12 May 2015

The Primrose path

May is probably my busiest time of year. After a long winter and a colder-than-average early Spring, we've had a few warm days and everything, flowers, weeds and grass, has sprung to life and is growing like crazy. There isn't much grass to cut at Hill Top but at Monk Coniston, one of the other gardens I look after, there is enough to keep me busy for quite a few hours. I cut it the week before last and I've just been over there and it already needs doing again!

Given the amount of work to do at this time of year, it probably wasn't a great idea to take a week off for a 'boys trip' (or more accurately a 'middle-aged and increasingly decrepit blokes trip'). We stayed in a remote and basic bothy near Inverie in Knoydart on the North-West coast of Scotland, and spent three days mountain biking and walking whilst dodging the rain and snow showers. 

Quite snowy on the tops!

One of the highlights of the trip (apart from the excellent Old Forge which claims to be the remotest pub in Britain) was the sheer number of wild flowers.
On one of our jaunts up an unpronounceable Scottish munro, large areas of the lower slopes were literally covered in wild primroses, accompanied by wood anemones, dog violets, lesser celandine and even a common lizard warming up in the sun. The surprising thing was all these woodland flowers were growing quite happily a long way from the nearest woodland. We came to the conclusion that at one time in the past (before the clearances?) the area would have been wooded, and although the trees have gone, the flowers have remained and are thriving thanks to the very low grazing pressure. We saw quite a few Red Deer but no sheep at all while we were there.

Primroses by the thousand

Back in the real world, my little greenhouse is bursting at the seams with all sorts of vegetable and flower seedlings all waiting until they are big and brave enough to go out and face the slugs and snails and mice and rabbits and cold and wind and rain of Hill Top garden. I've got marrows and broad beans, hollyhocks and everlasting flowers, lettuces and kale, pumpkins and French beans and I'll be planting them out over the next few weeks. I've put in my onion sets and planted potatoes already and I'll be sowing seeds like beetroot, peas and spinach straight into the ground as soon as I get chance. I'll keep you updated on their progress.

Waiting to go out

Other plants looking good at the moment include the white wisteria on the house wall which is just coming into flower and the Azaleas opposite which will soon be their usual riot of colour. Having looked back at some photos from last year, the flowering time seem to be about two weeks behind last year. 

Something which you just have to see and hear if you're in the area is the 'Harmonica Botanica' currently installed in the fern house at Wray Castle. A plant growing in a pot has electrodes clipped to its leaves and roots and the change in resistance as the plant grows is fed into a box of electronic gibbons which converts the signals into wonderful soothing, constantly changing music. One of our visitors found it so relaxing that they fell asleep and missed their bus home! Here's a link showing the Harmonica when it was installed at Cragside, apparently the gardeners there are really missing it. It's at Wray Castle until May 20th so pop along if you can.

My musical link this time isn't one of my all time favourites but it ticked too many boxes to pass up, especially in the week following the somewhat momentous result in the general election 'North of the Border'.

See you next time

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener

17 April 2015

Which animal are you?

Beatrix Potter's animal characters strike a chord with people all over the world.  So what's their appeal?  Unlike Mickey Mouse, which is a caricature of an animal, Beatrix's illustrations are painstakingly accurate.  The shape of the animal is right, even when she has them stand on their hind legs and wear clothes!  Anyone could recognise a rabbit having seen Peter.

This took practice!

Beatrix's sketches of hedgehogs

As well as being true to their physical appearance, Beatrix also has her animals behave as real animals might.  Jeremy Fisher eats butterflies and grasshoppers and lives in fear of being eaten by a pike, rabbits nibble radishes and Mr Tod has designs on Jemima Puddleduck.  These animal characteristics are blended seamlessly with human ones.  Jeremy invites his friends for dinner, Ginger and Pickles run a shop, and so on.

