18 July 2014

What do you call a rabbit with no ears?

Visitors to Hill Top will have noticed our resident population of rabbits in the orchard adjacent to the garden. Contrary to popular belief, they are real wild rabbits and they are free to come and go as they please and as long as they don't stray into the garden, we pretty much leave them alone. Over time they have grown used to our visitors and are happy to browse on the grass just a few feet from the fence and the camera-clicking tourists.

Just recently a new addition to the warren has caused a bit of a stir..

Anyone seen my ears?

Notice anything unusual about about this little chap? That's right, he's got no ears! Here's a close up view


I don't know if he was born without his ears or if he lost them in an unfortunate accident but it doesn't seem to bother him and the other rabbits treat him just the same.
Thinking about it, I haven't seen him for a while, perhaps he's gone off on an adventure to find his lost ears? Cue for a book anyone?

We've had some lovely sunny dry weather recently and the garden is looking great, even the veg garden is coming good (slugs hate dry weather). Crops of strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries have been gathered in and my long suffering runner beans are two-thirds of the way up their poles.

Runner beans
The main borders are a riot of colour and the roses on the new trellis are in full bloom.

High summer

We recently heard that the gardeners at Mottisfont had drawn up a rose garden inspired Spotify playlist. Not to be outdone, and with much better taste in music(!) I managed to come up with a Hill Top top 20 with some tracks relating to the garden and others to the little book characters. We're releasing it in two parts so my musical link this time is actually 10 tracks..don't say I'm not good to you! the link is here.

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.

11 July 2014

Dedicated to all Pickles - especially to those that get upon my shop counter

Once upon a time there was a village shop. The name over the window was “Ginger and Pickles”…

OK, so a few things have changed in our shops since Beatrix Potter’s day; our counters are no longer a convenient height for rabbits and we don’t sell sugar, snuff and galoshes. But it’s certainly fair to say, in Beatrix’s own words, that there is something to please everybody.

Beatrix herself had a very business-like approach towards her own merchandise. She was heavily involved in the design and manufacturing of products based upon her characters, such as dolls and figurines. Market research and copy-right protection were taken care of herself, and she insisted the original quality of her artwork be maintained in all other products.
Certificate of registration for a Peter Rabbit doll, 1903

We live up to her standards today, providing our visitors with only the highest quality stock, so in this week’s blog I’m going to show you some of the fantastic Beatrix Potter treasures available in our shops right now.
Shops at the Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hill Top & Wray Castle.
Notice the beautiful fairy-tale display at Hill Top (above centre), which was hand-made by our retail manager Gillian.

Since 1850, Fritz Bermann's Petri Bronzes have been cast using traditional methods and lovingly painted by hand, making each piece unique and individual. Originally made for Beatrix Potter and on display at Hill Top, these bronzes are now made in small numbers especially for the collector. These bronzes pictured above, and many others, are available to buy in the Hill Top shop.

This cute and cuddly Peter Rabbit soft toy is also available at Hill Top shop and come in an exclusive and eye-catching bag.

Receive an exclusive book-plate as a souvenier when you buy one of Beatrix's classic tales from Hill Top, the Hawkshead shop or the Beatrix Potter Gallery.

After viewing Beatrix’s original artwork at the gallery, pop into our Hawkshead shop and feast your eyes on these spectacular illustrated prints.

This design and many others available at our Hawkshead shop.

Each one of these limited edition prints are beautifully double-mounted and individually numbered by hand.

Our shops provide a mail order service too, so there's no need to worry about fitting them in your suitcase. Just ask at our shops or call us for more details:
Hill Top shop pagehttp://bit.ly/TWRp1U 

Hawkshead Page: http://bit.ly/VSEijG

You can also visit our on-line shop here:

Before I go I’d like to mention our best sales-man cat, Sparky, who has been doing a purr-fect job welcoming customers at the Hawkshead shop.
Will work for cat-nip”
Thanks Sparky!

This week’s musical link is dedicated to you, pickle:

Pictures and meowsings by Emma, crazy cat lady in residence.

27 June 2014

An Eye For Detail

There is no denying that Beatrix often had pretty unusual taste when it came to decorating her beloved house, at least for the early 20th Century. I think it's all rather charming and quirky which I talked a little about in my first blog post of this year, if she had this sense of style in today's world in my opinion she would have been considered quite forward thinking and in vogue (Yes I'm doing the vogue pose right now). 

For B, I believe that a part of her personal style was about the details, be them large or small, 'in your face' or more modest, and I'm sure you'll agree she had an eye for them.

