It’s a beautiful summer day on Martha’s Vineyard when I’m writing this; bees are floating through the lavender, beach towels are flapping on the line, a gentle harbor breeze is softly rustling the trees. But so quiet ~ it’s perfect beach weather ~ that’s where everyone must be. There are no cars on the road, a rare thing for summer on this island. All I can hear through my open windows are birds. ♥
Soon I’ll show you more about what’s going on here but today, I think we need just one more visit to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm — our second visit in a week — you knew I would have to go back!
Remember how gorgeous the sky was on the first day we found our way to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm? It wasn’t like that the second time . . . here it was on June 7, over the Lake District, dark, rainy, and moody. Musica? Yes.
Before we left the Lake District, I needed one more look at Castle Cottage (the light beige house above) where Beatrix lived happily-ever-after with her husband Willie for thirty years. It’s privately owned so this is as close as I really wanted to get, but there it was, a sweet comfortable-looking little house just across the meadow from Hill Top.
It still felt funny that we could just drive here. Beatrix Potter has been so far away from me for so long, almost on another planet. But shockingly, like any other place, like any old McDonald’s on the corner, you can drive right up, put on your blinker, turn in, and park. Go through a little gate, walk up a path and there it is! Where it’s been for over a hundred years, with visitors just like me, coming and going.
I didn’t get a ticket to go into the house again because I have that vision permanently pressed into my heart. I will never forget looking at the view through the wavy old glass of her bedroom window, the same ripply view of hills and green and cottages she saw all those years ago. But there were a couple of things I needed to do before we left — I had unfinished business. As I was walking through the rainy garden for the last time I noticed little wet side-path I hadn’t seen before. At the end there was a green door in the garden wall. I went to investigate. I didn’t want to miss anything.
I pushed it open slowly, making sure I wasn’t going somewhere I shouldn’t — then ducked under the dripping lilac to go inside. It led to the walled vegetable patch in front of the house, and gave me a slightly different perspective on the house. I was inside the iron gate for the first time. All alone, in the rain, in Beatrix Potter’s garden. ♥
Of course, Peter Rabbit was bound to get in trouble in this neck of the woods! Such temptation; rhubarb and strawberries too.
There were little details I couldn’t see from the other side of the iron gate, like this recess in the rock wall. It’s called a “bee-bole” ~ it’s made for sheltering bee skeps like this charming white box hive that Beatrix had “fixed up” — she also painted it into The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck — later I painted it into the journal I kept of this visit. (You would have enjoyed watching me juggle camera, umbrella, hood on rain coat, purse and tears while taking photos.)
I also came back to get the name of the roses climbing over the front of the house. I asked the person at the door but she didn’t know. Which surprised me . . . they must get asked that question two-hundred times a day because those roses smell like heaven. Don’t inquiring minds want to know? So they can grow them all over their barn? Or something? So I emailed the gardener, and guess what, he didn’t know either! My blog girlfriends thought maybe Zephirine Drouhin.
Here they are, up close. They also look a little David Austinish with so many petals, they smell like David Austin roses too, really strong, but the gardener only called them cabbage roses.
The other thing I had to do was to take a photo of my miniature Beatrix Potter book as it soaked up some local ambiance, so I could bring it back to the Peter Rabbit Room to spread the wealth (a little more magic never hurts). The little book is so proud in that room since we got home, its buttons almost pop, bragging around to the Beatrix Potter People of where it’s been and what it saw!
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail hoist it on their shoulders like a returning hero.
But this is what I really came back to Hill Top for . . . I knew, the moment I left the first time, I had forgotten something. I must have been crazy to even think of coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to England, then to the Lake District, over the narrowest rock-lined roads you can imagine, on the wrong side of the road, risking life and limb, and then leaving this behind? I scare myself sometimes. I’d picked it up in the gift shop and then put it back, regretting it every moment since, dreaming about it!
It’s an exact copy of the first book Beatrix Potter (who, as you can read in my journal of this visit, A FINE ROMANCE, is not only an illustrator, but so much more. Most importantly, a conservationist savior of the Lake District, but also a respected natural scientist and regular person, despite being a genius, who was very proud of her prize-winning sheep) paid to have published herself, exactly the way she wanted it to be. For this special, first-time-ever reprint, they used the same cover she designed originally, but they also added a dust jacket taken from editions published in 1903 by Warne; in a charming calico pattern supplied by Edmund Potter and Company (Beatrix Potter’s family business, isn’t it adorable? Oh, for ten yards of that!). They put the book in a special little bag and the only place you can buy one is at the gift shop up the garden path at Hill Top Farm. ♥ I could not go home without it.
What makes them extra special is, except for the surviving original books, there are only 1000 copies like this. On earth. (At least that’s what they told me, and I choose to believe!) And they all have numbers written in them like this.
The book is written in her own handwriting; all the pen and ink drawings are in black and white, just as they were when she first published the book. Only after Norman Warne started publishing Beatrix’s books were they done in color. He believed in her.♥
I had (was forced by a power stronger than myself, therefore the court would surely rule me not responsible) to steal a flower from the garden to keep in the book. Stealthy, like a cat, despite the pouring rain, looking both ways and still seeing no one — into the dripping mock orange and climbing honeysuckle I went. Rain pattered my umbrella as I tucked the wet rosebud softly, ever so softly, into my raincoat pocket, and was out of there before anyone noticed, leaving only a trail of muddy footprints, a clue soon to be washed away by the deluge; because I needed to press a real Beatrix Potter flower into my book more than I cared if I went to the Far Sawrey town jail . . . in fact, I took two flowers . . . . the rose, and an Iris for my journal.
And then it was time to go. Other than going inside and asking to take a nap in her actual bed, I thought I had done it all. The rain was coming down hard, Joe was waiting on the other side of the little gate with the car running, reading his newspaper. I stopped and took that one last photo of Castle Cottage ~ nostalgic, recalling memories that weren’t even mine ~ across green Post Office Meadow. Nothing in the village of Near Sawrey has changed since Beatrix walked the narrow lanes with her border collie Kep at her side.
I hope you enjoyed our visit — I wrote more about this dream-come-true in our travel journal in case you also have a place in your heart for the life of Beatrix Potter . . .