing visible on the left of the photo to house him and his family (this part is not open to visitors). Internally, as well, she made changes. The sophisticated fire surround in the parlour was the first that I noticed; not at all typical of a small Lakeland farmhouse and apparently installed by Beatrix Potter after buying it at a local sale. She also added a room in which to hang some of her brother’s paintings. Preservation and progress were equal constituents of this phase of Hill Top’s development.

– David Murray –
England’s Lakes

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