Take these bed curtains for example, by themselves I don't think they are anything special, they are a dull green sort of colour and dare I say it, a tad boring and uninspiring. To improve the look of them she had begun to embroider them and created brocade flowers and little hanging tassels.

I had never come across the word 'Brocade' before, but after a spot of research I found out that it's a richly decorated fabric often made from brightly coloured silks, with or without silver and gold thread. 

Beatrix began to embroider the bed hanging but never actually finished the project, members of the team has previously told me that although she was a brilliant artist and author she wasn't really that good at other traditionally 'female pursuits'. However, it was a lovely thought and the idea behind it is that the pattern is meant to imitate her William Morris wallpaper that hangs in the same room.

We don't know why she never finished it, perhaps she got bored of it or she simply never got around to it, I'm sure we're all guilty of that. I know I certainly am, I've got a half finished crochet blanket still on the go!

Since details are the theme of the week I thought you might like to have a look at the piano that we have at Hill Top - it's a stunner!

It's not your average piano; made with brass and mahogany it's quite a bit narrower and the horizontal strings are arranged diagonally. It is known as a square piano (I don't know why because it isn't square!) and was made by Clementi in 1810. It's said that Beatrix wasn't very good at tickling the ivories and this wasn't hers but that this lovely instrument came from William's side of the family. What's the evidence behind this? Well, if you open the right hand lid I found an inscription that is mentioned on the NT Collection's website. 'M. H 1838, E. H 1839, M. H 1893" is scratched into the wood next to the strings.

It's a bit hard to see, can you spot it?
I don't know if it's factually true or not, but to be honest I don't think it matters it's an interesting story that I love to share with our visitors and will continue to do so.

I love to imagine that William was a romantic sort of gentleman because this fireplace carving in the bedroom had to be an act of love on his part.

If you hadn't already guessed it, the initials carved on the left of the piece stand for 'William and Beatrix Heelis'

and the date on the right? If I told you the pair tied the knot in 1913 would that help you? 1934 signifies their 21st Wedding anniversary. 

The practice reminded me a little of lovers carving their names into an old tree, the thought behind this is the same, it is going to be there forever, a declaration of love and commitment. I once carved my initials into my mum's brand new M & S bread bin... I don't think she was that pleased with my permanent mark..

I bet Beatrix apprenticed this lovely gesture, I'm sure she would of. It is one of the things that people don't often notice when they visit us, I can understand why because it is fairly difficult to see if you're not looking for it.

One set of items from Hill Top that are pretty unique to the British Isles are Horses Brasses. They are common place here in the UK but our overseas visitors often come to us with puzzled looks asking what they are. Originally used as decoration on Shire and heavy horse harnesses they fell out of fashion as the practice declined and now they are very popular for interior decoration. A little nod to our agricultural past. If you visit some pubs you'll see them tacked and hung off old beams, Beatrix however hung her's off the mantle.

In the collection there is this one with the head of Queen Victoria marked 'Jubilee 1887'. We also look after another one which is marked 'Edward VII Crowned June 1902'. 

Hello, Ma'am!

These along with the crowned teapot in the Parlour would suggest that she enjoyed the Royal family or perhaps she just enjoyed collecting Royal memorabilia!

In previous posts I have included a little figurine that I found in a cabinet and as I near the end of this post I'm going to slip another one in, I've decided to make this a regular thing so watch this space for more of the same.

Ok, so this month's aren't technically people or figures but they do have faces, they are egg heads. Sat in Grimwade wear children's tea set egg cups this pair are blown and have smiley little faces complete with silk bonnets. They serve no real functional purpose other than they look cute and are decorative – as you will have guessed, I really like them! Being so fragile I haven't got that up close and personal with them yet but I'm hoping this winter I might get an opportunity.

They keep P R company!
Just look at them, it's hard not to smile when you see them smiling back with their little rosy cheeks! Does any one else imagine what voices they would have if they were real or is that just me?

I'm going to leave you now, I challenge you not to hear their voices now I've mentioned it! But join me next time when I share more items from the house with you.

Ta ta for now!

Words and pictures by Natalie :)

13 June 2014

In full swing

The spring half term holiday is always the busiest time at Hill Top - with lots of overseas visitors and schools in this country on holiday.  We're very pleased to see you all!

We found this mug left on the sign from the previous day - and still full of tea we hadn't had time to drink!

Even Sam was tired - although I don't know what he'd been doing.
It's a dog's life!

Luckily the Windermere car ferry, which had been out of the water for a refit, came back into service.  But what had they done to it?
Only joking!

