Thursday, February 21, 2013


It looked like it was going to be another full day of rain as our big silver bus lumbered out of York and headed northwest towards the Lake District, England’s favorite vacation destination.  I didn’t really mind because the recent rains had made the land vibrantly green but it did make sightseeing a bit of a drag. We would make several stops before the evening was over and at each one the routine was the same: struggle into the wet raincoat and grab the still drippy umbrella.

Our first stop was just outside of York in Skipton. We braved the rain just long enough to take pictures of the ruins of Bolton Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian priory. Bracing my umbrella under my arm while attempting to focus my camera at the same time took special talent I found out.

You can just see Bolton Abbey in the distance.
Bolton Abbey
While there, Sean said hello to his Swaldale cousins.

It wasn’t long before we were well into the Lake District, England’s largest National Park consisting of twenty major lakes.  Interestingly, there is just one body of water called a “lake” in the area; the larger ones are called a mere and the smaller ones, a tarn. This explained the name of the next place we stopped, Grasmere, which is located on the river Rothay and is a half a mile from (lake) Grasmere.  We stopped there not only because it is an appealing riverside village but because it is where the poet William Wordsworth is buried.  It was his home for fourteen years and he was quoted as saying that Grasmere was “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”  I visited his peaceful and secluded grave site in the old Grasmere Church Yard next to the river and it was indeed “the loveliest spot”.
The Rothay River flowing next to the Grasmere church and Wordsworth's gravesite.
From left to right, William and Fanny Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, John Wordsworth.
A door into the Grasmere Church
 The Lake District is also where London born Beatrix Potter (author of classic children’s books like “Peter Rabbit”) considered home.  Beatrix and her family started vacationing in the area when she was sixteen and fell in love with it.  Over her lifetime, this breathtaking landscape became not only her home but her passion.  She used the proceeds from her books to eventually buy fifteen farms and over 4,000 acres of land that she willed to the National Trust to be preserved for all time. Beatrix understood the importance of preserving the culture as well as the natural beauty. And we were going to have lunch at one of her farms.

Gently tucked into grassy hills and framed by stack stone fences sits the 330 year old farm house and barn of Yew Tree Farms.  Used in the movie “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger as her actual home in Hill Top, it is both a working sheep farm and heritage site. Shortly after we arrived, we were welcomed by Caroline and Jon Watson, the current owners, and ushered into the intimate dining room made cozy by the low timbered ceiling and a blazing fire in the fireplace.  No sooner had we sat down when great platters of hearty peasant bread were passed from hand to hand followed by steaming tureens of homemade squash soup. Toasting my backside by the fire, having second and third helpings of the best food I can remember eating and watching the rain fall on a landscape that looked like a painting in the National Museum, I could have stayed there forever.  However, there was another treat for us in store outside.

The house still has many of Beatrix Potter's furnishings.
View from the dining room.

Driveway into the Yew Tree Farms.
We had to brave a rather serious downpour as Jon, in his role as sheep herder, and his dogs demonstrated how they worked together to herd his flock of Herdwick sheep.  It was such a beautiful setting that I wished it could have been a nicer day, but Jon and the sheep didn’t seem to mind, just taking the cold wet weather in stride.  I think it was Brenda, one of the more observant in our group, who wondered why it was that wool shrunk so drastically when washed when you’d think it would have already been preshrunk on a sheep’s back.  Yes, Brenda.  Why is that?

Jon Watson and his sheep dogs in front of the barn.

It was very hard to leave Yew Tree Farms.  I could have so easily unpacked my bags, ordered tea and settled in for a long, long time.  But, reluctantly we boarded the bus and Davie, our driver, very carefully maneuvered our massive coach through tiny country lanes back to the main road and drove on to our hotel in Shap.   On the way, we passed the town of “Giggleswick” and I wondered if it had been named by the same guy who named “Birdlip” in southern England.

We arrived late in the afternoon at our inn, the 200 hundred year old Shap Wells Hotel, located in the middle of the Lake District. It had been miles since we’d passed any kind of settlement and when we turned off the main road, we bumped down a very long secluded driveway surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless moor. The abundance of rain had transformed the landscape into a spectacular shade of emerald green which was being munched on by a few thousand sheep.  On our right we could see the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement, and farther down was a turbulent rain swollen stream rushing down a hill past the inn, brown with silt.  It was a glorious setting.  At dinner that night, we enjoyed that same view through a massive picture window that framed the wild and natural landscape like a living painting.  

View from the road outside the Shap Wells Hotel in the Lake District.
Part of the Roman ruins on the land in front of the hotel.
Since we were “hotel bound” for the evening, Anita, our tour guide, had given us an assignment.  She asked us to prepare a short presentation about what England meant to us and illustrate it with something costing less than 2 pounds.  We would gather in the lounge after dinner.  It was a contest and a prize would be awarded.

 Each presentation was more impressive than the last. Sue had written a clever poem and Chuck, from memory only, picked out something unique to say about every single one of us. His was so witty and polished, he was certain to be the winner. Then it was my turn.  I had wanted to use Sean, but since he cost a lot more than 2 pounds I had to come up with something else. I finally found a postcard that depicted my favorite English scene which was, of course, sheep and pasture with a cozy cottage in the background. When it came to my turn I simply said, “At first I wanted to show Sean because he will always remind me of the great camaraderie and friendship that has been forged among us all on this trip. And when I think of England, I will think of you all.  However, I chose this postcard because in the end, England to me is its land.  It is the particular green of its hills; the countless sheep that fill me with peace as they innocently graze. It is the stack stone fences erected by hard working farmers using just their hands and the stones from their fields, and it’s the moors carpeted with endless heather.  I can see why so many nations and people have fought to possess this land, this island Eden. It is truly beautiful.”
What England means to me.
Anita’s friend Roger, who drove up to join us for the evening, had been appointed judge.  He complemented everyone on the fine job they did but said he could only pick the one who had touched his heart.  Mine.  I was shocked.  There had been so many deserving ones!  I was humbled and much complimented as I accepted my prize—another stuffed sheep. Sean now had a companion I eventually decided to call Hamish.  Hamish Herdwick, that is.

Sean and Cousin Hamish 
DON’T MISS: The movie, “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger.  It will become one of your favorites. It is definitely one of mine! Watch it at least for the scenes of the Lake District.

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