18 April 2014

Blossom time.

We've had some lovely spring weather in the Lakes recently and there seems to be blossom everywhere you look. The damson trees in the Hill Top paddock are in full bloom as are their close cousins the sloes in the hedgerows. The wild cherry trees are flowering and the garden varieties aren't far behind.

Damson blossom

Elsewhere in the garden the Japanese Quince over the porch is looking spectacular and the white wisteria next to it is fattening up its buds ready for blooming in early May.

Japanese quince

Richard, our Woodland Ranger called in last week with two small plastic bags of what looked like Ogre snot but turned out to be slightly overripe mistletoe seeds! 
Mistletoe is what's known as hemiparasitic which means it relies on a host tree for water and nutrients but it is able to photosynthesise (create it's own carbohydrates from sunlight) using its green leaves and stem. It isn't often seen in Cumbria but seeing as Richard's Dad had given him some seeds from a plant he had successfully grown, we thought we'd give it a try. The favourite host plant of mistletoe is apple trees so a couple of the Hill Top apples (and a pear for a bit of variety) were chosen as 'victims'.

Woodland Ranger at work
The seeds are surrounded by a very sticky pulp which has evolved to stick to a birds beak (Mistle thrushes especially love mistletoe berries) and when wiped off on a branch, gives the mistletoe it's chance to germinate.
To make sure our seeds stuck to the bark we made a small nick with a knife blade (although I've since read that this might not be totally necessary) and smeared the 'snot' into the cut.
The seeds take a few years to establish but if it works, I'll be sure to mention it here.

In the vegetable garden things are about to get busy. I've planted onion sets and seed potatoes and the greenhouse at home is filling up with trays of seedlings ready for planting out when the soil warms up a bit more.
In the paddock the first crop of baby rabbits are appearing out of their burrows, and scampering back underground at the first sign of danger, as all good baby rabbits should. Their parents though are much more casual and can regularly be seen lying full length sleeping in the sun, apparently without a care in the world. 

For a musical link this time I could have included 'Mistletoe and Wine' by Cliff Richard or even 'Misletoe' by Justin Bieber but I wouldn't inflict that on my loyal readers so I've gone instead for this by the fabulous White Stripes.

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.

4 April 2014

Potter's Possessions

Beatrix Potter is and always has been a well known figure. She loved her animals and enjoyed including them in her stories, illustrating them with care and precision. The Lake District was one of her passions and she set her mind on preserving it for future generations. Most of all she also loved to fill Hill Top with a plethora of possessions, both familiar and unfamiliar.

There are a lot of quirky objects in the house and through this blog post I'm going to do my best to share some of my favourite ones with you. As we journey through the house you can think of me as your own personal Loyd Grossman (although a more feminine version and with less of an American accent).

So if you're ready, join me as we go “Through The Keyhole”.

Entering the kitchen we see that Beatrix has stuck door knockers onto two of the inside doors. This one on the outside of the parlour door is certainly striking with a metal face and sturdy knocker.

Are you talkin' to me?!
The vast majority of our visitors, staff and volunteers ask why she placed such a thing in an unusual place...
The truth? We don't really know. One theory is that she bought a box of antiques and found it amongst the objects and simply thought “Why not?!!” Another knocker that can be seen in this room is on a cupboard door in the corner of the kitchen. Officially classed as a demon, I'm not so sure, others have called it a devil and a cat.

I'd love to know what you think it looks like!

The hanging cabinet in the corner of the parlour contains the charming Edward VII Coronation teapot (secretly one of my favourite items in the entire house). Here in the cabinet it sits front and centre, commanding your full attention.

Coronation Teapot!!
However, to the rear obscured from view is this beautiful Staffordshire ironstone teapot from the late eighteenth century. Ironstone is a sedimentary rock and was often used in heavy duty dinner services, the teapot is printed with oriental dragon scenes and the ground is painted red. A truly unusual object and something that anyone would be proud to own (I know I would!).

Upstairs the bedroom is decorated with stunning William Morris wallpaper, not everyone has an iconic wallpaper in their house.

