Thursday, 4 October 2018

On National Poetry Day

Hello, thank you for calling in, I hope all is well?  I'm just popping in quickly because today is National Poetry Day in the UK and I couldn't let it go unmarked.  The theme this year is "Change" but even before I discovered that, I had already chosen the poem I wanted to share with you.  I first came across this poem when I was in my twenties in a book called Looking & Finding which was written by Geoffrey Grigson in 1958, a children's book which is described as "an invitation to become inquisitive and to wonder at the curious things made by man over vast stretches of time."  Even though I didn't find this book until I was an adult, I adore it and have read it many times.  I'd like to share with you this passage:
 
"I do not expect that everybody is going to develop into an expert.  There isn't any need to do everything in imitation of experts or too seriously.
 
It is not a bad thing to give yourself pleasure and delight, so long as your pleasures and delights do not get in the way of other people or upset them.
 
It is not a bad thing to be inquisitive and to wonder."
 
Isn't that lovely?  I'm not an expert in anything - in fact, I have often described myself as a "Jill of all trades, master of none"-  but I am inquisitive and I do wonder, and my explorations give me pleasure and delight.
 
Grigson writes, "Exploration - or looking and finding - is... a kind of long, personal poem, written, read, and enjoyed by the explorer.  All poems in a way are records by imaginative explorers..." and he goes on to suggest four poems to his readers.  One of them is this, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and first published two hundred years ago.
 
Ozymandias
 
                                                    I met a traveller from an antique land,
                                                    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
                                                    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
                                                    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
                                                    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
                                                    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
                                                    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
                                                    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
                                                    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
                                                    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
                                                    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
                                                    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
                                                    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
                                                    The lone and level sands stretch far away.
 
I'll just leave that there for you to ponder upon, but I do wonder if any of you have a poem you would like to share today?
 
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Looking for St Milburga

Hello, thanks for popping in, I'm so pleased to see you here.  I think I'm unravelling the tangled threads of all the blog posts I have swirling around in my head now, writing about Greyfriars last time helped to make the space the others needed to spread themselves out so that I could catch hold of the ends.  Today's post is about a road trip the Best Beloved and I took to find St Milburga, a trip I've wanted to do for years.  It's the ninth and final item on my Summer List - well not quite, as during the day we took the opportunity to visit another place which I shall share another time, but that wasn't on The List.  You might remember that there were sixteen items on The List, which seemed a reasonable number of things to do over the six week school holiday; it wasn't.  I didn't factor in our week's holiday, or five days at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival, or the days of preparation for those adventures, and then The Mathematician's leaving date was brought forward, which took us by surprise and threw out some of my plans.  When the school holiday was over and I still had seven items left on The List I initially thought that I could carry on with them until the summer was over - today, the last day before tomorrow's equinox - but then I decided that I was quite happy with the nine things I have done.  Some of them have been places I have wanted to visit for a long time but never got round to before; I have read three novels which have been sitting on my shelf for more than ten years;  I have done things which I know make me happy.  My Summer List gave me a focus for the long school holiday, weeks which it would have been easy for me to drift through otherwise, especially now that my nest is empty.  The seven undone things can wait, and I shall make a list next summer, learning the lessons from this year.  So here, without further ado, is the last item I ticked off my Summer List.
 
9.  Finding St Milburga
Milburga was born in the seventh century AD when England was ruled by the Anglo Saxons and divided into kingdoms.  Her father was King Merewald of Magonset, a sub-kingdom of the Kingdom of Mercia which probably corresponds to the modern-day Diocese of Hereford and so includes South Shropshire (I know, it's confusing that church dioceses don't follow county boundaries even when they share a county name, but there you are); her mother was St Ermenburga and Milburga (or Mildburh or Milburgh) was the eldest of three daughters, all of whom became saints.  (Talk about high achievers!!)
 
