By Joan Larsen
Is there anyone who has actually made it through childhood without falling in love with the tale of Peter Rabbit, the mischievous rabbit who almost gets put in a pie when he’s caught stealing vegetables from Mr. McGregor’s garden?
Well, this year – 2016 – marks the year-long anniversary of author Beatrix Potter’s birth – as well as her legend as author and illustrator of the tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and other human-like woodland creatures. Beatrix Potter has lived on as few authors have. Years in the planning in Beatrix’s beloved Lake District of England, all stops have been successfully pulled out to make this special milestone – and one to go far out of your way for.
I promise you will be – well – enchanted, as I was.
So many of us have been to London and its surroundings without exploring the beauties of the English countryside. This is your year then to head northward in this small country and prepare to see a world of OMG moments at every turn. This is the real England . . . low slung stone walls everywhere, slate-roofed houses of stone, hedgerows in every direction. Did I mention that this is a walker’s wonderland with public footpaths – footpaths leading you past fields of sheep that almost seem to be placed there for your own awe and enjoyment?
Oh . . . and who could forget the bunnies, scampering around, almost leading you to a first visit to Hill Top, Potter’s home for 38 years – and the site of her little animals’ adventures.
“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits,
and their names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.”
And you must visit Hill Top! Once you enter the grounds and gardens of her home, you will find yourself brought back to the world of Potter. Surrounded within by all the original furnishings, listening to the stories of the guides, I believe you will be – as I was – simply transported into her world as it once was.
“There is something so delicious about writing
the first words of a story, You never know where
they’ll take you.”
Tables in her home contain letters she had written, charmingly illustrated with her own drawings. There was a first edition of Peter Rabbit. We were told that it started simply as a story written in letter from 1893 to cheer up a sick son of a former governess.
This year the World of Beatrix Potter has been so successfully incorporated in the dining establishments and the attractions of the area in a way I found so charming that a day’s visit was not long enough.
And, after all, you are in the gorgeous Lake District that Potter considered home. What few knew – well, until we visited this year – is that she used the proceeds from her books to eventually buy 14 farms and over 4000 acres of land that she willed to the National Trust to be preserved for all time. (If you live in the United States, think of the Lake District as a visit here to a National Park!)
An overnight stay on the shores of beautiful Lake Windermere I found to be a must! Sailing in early morning on one of the small cruise boats set the tone of the day – and made it a realization there was so much more to explore. It is rare, as you will find, to know that William Wordsworth, William Yeats and Jemima Puddle-Duck have all lived in and around the fairytale villages of England’s Lake District.
Perhaps, as we look back in time, we may find that Beatrix Potter’s characters still are the ones that inhabit our consciousness as few other adult literary characters ever will.
It was so with me. I have a feeling that I am not alone.
“If I have done anything, even a little,
to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures,
I have done a bit of good.”
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”