Beatrix does, and as much as she enjoyed living the rural life in the Lake District she still enjoyed the finer things in life, and in the end, why ever not?! Beatrix put this up when she moved to the house it's said to cost her a vast sum, however they say you get what you pay for and this it has truly stood the test of time with it's colour still as bright and vibrant in 2014.

The 'Daisy' print

13 stone marbles in the treasure room cabinet often get overlooked, after all, they're only marbles right?

Well, sort of, but they're marbles that Beatrix found in holes in the walls of Hill Top during building work between 1905 and 1906 and that's what makes them interesting. People keep things for all sorts of reasons but for this particular find, perhaps there was no reason other than she liked them and so kept them. I like to think that perhaps she was intrigued by why they were in the walls, and who put them there. I know I am.

Keeping her marbles safe

One of my personal favourites in the house is this little fellow.

He sits in the sitting room cabinet and many people have missed him as they peruse the room. It's easy to do as he's not always visible, especially on duller days (of which we have many in the Lakes), but I think he's absolutely fab.
Ooooh, hellloee!
With wire legs and a red hat, he's not very sturdy and has to be supported with acid free tissue pillows, but he's a little bit unusual and that's what I like about him. Beatrix certainly had an eye for the quirky and different.

I suppose a fitting question to end this post on is, “Who lives in a house like this?” Of course we all know that Beatrix Potter did, but I hope that through this post I've shown a little more of her character. It's only a very small selection of some of the weird and wonderful things that Beatrix collected and in the future I hope be able to share a few more with you.

B-e-a-utiful Hill Top! 
If you're interested in finding out more about any of the items in Beatrix's collection the National Trust's Collections website is a brilliant resource and free to access at http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/ .

I'm off now to explore a few more of Beatrix's vast collection.

Ta ta for now

Words and photos by Natalie :)

28 March 2014

The Windermere Ferry and a Foggy Day

The car ferry across Windermere will be out of action all May, for its five year overhaul. We know that many of you enjoy the journey to Hill Top by taking the ferry option, but it is still very easy to get here by driving around to the north or south ends of the lake at Ambleside or Newby Bridge, and taking the lovely B-roads to Hawkshead. Hill Top is then only two miles away. Check with Cumbria County Council for the date when the service is back running again.

The ferry has been in use for over 500 years. (Not the current one, that was built in 1990!) It's purpose was to 'complete' the important direct road from Kendal to Hawkshead, and so avoid eight extra miles of walking around the top of the lake. In the early days people were rowed over the lake, but by the time Beatrix used the ferry to come up to Hill Top, having travelled to Windermere by train, it was a more substantial affair, as this picture from the Nineteenth Century shows:

from the Photocrom Collection: Library of Congress. Public Domain

Visitors, unfamiliar with the area, sometimes say that they feel like they have arrived off the ferry onto an island. Certainly the rolling countryside west of Windermere can feel very different to the busy east shore. The other morning I travelled to my work at the ticket office in thick mist, arriving for the 9.10 ferry with just two other cars. On the other side of the lake there was no-one at all to make the return trip. There was an eerie feel to the area around the Ferry House, the lake flat and smooth and silver, so that the little boats looked as though they had been etched onto a sheet of infinite paper.

 At Hill Top too, after such glorious spring weather, it felt as though we had fallen back in time; a glimpse of a different winter altogether.

By lunchtime the sky had cleared once more, and spring had re-established itself. My favourite time of year in the Lakes, daffodils opening out along the verges where only hours before they had waited as still as the air, visitors coming back to the ticket office to see where next they could go to explore and enjoy the day, blue-tits and chaffinches darting down to the windowsill by our front door to take the food that the house staff put out. After such an unpromising start, the day could not have had a better end. If you've never been to Hill Top this early in the season, perhaps this is a good year to come.

ticket office Ian

23 March 2014


I expect that the retail team are feeling like a drove of mad march hares at the moment.
It's certainly been hectic recently but I must say the shops are all looking rather marvellous. You should really come and see for yourself!

Our shops at Hawkshead, Hill Top and the Beatrix Potter Gallery have now been open since February and this weekend our little company became complete with the addition of our Wray Castle shop, which opened yesterday.

A peek inside our enchanting shop within the stunning Wray Castle.

