Visits to English Writers’ Homes: Hill Top

by drpoppy

As I mentioned in my previous post, my mother and I visited England’s Lake District in late May. I went there knowing Wordsworth had lived there, but I was not aware of the other writers who called it home. At first when I found out Beatrix Potter lived in the area, I wasn’t that interested, frankly, because I was never terribly interested in her work. But we decided to visit, and I’m so glad we did, as her little farmhouse was utterly charming and the surrounding area breathtakingly pretty.

To get to Hill Top from where we were staying in Grasmere, we took a bus to Ambleside (a slightly bigger town, which has many ferries to other towns), a ferry to a port near Sawton, and a small bus to Hill Top, which is between Sawton and Hawkshead. Here’s a wretched picture of me, but a decent picture of the ferry, which was a pretty little (vintage?) boat:

The ferry to Hill Top

When we arrived at the stop outside of Hill Top, we were treated to a delightful view of the beautiful countryside and charming little collection of houses. If I understood the information we received at Hill Top, the white house pictured here was also owned by Beatrix Potter, after she married later in life and after she purchased Hill Top.

The sign points the way to Hill Top, but Beatrix Potter also owned the white house pictured here.

The beautiful countryside

After a little confusion, we found the entrance to Hill Top, which you enter after going through a gate and down a little garden path. Upon seeing Hill Top and learning the story behind it, I gained enormous respect for Beatrix Potter. The cottage is part of a small farm and was built in the seventeenth century. Potter, who vacationed in the Lake District as a child, fell in love with the area and was frustrated to learn that farms were being sold to developers. She wanted to preserve the land and the way of life in the area. And guess what — she earned enough money from her children’s books to do something about it! She bought Hill Top in 1906, kept it as a working farm, and continued to purchase more land in the area as time went by.

Charming Hill Top cottage, which Beatrix Potter bought with the royalties from Peter Rabbit and her other tales.

I loved the Arts and Crafts style plaque installed to mark Potter’s purchase of the cottage

Potter continued to write and paint while living at Hill Top, and if you study her later paintings, you can see that she set several stories in the house. Unfortunately, as with all of the house tours we went on in England, photos were not permitted indoors. Hill Top is decorated exactly the same way Potter had it, with many of her possessions, including some of her artwork and sewing. She donated the house and farm to the National Trust of England on condition that it would be preserved exactly as she left it. The house is two floors, with (if memory serves) four rooms on the second floor, one of which was her bedroom, one a study, and one a room filled with curios and collectables, including an impressive dollhouse.

Potter is deeply loved in the area because of her contributions to land preservation, in addition to her children’s books. After a visit to her home, I was very impressed with her myself. When she bought Hill Top, she was an unmarried woman who had become very rich due to her artistic endeavors. Although she grew up privileged, her parents disapproved of her life as a writer and artist, and all of her preservation and conservation efforts were accomplished solely with the money she earned herself from the sale of her books, which were enormously popular.

peek through the garden gate

The gardens were particularly beautiful.

The gardens were filled with rabbits in honor of Peter and his family. How many bunnies can you spot in this picture?

Even if you’re not a fan of Beatrix Potter, if you’re in the Lake District, you should not miss Hill Top. This trip was an absolute pleasure. I enjoyed imagining myself as Potter, living out my dream as a writer and being inspired by natural beauty. I can’t wait to return to the area and visit Tarn Hows, the other piece of land she left to the National Trust.

For small glimpses of the inside of the house as well as an interesting look at how the National Trust preserves the furniture and other objects that belonged to Potter, check out this short video: