This September, I had the privilege of spending a week in Oxford, England, while taking a course on the history of the British/American relationship. The program was a collaboration between the University of Virginia and Oxford University.
By Sandra Hutchinson
When I learned that there was going to be an event this summer to celebrate Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod, I was intrigued. But when I learned that the keynote speaker would be Susan Branch, a writer and artist I’ve long followed, I knew I had to go. When I ordered my tickets online, I saw that I had nabbed the last two remaining seats.
Many people know of Beatrix Potter, the English writer and illustrator, because of her series of beloved children’s books about Peter Rabbit and his friends. But Beatrix (1866-1943) was far more than a genteel Victorian lady who penned stories about woodland creatures like bunnies and hedgehogs and painted charming watercolors of them wearing clothing. She was a naturalist, a conservationist, a scientist, a farmer who raised Herdwick sheep, and a far-sighted land preservationist.
Starting with her purchase of Hill Top Farm in England’s Lake District when she was 39 years old, she began acquiring neighboring farms and ultimately owned 15 farms comprising more than 4000 acres, nearly all of which she left to the National Trust upon her death. It is she who is credited with preserving most of the land that now makes up England’s Lake District National Park.
I’ve also long been an admirer of Susan Branch, also a writer and watercolor artist, who has published numerous best-selling cookbooks, as well as a three-part memoir series.
Susan’s 2013 memoir, A Fine Romance — Falling in love with the English Countryside, includes a detailed description of her visit to the Lake District and Hill Top Farm, which was practically a spiritual experience for Susan, who is a huge Beatrix Potter fan.