Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Claudia - the four of us had a great couple of days together. back then  While  I was sitting in her lounge sipping tea Janette showed me a book she thought I might like.  And did I ever!  I instantly fell in love with the whimsical pages of Susan Branch's "A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside".  Susan is an American author with a great love for the United Kingdom and is a fantastic artist and story teller.  Needless to say, I now have my own copy of that book and treasure it.  

I read Susan's blog faithfully and when she said that she was planning another trip to the UK and was going to have what she called a "girlfriend's picnic" in the Lake District  I immediately emailed Janette who said yes they were planning to go.  I cackled with glee (yes I do that) and immediately started researching bed and breakfasts.  So before I knew it I was booked into the Holme Lea Guesthouse in Ambleside about 8 months ahead of time - in fact that was the first thing I had booked on the trip. 

This is my story of the picnic and the absolute thrill of following in Beatrix Potter's footsteps.  

First however....

Getting to know Beatrix Potter 

Here is a little background on Beatrix Potter, one of the most amazing women that has ever lived... in my humble opinion.  Beatrix was born into a wealthy family in London in 1866. At an early age she showed a talent for art.  Every summer her family would pack everything up and spend an extended amount of time in such places as Scotland and Wales - Beatrix inevitably returning with pet rabbits or mice as she was a huge animal lover.  Being a young lady of an affluent family she did not go to school but was taught at home by governesses.  In every spare moment Beatrix drew and painted and wrote.  Her brother Bertie was a keen entomologist so their classroom was full of everything from rabbits, bats, lizards and (dead) butterflies.  Beatrix drew them all! 

Here is Beatrix at age 15 (looks much younger) with the family dog Spot - taken by her father Rupert, a keen photographer.  Rupert also was artistic but was pressured into following his fathers' footsteps and becoming a lawyer. Apparently Mr. Potter didn't actually practice law - due to a family inheritance he spent his days at "the club" reading newspapers and who knows what else.  

London was not a happy place for Beatrix.  Her mother was very strict, did not approve of her "little hobby" of art and writing and was constantly trying to "fix" her up with what she considered "good catches".  To her mother's dismay, Beatrix turned her nose up at all of them. 

Eventually, she managed to get her first book "Peter Rabbit" published by Warne publishers in 1902 and as they say, the rest is history.  Many books such as "The Tale of Tom Kitten", "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggywinke" and "The Tailor of Gloucester" followed. In the meantime Beatrix and Norman Warne, her publisher fell in love and became engaged much to her mother's disapproval.  Her mother was an insufferable snob and said a "man in trade" was not good enough for her despite the fact Norman and his brothers owned a publishing company. Sadly, Norman died of leukemia a month later. Beatrix wore his engagement ring for the rest of her life.  

Beatrix had fallen in love with the Lake District on previous holidays and bought her first home "Hilltop" there in the village of Near Sawry from the proceeds of her books sales.  For a woman of 40 to buy her own property was quite an achievement in those days.  Ever the dutiful daughter she would live part-time in both the Lake District and London, caring for her mother. She went on to buy farms surrounding Hilltop as well as Castle Cottage where she lived with her husband.  Yes, there was a romantic happy ending for Beatrix - of course despite her husband being a barrister her mother still did not approve!   William Healis who lived near Hill Top offered her advice on obtaining property and became her unofficial property manager. And eventually, much much more. She and William Healis were married in London in 1913 but high footed it out of town right away back to the Lakes. 

Despite living in Castle Cottage with her husband Beatrix walked over to nearby Hilltop to do her writing.  As well as still writing she became much more involved in farming, still buying up nearby farms and also breeding the distinctive Herdwick sheep, a hardy breed native to the Lake District.  As well as her many other accomplishments she is credited with helping to ensure the breed continued. 

Upon her death in late 1943 she left land, farms and many cottages including Hill Top to the National Trust.  

Visiting Hill Top

So the big day arrived..on Friday May 11th I took a bus over to Hawkshead where I met up with Janette and Martyn.  Before heading over to Hill Top we took a short stroll around the village.  

Here is a mama Herdwick sheep with her baby.  

Herdwick lambs are born black and gradually turn gray.  

There is no mistaking a Herdwick with their gray body and white head.  