The animals have been chosen carefully to fit the human stories they tell.  When John Taylor's son, the village carpenter, appeared  in 'The Tale of Samuel Whiskers' as the terrier, John Joiner, old John was jealous.  'how could I draw him if he didn't get up' Beatrix is reported to have said, adding that he'd have to be a dormouse!  

We might wonder whether foxes really are cunning like Mr Todd, rabbits mischievous, like Peter or mice house proud, like Mrs Tittlemouse  but it's very difficult not  to link certain animals with human traits.  Or to see people as resembling animals!

Clothes also have to appropriate.  Could Mrs Tiggywinkle have worn anything but a print gown, striped petticoat and apron?  When Mr Tod is turning over Jemima's eggs he is pure fox, without clothes and a successful Jemima at the end appears without bonnet and shawl.

Many of Beatrix's characters were animals she knew.  For example, Peter was modelled on Benjamin Bouncer, the collie in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck based on Beatrix's own Kep and a black Pomeranian living in Sawrey became Duchess in  The Pie and the Patty Pan.

We decided to look at our own animals.  I couldn't decide what Sam should be. 
Cavalier lace collar to go with his curly ears

He looks happier out on a walk

We wondered which animal would represent us in a story.  Maybe a mischievous rabbit like Fran's house rabbit, Bracken,
Definitely plotting something!
or a pony like Jenny's Fell, Jess
'Let's play chase'
 Or a comedian like the goat
The last laugh

You could, of course, use toys as characters.  How about this Herdwick sheep grazing in Hawkshead National Trust shop

We decided Adam was very much like his dog, Pippin.  Both very friendly and waggy tail (Pippin), energetic, keen to work and loyal.

Others see themselves as a dormouse (with attitude), a rabbit, a sheep, a parrot, an elegant horse and a squirrel but I'm not saying who they are!

10 April 2015

Wake up and smell the flowers!

Scientists who know about these things say that our memory for taste and smell is far more acute than for words, faces or places we've been. Marcel Proust, in his ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, wrote that a bite of a madeleine vividly recalled childhood memories of his aunt giving him the very same cake before going to mass on a Sunday.  The phenomenon which is known as 'olfactory evoked recall' is most often associated with scents experienced in childhood and I came across one such scent earlier in the week.

Flowering currant

I was working at one of the National Trust's currently vacant cottages near Coniston, cutting back some climbers which were threatening to engulf the cottage. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and butterflies and bees were busily feeding up after the long winter. The object of their attention was a large flowering currant bush (Ribes sanguineum) and as I walked past, the scent of the flowers transported me back nearly fifty years to the playground of my primary school, where a large flowering currant grew in a tiny border surrounded by tarmac. I didn't know what it was called back then, in fact I was still grappling with the mysteries of the alphabet ('A is for apple so rosy and red, B is for baker who bakes buns and bread, C is for.....well you get the idea) but I vividly remember the scent of the flowers, obviously associated with blissful childhood memories of playtime at my first school (or maybe not, I never really liked school)! 

There are a few scented plants in Hill Top garden at the moment, the most striking of which is a small clump of 'Delft Blue' hyacinths which I planted last Autumn. They smell great but you'll have to get on your hands and knees to really get a good whiff.

Hyacinth 'Delft Blue'

I also planted some scented daffodil bulbs last year (varieties Scilly White, Pencrebal and Geranium if I remember rightly) and these will be coming into bloom in the next week or two. Then it will be the turn of Rhododendron luteum the wonderfully scented yellow azalea, followed by lilacs, old-fashioned sweet peas, roses...there is always something to smell at Hill Top, even if it's only the tantalising aroma of a full English breakfast wafting over from the Tower Bank Arms next door!

I've been busy away from Hill Top this week; as well as the climber pruning in Coniston, I've been working at another NT cottage not far from Hill Top which has been vacant for a few months while it received some much needed building work. The garden was rather neglected and I was tasked with creating a lawn area in front of the house. It seems a simple enough request but the ground was a mass of raspberry canes, nettles and docks and would have been a nightmare to dig over by hand so I hired a rotavator to make things easier. 