In around about 680AD a nunnery was founded at Much Wenlock, funded by Milburga's father and her uncle, King Wulfhere of Mercia, and so the faithful and virtuous Milburga took the veil, eventually becoming Abbess.  The nunnery is said to have thrived as a beautiful and gentle place under her leadership, like Paradise, full of fruit, flowers and herbs, a real Heaven on Earth.  The saintly Milburga did not confine herself within this Eden but went out into the surrounding countryside to work with the people who lived there, organising evangelism and pastoral care in South Shropshire, and that is why I like her.  She wanted the world to be a better place and she walked the talk.  There are many stories about the miracles she performed.

One such story tells how she raised a dead child to life, another how she restored sight to the blind, another how she exercised power over birds so that they didn't damage the crops in the fields - after she died, her name was invoked to protect crops against birds.  In particular, there is a story about her preventing a flock of geese decimating a crop which you can find here.  (Honestly, I would hop over if I were you, it's a good read.)  Much later, pilgrims visiting her tomb would buy little geese made of lead as souvenirs.  I suppose it's all the usual kinds of saintly miracles, really.  Of course, as she was a fair princess, there are also the usual stories about her escaping the clutches of amorous young men and in one of those, she fled across the little River Corve, a tributary of the Teme, the waters swelling and rising behind her to hold back the potential suitor.  In another story Milburga was riding her white horse, being chased by men with nasty intentions when, a quarter of a mile away from Godstoke, she fell and gashed her head on a rock.  Some men who were sowing barley in the field opposite ran to help her but there was no water to revive her or bathe her wound, so her horse struck the rock with its hoof and a spring of water gushed out of it.  The men were then able to help Milburga and she blessed the spring and commanded it to flow forever.  She also commanded the barley seeds to grow and they did, pushing up green shoots immediately.  Milburga then told the men that if her nasty pursuers asked them if they had seen her, they should reply that she passed that way when they were sowing the barley.  (Wasn't that clever?  The pursuers would imagine that to have been weeks beforehand but the men wouldn't have had to lie.)  Milburga then mounted her horse and rode off, safely. By the time the nasty pursuers arrived that evening the barley had grown so much that the men were harvesting it and the nasty pursuers turned away.  Godstoke became known as Stoke St Milborough and the spring has been providing water for the village ever since, becoming known for its miraculous healing powers.

I am not sure when Milburga died as the sources I have read give conflicting years between 700 AD and 727 AD, although all agree that it was 23rd February.  She was buried near the altar of her abbey in Much Wenlock.  In 874 AD the abbey was destroyed by the invading Danes (Pillage and Plunder!), in 1050 it was restored but shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066 it was destroyed again.  A few years later it was rebuilt as a Cluniac priory and in 1101, during the course of the building work, Milburga's tomb was rediscovered.  It became a popular pilgrimage site but in 1547, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, her bones were burnt on a bonfire.  No more pilgrimages.

So one morning the Best Beloved and I set out for Stoke St Milborough on the slopes of the Brown Clee, Shropshire's largest hill.  We parked the car outside the lych gate and walked up through the churchyard to St Milburga's Church, one of only four in England which are dedicated to her.  This building has stood since the thirteenth century, although there was probably a church on this site before then, and it has been altered several times since.  The builders really didn't choose a good site: the earth is wet beneath, too unstable for the solid, stone walls, which have had to be strengthened and rebuilt.  However, I think it's pretty; I especially like the seventeenth century porch with its herringbone brickwork.



The door was not locked (hooray!) so we were able to go inside, where a list of rectors and vicars is displayed which shows an unbroken chain from 1272 AD to the 1980s.

 The roof of the nave was replaced in 1707.
 