The shop has a fantastic range of beautifully selected items. From stylish home and garden decorations to the iconic Peter Rabbit, delightful books and cosy wool throws. 
And not forgetting our mouth-watering National Trust triple-pack biscuits, featured here.

We have something for absolutely everyone...

...including all you budding knights and damsels out there!

We also took a flying visit to our central office, Heelis in Swindon, this month for a fantastic retail show and tell conference. We have some exciting new items arriving at our shops soon and cannot wait to share them with you.
Like us on facebook to see regular updates and promotions, http://on.fb.me/1gKBveK

Gorgeous new scarves now available in our Hawkshead shop.

Some of you may need a gentle reminder that next Sunday is Mother's Day. 
But fret not pickles, we have some great gift ideas for you!

We love these exclusive National Trust bags.
The laminated canvas saddle bag features a pretty floral print 
and comes with many usefull pockets for your bits and pieces.

Or how about a dose of our intoxicating Di Palomo range?
Choose from a selection of perfumes, soaps, and lotions. With our offer of 30% off at the moment why not go crazy and try them all!?

Tuscan Rose and Fig & Grape, two of our Di Palomo scents.

Everyone loves a home-made gift, especially if it tastes good too so why not get baking for mothers day?
Be inspired with our Just Like Mum Used to Make recipe books. Use our delectable jams and curds to really impress.

Just what you need to get started. 

The weather is rather dreary at the moment so it's a perfect opportunity to come indoors and indulge in some well deserved retail therapy!!

Finally, (not to be outdone by the boys) it's time to sign off with our own musical link.
I dedicate it to our wonderfull retail team for sheer brillance and utter madness. Enjoy!

Words and pictures by Emma, Hawkshead Shop Supervisor.

13 March 2014

I am Curious

I am rather ashamed to write that this is my first attempt at a blog entry. It is one of my goals, this year, to combat my computer illiteracy and my fear of the digital domain. There is only so long that I can hide my ignorance behind a sort of sanctimonious rejection of technology as if I were an angry Luddite. My friends and work colleagues simply do not believe me anymore.
I desired to write this blog, not just to tell everyone about the past few weeks, but also as penance to Caroline for not having my photograph taken with a rather morose looking Vic Reeves.
While the Beatrix Potter Gallery has quietened down somewhat after the tumult of the half term, Kath and I have been compiling a quiz for children. Last year’s quiz was a tremendous success and it was the idea of Visitor Experience Assistant Daisy to have four levels of questions appropriate to different age groups: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. These levels increased in difficulty, of course, from the mildly taxing to the fervently fiendish. The challenge was to keep the experience enjoyable and enlightening.
Our mission, in short, was to make the children really look at the paintings and to experience them fully; their luminosity, their detail and their immense delicacy. It is rather a magical experience to see these illustrations in the flesh, as it were. To be within such close proximity to them and witness the breath-taking skill of a master draftsman who created them over 100 years ago is rather special and such a privilege
So how does one achieve this with questions? How can one prompt children to look closely at each piece? How should these levels be laid out?
Beatrix Potter tailored her illustrations to fit the size of her little books. This was partly to visualize how the finished product would look and also for pragmatic reasons, for it was easier for the engraver to transcribe them into the published article.  (On many illustrations, one can see Beatrix’s pencil marks where she has measured the width and height of her little creations.) Just imagine, therefore, the sheer amount of detail that Beatrix has crammed into such small spaces.      
Kath and I decided that the bronze questions should dedicate themselves to details. These questions are for very young children, so the key here was simplicity. We composed questions such as: what colour is Jemima’s bonnet? How many squirrels are fishing in “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin?” What is Johnny Town-Mouse carrying? What can be spotted behind Jeremy Fisher as he is walking through his house?
This year’s exhibition has such an eclectic mix of bits and pieces that it became important for us that the quiz did not focus solely on illustrations from the stories. We wanted children to think about the whole nature of holidays and compare Victorian excursions to modern day holidays. How are they different? How are they similar? Would you include two bird skeletons in your luggage? Would you dedicate huge amounts of time to studying the movement of fungal spores? Perhaps not. But perhaps you would collect shells and fossils and perhaps you would take your pets on holiday with you. Although, admittedly, not as many as Beatrix did.     
This year of course, we are frightfully lucky to have the cabinet of curiosities on display. This is doubly exciting as it has never been on public display before. We thought it integral to include teasers on this marvellous piece of natural history and Kath came up with several questions the answers to which can only be found by searching on the touch-screens.
The search for Platinum questions led us on quite a journey. Kath and I scoured the paintings and photos and information boards for the minutest detail, the most cryptic clue, any frustratingly unfathomable enigma. I decided that the subject of Victorian and Edwardian fashions was becoming increasingly distant from the minds of today’s youth, so I included four questions about hats. We also included questions about Beatrix’s unpublished stories and finally, a fiendish riddle that incorporated the myth of Medusa and a deadly reflection. After noting the puzzled faces from our colleagues, we knew it was ready to be unleashed on the unsuspecting public.
The prize? Honour, dignity, and a rather fetching badge with Pigling Bland on it.
On a slightly different note, I’ve noticed that Pete the gardener always finishes his Blog posts with a musical link. As many will know; I’m rather an admirer of horror films and when speaking to visitors I regularly have to stop myself from accidently calling “the cabinet of curiosities,” “the cabinet of Dr Caligari.” And so, I leave you with this, and remember: "Du Musst Caligari Werden!"   