Then we jumped into "Bluebell", Janette and Martyn's camper and off we went.  We were able to find a parking space in Near Sawry close to Hill Top.

This is the cutest bus stop I've ever seen...on second thought...just wait!!!  This is the bus stop for Hill Top!!  

Hill Top is normally closed on Fridays but they opened it up for us "girlfriends".   First, though we had a look around the garden....

As you can see Hill Top is still a National Trust property - everything Beatrix bequeathed still is as far as I know. 

Martyn noticed this...I walked right past.  Ink bottle!  Very appropriate for a writer's home!  

This is a view from the garden...the white house is Castle Cottage...don't worry, we will see more of this!  

Then it was time to go inside!!!  

Beatrix as a child 

The quality of the pictures isn't the greatest - for some reason I did not take my good camera.  It didn't help that it was dark - apparently, Beatrix did not like electricity.  There is electricity there now but not a lot of lighting - and it didn't help that it was rather a dreary day! Ah well, an excuse to go back!!!  

It's time for a picnic! 

The picnic was to held in...wait for it....the garden of Castle Cottage.  Yes, Beatrix Potter's former home!  

See where those people are on the right - that's where we're going! 

Here we are...

We were all given name tags - Janette kindly printed mine off for me.  

There were people from all over the world but mainly the United States.  We brought our own lunch - I brought a delicious sandwich from the aptly named Picnic Box up the street from my Bed and Breakfast in Ambleside.  

Eventually we all got to meet Susan personally - here is Janette giving Susan some of the lovely handcrafted items she made for her including a book bag. (I am spoiled - I got two!) It seems most of Susan's fans are quite "crafty" - I get a big "F" for that skill!  

Martyn managed to get a shot of the two of us together with Susan. 


Here is Castle Cottage - we weren't allowed to go in which was fair enough as it's a private residence now.  We were so lucky that the owner was kind enough to let us use their garden. 

Susan welcoming us to the picnic - she is such a genuinely nice person.  Thanks for the picture Janette!   

Here are my friends Janette and Martyn - they brought me a chair in their caravan all the way from Sussex which was so kind of them.  I didn't want to sit on the ground or I might never get up again!  It was fun meeting other Susan Branch fans including Janette's friends from Holland. 

As I tend to do, I drifted away for a little bit to walk a bit further down the lane and take a few photographs of the area.  

Stunning, isn't it?  We were so lucky it didn't rain.  

Here is a photo from Susan's blog of all of us together.  

All too soon it was time to leave and Janette and Martyn  insisted on driving me back to my 
Bed and Breakfast in Ambleside.  

Oh yes, on the way back we saw the CUTEST bus stop ever!!!  

Here is a lasting memento (I hope!) of my day...a beautiful cup. Thank you, Christie, for letting me buy your spare one the morning after the picnic.  Christie attended the picnic as well and was staying at my Bed and Breakfast so we had a couple of chatty breakfasts together.  That is one of the best parts of traveling - meeting new people.  

Too right Ms Austin!! 

A special thanks to Janette for introducing me to the world of Susan Branch, ferrying me to and from the picnic, the beautiful gifts and just being a great friend!  

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gallivanting around Guernsey - Part 2 - a day on the Island of Herm

After my first busy 24 hours on the island I wish I could say I had a wonderful sleep.  Not!  When will you ever learn Laurie?  Ever since my gallbladder was removed in 2004 my system cannot handle too much greasy food.  Every once in a while when I am on holiday I forget.  It's usually the combination of a fried English breakfast and fish and chips for supper....I try not to do that but it's happened enough times and sometimes quite dramatically.  A London Underground station (or two) and a bus stop got samples of my DNA one evening back in 2007; I still shudder in embarrassment but it could have been worse - I could have upchucked over everybody around me in "Mary Poppins" - luckily I had the sense to leave at intermission.  Anyway, you're not reading my travel blog to hear about that but as I've always said life isn't always fun and games on the road either. So if I am having a lovely cooked English breakfast I have to know that I am not heading out to the chippie or having a burger that evening.  I will spare you the details of my very busy night. 

Needless to say, I just had toast the next morning.  

