Here I am again! Are you ready for our Castle Cottage Picnic? Me too! … But first I think you need, as promised, the story of our Milkman in the Lake District! Because we had one!
We found an order sheet in the cottage we were renting . . . filled it out, popped it into an empty milk bottle on the porch . . . and the next morning here comes his truck . . .
With Kevin inside, delivering local milk, eggs and butter and other groceries on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday … the UK is trying to move away from the use of disposable packaging and back to the reusable stuff. Considering how much trash we make these days, despite our recycling and composting efforts, it’s a huge undertaking. I applaud them for trying, and we got right into it. Whole milk in glass bottles from Town End Dairy!
Waiting on our porch the next morning . . .such a cheerful thing to find, plus you get a whole new relationship with an English Lakes person.
He’s a doll. He told me a secret about cooking fresh eggs I’m definitely putting in the book! Mandy called us the day of the Picnic and said she’d missed Kevin, that he was on his way to our place now, could I please get four pints of milk to bring along to the Picnic! Somehow, that is very darling to me. Like neighbors borrowing sugar. So small town. And now that we have our milk . . .
Let’s do both! MUSICA
It’s Castle Cottage Time… our May 11 Picnic, a visit to Hill Top, and Girlfriends galore. Reddest of Red Letter Days.
In picturesque Near Sawrey, “closer to Hawkshead than Far Sawrey,” the place where Beatrix Potter became the person she wanted to be.
A country girl, on a farm, where she could raise sheep, and paint the things she loved.
Early on the day of the Picnic, Joe and I were thrilled to go to Hill Top for a private tour of the house with Liz McFarland who’s worked for the National Trust managing Hill Top and collections there for 18 years, and her new associate (on her second day), Emily. To be inside Hill Top, those rooms, almost alone? Deep breath . . . So down the path, past the little picket-fence gate with the view across Post Office Meadow to Castle Cottage, we went. Be still my heart.
Along the flag-stone path through the flower garden . . .
To the little kitchen garden in front of the house, brimming with rhubarb, banked by the bee house in the bee bole . . . Emily on the left and Liz on the right of me. Me looking at Joe, thinking, do you see this?
watering cans and pots…
reminding me of this . . .
We walked out of the garden up to Hill Top, the house Beatrix Potter bought in 1905, just after her fiancé, Norman Warne, died suddenly, only one month after their engagement ~ when Beatrix was 39 years old. If you can imagine, such a sudden change of plans, dreams halted, like driving off a cliff. She went to the place she loved in the English Lakes and bought Hill Top, which proved to be the doorway to her new life, a future she dared to dream despite the times in which she lived.
Beatrix standing in the doorway of Hill Top . . . the biographer Linda Lear called her a “Victorian Genius,” and every time I see this photo, that’s what I think of, a generous, romantic dreamer; an antique-loving, creative English watercolor artist; far-seeing, brave, pragmatist, preservationist, scientific, nature-loving human being, who could be grouchy if children stole her apples or left her field gates open. She died only five years before I was born. I’m proud to have her for my hero. She is still making a difference.
As I was walking in, I remembered that photo of Beatrix in the doorway and stopped and put my hand where she had been not so very long ago and smiled at Joe . . . I wanted to stand where she stood, and feel the place she’d been. The things that made her happy, make me happy too. That’s how you get your heroes.We need heroes to teach us how to be heroes. Spread your hero-love so your children will love them too.
When we came to Hill Top the first time in 2012, they didn’t allow cameras inside ~ during my visit to the house, I had to sketch and scribble notes on a piece of paper I kept folded in my purse for this type of emergency ~ then go back to our rental to paint and write while the memory was fresh.
The words on this pitcher are on page 189 of A Fine Romance. But this time, they said I could bring my camera . . . joy oh joy oh precious joy.
And so through the door, into the first room of the house, the kitchen, we went ~ or rather, I came in, turned around, went out, and came in again. Everything needs to be slow at Hill Top or you lose consciousness and miss the whole thing. Liz let me ask all the questions I wanted ~ as you can imagine she was a wealth of knowledge and volunteered all kinds of wonderful detail. It was truly a dream, as quiet as it must have been when Beatrix created it.
While she was talking, my eyes searched the room for Beatrix’s hat and clogs. And there they were, just where I saw them last time, just where she left them to the National Trust when she died in 1942. For us. For everyone. Forever.
And this was the cast iron range where she made her tea, the heart of Hill Top. They still have fires in it on cold days. I would love to try baking in it. I bet you’d have to practice! I do not see the dial that says 350º on it.
And there is her cuckoo clock that’s been ticking away the time for all these years.