All bright and shiny

The weather has generally been kind - raining at night.  Lambing went well and there are some bare fields now where farmers have taken their first crop of silage.  However, sometimes it does rain all day.  This is the garden Pete doesn't show you!

Umbrellas add extra colour to the garden

6 June 2014

(Nothing but) flowers

It's been a good few weeks since I wrote my last blog post and in that time the garden at Hill Top has changed out of all recognition. It's gone from looking like this...

April 14th

...to this...

May 14th
It's a transformation that I've witnessed every year since 1988 and it still amazes me!

With the (slightly) warmer weather and an increase in day length the perennial plants almost explode with growth and even over a weekend the change is noticeable.
The aquilegias have been putting on a good show and both the white and blue wisterias have been as good as ever. 
One plant which always causes a stir at this time of year is Thalictrum aquilegifolium or Greater Meadow Rue. It has fantastic fluffy mauve flower heads and grows upto a metre tall.

The lilies are coming out too, the first one is always Lilium pyreniacum, just don't get that bright orange pollen on your cream chinos!

Unfortunately the burgeoning of nice flowery perennials is matched by a proliferation of nasty weeds and an almost unbelievable increase in the rate of grass growth which means it's a busy time for gardeners everywhere. Fortunately there isn't much grass to cut at Hill Top apart from a few bits in the garden and round the car park, oh, and the verges in the village which have somehow become my responsibility (why do I pay my council tax again)?

Speaking of village matters it was the Sawrey May Queen procession a couple of weeks ago and once again it fell to me to decorate the trailer which the children ride in from Near to Far Sawrey (I love it really).

The hawthorn blossom was at its peak so an early morning foray into the woods produced just enough to go round the trailer and a sprinkling of Rhododendron ponticum flowers from a friend's garden finished it off nicely.

That's about all for now, look out for a feature about Hill Top garden in the July edition of 'The English Garden' magazine, there's even a photo of yours truly (don't let that put you off though). And with all this talk of flowers my musical link this month was an easy choice, enjoy.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener

30 May 2014

From Behind The Glass

Hellooo again!

In my last post I likened myself to Loyd Grossman (which was rather funny) but this time I've ditched Loyd and I'm just me.
I'm Natalie, a Conservation and Engagement Assistant with the South Lakes Property and from my previous post you may have gained a small inkling that I really like the more quirky, unusual and well.. weird objects. I find enjoyment in the stories and reasoning (or lack of) behind each artefact and in my opinion it really is the small details that make or break a visit. I suppose you could say that when it comes to objects and the properties that house them I like a good mystery and the gossip that goes with it!
That is why I love my job in preventative conservation. I am lucky to be able to rummage through cabinets and display cases and I get to find lots of cool things and learn their stores. Thanks to these blogs posts I get to share them with you which I love!

It's easy to spot the big 'in your face' objects when doing a spot of visiting - I sometimes imagine them jumping out at shouting “Look at me!!” and you always do. But what about the smaller pieces that are concealed in cabinets and cases?

Through this post I'm going to share a few with you :)

Check this little brooch out! 

I found it completely by accident as I was flipping through a room list one quiet afternoon earlier this month, but it could definitely be one of my new favourite things in the house. It's a bit tricky to see at Hill Top but if you look closely you can see it in the ivory cabinet in the New Room. But wait, there is more to this than meets the eye and many of our visitors, volunteers and staff don't always know it's secret.

The front is pretty but nothing out of the ordinary, the profile of Hermes' head sits on a coral background but flip it over and there is a tiny lock of hair in the back.

This is a mourning brooch. Appearing in the 18th Century and very fashionable back in the Victorian era, it wasn't uncommon to incorporate the hair or portrait of a loved one into jewellery as a sign of respect and as a way to remember them.
I love how the hair has been carefully curled, I think it shows how much this person meant to it's wearer. 

Personally I think these kinds of things are super interesting and intriguing, it would be wonderful if we were able to find out who it belonged to; the hair and the brooch but unfortunately I don't think this would be possible.
I would love to think it belongs to a relative, Beatrix inherited the ivory and her immediate family certainly lived during the correct period to have such an item so maybe, just maybe it there could be a direct link?

Not in a cabinet or case, this next one is technically behind glass in the fact that it is in a frame! Perhaps you've spotted this hanging in the bedroom? 

Love is in the air? <3
To me, it brings up more questions than it answers! It's a needlework sampler but who are 'OD' and 'LB' and was it really 'A Token of Love' between two lovers? Or just a practice piece as the different little sections with individual patterns that don't appear to repeat would suggest? The truth is that I just don't know, the hopeless romantic in me hopes it's the former..
This is definitely a case for a pair of amateur super sleuths, we need to get Jessica Fletcher and Colombo to investigate!