The carving on this oak beam says
THOMAS WALL               JOHN COLLINS
 CHURCH          1707       WARDDENS 
FRANSIS HARPAR                                                                      CARPENDAR        
                


The archway you can see in this photograph was built in the thirteenth century and within it, a modern door leads into the base of the tower where a small kitchen has been installed.  Churches may not have needed kitchens eight hundred years ago but they do now so that the congregation can enjoy tea and coffee after the services!  The water in the kitchen is piped there straight from St Milburga's Well.  Now, let's have a closer look at that modern door. -


Can you see the geese carved over the door?  They were the only sign of St Milburga that I could find.  I was very disappointed.  I had hoped to see her depicted in stained glass or an embroidered banner or something.  Apparently there are embroidered kneelers which tell her stories but they were not prominently displayed and I missed them.  To tell the truth, I felt a bit let down.  The Victorians imposed one of their common "restorations" in 1859, leading the writer Augustus Hare to comment that the church was "utterly ruined" and "now without interest", and in 1911 it was "rerestored", the Victorian oak floor being removed, the plaster stripped off and the old box pews, which were found nailed down underneath the nave seating, retrieved and refashioned into new choir stalls and panelling for the chancel and sanctuary.

So I left St Milburga's Church, feeling a bit flat at not having found her there, and we drove a little way up the hill to find her well.  There beside the road we found the gate, green from lack of sunlight, with a latch in the shape of a goose head.  A pump stood beside it, ivy stretching up towards the top.  I held the cup I had brought with me under the lion's mouth and turned the knob expectantly but no water gushed forth.  I felt a bit disappointed, again.



Through the gate and down the steps we found the well, which was first recorded in 1321.  I don't think it was always held in much respect: at one time, the villagers used to wash their clothes in it, beating them out on a flat stone beside it!  It was covered over in 1873 and again in 1906, and by 1945 the water was piped to six houses, but now it flows freely down the hill to join a stream at the bottom and anyone is able to enjoy it's "healing properties".  It does make you wonder about all those people enjoying tea and coffee at the church, doesn't it?  I wonder if they are all super-healthy!

 Can you read the name MILBURGA carved into the face of this stone?
 

I still didn't feel that I had really come close to finding Milburga, so we got back into the car and drove through the beautiful Shropshire countryside to Much Wenlock.  The road took us through the Corvedale, the broadest valley in the Shropshire Hills, and although we were too far away from the river to see it, I couldn't help but think of Milburga riding across the fields, escaping her would-be suitor.  Arriving late in the afternoon, we parked beside the ruined Wenlock Priory and made our way into the site (it's managed by English Heritage and there is a charge).  We have been here many times before and it is a special place, so quiet that you don't realise that you are right in the town.  There is a plant nursery on the site of the old monk's garden and a woman who works there once told me that the monks chose wisely because the temperature there is always one degree warmer than it is in the rest of the town.  The sun peeped out so we found a shady bench to sit on while we ate our ice creams and as we sat there I realised that I had found St Milburga at last.  I was quite sure that I could feel not quite her presence, but the essence of her in that peaceful, beautiful place.



 So, the summer is almost over.  It's been good, very good, autumn has always been my favourite season but this year I think I have fallen in love with summer, but I am ready to bid farewell.  Autumn begins tomorrow - and Strictly Come Dancing begins tonight!

See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 
 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Greyfriars

Hello, thanks for calling in.  I'm sorry, I meant to be back here sooner, I seem to have quite a lot to share with you but it's all tangled up in my head and I can't unravel all the threads.  I think I'm a bit out of sorts.  I know I need to finish off my summer list posts but I can't get to them yet.  I think I need to tell this story first.
 
Opposite the church which I used to attend there stood a bungalow.  It was large, built of dark grey brick and looked sombre and imposing, standing on top of a mound like a Norman motte, tall hedges surrounding its large, well-kept garden.  I knew the elderly widow who lived there as I saw her in church with her cousin twice a week until she became too frail to attend, when I used to visit her in the bungalow.  I would share Holy Communion with her, setting out the vessels on the pristine, white tea towel which she would place on the dining table for that purpose and she would give me the little square brown envelopes, each with a date stamped on the front, into which she had carefully placed the coins which were her weekly offering.
 