Or so I thought! The ground was so rooty and compacted and laced with stones that all the rotavator wanted to do was skip over the surface and it took a considerable effort to get it to dig in and churn up the soil. By the time I had finished I felt like I had spent four hours wrestling with an enraged grizzly bear!

After - phew!

Anyway, it is as near to a fine tilth as it's going to get and the next step is to rake it over, tread it down, level it off and lay the turf. If it looks good when it's finished I'll post a pic up next time.
That's enough for now, the sun is shining and I should be in the garden, I'll leave you with my musical link which could have been 'I Just Came to Smell the Flowers' by Porter Waggoner (unbearably cheesy) or 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by Nirvana (great song but not really relevant) so in the end it had to be this .

See you next time.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.

3 April 2015

"Pace" yourself this Easter!

We've made it! 

We've (hopefully) passed through those dark, rainy and particularly nippy winter months up here in the Lakes. Although no one seemed to tell mother nature – did any of you also have snow last Thursday?! However, I am extremely happy to see the sights of Spring all around me, I've spotted lambs in the orchard, the flowers are trying to poke their heads trough the water logged soil, there is an egg in the garden (although unfortunately not the delicious chocolate kind!) And at this moment I wish I hadn't previously spoken to you about Beatrix's egg heads! 
I for one am definitely looking forward to the warmer weeks that we will hopefully have coming up (maybe that's because I'm a summer baby) even if they don't always like me – I'm pretty pale, almost translucent some could say, so it's factor 30 all the way!.

Spring is not the only thing to have arrived; Easter is here and will be in full swing by the time that this post hits the interwebs.

Trying to think of ideas for an egg-citing entry I'll admit that I found this month's post one of the most tricky, and to be honest I've been putting off writing it for quite a bit. One thing was certain, I wanted to link it to Easter somehow and making it interesting without using too many of those terrible egg puns (though saying that, I seem to have lost some of my willpower and have used quite a few!)
A bolt of inspiration hit me quite uneggspectantly. The other day I remembered an old photograph that was taken by Beatrix up at Hill Top that we have in the collection.

The photo I was thinking of is of a small group of Pace Eggers outside the front of Hill Top.

Sometimes these groups are also known as Mummers, they are people who perform traditional folk plays – you are perhaps thinking that this is old fashioned but surprisingly these groups are thriving across the country.
Back to the Pace Eggers, you're probably thinking 'What the heck are they?!' and to be honest before (finally) settling down to write this post I had no idea either.
After a smidgen of research I discovered that 'Pace Egging' dates back hundreds of years and has been recorded in several northern counties including Lancashire (in which Hill Top used to reside) and Northumbria.

Essentially Pace Egging is a folk play that revolves around a rebirth theme and has strong references to the crusades. It is primarily performed on Good Friday (I think) and according to my research it involves St George fighting many foes including a Turkish Champion. By a sick twist of fate St George then dies but is later brought back to life by a comic doctor.
The Mummers are known to go all out on the costumes; they often blacken their faces for the performance and like to have a bit of craic with the crowd.

Oh and did I mention many groups give several performances on the same day, each at a different pub? So, in my mind it's a bit like a play mixed with a pub crawl – and that can’t be a bad thing!
Unusual it might be but I think it sounds great, so different to anything you would see today and in a way it's totally “British” and we should celebrate our quirky British heritage a bit more often.

Also, is anyone else getting the impression that this slightly follows Jesus' resurrection – although Jesus didn't wear chain-mail armour, or fight dragons, apart from that it's totally similar …

This tradition had all but died out after the First World War when many of the men who would have taken part and performed in this folk play died in action but it's since been brought back to life and is going strong across many northern towns.
This type of folk play can be seen in many locations this year including Middleton, Heptonstall and Bury amongst others – I believe that there are several around the wonderful north so if you fancied seeing one I am sure you might be able to find an opportunity to go.
I for one am seriously intrigued by the whole thing! And would love to learn more about this little known part (for many people) of English heritage.
Who thinks that the north is even more amazing now?! Beatrix and I certainly do! #JustSayin'. And some of you may scoff and say, “pfft but you're Welsh” and yes I am but to that I would say, northern Welsh so it still counts!