Last month I introduced you to my (yes, I've claimed him) little chap who I found over winter, the one with the wire legs and the red hat who sits patiently in the sitting room cabinet smiling at visitors. Well, there is another one I had my eye on whilst putting everything back before we opened for the season.

There are some people who will be of the opinion that he's rather.. well, horrible (I'm not sure what this says about my taste in things) but it's unusual and a little bit cheeky and as usual I like it!

Cheeky.. err.. monkey?
It's a Netsuke, which in Japanese means 'root' or 'to attach'.

Please correct me if I have this wrong but from a spot of research I've found out that Netsuke's are miniature sculptures created in 17th Century Japan, they are carved and are button like toggles which help to secure containers hung on cord to a man's kimono. This is supported by the fact that Beatrix's has 2 holes in the back where presumably the cord would have gone through.

He is a petite fellow but see if you can spot him next time you're at Hill Top, he'll be poking his tongue out at you from his cabinet in the New Room.

I'm glad I remembered about this gorgeous little box which sits on the shelf above Beatrix's marbles, it's too pretty to keep to myself. For conservation reasons it has to be kept out of the light as much as possible, the box itself is made from card and the image is a watercolour so it is incredibly delicate and this is one of the reasons why he's kept out of direct light. This is a really good thing because it's stunning, but it does also mean that it is slightly obscured from view.

Ooooh fancy!

At first sight it doesn't give much away, I mean he looks like a snazzy chap with his coral coloured trousers and butterfly catching net but what it could be?

If we open it up it becomes a little more curious, I didn't have a clue what it was when I first saw it but I had someone there to give me a tiny tip and then it all made total sense. What you can see is a set of different sized rings that fit into one another, a bit like Russian dolls.

Hold onto the biggest ring and it all falls into place, literally. By holding this one the other smaller rings also drop onto one another and create a nacky travel cup! They always say the best ideas are the simplest ones and in this case I would have to agree.

I can't decide which part I like more, the beautiful box that it is housed in or what's inside.. I do know that if I saw this up for sale I would definitely put an offer in for it.

What I'm beginning to realise whilst researching and writing these blog posts is that whether Beatrix bought, found or was given objects there is no real pattern to them or to her collection but that doesn't matter - everything has it's own story to tell and secrets to divulge.

That's it from me for now but check back next month when I'll have some more Potter possessions to share with you. In the mean time, if you're planning on visiting Hill Top don't forget to look deep into the cabinets, you never know what you might see!

Ta ta for now!

Words and pictures by Natalie :)

18 May 2014

Alvis comes to Wray

This week we had a visit from a group of motor enthusiasts, collectors of a beautiful range of cars made by the Alvis Car and Engineering Company, Coventry. Ten cars visited us on Wednesday, and were a crowd-puller as they lined up alongside each other at the front of the building in glorious sunshine.

The company, whose insignia is a famous inverted red triangle, began manufacturing in the early 1920's and continued until 1968, producing 22000 individually designed cars, the latter of which had a top speed of 127mph. Subsequently, support was provided to the existing owners.

The company has recently been relaunched to produce a further 77 models of the classic 1930's chassis, so new Alvis's can now be purchased by those with a healthy bank balance!

18 April 2014

Blossom time.

We've had some lovely spring weather in the Lakes recently and there seems to be blossom everywhere you look. The damson trees in the Hill Top paddock are in full bloom as are their close cousins the sloes in the hedgerows. The wild cherry trees are flowering and the garden varieties aren't far behind.

Damson blossom

Elsewhere in the garden the Japanese Quince over the porch is looking spectacular and the white wisteria next to it is fattening up its buds ready for blooming in early May.

Japanese quince

Richard, our Woodland Ranger called in last week with two small plastic bags of what looked like Ogre snot but turned out to be slightly overripe mistletoe seeds! 
Mistletoe is what's known as hemiparasitic which means it relies on a host tree for water and nutrients but it is able to photosynthesise (create it's own carbohydrates from sunlight) using its green leaves and stem. It isn't often seen in Cumbria but seeing as Richard's Dad had given him some seeds from a plant he had successfully grown, we thought we'd give it a try. The favourite host plant of mistletoe is apple trees so a couple of the Hill Top apples (and a pear for a bit of variety) were chosen as 'victims'.