I got the bus into town and decided I would go to Herm.  The ferry wasn't for another hour but I got my ticket and wandered the area.  I found a small waiting room where I sat until I could see people getting on the boat.  There was a cafe nearby but I had already had my fair share of coffee and I wasn't piling more food into my recuperated but fragile tummy...well not quite yet anyway.  Let's just say St Peter Port on a Sunday morning isn't the most lively place in the world. 

Once we boarded I claimed a seat and then went outside to see a view of St Peter Port as we left.  Stunning!!!   

The boat was full to bursting as there was a bike race on so there were lots of cyclists, their families and bikes... 

Looks like lots of people are heading back to Guernsey...

Herm is a tiny island, being only one and a half miles long and less than half a mile wide.  Let's just say it hasn't got a huge population either - the latest figures I can find are from a census in 2002. 60 residents!  

I stopped into a shop and bought this postcard that highlighted walks in the area...

I decided to head over to the west side of the island first.  

Looking out towards Fisherman's Beach 

I loved this path.  The bike race was taking place more of on the eastern side of the island and the paths were blocked off luckily - didn't need to be taken out by a fast-moving bike! 

Bears Beach 

Mouisinierre Beach 

Then I decided to tramp across the fields to Shell Beach - got a bit "misplaced" but what the hay.  

Shell Beach 

Another view of Shell Beach.  

Time to head back to the waterfront - my stomach was growling. 

As you can see there weren't many people on the island. Oh yes, did I mention no vehicles allowed.  I don't think I could live on an island like this. Think? I know! However, I would love the opportunity to spend a couple of days and do some walks and enjoy the quietness. Solo of course! Walks, reading books by a warm fire, some wine and good food.  Mmmmmm.....

It didn't rain while I was here but it was overcast and dull all day. Well that is until an hour before the boat arrived to take us back to Guernsey.   Of course! 

For whatever reason I did not take a picture of the pub.  Anyhoo I popped in and was able to snag a small table for myself and ordered a Sunday roast. (beef)  The Yorkshire pudding was HUGE.  Loads of veggies.  Oh my my.  Yes my tummy recuperates quickly. 

I think I got too excited to get those yummy veggies on my plate before I remembered to take a picture.  It was good but the one on the Isle of Wight still wins the prize for "Best Sunday roast of the trip".  (licking my lips in remembrance as I type this) 

After I finished my meal I sat for a while and wrote in my journal - I always start an entry about where I am.  I wrote all about the day before but never did mention my time on Herm!!!  I'm glad I took lots of pictures.  What can I say, my memory isn't what it used to be.  The bikers and families started trailing in and it got much noisier and busier so I took my leave. Next was a walk up the hill to see St Tugual's chapel.  

I stopped and had a quick look at this pretty little garden but decided to stick to the main room - don't worry I'll be back! 

St Tugual's chapel - I tried the door but it seemed to be locked...The chapel dates from the 11th century when it was occupied by monks.  Apparently, this has been a religious site since the 6th century.  The jury is out whether St Tugual (a Bretan monk) was ever actually ON the island of Herm or the chapel was named in his honour by the monks. 

There isn't much to the Manor Village which is where most of the 60 plus residents live.  Apparently, you can stay with some of the residents for a fee as there was only one hotel that I saw.  Maybe someday I will do that!  I still need to walk the east end of the island. 

On the way back down I stayed off the main path and opted to saunter the path through the woods to the park I had seen earlier. 

I loved this seating area with tires used as planters.  Gathering place for the fairies?  

Confession time:  I spent a lot of time sitting in this garden.  It was restful and I needed a place to sit down!  The pub was the only game in town - no tea shops and it wasn't quite time to get the boat back to St Peter Port.  

Back to the blue house again....and down to the sea. 

Due to the tide, our boat wasn't coming into the harbour and was docking at the Rosiere steps which were along this path. 

You can see the Rosiere steps with people waiting on the left side of this photograph.  

Then it was back on the boat to St Peter Port - what a special day I had in Herm and if I am ever fortunate enough to get back to Guernsey I will surely visit again!  

Back at the harbour I walked past these monuments dedicated to the atrocities done to the people of Guernsey during the war.  As I have mentioned before Guernsey was occupied by the Germans for five years during World War II.  I will be writing about that in future however if you have Netflix you must watch "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" or better yet, read the book!  

And that was day two in Guernsey....

A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Cl...