If you want to know any more about this intriguing Easter tradition you can try this link or a generic internet search will also do the job.

Back to Beatrix! I've asked Liz why B took a photo of the group but I can only assume that they may have performed a play in the village or close by and she wanted to document it for the future.. maybe? She loved local folk law and the differences that could be found between regions and wanted to preserve them so that they could retain their individuality – this is one thing I have no problem agreeing with her on.

This would also ring true because we also have a short letter that came from Country Life Magazine  in which they send Beatrix a rejection for a short story that she wrote to the publication detailing an idea that she had for a piece about the Pace Eggers. We have a facsimile of the letter out at Hill Top and many of our staff, volunteers and visitors can't believe they rejected her, can you?
If, like me, you've managed to wangle this Easter off (I'm still not sure how I succeeded in this!) why don't you take a sneak peek at your local events and see if you've got a Pace Eggers play in your parts and help to keep this unique tradition alive? Or if Pace Egging isn't your thing then Hill Top is open throughout the Easter period, so come along and say Hi to the team!

As for me I'm off up to the North East to spend Easter with my girlfriend, stuffing my face with a choccy Easter basket type thing my Mum and Matt have put together for us, exploring a castle, a lighthouse and enjoying a proper Easter Sunday dinner :D

Whatever you get up to have an egg-stra fantastic Easter – the weather's not looking too bad.
Enjoy yourselves! :)

Ta ta for now!

Words by Natalie :)


27 March 2015

Field and Farms Forever??

How the landscape Beatrix Potter loved came to be.

It's easy to understand why Beatrix Potter, like many others, fell in love with the Lake District.  The pattern of undulating fields and stone walls sprinkled with farmhouses and woodland, along with the quaint villages and quiet tarns, give it a special feeling of intimacy.  This is set against the grandeur of the fells - when they don't disappear mysteriously into the clouds!
Fields around Near Sawrey  showing Castle Cottage where Beatrix Potter lived as Mrs Heelis

Moss Eccles Tarn above Near Sawrey

However, the landscape, even that of the high fells, is largely man-made and would have been woodland.

People started to change the look of things in the Neolithic (around 6,000 years ago).  Polished stone axes from Great Langdale became the 'must have' gifts exchanged by the upper classes across the country.

The sporadic woodland clearance became more extensive in the later Iron Age (say 300 BC to Romans).  Recently (I mean that - about 2013!) an observant boy found a strange piece of metal in a hedgerow near Hawkshead.  Not convinced that it was a bit of junk, he took it to Kendal Museum and it proved to be an Iron Age sword!  Esthwaite Water was probably larger then so the sword might have been ritually broken and thrown into the water as a gift for the god.
Iron Age sword - broken intentionally (Kendal Museum)
From around AD 300 and through the early medieval the climate became warmer and drier - sorry, you missed it!  The Lake District would have been patched with cereals, grown for food, and blue flax and hemp mainly for their fibres.  No, they weren't all high on cannabis!

The many 'thwaite' names, Norse for 'clearing in a wood' suggests that more woodland was cleared under the Danelaw.  Hawkshead's name derives from the Norseman, Haukr, who had his dwelling, Saetr, there.  Sawrey, a muddy place, had its first mention in 1336 as Sourer and Esthwaite Water is literally the 'water by the easten clearing'.