She told me how she and her husband were married in the church a few years after the end of the Second World War and when we had a wedding fair at the church, she lent me her wedding photograph and her wedding dress to display, a tiny dress with a halter neck which her mother had shortened so that she could wear it to her employer's Yule Ball, but by the time Christmas came, she had put on so much weight that it no longer fitted her.  She told me how her husband had bought the land on which the bungalow stood in the 1950s from a woman who kept chickens there and how he had built the bungalow himself, from foundations to roof tiles.  When I asked her how long it had taken him to build it she said, "Eighteen months, and he always said that it took his youth!"  She told me that he called their new home Greyfriars because it was built of grey bricks and it was near the church.
 
The last time I saw her was at the funeral of her cousin's husband.  Her son and his wife brought her across to the church in a wheelchair which she insisted on leaving at the door so that she could walk down the aisle, slowly and purposefully, supported on each side.  She didn't recognise me.  "Is it Helen?"  she asked.  No, I am not Helen.
 
Last week I drove past the church and as I looked to the other side of the road, I noticed that Greyfriars has been demolished; I felt sad.
 
See you soon. 
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Summer List Week Five - Following in the Footsteps of Wilfred Owen

Hello, thank you for calling in, it's lovely to see you here.  Thank you especially for your empathetic comments on my last post; I keep walking into The Mathematician's (almost) empty bedroom, feeling the silence and having a little think about her.  I'll be OK - and yes, thank goodness for modern technology which enabled her to give us a laptop tour around her new flat over the weekend.  



I'm sorry I've neglected you - we spent the bank holiday weekend at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival, came home on Tuesday afternoon, unpacked the car and were pooped!  I was ill in bed for the next day or two but recovered in time to travel south at the weekend to celebrate a nephew's eighteenth birthday.  I've had a lovely time (apart from the ill in bed bit, obviously).

During the week leading up to the Folk Festival I ticked a few more things off my Summer List.  One of them was this:

7.  Read Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy

There are three novels contained in this volume, written in rather small print!  In fact I began the first, Regeneration, a week before the school holidays started but I finished it and read the other two during the holiday weeks.  They are set during the months July 1917 to November 1918 and are about the psychological effects of the First World War on young army officers.  The third book, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize in 1995 and here's an extract which moved me to tears.

  On the edge of the canal the Manchesters lie, eyes still open, limbs not yet decently 
  arranged, for the stretcher-bearers have departed with the last of the wounded, and 
  the dead are left alone.  The battle has withdrawn from them; the bridge they 
  succeeded in building was destroyed by a single shell...
  The sun has risen.  The first shaft strikes the water and creeps towards them along
  the bank, discovering here the back of a hand, there the side of a neck, lending a
  rosy glow to skin from which the blood has fled, and then, finding nothing here that
  can respond to it, the shaft of light passes over them and begins to probe the
  distant fields. 

This tome has sat on my To Be Read bookshelf for several years, waiting for me to be ready to tackle it because its contents are quite meaty (the pencil marks inside show that it cost 50p in a charity shop).  In the last months leading up to the centenary of the Armistice, it was a good choice.  

8.  A Wilfred Owen Road Trip
The poet Wilfred Owen  appears as a minor character in Regeneration and The Ghost Road and I think I have told you before that for many years, his poem Dulce Et Decorum Est was my favourite (it is also, of course, the poem which I have read aloud when I have visited the Poppies sculptures).  In June I attended an illustrated talk about Owen's life and although I knew that he was born in Oswestry in Shropshire, I hadn't realised until then that he lived in Shrewsbury with his family when he was young.  The speaker told us that on summer Sunday evenings they would walk through Monkmoor Meadows to the River Severn where they would use the hand ferry to cross the river to Uffington Church in time to attend Evensong.  I had a mind to go and find the house and then visit the church and although the hand ferry is long gone, I hoped to find its traces.  I should say that I really wasn't bothered about walking through the meadows, firstly because they pass under the busy A49 with its noisy traffic, and secondly because they are next to a sewage works with its attendant smells!  So, on a lovely sunny day we set off to find 69 Monkmoor Road.  The house was newly built when the Owen family moved in in 1910 and Wilfred's father, Tom, named it Mahim after the Mahim Railway Station in Mumbai (then Bombay) where he had worked for four years before he was married.  Wilfred's bedroom was the attic room.



Hmm. 1910-1918.  Those dates were a disappointment to me because they meant that Wilfred was seventeen years old when they moved here, not the child I had imagined.  In the autumn of 1911 he went to Dunsden in Oxfordshire to work as a lay assistant to the vicar, returning home to Shrewsbury in 1913 before moving to France later that year to work as a language tutor.  He remained in France for the next two years before joining the British Army in 1915 and he was killed in action in 1918 so really, he didn't "live" at Mahim for very long at all.

We got back in the car and drove the short distance to Uffington where, to my enormous disappointment, the church was locked, and you know how much I like to visit a church. However, we walked down the path behind the church and found ourselves in a rather lovely churchyard where we discovered that we were right on the riverbank. The Best Beloved went to investigate and found the steps which we reckon led down the banks to the ferry.  I sat on a bench in the sunshine and imagined Wilfred arriving with his parents and three siblings.  It was a lovely, peaceful spot.  Then I remembered that the church bells were ringing to announce the Armistice on 11th November 1918 when Tom and Susan Owen received the telegram which gave them the news that Wilfred had been killed one week earlier.



A few miles away from Shrewsbury lie the remains of a city which the Romans called Viroconium or Uriconium and which we call Wroxeter.  It was the fourth largest Roman city in Britain, having a population of about 15,000 at its peak, and what remains is substantial - the wall traditionally known as the "Old Work" is the largest free-standing Roman ruin in Britain.  Wilfred used to cycle there, sometimes with his brother or with a friend, sometimes by himself, to have a look at the archaeological excavations which were going on there, or to dig about for ancient remains himself.  In the summer of 1913, after he had come home from Dunsden and before he went to work in France, he wrote Uriconium, An Ode which is regarded by some as his first war poem.  The Best Beloved and I drove there from Uffington and although we have visited many times before, this was the first time I had visited with Wilfred alongside me.



Since our road trip I have discovered that there is a walking trail around Shrewsbury which includes other houses which the Owen family lived in before they moved to Mahim.  I really enjoyed walking with Wilfred, although I felt the poignancy of what I knew was coming, so I feel another trip coming on.

I did manage to tick another item off my summer list during that week, but I'll tell you about that next time.  I'd like Wilfred to be the star of this post.

See you soon.



Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x







  

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Summer List - Week Four

Hello, thank you for popping in here and thank you for comments on my last post - you're lovely.  The heat has faded and the garden has thirstily gulped down the rain we have had.  In any other summer I would be quite happy with the temperatures (and the amount of rain, it really hasn't been much) but now that I've acclimatised to the extraordinary heat we have had over the last two or three months it feels a bit disappointing.  

The atmosphere here last week was quite intense.  The Mathematician was due to begin her new, post-graduation, grown-up life in Guernsey at the end of this month but on Monday her employer rang her and asked her to start work there on 21st, giving her just four days to sort out and pack up her belongings before sailing from Poole on Saturday.  That girl is amazing.  For twenty-two years she has slept in the same bedroom and now it's almost empty.  Deliveries were made to the charity shop and the recycling centre, a bonfire was lit, a couple of boxes have been stored away and the rest of her life was packed into her little car.  Her father and I were on hand for practical and emotional support and my chick fledged at 3.30am on Saturday.  My nest is empty; the Best Beloved is holding me up.
Amidst the stress, there was an outing: I returned from my holiday to discover that some friends had arranged a trip to Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent to see Poppies: Weeping Window and that they had booked a ticket for me, too.  I have lovely friends!  You might remember that I went to Hereford Cathedral in April to see this sculpture, which formed part of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London in 2014, and its companion piece, Poppies: Wave, at Fort Nelson near Portsmouth in June.  Poppies: Weeping Window is at Middleport until 16th September and this is the last stop of the regional tour before the sculpture goes to the Imperial War Museum London, which will be its permanent home.  
 


