By Sandra Hutchinson
In May, 2018 I made my first visit to northern England’s beautiful Lake District. Here’s my detailed story of that visit. In 2022, during the same weeks in May, I returned. Here are my highlights:
If sheep could fly……seen in Ambleside.
Located in the village of Ambleside, the Armitt was founded based on a collection of books that had belonged to three sisters, Sophia, Annie and Mary Louisa Armitt, known as Louie, all born between 1847 and 1851. Unusual for the time, the sisters each were highly educated and cultured, and as adults interacted with Lake District residents like John Ruskin and Hardwicke Rawnsley, the principal founder of the National Trust. The institution now has a library of over 11,000 books focusing on the local and natural history of the region, and it contains important watercolor and book collections that were bequeathed by Beatrix Potter. There’s also a large collection of paintings by Kurt Schwitters, a German refugee artist who settled in Ambleside, and a large exhibit on outdoors activities in the Lake District.
The main reason I have enjoyed the Armitt is the great exhibit on Beatrix Potter, which includes many of her original watercolors of fungi.
The exhibit on Beatrix Potter includes panels that describe her groundbreaking conservation work in the Lake District, which resulted in her assuring the preservation of many Herdwick sheep farms. I covered some of her life and work in my blog post in 2018, which you can read here.
Here’s my recent photo of the farmhouse at Yew Tree Farm, one of many farms acquired by Beatrix Potter and later bequeathed to the National Trust, which you can compare to the image from 1950, above. The exterior of the farmhouse was used as Beatrix Potter’s home in the feature film Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellwegger.
(Note: Yew Tree Farm is a working farm near Coniston, where Herdwick sheep and Galloway cattle are raised by a family that leases the farm from the National Trust. You can book a stay at the farm, and also visit to learn about Herdwick sheep, through the “Herdwick Experience,” led by Jo McGrath. Click here for the link.)
The Armitt Library and Museum also has a collection of Beatrix Potter’s personal first edition copies of the “little” books published by Frederick Warne & Co., which she bequeathed to the library.
The Armitt is a must-visit for fans of Beatrix Potter. You could spend many happy hours in the library.
In nearby Grasmere, devotees of Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) and his similarly brilliant sister Dorothy (1771 – 1855), flock to Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum.
In the past couple of years, the interior of Dove Cottage, seen above, has been changed to better reflect the way the family lived there from 1799 to 1808. Some of William’s most famous poems, and Dorothy’s detailed Grasmere journals, were written here.
The cottage hugs a hillside, upon which Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and his wife Mary (née Hutchinson) tended a garden, from which the visitor can enjoy a lovely view.
The adjacent Wordsworth Museum has undergone an extensive reconstruction and tells the story of Wordsworth through original manuscripts, letters, journals and personal artifacts.
The manuscript above is of one of Wordsworth’s famous poems, “I wandered lonely as a Cloud.” William and Dorothy noticed a dazzling group of wild daffodils while walking along the shore of Ullswater in April 1802, resulting in Dorothy first describing the scene in her journal. Two years later, her brother wrote a poem that many believe reflect language he took from Dorothy’s description in her journal.
Dorothy’s journal, 1802: “I never saw daffodils so beautiful.”
Wordsworth sat for this life mask in 1815, with his face covered in plaster. The oil painting of the writer is by Richard Carruthers, 1818.
The Wordsworth family burial plot is in the churchyard of the Anglican St. Oswald’s in Grasmere, within distance from Dove Cottage. William’s stone is the flat one.
Next to the churchyard is the charming Grasmere Gingerbread, which uses an original 19th century recipe to make the much-loved, chewy treat. The wonderful scent of baking gingerbread greets you as you approach the cottage.
Finally, in the village of Grasmere, don’t miss Herdwick Limited, the shop opened by my friend Mandy Marshall, who has changed her career from Blue Badge guiding to masterminding the creation of beautiful tweed bags and home accessories made from Lake District Herdwick sheep wool. Read about her company here. I have a couple of handbags and several pillow covers and they are beautifully made. But best of all, the use of Herdwick wool helps the local farmers continue to keep and raise these lovely animals.