After AD 1000 more trees went and in the late medieval sheep ruled as there was money in wool and monasteries (in this area Furness Abbey) practised large scale sheep farming in the uplands.  The Court House in Hawkshead served as the administrative centre for this area.  If you want to find out more and look inside, call in the National Trust Hawkshead Corner shop for the key.
The Courthouse, Hawkshead

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Hawkshead developed as a market town and many of the buildings, including the one which houses the Beatrix Potter Gallery and retains many original features, date from this time.  The name 'Rag, Wool and Putty Street' reminds us that much of the 'industry' would have been based on animal products and the air redolent with more pungent odours than that of roast dinners!
Leather, Rag and Putty Street, Hawkshead
Stone walls make good barriers, and shelter, where hedges might be hard to establish and useful places to put stones cleared from the fields.  In medieval times, ring garth walls marked the open fell from cultivated vally bottoms.  Cultivated land was divided as feudalism gave way to individually farmed land.  Finally, the Enclosure Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries led to the long walls crossing even the most forbidding areas of the high fells.

In the late medieval there was a 'Little Ice Age' (ending around AD 1700 but persisting in Hill Top ticket office) which contributed to the spread of mire and acid grassland.
Sam particularly likes mud! (and moves too fast for my camera action)
From AD 1600 to AD 1900 coppicing for charcoal has left patches of overgrown or managed coppiced woodland in which oak and other species may be encouraged to regenerate.

For more on how we're caring for the landscape now, check out the Rangers' blog.

23 February 2015

Hill Top Children's Trail

Beatrix welcomed children to Hill Top, and often wrote to the children of friends, telling them about life in the village and what her characters had been up to. We extend that welcome to today's children, and over half term it has been lovely to see so many young children coming up to Hill Top with their parents.

Cath awaits the arrival of a group of children

Quite a number of our young visitors will attempt the garden trail, which has been a popular activity for a number of years, especially when we are busy and there might be a bit of a wait to get into the house.
This year the trail follows the adventures of the rats Samuel Whiskers and his wife Anna Maria. You may remember, at the end of the story of the Rolly Polly Pudding, these two naughty rats are chased from the house by John Joiner the dog, but manage to bundle a number of items they have stolen into a wheelbarrow belonging to Beatrix.

The abandoned wheelbarrow

For the trail we have imagined that these naughty rats dropped most of their ill-gotten gains along the paths as they ran through the garden; we invite our younger visitors to find six of them scattered around, including the wheelbarrow itself.
They might also want to have a go at drawing the house with its simply arranged windows and central front door - a perfect child's view of a home..

Older children can try deciphering Beatrix's own code that she invented for her diaries when a teenager. We have taken an extract from a letter she once wrote to a young girl who had recently visited the house.

The rats dropped this mixing bowl, but where is it?

The trail is available from the shop near to the entrance to the garden, and children can return to the shop for a sticker when they have completed it.
Good hunting!


16 February 2015


I've been doing quite a lot of digging lately and although my back protests slightly more than it used to, the gain is more than worth the pain for several reasons-

  • It makes the vegetable garden look tidy
  • It's a good way of getting warm on a cold and frosty morning
  • It gives the hungry robins and blackbirds some much needed soft ground to scour for worms and other assorted bugs
  • It turns up slug and snail eggs and exposes them to frost and hungry birds.

Nice and tidy
As I dug away, with my brain in neutral, I noticed a number of fragments of pottery being turned over with the soil. I've noticed them before, they are there every time I dig the veg garden over, but this time I decided they deserved a closer study so I picked up all the ones I found and put them in my jacket pocket.
By the time I had finished digging I had amassed quite a collection....and a pocket full of soil!

Just like Time Team!
So what have we got? Well, the most eye catching are the delicate blue and white willow pattern fragments, presumably from a plate or a cup in someone's best china dinner service. There are a number of plain white china pieces including a cup handle and some much thicker pale brown chunks which I suspect might have been a fairly heavy-duty bottle or storage jar. In the top right of the photo are two pieces that look like they might be from a casserole or pie dish.
At the top of the photo are some fragments of clay tobacco pipes. These were used from the late 1500's until the early 1900's when cigarettes consigned them to history. Clay pipes were fragile and had a fairly short life but replacements were cheap and plentiful. Maybe the ones I found were discarded by a previous gardener, leaning on his spade having a well-deserved smoke.