Everything was placed exactly where she wanted it . . . I saw three clocks, the cuckoo and this grandfather clock were in the kitchen, and there was another grandfather clock on the stair landing.
Beatrix’s father had these plates made . . . from drawings he found in books. Aren’t they wonderful? I love the wallpaper too. It’s William Morris . . .
Here it is up close, it covers both the walls AND, charmingly, the ceiling . . .
Joe’s look tells me exactly how he feels about being there. He knows that I know that he knows that I know. Simple as that.
They said I could set my hat on her table so I could take Joe’s photo. My hat, on Beatrix Potter’s kitchen table. So I had to take a picture of that too.
Beautiful. She loved dishes like we do! They’re everywhere.
In fact she loved all antique things. This chest was made by hand 200 years before she was born . . . she bought most all her furniture at farm sales and auctions . . .
We walked from the kitchen . . .
to the room next door, the parlor . . . the “best room” and a bit more formal.
You can see this cupboard in the corner . . . I painted her coronation teapot with the pink crown lid for A Fine Romance last time we were here. . .
On our way to the stairs we passed this little room, not part of the regular tour, it’s where the volunteers keep tools and where they put together the flower bouquets for the house. I love working places, creativity in action. There was no running water in the house in Beatrix Potter’s time, and no electricity, not here and not in Castle Cottage. She could afford anything, could have lived in a mansion, but she preferred quiet, and little, with firelight, candle light, and oil lamps. Just an old-fashioned gal.
Hill Top is still mostly lit by natural-light with just a few pin lights here and there for emphasis (and so we don’t fall down and kill ourselves in the dark). There’s heat now too, to help keep things dry in the winter. When something wears out, like wallpaper or the rugs, they have new ones made to match. They work very hard to keep it real. That bannister, hard to not imagine her hand there. One of the thin places.
Upstairs in what Beatrix called her “Treasure Room” is her famous dollhouse . . . filled with tiny things, some of which Norman Warne gave her. I think one of her little (real) mice, Hunca Munca, had an accident while swinging on the chandelier in this house, and went to mouse heaven, much to Beatrix’s dismay.
I tried very hard to take photos through the tiny windows without actually splaying myself all over the floor in front of everyone. Cool and nonchalant are my bywords.
In almost every room there’s one of Beatrix Potter’s “little Bunny books,” open to a page to show where she’d painted something recognizable from Hill Top or in the village of Near Sawrey . . .
I examined everything minutely. But it was never her things, and not even her watercolors that drew me to Beatrix, it was her, her amazing competence and determination and when making life choices. And when something didn’t work out as planned, she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and started all over again. Just like us.
This was her small bedroom, her 16th century carved-walnut four-poster bed, with the heavy velvet valance (called a pelmet) and bed curtains that Beatrix embroidered herself. Because she, just like us, loved her home and liked to make things for it . . .
Tiny little Beatrix Potter stitches . . . maybe sitting in the rocker in front of the fire, with the sound of the cuckoo clock ticking time away, wool skirt warm around her ankles, shawl pulled close, needle in, needle out, sip hot tea in crockery cup, click when put back in saucer, bite of biscuit, crackle of fire, muffled sound as log falls to ash . . . needle in, needle out. New threads. Maybe red this time. Hold needle to window-light to see the hole better, thread it. Tie a little knot. Needle in, needle out.
She also chose William Morris wallpaper for the bedroom ~ I’m sure she agreed with his philosophy of decorating (and ideology too) . . .
On the fireplace mantle you can see that farm pitcher I sketched last time I was here, just where it was then, pride of place.
I took photos from all the windows this time, so I wouldn’t have to rely only on my memory.
I love seeing what she saw.
Out this window I could see our Girlfriends lining up for their visit to Hill Top (usually closed on Fridays, but opened especially for us that day) before walking over to Castle Cottage for our picnic . . . almost time for me to go too!
Downstairs, Joe and I were introduced to three lovely National Trust Volunteers who love Beatrix Potter and take such beautiful care of Hill Top, Trudy, Janet, and Carol ~ they’ve made dreams come true for so many by sharing their own.
And Carol surprised me with something she’d made! Hand embroidered, French knots, and the little blue jacket! I felt like I spent the whole morning crying!
My turn to give Joe the look.
I now had the supreme honor of opening the front door to Hill Top and surprising our Girlfriends waiting outside for a tour. 👏 Surreal on every level … and the first thing I noticed, taking this photo of Carrie and Christie, they had the look too. I think it comes with the house! 🤣 Cry for happy.
