The Lake District has captured the hearts of many of its visitors over the centuries, whether exploring the many fells, travelling by boat across the vast lakes, or even just to sample the hearty cuisine and roaring fireplaces after a day out in the elements.
It’s also attracted its fair share of famous residents too, but none more captivating and well-known globally than author Beatrix Potter, who penned one of the world’s most famous children’s books of all time.
And what’s more incredible, the home she once lived in (which has been frozen in time as per her wishes) receives more than 100,000 visitors each year.
Beatrix Potter-mania is clearly alive and well, and doesn’t look likely to be fading anytime soon.
But what attracts visitors to this little corner of Cumbria? I went along to Hill Top in the village of Near Sawrey to find out what all the fuss was about.
The sleepy village alive with visitors
Situated less than 11 miles drive away from Windermere, one of the Lake District’s most popular towns, is the very pretty little village of Near Sawrey.
It’s not hard to see what attracted Beatrix to this quaint and picturesque village, with rolling fields hugging the beautiful stone-built houses, and with Lake Windermere just a stones-throw away.
But take a visit in the summer months or on a weekend, and you can expect to face back-to-back traffic along the small and winding roads leading in and out of the village.
It’s likely that you’ll be one of the estimated 2,000 visitors that descends on this sleepy little place every week, eager to discover where this famous author wrote her books and spent her days.
It’s advised to book ahead if you’re planning on visiting – during parts of the summer season access is only allowed through timed-bookings, and many who turn up without pre-booking are left disappointed.
The beautiful walk through the village from the National Trust car park allows you to admire the gorgeous houses and quiet surroundings, with sheep grazing in a field nearby, and the occasional bird tweeting in the tree.
Ultimately not a huge amount has changed since Beatrix walked these paths.
At the end of the village, is Hill Top Farm, Beatrix Potter’s beloved home.
Beatrix Potter bought the farm in 1905, after falling in love with the Lake District as a teenager.
And after numerous stays nearby as an adult in her thirties, Beatrix had resolved that she would one day own a part of Near Sawrey, which she described as a ‘nearly perfect little place’.
By the time she purchased Hill Top she was a successful author, having published six best-sellers, but just weeks before her big purchase, her fiance, Norman Warne died.
But she continued on with her duties and regularly travelled up and down from London to Hill Top. And while she had a manager installed to tend to the livestock and fields, Beatrix loved to manage the farm herself when she was there.
“It is as nearly perfect a little place as I have ever lived in”
She continued to write many more successful books, including ‘The Tale of Tom Kitten’ and ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck’, with inspiration coming from the very four walls she lived in.
She moved out of the farm to move in with her husband William Heelis to another estate nearby, but continued to do all her writing from her beloved Hill Top.
It was also the place where she kept all her favourite furnishings and collectibles, and after leaving Hill Top to the National Trust, she stated that all the rooms ‘should be kept in their present condition’.
She even left a detailed list of where each item should be placed.
So it’s no wonder that visitors from across the globe make the pilgrimage to this enchanting cottage, where you really do get to experience ‘the real Beatrix Potter’.
‘Walking into another world’
Step through the gate and into the garden of Hill Top, and you feel like you’ve walked into another world.
I was fortunate enough to visit Hill Top on an autumn weekday morning in 2015, and almost had the whole estate to myself (or at least it felt like I did!).
Walking up the garden path I watched as the many reeds and plants gently moved with the breeze. It was a bright day with some cloud and a bit of a chill in the air, but the walk towards the house left me so relaxed I didn’t want to leave.
Before heading inside for the tour, I took a few moments to explore the vegetable garden, which you can visit through a small walled garden with a gate, and backs on to vast fields, orchards and trees.
Looking back at the house you can understand and admire why Beatrix loved Hill Top so much.
The main house itself is rather small, and perhaps a little under-whelming from the outside, but it appears to fit well with Beatrix’s character and the well-tended to garden with its beautiful traditional cottage flowers showed that she was clearly a very passionate horticulturalist.
Outside the front door, we were greeted by a National Trust guide who, in small groups, gave us an in-depth tour of the house.
From the moment you walk in through the porch entrance, which like everything else in the house has remained the same since it’s last inhabitant walked through it, you feel like you’ve been transported to another decade.
The kitchen, the very heart of the home, still has Beatrix’s clogs and hat, and adorning the walls are two horse brasses and crockery. The table featured her many belongings and it almost felt as if Beatrix herself might walk in at any moment!
Walk through into the narrow hallway and you’ll pass by ‘The New Room’ – this was added on by Beatrix after she purchased the farm, and it’s here where most of ‘the magic happened’ – she would spend hours here putting together her stories ready for the publisher.
It was also where she enjoyed relaxing, playing cards or writing letters.
Turn back and you’re faced with a very small staircase.
Once you’re upstairs you’re greeted with Beatrix Potter’s bedroom, home to a four-poster-bed, and next door a room full of collectibles, known as ‘The Treasure Room’ which houses many of her mementoes and collectables, including a stunning dolls house.
The floorboards creaked as we wandered between the rooms. The silence from the small group being a tad eerie, but it was obvious that all the visitors were absorbing their surroundings. It’s not exactly every day that you get to walk into the home of a 20th century best-selling author which has remained exactly the same for 100 years!
Wandering back downstairs into the kitchen I picked up a copy of Peter Rabbit, that was left out on the table, and sat myself in the window seat.
Reading this world-famous book brought back so many wonderful memories of my own childhood, and sitting in the kitchen where many of these stories began made me realise why so many people love to visit Hill Top.
One of the biggest joys wasn’t just to understand where many of the books were written, but to get a greater understanding of the person behind the titles – a woman who absolutely adored the great outdoors, nature, gardening, and of course her animals.
If you’re a Beatrix Potter fan, or visiting the Lake District, i’d make sure you definitely add this place to your list. You’ll need a car to get there, and make sure you take a walk around the surrounding footpaths to really soak up the wonderful area.
If you’re planning on visiting Hill Top farm it’s advised to book tickets in advance. Also, the house is closed on a Friday for cleaning and maintenance.