England Destinations National
Hill Top Farm (Cumbria, England)
My Dad and I were on holiday in Grasmere (reliving old times) earlier this month, but at the start of the week the weather wasn't so brilliant so we put off the walking and decided to do some things that had an under cover aspect to them. One idea that came to mind was Beatrix Potter's famous home of Hill Top farm. Getting ... there:
Have to say that unless you already know where you're going, this wasn't the easiest place to find and my Dad's got a pretty good sense of direction. I would have expected signage at key points, at least those near to the destination, but don't recall seeing any so if you're not familiar with the area then I certainly suggest use of a map or good sat nav or you'll be driving about for ages. I did notice a bus stop opposite, so public transport does seem to be a possibility. It's a couple of miles from Hawkshead, a slightly bigger village where there's a lot of Beatrix Potter themed shops.
The car park is located 'down hill' from the house itself - it's of a half decent size, but was fairly busy when we were there and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up full during peak season and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of alternative parking nearby. When we parked there was a man in a high vis jacket directing cars into spaces - seemed a bit unnecessary to me. At the back of the car park is a barn where you go to purchase tickets to the house (which have times written on them), from here you have to walk back out to the road, and up the hill (don't worry it's not a strenuous walk) to get to your destination.
Coming off the road you enter Hill Top farm via a small gate and turn right up a slightly inclined path between attractive flower beds. At the end you're greeted by a rather attractive old building, where there's at least one member of staff standing outside - they will check your tickets and give you a brief history on the property and Beatrix Potter's association with it.
You're allowed to walk freely around the house rather than having to take part in a tour, however there are staff on hand to ask questions. It's a very dark property with dark wood panels lining many of the walls, fairly small windows and no ceiling lights.
The property has been kept as much like it was when Beatrix Potter lived there (early 1900's) in terms of both decor and furniture - specifically furniture and other items actually belonging to Beatrix Potter herself which I think really adds to the experience and you really do feel like you're stepping back in time. There was also a great deal of personal correspondence and other original work of hers so the connection remained strong throughout the property.
The rooms were of a decent size and the staircase is fairly wide, but obviously due to the nature of the property access for the disabled in fairly poor and I see no way that wheelchair users would be able to get upstairs. The 'living room' was lovely - really cosy feeling with a nice log fire, I could easily imagine myself curling up in a chair opposite the fire in winter, reading a good book. I was also intrigued by the wallpaper on the ceiling in this room and a large piece of dark wood furniture with a date on it somewhere in the 1600's. The kitchen is all set out but roped off just beyond the open door so you can't go in - not really sure why this is. There are some other closed doors throughout the property, but when we asked about these we were informed they're 'just cupboards'. I also loved the sheer number of desks and writing spaces in all the rooms - I have a pen palling hobby so this was like my idea of heaven!
Back outside there is a small vegetable/fruit garden with a short path to the middle of it - even in October there were still some raspberries growing. Coming out of here and walking down a slightly narrower path, next to the one you came up on, there is a field bordering one side - in here were a small number of sheep and a few wild rabbits (if you look close enough). At the end of the path is a small building housing the shop.
As you'd expect most of the items in here are related to Beatrix Potter with everything from factual books on her life, to her stories, and a great many kids toys (Dad said he wished I was still a child as there's so much he would have loved to buy me). There were a few other slightly more 'generic' items such as fancy jars of food, that have no specific relevance to the property or Beatrix.
The National Trust are the owners so my Dad and I got in for 'free' as Dad is a member. If you're not a member then you can currently expect to pay £8.50 for an adult, £4.25 for a child or £21.25 for a family. Personally I think this is fairly expensive as the property doesn't take a huge amount of time to walk round, even when dawdling. If you're a national trust member though then great. You may also want to consider that you can access the shop and gardens without a ticket, so effectively membership just covers entry to the house.
There are varying opening times and days for the house and the gardens as well as being dependent on the time of year, so it's always a good idea to check on the national trust website to check it will be open when you plan to visit - I won't give any specifics here as it seems to change on an almost weekly basis. Suffice to say the gardens and shops tend to be open for longer than the house.
Like many National Trust properties, you're not allowed to photograph the inside (which is explained before you step into the house) however there appear to be no such restrictions on the outside and I took a few photos of the house exterior and garden.
There is no on site cafe and the shop doesn't really sell any good that would be suitable for lunch/picnic. If you do want to make a bit more of an event from your day out though then there is a pub called The Tower Bank Arms which is located between Hill Top and the car park - it's a quaint little pub and was featured in 'The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck'.
Worth a visit?
I think I'd have to say yes - Beatrix Potter is a well loved historical figure of not just national, but international importance and she had a huge impact on children's literature, one which is still very much felt today. Hill Top was a large part of her life and being in such 'original' condition does make you feel like you're getting to know her and her life that little bit better. I know it probably costs quite a bit to maintain, however I can't help but think the tickets are rather pricey considering the length of time you're likely to spend there - enough probably to justify becoming a fully fledged member of the National Trust.
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Grasmere in general
I think I have to agree with Wordsworth - Grasmere really is one of the loveliest places on earth. When I was young I used to come here once a year with my Dad for a weeks holiday and we'd spend most of that time in or around the village, walking up mountains like Silverhowe and Easedale Tarn (don't get the impression we're ... fit, we really aren't and we're even less fit now). Unfortunately other things that happened in our lives meant that this tradition ended up falling my the way side and although I wanted to go back, I could never really afford it.
Back in April of this year (2013) I was booked to photograph a wedding by Lake Windermere and as the distance from my home required at least one overnight stay, I decided to use the opportunity to book myself into a B&B in Grasmere the night before.