After many thanks, (many, many), saying, “we’ll meet you at the Picnic!” we found our way back down the garden path and to the white gate, for one more photo of never forgetting…
Out onto the narrow lanes of Near Sawrey we went ~ and immediately we ran into Siobhan, looking so cute and springlike. We’d all been afraid it was going to rain that day, and it still looked like it might, we definitely needed our hats, coats, scarves, wool socks and leggings ~ there was a chill wind blowing off the lake ~ But no rain and that’s what really mattered! Because our day had finally come!
Mandy provided the chalkboard and Sheri made the sign . . .
Kellee and Sheri were at Castle Cottage helping Mandy, and taking care of last-minute details . . . the best girls, made it so nice for everyone!
We borrowed chairs and little table from the garden in our rental … Kellee and Sheri set it all up . . . food and Petey . . . We were ready to go!
Luckily Kellee and Sheri had visited the Hill Top gift shop and come away with this copy of Peter Rabbit, the perfect thing to use as a guest book . . .
Not sure if they got everyone, but they did get lots of signatures and messages, now a treasure ~ Kellee took it home to save for me when I get back!
Are we ready? Here they come!
Many from the Colonies! Many from Britain! From everywhere! Mandy in pink welcoming us to her home and garden. I said, “meet me at noon,” they said “okay,” and here we were!I stopped all day long, tiny time-outs to scribble in my notebook things I don’t want to forget to tell in my book ~ and to take a moment to realize where I was, this exact thing would never come again, that far view of the green hills, the rock walls, the sheep dotting the landscape, to smell the grass and hear the birds and the laughter of our girlfriends meeting each other here at Castle Cottage, an amazing evocative place that makes the fairy tale real . . . in the garden that Beatrix Potter made herself. This old saying, has to be true:
I didn’t do it alone! There were many other dreamers at this event! Lots of family too ~ This is Kathy and Sally ~ they are sisters, wearing black berets just for Joe! (Please don’t be hurt or mad at me if I get the names wrong, I am famously terrible at names but I’m trying!).
Sally unzipped her jacket to show me the Bob’s Big Boy T-shirt she wore in my honor!!! Isn’t she cute? If you read Fairy Tale Girl, you’ll know why I laughed so hard to see it! (You can see our weather that day in those clouds, but it didn’t rain!)
Wonderful, creative Janette who makes such luv-lee gifts for us, and her husband ~ British alums … they were at our first picnic too!
Loved meeting Andi in person . . . (@Andi_Geary on Twitter).
Sheri and Kellee laughing with Ann . . . I met Ann and her husband Alan the first time at our Stourhead Picnic.
Mother and daughter showing us exactly what mom-love looks like! Mom is Meesha (I believe with all my heart but very willing to be corrected) and her daughter … who I think either just got engaged in Ireland, or maybe she’s here to get married…but I may be dreaming! There was a swirl of everything going on!
Family reunion at Castle Cottage, the daughter in the green scarf, Lauren, then her mom Janet, and then Alexis, Elaine and (I think it’s) Mary . . . Janet’s three daughters-in-law! Girl Party!
Petey met up with some of his old sailor buds . . . talked about the good ole days, ship life, the girls that got away, and all that rot.
More pals . . . Christine on the left, then Chris, then a face I know but with a name that’s got away from me 😳, and then Wendy…
Chris’s darling husband Neil brought me a card I’d written to her in 1999! I love it when this happens!
Chris with Neil . . .
Allison visiting with Joe, maybe the only photo I took!
Two luv-lee sisters from Denmark, Susanne and Marianne . . . and fat-faced woman from Martha’s Vineyard. Is it the hat? I hope it’s the hat. That way I can take it off. I am a hat person at heart, but hats with me would really rather not and say they did! Doesn’t stop me though, I love them, so far on this trip I’ve bought SIX! ☺
Siobhan is talking to Christie (@ChristieLevin50 on Twitter) and Sharon (@SharonSTealover on Twitter), wearing the luv-lee pink cashmere shawl with her husband John …
Gabriel and Nicoline are Picnic Alumni from Holland! They brought this wonderful quilt she made ~ LOVE . . . what it’s all about!
Speaking of which, Carrie and Stuart (Carrie has one of Mandy’s bags made from the wool of Herdwick sheep, the ones Beatrix loved the most and protected forever on the farms she left to the National Trust ~ Mandy’s business now, more about that later).
Peg, Lauri, Lindy and Glory, and Lauri made their hats! Perfect for this weather, and don’t they look cute!? Girlfriends Forever!