As I stood in front of the kiln I had an acute sense that each poppy represented a soldier at the front, tramping through mud, doing his duty.  We are now into the last 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Armistice on 11th November and I am commemorating this in a number of small ways, my visit to Middleport being one of them.  As I did in Hereford and at Fort Nelson, I stood in front of the sculpture and read aloud Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, I played The Last Post on my 'phone and I hoped that the smiling people who were having their photographs taken in front of the poppies understood what the artwork they had come to see was all about.
 
There is a "reflection room" at the pottery in which you can write or draw your thoughts and feelings about the sculpture on a postcard and then hang it up on a sort of washing line (Siegfried Line?).  Some people had written familiar clichés but I suppose that if a cliché exactly expresses how you feel, then there are no other words to use.
We tried the Tea Room and we were not impressed: it seemed to be entirely staffed by young people who were neither experienced nor efficient and we queued and waited for almost half an hour for four hot drinks!  Moreover, as we were sitting outside and ceramic cups were not allowed to be taken outside, we were given our drinks in disposable cardboard and plastic cups, which felt ridiculous in a working pottery!! 

6.  Make A Mojito Key Lime Pie
With all the sorting out and gallivanting going on I only managed to tick one thing off my summer list: I made a mojito key lime pie.  Now that there are only two of us at home and we are trying to eat more healthily I rarely do any baking so it's a bit of an event when I do.  I saw this recipe in a newspaper a couple of years ago and made it for a party where it went down a storm, but I haven't made it since.  I sort of need an excuse to make it and a family barbecue to bid farewell to The Mathematician last week was it.  My biggest difficulty with the recipe was knowing which flan dish to make it in as the recipe calls for "a standard size pie dish".  What on earth does that mean?  I wouldn't have had such vague flimflam from Delia Smith, she would have given me a measurement.  Having decided that my 25cm dish was too big I settled on the 15cm dish but when I tipped in the biscuit crumb mix and it filled the dish to the brim I realised that was too small so I hastily tipped it into the only other suitable dish I have, which has a diameter of 23cm.  To be honest, that was still a little too big as I had to spread the crumbs very thinly (not a bad thing) and the filling was a bit too shallow (not a good thing).  However, the pie was universally declared to be delicious.  Flavoured with rum, lime and mint the mojito lovers declared that it tasted "just like a mojito".  I received a large amount of praise for a small amount of work (but I didn't let on) and I seemed to have made everyone happy - an excellent result, I think! 
 
The recipe suggests decorating the pie with whipped cream but I didn't do that because the filling is made from soured cream and condensed milk and I don't really like dairy with dairy.  However, it would benefit from prettifying and it would be enhanced by something, I just can't decide what.  Perhaps a granita?  Anyway, The Mathematician sent me a message on Tuesday morning asking for the recipe.  I sent her the link and at 7.51pm precisely she sent me this photograph. -
 
 
Isn't she a star?  Rather than making a biscuit crumb crust she bought a sweet shortcrust pastry shell and once her pie was baked and cooled, she decorated it with squirty cream. 
 
The website which originally provided this recipe no longer exists and the one which currently bears it is closing down at the end of September so if you'd like to have a go at making this mojito key lime pie, you might want to save the recipe somewhere.  (Obviously, being a bit old-fashioned, I have the copy which I carefully cut out of the newspaper and stuck into a folder with glue.)  You may also wish to make a note of the fact that although the recipe calls for "good quality white rum", I used a supermarket's own brand and it was fine, although I did double the recommended quantity for extra "oomph"!
 
So, with a fortnight left of the school summer holiday that's six items ticked off the list and ten still to be tackled.  Hmm, it's beginning to look a bit challenging (although today is Thursday and I've already completed three items this week!).
 