But where did all the pottery come from? I don't know about you but when I break a plate or a mug my first instinct isn't to throw the pieces into the garden; any right minded person would simply throw them in the bin. Aha! but in the days when the above crockery was broken there wouldn't have been 'bins' as we know them and certainly no regular rubbish collections. So what to do? The pottery bits won't burn so you can't put them on the fire and they won't rot down so there's no point putting them on the compost heap. 
Most large houses had a 'tip' for things like bottles, crockery etc, often located away from the house in a 'quarry hole', perhaps villages had a communal one? Sometimes broken crockery was incorporated into paths, but there is so much stone in the soil here I can't really see the need for extra material. Maybe the broken pieces were used as crocks in the bottom of plant pots to help with drainage and as the plants ended up on the compost heap, so did the crocks. 
Of course the tantalizing question is, did any of these fragments actually belong to Beatrix? Unless Natalie and the house team have some inside knowledge, I guess we'll never know!

Elsewhere in the garden I've ticked off another of my winter jobs by replacing the rustic fence in the vegetable garden. The previous one had been in place for two years and had become brittle and grown an interesting collection of fungi. I made the replacement from sycamore saplings from Monk Coniston garden and a couple of dozen two inch nails.



There's still not much flowering in the garden, the snowdrops are opening their petals on warmer days and the Viburnum tinus which I pruned rather savagely a couple of years ago has put out a few early blooms. 
Although we've had some bitingly cold weather recently, and it might just be wishful thinking on my part, there's a definite hint of Spring in the air (Florence, my ever chilly whippet has even been seen outside without her coat on!) and in honour of that, my musical link this month isn't 'Digging in the Dirt' by Peter Gabriel but this by the excellent Tom Waits.

Happy digging,

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener

6 February 2015

Show Beatrix some love on Valentine's Day!

Someone once told me that the older you get the faster the time goes and I'm beginning to think that this is true. 
The time since my last post and our wintery closed months that followed seem to have passed with a super speedy blur – and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who's feeling this way. I mean it's February already!
THIS is February!
Our Hill Top has been looking a bit odd these past couple of months, the objects have been safely packed away, furniture covered and things have generally been out of place as we carried out the deep clean.
At the time of penning this post I'm pleased to say that it's looking much, much better inside the house and over the last couple of weeks a lot of things are being slowly returned to their rightful homes. It's like the house is coming back to life again and before we know it Hill Top will be open to the public once again.

With so much going on recently I think that the theme of this post is really a little update on what I've been getting up to.

I wish I could say that I've played a big part in putting things back out at Hill Top but I really can't take credit for any of it.

This year I was lucky enough to be allocated a place on the annual Housekeeping Study Days course. This year it was held down in Surrey at Polesden Lacey.

I am sure you'll agree that it's quite a contrast to our little Hill Top! It is an amazing property with a huge and beautiful collection, opulent surroundings and it's share of interesting past residents . It was wonderful to experience a totally different property.

It was a fairly decent journey but it was so so worth it! Through the course you get a good grounding in every aspect of preventative conservation and all the ins and outs of what we as house staff need to know to care for a collection of a variety of different objects and materials properly.
I really did enjoy it and have come back to the Lakes full of enthusiasm. It was a residential course, which means you stay over in a hotel as the course is taught over a number of days. This course was 3 nights and 4 days and as well as a whole lot of great learning it was fantastic to be able to meet and chat to others who are in similar roles as me from all across the country. To be honest, looking back I can't believe I was ever nervous about going!

Some other things I've been up to include measuring the plates at Hill Top so we can buy some new stands for them, this should improve the support they have and ensure they last for decades to come.

