Literary landscape …

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Lake Windermere in the Lakes District. Pic Sarah Nicholson

I SEE why this tranquil corner of England inspired Beatrix Potter to write tales about rabbits and William Wordsworth to pen poems about daffodils.

I’ve only been in the Lake District a couple of hours and I’m already sitting on the deck of a vintage steamer as it drifts across Lake Windermere with my notebook open to compose a paragraph about the view I see from my waterborne perch.

The hot midday sun is laying sequins on the water, the narrow country lanes winding around the lake are defined by centuries-old stone walls, blooms of every hue surround picture-perfect cottages, and sheep graze on hillsides so green they remind me of perfect Granny Smith skins.

I imagine Beatrix and William opening their curtains in the morning and reaching for pen or paintbrush, strolling country lanes and writing on summer nights when the setting sun drops a golden glow on the rural landscape that they see from study windows.

Beatrix Potter

The author responsible for Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Benjamin Bunny discovered the Lake District during childhood holidays and moved to a working farm near Hawkshead in the early 1900s before shifting across the road to a larger house when she later wed local solicitor William Heelis.

I start my first full day in Hawkshead – the hamlet of white houses roughly halfway between Lake Windermere and Coniston Water – and visit the Beatrix Potter Museum now occupying the 17th-century building that served as husband William’s chambers.

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William Heelis’ chambers that now serve at the Beatrix Potter Museum. Pic Sarah Nicholson

I linger in the dark rooms at the top of the narrow steps to peer at dainty original sketches and watercolour paintings featuring the author’s famous characters, read displays detailing her contribution to conservation and farming, and look out a window to spy the view Beatrix would have glimpsed while visiting her husband at work.

Then it’s back in the car to drive the 4km to Hill Top, the farm Beatrix bought in 1906 and moved to after the death of her first fiance Norman Warne. The property is now managed by the National Trust and the cottage is in much the same condition as when the author left it.

There’s the sitting room just inside the front door with a cabinet displaying her favourite plates, a rocking chair by the fireplace, the bedroom with a faded quilt and her glasses resting on a dressing table.

Out in the garden I expect to see Peter Rabbit dash into the vegie patch as I stroll footpaths flanked by bushes with bright summertime blooms and linger at the front door to have my photo snapped in the exact spot I’ve seen the famous resident pose.

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Potter’s Hill Top. Pic Sarah Nicholson

After exploring the grounds, I retire to neighbouring Sawrey House for afternoon tea of scones and cool homemade lemonade, to linger just a little longer in Beatrix Potter territory.

William Wordsworth

The poet was educated in Hawkshead but his real passion for the district started in 1799 when he settled in Dove Cottage on the edge of Grasmere, the village he described as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’’, before briefly relocating to nearby Allan Bank and settling at Rydal Mount in 1813.

I start a second literary day in Grasmere and skirt St Oswald’s Church to see the Wordsworth graves – William is buried in the yard beside wife Mary, sister Dorothy and daughter Nora – before pausing at Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop to try a local culinary icon in what was once the school where the poet taught local children.

It’s an eight-minute walk to Dove Cottage where I join a tour of the rooms William and Dorothy occupied when they first moved to the Lakes before visiting the neighbouring Wordsworth Museum to see handwritten letters and diaries.

I retreat to Grasmere for lunch, sitting on the riverside terrace at The Rowan Tree to gaze across the water at Wordsworth’s church while recharging for the afternoon, then it’s into the car for the 4km drive to Rydal Mount and the estate William lived at from 1813 until his death in 1850.

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William Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount. Pic Sarah Nicholson

The property is still in the hands of Wordsworth descendants, who gather a couple of times a year for special occasions, but when they’re not in residence the stately dwelling is open to the public.

Outside I drift through the garden, designed by the famous resident who surrounded himself with the natural environment that encouraged his work, to find Dora’s Field, the pasture William bought for his daughter and filled with daffodils after her death in 1847.

The writer was a guest of Visit England.

Go2 – The Lake District

Getting there

Located in England’s northwest corner and basically defined by the boundaries of Cumbria’s Lake District National Park, the Lake District is a 90-minute drive from Manchester or a two-hour journey on National Rail to Windermere. See nationalrail.co.uk

Staying there

Langdale Hotel & Spa, 7km from Ambleside near the hamlet of Elterwater, is a delightful place to stay in the Lake District with Waterside Rooms beside a cascading stream and the chefs at Purdey’s restaurant using local ingredients to create a fine-dining experience. See langdale.co.uk

More See golakes.co.uk or visitengland.com

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THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 1, 2015

Click here to see the story online

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