28 April 2012
I am sitting writing this at the end of a fantastic day at the end of a fantastic week in the perfect lakes: an area that I have longed to visit for years and have only driven past en route to or from Scotland. So I can’t describe how thrilling it has been to come at last.
Yesterday we had lunch with friends of a friend, who live in the extraordinary Victorian house overlooking Derwentwater that was rented by the Potter family in the year 1903 when Beatrix was in one of her most productive moments- it was here that she wrote The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Mrs Tiggywinkle, and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. It was remarkable to walk through the unchanged walled vegetable garden and see the glasshouses where Mr McGregor chased the young rabbit away. We lunched on roast lamb and potatoes, and gooseberry tart; went rowing in a 19th century boat on the lake; and visited the third floor drawing room the view from which I have photographed here. We were transported to some distant Victorian spring in a moment, and it felt as if nothing had changed in a hundred years.
Timelessness, is, I suppose, a feature of the Lakes; the sheer Victorian-Edwardian quality of the landscape is palpable. Not something, somehow, that I had expected, but of course if you think about it feels inevitable. In happy Cockermouth, where we visited the Wordsworth House, I was more transfixed by one of the most beautiful and brilliant shops I have been in for years, J.B. Banks & Sons; have you seen anything as remarkable as these interiors? If you are not able to visit immediately, you will be thrilled to learn they have a nice website here. Although I’m a bit of a fan, of course, of our friends over at Labour and Wait, or of Mr Alistair Hendy of Hastings, it is still so much more satisfying to come across the real thing – still with the original shop fittings some dating to its foundation in 1836, and which survived the tragic Cockermouth Floods of 2009. My advice? Get there now.
What’s the best thing we’ve seen? I can’t help but wonder if it’s the Pencil Museum at Keswick. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a great museum in my life. Move over British Museum. Boring, Victoria & Albert. Dull, Dulwich Art Gallery. Is there anything nicer than pencils? No, there isn’t. And with quiet wit and a lot of information, the Pencil Museum has taught me everything you could possibly want to know about pencils.
Blackwell, the famous Arts & Crafts house overlooking Windermere, is a house, a place, that is strangely mixed… apart from the view across the lakes from the White Drawing Room bay window that I sneakily took here (note: photography in the house is strictly forbidden).
More romantic? Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s earliest house, or even Rydale Mount, where Wordsworth moved in 1813 until his death in 1850. Here is his sofa. Nice. Well, in fact, better than nice. Beautiful.
But nicest of all? Pottering around the Lakes, enjoying the remarkable Cumbrian landscape, of hills and oaks bursting in to leaf; of unchanged, quiet villages, distant vistas; and best of all, returning at the end of each day, tired from exploring, to the perfect farmhouse that we had rented, and which you can find here, run by the brilliant Jill Green, who is the kindest holiday landlady you could imagine. I don’t think I’ve had as relaxing, as happy, and quietly perfect a trip in years.