Not up to 'stand' ard :P
I've also been scaring away spiders and hoovering up their cobwebs with a vacuum at the Beatrix Potter Gallery and most recently I attended another course at Rufford Old Hall in Ormskirk on caring for historic wooden floors. Phew, quite a variety of jobs ey?

Finally, this week has seen me help Liz, our House and Collections Manager, to put up the new exhibition in the gallery ready in time to open for the new season.
Some of you might think that this doesn't sound too exciting but I would have to disagree, I mean, I actually get to touch and handle original Beatrix Potter artwork including sketches and watercolours. I do think I'm incredibly lucky sometimes, when I have a great day it's really a great day! :)

This year our exhibition is “On holiday with Beatrix Potter” with a focus on the people who came to visit and meet B. I know you probably think I'm slightly biased but I do urge you to come visit us this year, the exhibition is a great one – plus, if nothing else you can evaluate how straight I have put the artwork up, or not as the case may be..

On Tuesday we were getting some of the art out of the store ready to go up and Liz asked me to find a page in a sketchbook, 'half timbered buildings in Wales'. When I finally found it I was REALLY excited! I actually scared Liz a little with my excited squeal which apparently sounded a bit like I'd had a disaster haha.

Serious conservation face...Silly jumper :)
In the book were sketches and watercolours from different places that Beatrix visited in 1905, what was so exciting is that when I flicked the page and saw the images I instantly recognised them as my home town of Ruthin! Not many people know where this is so I'll explain, it's in a small county called Denbighshire in North East Wales... around 35/40 minutes from Wrexham (coincidentally where the majority of my family are from) if that helps at all? So yep, there is it, this means that I am Welsh, not that you would ever guess it from my (lack of) accent.

They are really rather good drawings and I was so thrilled to see my little town in B's sketchbook that I actually recounted the story of what I had seen to both my parents and wasted no time in telling them which buildings and businesses you can see in the images. For those of you who know the area, look out for The Castle Hotel, Barclays bank and the Wine Vaults :)

Valentine's day is soon approaching (it's a week tomorrow in case any of you still have last minute preparation to do :P ) however today marks another exciting day – tonight Wales takes on England in the 6 Nations Rugby! I know what you're thinking and you would be right, Wales are going to thrash England! We may be a small nation but we're extremely proud and extremely optimistic. It would be wonderful though if the land of dragons and daffodils came out on top – sorry English readers.

To go with this little slice of Welsh pride my “Hello there” comes in the form of this Welsh doll in traditional costume.

Cymru am byth <3
How did B acquire such a thing? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea but I would like to think that it's from one of her Welsh jaunts, one reason to visit the area would be because her uncle had a house in the next town over.

Although Wales is certainly not all about the black traditional hats and red cloaks, I can't help feel a sense of pride that the Welsh are being represented in this way, however small.

Like Pete, I also am looking forward to the arrival of Spring, I don't know about where you are from but here in the Lakes we have been in the minuses a hell of a lot recently and I honestly cannot wait for warmer weather. If I were to include a musical link it would go a little something like this "I can't feel my fingers, I can't feel my toes..."
Hopefully by March's post we'll have some of the sunny stuff :)
For now I will bid you farewell, I'll be back next month with another post but if you're looking for something to do in the mean time, why don't you come visit us when we open again on the 14th February.

Ta ta for now

Words and pictures by Natalie :)

29 January 2015

Lost your bottle?

Very recently, here on the South Lakes Property we held an Assessment Day to help us choose a new member of staff - an Assistant House Steward. The Assessment Day was held at Wray Castle, on the shores of Windermere, which has to be the best location for a job interview - it certainly has the best views. And thankfully it wasn't as snowy on this day!

We put our potential new member of the team through all manner of tests (but we also gave them lunch). My role on this day was to work with the other House Steward and do the 'Object Handling' session.