Because I ended up sitting and signing books girlfriends had brought along and visiting with everyone who sat down, and Joe was out on the lawn being the Belle of the Ball, there was no one in our family taking photos! I have nowhere near enough pictures! I don’t even have proof of Joe’s Belle-ness, but I did see it in action! Of course, Joe’s eye spotted this impossibility (above) going down the narrowest of roads on the other side of Beatrix Potter’s wall … and had to snap the photo! I’m going, “But honey, where are the picnic baskets?” He’s going, “I thought you were going to do it.” And so it is, all a big beautiful fabulous memory. But we have the truck full of logs!
I borrowed the photo Katrina posted of her darling picnic on Twitter @whimswishes (she’s @whimsicalwishesuk on Instagram ~ you can go there to read her amazing happy news 🍼). As for the food, reports came in, there were stuffed eggs, Victoria sponge cakes, sparkling Elderberry cordials, iced tea, Pe-ah Ci-da, Cucumber sandwiches, lemon drizzle cake, shortbread cookies . . . There was hot tea and coffee in Mandy’s showroom… On a chilly day . . .
We did get this one little photo with a glimpse of Carrie’s (@CarrieHerself on Twitter) picnic, from the back!
I did manage to take one video! Wanted you to see the day, feel it a little bit, perhaps get a whiff of the cold air and the “sweet clean smell of the green things growing” ~ armchair travel to Beatrix Potter’s garden . . . that’s Bernie and Karen waving from the right side of the garden, they met the first time at our picnic in Stourhead!
We gathered to thank Mandy and everyone who came from far and near to join in for this wonderful day. Mandy says we were 123 kindred spirits that day. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed meeting everyone . . . and Joe felt exactly the same way. He said, “You are so lucky! So many nice people!” And he is so right.💞
And Betsy Bray was there, too … we met her at our little Vineyard Haven Library where she came to give a talk about Beatrix Potter a few years back ~ and then to my house ~ she introduced me to the Beatrix Potter Society and to Mandy and got this whole thing going!
The Society sends out wonderful hard-copy newsletters to all of their members! Rather a wonderful old-fashioned thing to do these days. They also have a free online Newsletter called Pottering About . . . love that they do this! Keeping the memories alive.💞
The National Trust was well represented, Trudy, Janet, and Carol, came over from Hill Top, proudly wearing their jackets with the “Forever, for everyone” Oak Leaf logos. . . Joe and I support the Royal Oak Foundation, “Americans in alliance with the National Trust” ~ we have membership cards which give us free admission into all the National Trust houses and gardens . . . you can learn more here.
Everyone lined up for Joe to take our class photo with Castle Cottage behind us, our Picnic in Beatrix Potter’s garden, class of 2018 … I also want to thank Doreen, Bev, Melin, Diane, Sandra, Gaylen, Lorreen, Susan, Bernie, Jane, Carol, Joan, Bob, Leisa, Emily, Mary Ann, Cathy, Amy, Luci, Jerry, Pam, Bryan, Deanna, Sheila, and so many others for being there and making it such a special day for me and for each other . . . And Jane Hope from Victoria Magazine was there taking photos too (course we didn’t get one of HER, just her shoulder) . . . Maybe SHE got pics of the picnic baskets! Maybe they will put them in the magazine! I will ask! I’ll let you know which issue this may or may not be in . . .
Mandy used her Herdwick showroom as a mini restaurant where she had hot coffee and tea for everyone . . .
I bought two of her bags! They are so beautifully made . . . I wish I would have gotten a backpack, but our car is SO stuffed, we are going to have to start shipping things home. All we’re allowed to buy now is postcards.
There were Herdwick iPad sleeves too. Durable and pretty, lambswool from local farms, Mandy knows where every color of thread comes from ~ and if you want, you can get them too . . . just go to www.Herdwick.co.uk . . . and tell Mandy I said Hello!
She also has a few Castle Cottage 16 oz. cups left for sale (Beatrix loved Jane Austen, so I put the quote below on the back of this cup), “Castle Cottage” from Castle Cottage . . . especially for everyone in England, it costs much less to get them from Mandy than ordering from us with all the shipping costs from the US! Just in cases.💞
At the last moment, I had a wonderful surprise when Rachel suddenly appeared at the bottom of the garden walking toward me . . . we thought she couldn’t come, and she really couldn’t, but she DID, and I was SOOOOO happy to see her! It didn’t feel right without her! Made the day complete.💞
I’m stopping right now, and putting this up even unfinished . . . I’ll add more to it later because it’s not done! But Joe is chomping at the bit, it’s a beautiful day, we need to go walking . . . I promise to take the camera! Love you! Hope you enjoyed Hill Top! xoxo