7 March 2014

Poets and Piles

After the wettest, gloomiest, most miserable winter I can remember, it's finally starting to feel like spring in the Lake District. Although it's been an unusually mild winter with only a handful of frosts and no snow at all, spring is springing about when it always does and the daffodils in the garden are bang on time for their second week in March debut.
We've had a few warm, sunny days recently and I've taken the opportunity to air out my musty-smelling van and dry off my 'never really been dry since November' gloves.

Gloves drying in the sun

Okay, here's a question for you. What was William Wordsworth's favorite flower? Hands up who said 'daffodils'. Well you're wrong, it was the celandine, and to prove his love for this unassuming flower he wrote not one, not two but three poems about it. This is the least dreary of the three (sorry Wordsworth fans).

To The Small Celandine    

Pansies, lilies, kingcups, daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as there's a sun that sets,
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are violets,
They will have a place in story:
There's a flower that shall be mine,
'Tis the little Celandine.

Eyes of some men travel far
For the finding of a star;
Up and down the heavens they go,
Men that keep a mighty rout!
I'm as great as they, I trow,
Since the day I found thee out,
Little Flower!--I'll make a stir,
Like a sage astronomer.

Modest, yet withal an Elf
Bold, and lavish of thyself;
Since we needs must first have met
I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
'Twas a face I did not know;
Thou hast now, go where I may,
Fifty greetings in a day.

Ere a leaf is on a bush,
In the time before the thrush
Has a thought about her nest,
Thou wilt come with half a call,
Spreading out thy glossy breast
Like a careless Prodigal;
Telling tales about the sun,
When we've little warmth, or none.

Poets, vain men in their mood!
Travel with the multitude:
Never heed them; I aver
That they all are wanton wooers;
But the thrifty cottager,
Who stirs little out of doors,
Joys to spy thee near her home;
Spring is coming, Thou art come!

Comfort have thou of thy merit,
Kindly, unassuming Spirit!
Careless of thy neighbourhood,
Thou dost show thy pleasant face
On the moor, and in the wood,
In the lane;--there's not a place,
Howsoever mean it be,
But 'tis good enough for thee.

Ill befall the yellow flowers,
Children of the flaring hours!
Buttercups, that will be seen,
Whether we will see or no;
Others, too, of lofty mien;
They have done as worldlings do,
Taken praise that should be thine,
Little, humble Celandine!

Prophet of delight and mirth,
Ill-requited upon earth;
Herald of a mighty band,
Of a joyous train ensuing,
Serving at my heart's command,
Tasks that are no tasks renewing,
I will sing, as doth behove,
Hymns in praise of what I love!

 William Wordsworth


21 February 2014

Ready, steady, timber!