The idea of this Handling session is to test the candidates' knowledge of the care of and conservation of various items; in this case a textile, a book and a piece of ceramic. We ask the candidates to handle them, watching carefully to make sure they do it in the correct way so as to minimise any risk of damage. We ask them to look carefully at the object - describing its condition in detail. They will tell us about cleaning the object and maybe displaying it safely to the public.

The ceramic we chose this time was not a fancy gilded delicate piece, which our candidates may well have expected, thinking of Beatrix Potter's lovely collection of cups and saucers and ornaments that are on display at Hill Top. Instead we chose an earthenware bottle, with a broken handle.quite at random.

Down in the basement there are all nature of interesting things during the closed season: all the Craft materials for children's activities; Christmas decorations; dressing up clothes; a taxidermied Herdwick sheep; recycling bins and boxes containing items dug up from the grounds of Wray Castle.

Once our candidates got over their surprise at having to deal with such an unusual item, they seemed to relish handling and describing it. One rightly surmised that it had been dug up from somewhere!

After the assessment sessions were done and we were in the basement with cups of tea and leftover sausage rolls (from lunch). I decided to Google the mark that was on the bottle, as it was so unusual. Herzogthum Nassau was stamped on it, along with a kind of lion decal and the word 'SELTERS'. I wanted to know what this all meant!

What I discovered was that this bottle once contained German mineral water! Herzogthum Nassau, means the Duchy of Nassau, a province in western Germany that is today the state of Hesse. The Selters area of the province on northern slopes of the Taunus mountains was famous for its mineral springs. Starting in the mid-18th century, the water was packaged in stoneware vessels and sold internationally. Shipments went out to the Netherlands, Sweden, England, France, Russia, Africa, even as far afield as America and Jakarta. It was a highly profitable venture, with more than a million jugs sold in 1791. In 1850 three million jugs were sold!

Wray Castle was built in the 1840s by James Dawson (a surgeon) who had way more money than sense, and he would appear to have been a fan of the health benefits of drinking this carbonated mineral water. Who would have imagined that way back then bottled water was readily available and drunk by those who could afford it? I certainly learnt something interesting that day.

Written by Fiona (one of the House Stewards)

23 January 2015

Winter Fashion

Hill Top Farm in winter
Beatrix Potter had spent most of her life in London, visiting the countryside for spring and summer holidays.  However, once she bought Hill Top Farm, she faced the snow, ice and rain of winter with her usual determination.
She wore skirts and jackets made from Herdwick wool and would visit her tenants with an old sack over her shoulders to keep out the rain.  No walking boots or wellies; clogs would be the standard footwear. 

Clogs by the spinning wheel at Hill Top
Cath, centre, wearing long skirt and jacket of Herdwick wool helping to plant the Beatrix Potter rose (not in winter!)

There are tales of her helping to dig sheep out from snow drifts.  Herdwick sheep have been known to survive for weeks buried in drifts, nibbling their own fleeces for nourishment.   These are luckier.

Winter snack bar

Cattle aren't brought in to keep them nice and warm; as ruminants sheep and cattle have their own built in central heating provided by their digestive system. However, trampling hooves on wet  ground soon reduce it  to a muddy mess which won't grow grass for a long time. 
Breakfast cereal? (mentioning no names)

  Edwardian farm wear was based on natural fibres and women would wear long skirts.
From BBC Edwardian Farm series - more pics on their website

Now farmers have a wide choice of materials designed to keep out wind, rain and snow. 

What the well-dressed farmer  wears to work
And National Trust Rangers bob around the countryside like winter robins.
Paul models Ranger gear

Even dogs have their own walking boots!
Sam modelling boot on sore paw whilst waiting for a walk
In between Beatrix's time and the present, I can remember Lake District walks meant sensible shoes and plastic macs and have fond (?) memories of students wearing clogs clattering along the corridor on their way to early morning practicals at agricultural college.  It wasn't that long ago!