See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Mrs Tiggywinkle Visits Beatrix Potter

Hello, and thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.  You all correctly guessed, I think, that the other special place I visited in the Lake District was Hill Top, the farm which Beatrix Potter bought in 1905 and which she left to the National Trust when she died.  Well really, if I hadn't gone there I think I should have had to change my name!  This was the first property which Beatrix ever bought, using the money from her books and an inheritance, and she loved it for the rest of her life.  This post is about Hill Top and two other houses owned by Beatrix.  It's very self-indulgent and quite long, my only excuse being that I have waited a very long time to visit.  (Actually, I did go to Hill Top when I was twelve years old but the house was closed so I don't think that counts.)


The farmhouse was built in the late seventeenth century, extended in the eighteenth century and the slate porch was added in the nineteenth century - I shall be returning to these details later so please remember them.  Beatrix added a two-storey extension for the tenant farmer and his family, which is now inhabited by the current tenant farmer, and remodelled the interior to make it more comfortable for herself, although she never actually lived there - she lived in London with her parents until she was married in 1913 and although she went to Hill Top as often as she could, she didn't spend more than three months  a year there.  When she died in 1943 she left Hill Top to the National Trust and asked that it remain untenanted and furnished as she had left it.

Hundreds of people visit the house and garden every day and I think the National Trust manages the situation very well, issuing timed entry tickets.  I had done my research and knew that to avoid the busiest crowds, we had to get there either early or late; we opted for early.  The car park is small but we found plenty of empty spaces when we arrived at 9.30am and there were only twelve people in the queue ahead of us, waiting for the ticket office to open at 10am.  I spent an excited half hour chatting to another family in the queue and at last we were given our tickets with the time of 10.05am, which is why we were able to photograph the house without anyone else in the picture. Once inside we were invited to spend as much time as we wanted there and I lingered long after the rest of my family had gone outside to the garden. 

Inside the house the lighting is kept deliberately low, partly to preserve its contents from the destructive effects of light and partly because that is how Beatrix kept it, relying on daylight coming through the windows and, in the evening, on a candle or an oil lamp.  Flash photography is not allowed so I'm afraid the Best Beloved's photographs are not as crisp as he would like them to be.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck are all set at Hill Top and copies of these books are available for visitors to carry around to compare the illustrations to the actual views.  However, I didn't need to borrow them because I had tucked my own fifty-odd year-old copies into my bag before we set out.  Surely that doesn't surprise you?!  So, shall we go inside?


Through the front door we are straight into the room which Beatrix called the Entrance Hall but which Lakeland people would have called the firehouse or the houseplace.  There is Beatrix's own hat upon the chair, with her clogs tucked underneath it.  The fireplace is a replica installed by the National Trust because Beatrix had replaced the original with something more "modern", but not before she had used it to illustrate The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.  (As an aside, this book scared the whatsits out of me until I was about nineteen years old and I am quite sure that it is the basis of my horror of R-A-Ts.)


The other room we can see on the ground floor is the Parlour, a much more elegant room where Beatrix would entertain guests formally.  Please take note of the pair of Staffordshire greyhounds holding hares in their mouths which are on the mantelpiece.


Then we come to the stairs, another familiar scene to anyone who knows The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.


 
 
Once upstairs, there are four rooms to see.  The New Room is actually in the extension and Beatrix called it The Library.  It is a large, light room and the National Trust volunteer explained to me that Beatrix used it as an office as well as her studio.  She painted the view from the window for The Tale of Samuel Whiskers - although the building in the foreground is different, you can follow the lane up the hill.




Then I visited the Sitting Room where Beatrix entertained members of her family and close friends.  The toilet mirror on the chest of drawers belonged to her grandmother and can be seen in The Tale of Tom Kitten.



The Treasure Room contains a dolls' house and although it is not the one which Beatrix drew for A Tale of Two Bad Mice, some of its contents are indeed those which were bought for her from Hamleys' in London by Norman Warne for that Tale.  There is also a cabinet full of treasures and trinkets.


The final room we were permitted to see is a bedroom.  Beatrix slept here only very occasionally and not in this bed, which she  bought for the room after she was married, but she did embroider the valance, according to the guide book: "I have been embroidering a valance for an old 4 poster bed.  I used some old green damask and worked on it with old gold coloured silk." 