After all the frantic preparations we're open again - and it was alright on the day!
There's a real buzz about the start of a new season, getting back with old friends and looking forward to getting to know the new seasonal team - not to mention greeting all our visitors.  We also get a sneak preview of the new exhibition in the Beatrix Potter Gallery (lots of things we didn't know about Beatrix on holiday) and the little touches in Hill Top house which suggest she might have just returned from one.
There was some quick painting of the toilets at Hill Top and some hard work by Janet cleaning up all my splashes!  (You don't want a picture of that!)
It's an ill wind - our green entrance sign was a casualty of the wind - so we've got a brand new one which is much prettier. 

Luke putting up our new sign 
Apart from that, we escaped lightly weather-wise - just one or two extra lakes and a few trees down on Claife Heights.

Sam (the ticket office dog) reckons trees are easier to climb when they've fallen.  This one is in Ash Landing car park.   
 The rabbit (part of the children's trail at Hill Top) seems to be doing fine tree climbing - and proved difficult to find.  Other ducks and rabbits can be found kite flying, swinging and bird watching to complete their '50 Things'

 I thought this was a 'white van' convention but turns out they were working on the electricity supply for Claife Courtyard!

14 February 2014

Mending fences

In my last post I wrote that I had a number of dry weather jobs to do before Hill Top opened its doors for the new season, and one of those jobs was to replace the paddock fence. 
Unfortunately (but rather predictably) it rained, and then it rained some more and then it snowed a bit before turning back to rain. But the Ranger team, who's assistance I had called on, are made of stern stuff and not deterred by torrential rain and ankle deep mud so we carried on regardless.

The first task was to remove the old fence. I had already taken the rails off with the help of volunteer Dean and taken out most of the staples holding the rabbit netting on. The old posts came out quite easily with the aid of my home made post puller, although we did have to dig out the 'straining posts' which were deeply buried. 

My home made post pulling contraption made light work of the old posts

New posts, neatly laid out
The new posts, sawn from larch from our own woods, were hammered in to the old post holes making sure they were straight, upright and parallel with each other. The rails could then be nailed on, making sure they followed the slope of the ground. 

 After that, the straining wires were stapled onto the posts and tightened to provide a firm support for the new rabbit netting which was held in place with 'hog rings'. The bottom of the netting was buried in the ground to deter any really determined bunnies from burrowing under the fence.
It all got a bit muddy

The last job was to cut the tops off the new posts to make them all the same height and chamfer the rough edges with a surform (no-one likes splinters)!

The useable old posts and rails will be repurposed as compost bins or added to my log pile and used to keep my house warm next winter. The old wire will go for scrap.

Just as we were getting the fence finished, Russ and Damien from our building department arrived to put up the new rose trellis. Also made from home grown larch, it's a slightly different design, based on an old photo from 1914. 

Although both the fence and the trellis look a bit new at the moment, the wood will weather to a silvery colour over the coming months and blend in nicely with their surroundings.

All finished (and still raining)!
Huge thanks to Claire, Craig, Paul, Jaz, Paul, Jo, Russ, Damien and Dean who all helped and I dedicate this months musical link to them.

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener

30 January 2014

Children's Corner at the Beatrix Potter Gallery

Did you know that at the Beatrix Potter Gallery we have a nice cosy Children's Corner - with books and activities suitable for children of different ages?

We've been busy over the Winter making sure there are nice new books that reflect our theme for this year; "On holiday with Beatrix Potter."

We have a Maisy Goes on Holiday Story Sack - aimed at our younger visitors. If you don't know what a 'Story Sack' is - it's literally a story book in a sack (or in this case a lovely 'Herdy' Bag). The idea is that an adult reads the main story to the child and then they use the 'props' in the bag to re-enact or talk about the story. There is usually a more factual book included and a game to play also.

For younger children we also have a beautiful Beatrix Potter themed frieze with magnetic characters and objects on - creating stories in this way certainly fires the children's imaginations.

As our theme is 'Holidays' this year - we also have a wee suitcase that the children can pack and unpack with the kind of things they'd take on a seaside holiday!

One of our very special new exhibits this year in the Beatrix Potter Gallery, is the Natural History Cabinet; full of specimens that Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, collected. You can see butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, but also shells, rocks and fossils. This cabinet has been very kindly loaned to us by the Beatrix Potter Society.

