Posted 13th Feb 2013
Rolling hills, glistening lakes and swathes of beautiful countryside form the backdrop of Beatrix Potter country. The familiar illustrations of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin depict picturesque scenes of unspoiled woodland and luscious green land in a place that is actually not too far away. When you visit the Lake District it all becomes clear why Beatrix felt so inspired, as the storybook surroundings come to life.
Known as the National Park of England, the sweeping fells and lakes stretch over 885 square miles, making it the largest national park in England and the second largest in the UK, after the Cairngorms. Tucked just inside the famous Cumbrian towns of Penrith, Kendal and Cockermouth, the park is home to over fourteen lakes, twenty six miles of coastline and a plethora of wildlife including rare red squirrels and ospreys.
The likes of Potter and poet William Wordsworth were among the greats that resided here, taking inspiration from the Lakes' natural beauty to create some of their most eminent works. With an abundance of wildlife, dramatic landscapes, delicious local produce and such a rich history to its name, it's no surprise that the Lake District is still one of the most popular places to visit in the UK.
Beatrix Potter is one of the world's best-selling children's authors, renowned for her love affair with the Lake District, regularly drawing upon its wildlife in her books. From a young age Potter made annual trips to the Lakes, eventually buying Hill Top Farm in Sawrey in 1905, where she spent as much time as possible until marrying and becoming a permanent resident. Potter owned her fair share of Cumbrian properties as time went by, including Castle Cottage and Troutbeck Park, but it was her farm in the village of Sawrey that gave inspiration for some of her most classic characters, namely the beloved Jemima Puddle-Duck. Visitors to the Lake District can still visit Hill Top Farm today and see for themselves the room where Potter wrote Pigling Bland, whilst taking in the breathtaking views she illustrates in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. Leaving the property to the National Trust after her death in 1943, Potter gave strict instructions on how the farm should be preserved, allowing it to stay just as she knew it to this very day. Visitors can truly walk in Potter's shoes as they visit the farm near Windermere, exploring every room, object and character that inspired her most famous tales. If you're still keen to learn more of the famous authors' life then you should visit the National Trust Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. The gallery is not only home to many of Potter's original artworks but it was also once the office of her husband, William Heelis. Alternatively, for the slightly younger Potter fans there's The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction in Bowness-on-Windermere, giving visitors the chance to step into the magical world of Peter Rabbit and friends with 3D exhibits, fun activities and an interactive journey through Beatrix Potter's tales.
But of course Potter was not the only literary great to come out of Cumbria. One of Britain's best-loved and most influential poets, William Wordsworth, also resided here. Born in Cockermouth in 1770, Wordsworth took influence from his love of nature and was at his most productive during time spent at the beautiful Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Initially moving to the cottage with his sister Dorothy in 1799, Wordsworth was able to concentrate on his writing whilst surrounded by the enchanting village and its picturesque views. It was during this time that he produced his most famous poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, inspired by the glorious spring daffodils that the Lake District is now so famous for. Once a former inn, the cottage was also home to his wife Mary Hutchinson and three of their five children, until the family left in 1808. Visitors can get a sense of what life was like as they step into Dove Cottage today, exploring the unspoiled surroundings with many of the family's belongings still in place. The historical journey continues in the Wordsworth Museum, located just behind the cottage, where visitors can find a treasure trove of original letters, journals, objects and of course poems to complete their visit.
Inspired by nature
It is no surprise that these influential figures called upon the dramatic beauty of the Lake District for inspiration, as the stunning Cumbrian landscapes continue to draw in millions of visitors each year. Whilst the Lakes offer a wealth of tourism attractions across the map, many of its greatest sights are those naturally occurring. Home to likes of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England standing at over 3,200 feet high, and the longest, deepest lakes in England - Windermere and Wastwater, the Lake District has a bounty of natural wonder waiting to be discovered.
In March the county becomes enchanted with a beautiful show of daffodils trailing down the sloping hills and weaving throughout the many Cumbrian villages. Made famous by the poet William Wordsworth, the spring blooms are a sight to see from March to April when visitors can relive Wordsworth's words and dance with the daffodils themselves. The daffodils can be spotted almost anywhere in the Lake District, though some of the greatest viewing points can be found at the picturesque Glencoyne Bay in Ullswater and the pretty Wordsworth Daffodil Garden in Grasmere. One of Cumbria's best kept secrets is Brigsteer Park near Kendal, where visitors are guaranteed to see a carpet of spring colour as they stroll through the majestic woodland, passing the magnificent Sizergh Castle and its rich gardens as they go.
But of course Cumbria is most famous for its collection of beautiful lakes - and there's really no greater way to enjoy their charm than to climb aboard one of the lake steamers. Some of the more popular lakes offer boat rides that promise unmissable views from the very centre of its beauty, with the chance to visit places otherwise unreachable by road.
Read the rest of this feature on p.114 of the March/April 2013 issue...
To plan your own trip to Cumbria head to www.golakes.co.uk
By Natalie Mason