After spending a very happy time in the house and lingering for as long as I could, I went outside and found my family sitting in the sunshine by a very special gate which features in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. 
 


I honestly had the most wonderful morning.  I was worried that the National Trust might have "Disnified" the place, if you know what I mean, and I was worried that it would be so crowded that I wouldn't be able to drink it all in properly, but my fears were unfounded.  Hill Top remains true to Miss Potter and honours her properly.  This was one of my holiday highlights.
 
After a little meander around the garden, during which I came across the Head Gardener and thanked him for his work (he has been there for thirty years), we went to the shop and bought a couple of nice souvenirs before exiting through Tom Kitten's gate onto the lane.  As I looked across the field I became quite excited and ordered asked the Best Beloved to photograph a cream-coloured house across the field which I recognised -

This is the house Beatrix actually lived in!  It is Castle Cottage, which she bought in 1909 and moved into with Willie Heelis after they were married in 1913.  They lived there together until she died thirty years later and I couldn't understand why we were the only people looking at it. 

Beatrix loved the landscape of the Lake District and was aware that it depended upon farming for its preservation.  A great supporter of the National Trust, who were trying to preserve it by buying up farms which came up for sale to save them from developers but who had no pool of funds and had to launch an appeal every time this happened, she used to buy said farms and then sell them to the Trust when they had the money, at the price she had paid.  In 1930 she bought the Monk Coniston Estate, several thousand acres of land which included seven farms, cottages, quarries and open land as well as Tarn Hows.  She immediately sold half of the estate to the Trust, who asked her to manage their half as well as her own, which she did in a very business-like way.  One of the farms was Yew Tree Farm, which Beatrix considered to be "a typical north-country farmhouse, very well worth preserving".  The farmhouse was built in 1690, extended in 1743 and a slate porch was added some time later.  Does that ring any bells?



When the film Miss Potter was made in 2006 the National Trust was keen for the film crew to film at Hill Top but it really wasn't suitable so Yew Tree Farm was used instead for the exterior shots, painted a darker colour by the production team.  You can find out more and see some photos here.

Downstairs, the floors are flagged but upstairs, like the stairs and walls, they are made of oak which has darkened with time. 



Lakeland farmers were having a difficult time economically in the 1930s but tourism was increasing and Beatrix felt that the tenants of Yew Tree Farm, which is beside the road between Ambleside and Coniston, could increase their income by opening up their parlour as a tea room so she gave some of her possessions to help make it comfortable and attractive: a grandfather clock, a seventeenth century bible box, two tables, ten chairs, a glass-fronted corner cabinet containing Victorian china and a display case containing letters written by William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and John Ruskin.  She wrote, "I have had the luck to meet with a genuine Cumberland dresser, it looks well."  All of these items are still in the house.


Remember the Staffordshire greyhounds with hares in their mouths in the parlour at
Hill Top?  This pair lives in the corner cabinet at Yew Tree Farm.

I really hope these are facsimiles because they are stuck in with Blu Tack! 

The Cumberland dresser still looks well.
 
The tea room closed long ago, although the farm is still owned by the National Trust.  So are you wondering how I was able to see all of this?  Well... it's let out as a holiday home and (deep breath!) we stayed in it all week!  Every morning I ate my breakfast in that parlour, eating off a table once owned by Beatrix and surrounded by other things which once belonged to her.  It is a very special house indeed and it looked after us very well.  If you want to stay there, you can find out more here.
 
 Before we went on holiday I read The Tale of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane, researched a few months after Beatrix died in 1943, and I thoroughly recommend it to you if you are interested in Beatrix's life.  Margaret had "the confidence and help" of Beatrix's widower, William Heelis, as well as her family and friends and published the book in 1946, revising it in 1986, by which time Beatrix's journals had been discovered and deciphered.  The book presents the tale of a fascinating woman and I am keen to return to the Lake District and discover more about her.


If you have stuck with me this far, thank you very much.  I have rabbited on, but it's important to me to set all of this down here and preserve this wonderful holiday highlight.


See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x