We've taken the theme of Natural History for the older children's books, including the wonderful true story of Mary Anning, a little girl who found a very important fossil.

Beatrix loved to scramble about looking for fossils while on holiday and she wrote in her journal about a conversation with an elderly gentleman that she met - which shows her magpie like collecting manner!
"He seems to think it positively improper to collect fossils from all over the country, but I do not feel under obligation to confine my attention to a particular formation [...]. I beg to state I intend to pick up everything I find which is not too heavy."
And of course, after all,  we are the Beatrix Potter Gallery and we shall have Storytellers in the Gallery reading Beatrix's lovely stories to both children and adults alike! So if you'd love to hear The Tale of Peter Rabbit read aloud  - please check with us when our storytellers will be in.

17 January 2014


Did you know that Beatrix Potter took two bird skulls on holiday with her?  We'll be revealing more about Beatrix Potter and her holidays at Hill Top and the Beatrix Potter Gallery this year.

The skeletons I've been looking at are those of winter trees up on Claife Heights on the west shore of Windermere. 

The larch branch looks creepily like an elbow.

Winter oaks against a backdrop of yachts on Windermere

The smooth bark of a grand old beech

As mentioned last week, we do get a lot of rain around here.  Rainfall is generally higher in the west of Britain which is not so good for sunbathing and BBQs but excellent for all sorts of mosses, lichens and liverworts.  We tend to take it for granted that our winter trees, rocks and anything which stands still for too long becomes festooned in cloaks of brilliant green - until someone comes from the dreary south or east and raves about them!

Moss tends to grow on the north side of trees.  This is shaded from the sun so doesn't tend to dry out.  So, if you're lost in a wood ........  The same applies to algae so woods often have a green tinge on their north side.  This is why I hadn't noticed the moss and ferns on this tree on Claife Heights before.  I usually do the walk from Claife Viewing Station northwards through the wood and then return along the lake shore.  One day I did it the other way round - a completely different view.

How many different types of moss can you find?

10 January 2014

Rain, rain, go away...

As you may know, the Lake District is blessed with more than it's fair share of rain, and although it has been a mild winter so far, there has been no shortage of precipitation!

It's handy at this time of year to have a few 'wet day jobs' in reserve for when it's just too horrible to work outside, and one such job presented itself this week. 

Although we don't keep bees at Hill Top, we do have a beehive which can be found nestling under a big slate slab built into one of the vegetable garden walls. The alcove created by the slab is known as a 'Bee Bole' and was used in days gone by to keep traditional coiled straw beehives, known as 'Skeps', out of the rain. With the invention of modern waterproof hives, bee boles became redundant but many still survive in old walls around the country. There's even a National Bee Boles Register (of which the one at Hill Top is number 0034), where you can search for ones near you, if you're that way inclined.

Of course the straw skeps which once graced our bee bole are long gone but at some time in the early 1900's a 'modern' hive was put in their place. We know this because we've got a picture of it; it's on page 12 of 'The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck'.

Beehive top left
The view today. I know.....the hive's the wrong way round!

The most recent replacement for the modern hive doesn't quite fit in the bole, and one edge of it is exposed to the weather which means that every few years it needs repainting. I've taken it into my shed to dry it out and the next really wet day we get, I'll sand it down and give it a couple of coats of fresh paint ready for the new season. Funnily enough inside the hive was a small wasps nest, fortunately deserted!

Tiny wasps nest, no wasps!
Incidentally, did you know that the average worker bee makes just one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime of just five to six weeks? and to make a kilo of honey, bees have had to fly on average 90,000 miles?

I've got a few other wet day jobs up my sleeve including the big yearly seed order and various bits of machinery maintenance but I have a lot more 'dry day' jobs so lets hope the weather gods smile on us for the next few months and keep the rain to a minimum.

For my musical link this time, I could have gone for anything by the excellent Swedish band The Hives or maybe something by techno group Nightmares on Wax, but in the end there was only one choice.

And finally a poem by Ogden Nash-

I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener/Beatrix Potter.