Woodland Ranger at work
The seeds are surrounded by a very sticky pulp which has evolved to stick to a birds beak (Mistle thrushes especially love mistletoe berries) and when wiped off on a branch, gives the mistletoe it's chance to germinate.
To make sure our seeds stuck to the bark we made a small nick with a knife blade (although I've since read that this might not be totally necessary) and smeared the 'snot' into the cut.
The seeds take a few years to establish but if it works, I'll be sure to mention it here.

In the vegetable garden things are about to get busy. I've planted onion sets and seed potatoes and the greenhouse at home is filling up with trays of seedlings ready for planting out when the soil warms up a bit more.
In the paddock the first crop of baby rabbits are appearing out of their burrows, and scampering back underground at the first sign of danger, as all good baby rabbits should. Their parents though are much more casual and can regularly be seen lying full length sleeping in the sun, apparently without a care in the world. 

For a musical link this time I could have included 'Mistletoe and Wine' by Cliff Richard or even 'Misletoe' by Justin Bieber but I wouldn't inflict that on my loyal readers so I've gone instead for this by the fabulous White Stripes.

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.

4 April 2014

Potter's Possessions

Beatrix Potter is and always has been a well known figure. She loved her animals and enjoyed including them in her stories, illustrating them with care and precision. The Lake District was one of her passions and she set her mind on preserving it for future generations. Most of all she also loved to fill Hill Top with a plethora of possessions, both familiar and unfamiliar.

There are a lot of quirky objects in the house and through this blog post I'm going to do my best to share some of my favourite ones with you. As we journey through the house you can think of me as your own personal Loyd Grossman (although a more feminine version and with less of an American accent).

So if you're ready, join me as we go “Through The Keyhole”.

Entering the kitchen we see that Beatrix has stuck door knockers onto two of the inside doors. This one on the outside of the parlour door is certainly striking with a metal face and sturdy knocker.

Are you talkin' to me?!
The vast majority of our visitors, staff and volunteers ask why she placed such a thing in an unusual place...
The truth? We don't really know. One theory is that she bought a box of antiques and found it amongst the objects and simply thought “Why not?!!” Another knocker that can be seen in this room is on a cupboard door in the corner of the kitchen. Officially classed as a demon, I'm not so sure, others have called it a devil and a cat.

I'd love to know what you think it looks like!

The hanging cabinet in the corner of the parlour contains the charming Edward VII Coronation teapot (secretly one of my favourite items in the entire house). Here in the cabinet it sits front and centre, commanding your full attention.

Coronation Teapot!!
However, to the rear obscured from view is this beautiful Staffordshire ironstone teapot from the late eighteenth century. Ironstone is a sedimentary rock and was often used in heavy duty dinner services, the teapot is printed with oriental dragon scenes and the ground is painted red. A truly unusual object and something that anyone would be proud to own (I know I would!).

Upstairs the bedroom is decorated with stunning William Morris wallpaper, not everyone has an iconic wallpaper in their house.

Beatrix does, and as much as she enjoyed living the rural life in the Lake District she still enjoyed the finer things in life, and in the end, why ever not?! Beatrix put this up when she moved to the house it's said to cost her a vast sum, however they say you get what you pay for and this it has truly stood the test of time with it's colour still as bright and vibrant in 2014.

The 'Daisy' print

13 stone marbles in the treasure room cabinet often get overlooked, after all, they're only marbles right?

Well, sort of, but they're marbles that Beatrix found in holes in the walls of Hill Top during building work between 1905 and 1906 and that's what makes them interesting. People keep things for all sorts of reasons but for this particular find, perhaps there was no reason other than she liked them and so kept them. I like to think that perhaps she was intrigued by why they were in the walls, and who put them there. I know I am.

Keeping her marbles safe

One of my personal favourites in the house is this little fellow.

He sits in the sitting room cabinet and many people have missed him as they peruse the room. It's easy to do as he's not always visible, especially on duller days (of which we have many in the Lakes), but I think he's absolutely fab.
Ooooh, hellloee!
With wire legs and a red hat, he's not very sturdy and has to be supported with acid free tissue pillows, but he's a little bit unusual and that's what I like about him. Beatrix certainly had an eye for the quirky and different.

I suppose a fitting question to end this post on is, “Who lives in a house like this?” Of course we all know that Beatrix Potter did, but I hope that through this post I've shown a little more of her character. It's only a very small selection of some of the weird and wonderful things that Beatrix collected and in the future I hope be able to share a few more with you.

B-e-a-utiful Hill Top! 
If you're interested in finding out more about any of the items in Beatrix's collection the National Trust's Collections website is a brilliant resource and free to access at http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/ .

I'm off now to explore a few more of Beatrix's vast collection.

Ta ta for now

Words and photos by Natalie :)