Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 13

Day 13: Ambleside and Lake Windermere (Charlotte Mason, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome)

A long day today with many places to visit. If we are lucky the weather will hold ... if not, then make sure you bring plenty of rain gear! The Lake District is one of the most beautiful parts of England, but also one of the wettest. As I am a Charlotte Mason devotee we will start at Ambleside with a visit to the Armitt Museum. This holds the Charlotte Mason archive and also has a number of items belonging to Charlotte on display, including her writing desk. The museum is at the bottom of the drive leading up to Charlotte Mason's old house, Scale How - now part of St.Martin's College. The photograph above is the one I took last month at great personal cost (bruised knees and a fainting fit!). The one to the left shows a class being taken out of doors in the late nineteenth century. It is too small to tell whether Charlotte herself was the teacher. The location of the college is stunning, overlooked by the fells behind and close to the northern end of Lake Windermere. If we take a brisk walk down to the lake we can catch a ferry south to Bowness. We'll have to settle for an engine where the Swallows and Amazons in Arthur Ransome's story relied on sail.

The southern end of Windermere is Beatrix Potter country. She lived the later part of her life in the village of Sawrey, a hop and a skip across the lake from Bowness. OK, hop and skip is poetic licence. For those of us without nine league boots it is a trip on another ferry - this one more of a glorified raft than a boat. I imagine the ferry in which the hobbits crossed the Brandywine in Lord of the Rings to be a smaller but similar craft, though with horses as cargo, not cars.

Once in Sawrey we can visit Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm, now owned by the National Trust. Beatrix herself was one of the founders of this charitable organisation which preserves large tracts of countryside (including much of the Lake District) and historic buildings. She left Hill Top to the Trust on condition it was kept as it was at her death. Here at Hill Top she wrote many of her beloved children's books, although when she eventually married a local solicitor and Sawrey became her permanent home rather than a holiday bolthole they lived in a larger house in the village. If you want to get a feel for the village as it was in the early twentieth century I recommend the new series of Beatrix Potter mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert, beginning with The Tale of Hill Top Farm.

We can round off the day with a late afternoon walk to enjoy the scenery.