To cut a long story short I took a quick photo of the room I was staying in and later emailed it to the B&B owner asking if he'd like to exchange a few nights free stay in return for me photographing the whole B&B for him - he said yes and a few days ago I got back from said holiday, on which I had taken my Dad to relive old times.
Grasmere is now, much like it was as I always remember it at least a dozen years ago - a couple of new shops and a small collection of new houses being built, but it was a real relief to find the village much unchanged.
Grasmere is incredibly popular with walkers as it is essentially surrounded by mountains - Easedale tarn has a waterfall with a lake at the top, and if you don't think you can make it up a mountain then the village has a good sized lake of its own down at 'ground level'. Even if you're not a keen walker the views are stunning every way you look so there are loads of photo opportunities or you can just sit back and relax at a coffee shop and enjoy the scenery.
As the village is so popular with tourists, there are an awful lot of B&B's, hotels and self catering accommodation to hand, so you shouldn't be short of somewhere to stay. On my trips this year I stayed at Chestnut villa on the main road out the village - lovely B&B, great host (Mike) and definitely recommended.
There is a small village green and a larger park close to hand which has a play area for small children. Shops wise there are a fair number of gift shops, a large newsagents called Barney's (with a huge range of puzzles and model cars in stock), a lovely garden centre, plenty of walking gear shops, a book shop that's over 100 years old and plenty of places to eat. One particularly famous shop is located next to the church and is Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread - it's a long established business, run from a tiny quaint building where they sell delicious gingerbread and a few other ginger related items. Even if you don't like ginger, it's worth a quick peak inside and the smell wafting out is heavenly.
Pub wise you have The Travellers Rest which is a short walk out of town (see my review on this place - it's ok but nothing special), The Lamb which is attached to the Red Lion hotel and serves decent 'pub' food at normal prices, or you have Tweedies which is a little more expensive, but the food is absolutely delicious (best fish and chips I've ever had and worth the £14.50, wild boar burger was scrummy too).
The village church has a little bit of a tourist attraction - it's home to the Wordsworth family graves, including William himself. The graves are ringed my a small iron fence and there is a small informational plaque nearby. If you'd like you can also visit Wordsworth's home 'Dove cottage' - it's not owned by the National Trust and does cost about £7.50 per person to get in though.
Many of the buildings are traditionally stone built and beautiful to look at - they really give you a sense of place quite different from many other areas I've been to and make it easier to imagine what it must have been like living here many years ago, whilst still retaining all the modern comforts (mobile phone signal tends to be fairly good and consistent for one).
As far as parking is concerned there are a number of car parks in which you should be able to find a place with relative ease, however these are fairly expensive. There is a small amount of free parking on the stretch of road opposite Barney's and down one side of the green - these are both free, but restricted to an hours stay and you'd be lucky to find a space most days.
If you do decide to walk into the village in the evening then you may wish to take a torch with you as there aren't a huge number of street lights and you have to be careful where you place your steps.
For needs that outweigh those the village can provide (the only chain shop I can think of that isn't walking related is a small Co-op) then Ambleside is a short drive away and both Windermere and Keswick aren't too far.
While good weather certainly makes any stay more pleasant, the village oozes charm whatever the weather may bring - when we last arrived it was pouring with rain and mist was shrouding many of the mountains - far from being annoying, I thought it was incredibly atmospheric and beautiful.
Overall I can't recommend Grasmere highly enough - I always held a soft spot for it in my heart due to my childhood connections, but though the years have worn on the allure of this stunning village has never waned. I'd move there in a heart beat were it possible. If you're staying nearby in Cumbria, you should certainly put this on your list of places to visit and if you're planning a holiday up there, but haven't yet picked a 'base' then go for it because you won't regret it.
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Villages & Resorts in Northumberland in general
I bet you have never heard of Belford this is a small, quiet and picturesque village, it happens to be where I grew up and lived until I left for university 5 years ago, to be honest I miss the tranquillity and the quiet lifestyle that comes with living in a village. In all honesty Belford is a small village where tourists have their ... accommodation and then travel off on their adventures. It consists of three B&B's, one Hotel, some holiday cottages, barns and two caravan sites.
This village tends to be the centre point of all the small villages of North Northumberland. It is approximately 50 miles north of Newcastle Upon Tyne, 15 miles south of Berwick Upon Tweed and 16 miles north of Alnwick, where Alnwick castle is home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and the setting for Robin Hood Prince of theives and the great ballroom is used in Harry Potter as the setting for Hogwarts.
The village itself is a great exploring point and has many of the necessities you need for a great holiday, the local shops are a newsagents open from 6am until 4.30pm, it has recently gone under new management, I know this as I follow the owner on facebook, the wonders of social media. There is also a local Co-Op, where I used to work, this is open 7am until 10pm every day, you can get all your necessities, morning newspapers, as well as freshly baked bread and cakes every morning.
There is also a chip shop in my old little village called The Belford Chippie formerly The John Dory, the prices are reasonable considering it is in a tourist part of the world, last time I was visiting it was around £2.80 for a sausage and chips, you can also try the Scottish delicacy of haggis in batter at this chip shop, this is a must. It is run by a fun jolly man called George, he will welcome you with a smile and a joke, and his odd spellings of the food on offer on the menu board. The local post office is also open between the hours of 8am and 3.30pm, offering all the usual services, with a post box outside to send your postcards to loved ones.
There are also 5 watering holes in this small village, I know a lot for somewhere which only has around 2000 permanent residents, there is the Black Swan where I also used to work, offering a range of bar meals, spirits and local ales. The Salmon Inn, offering bar meals, ales and they also have a small Indian takeaway during high season, this however I have never tried. The Blue Bell Hotel offers rooms, meals of a more posh nature than that of the pubs, they do regular fund raisers, but you can also go here if you just fancy a quiet drink. The golf club in the village, as you can imagine is a golf course pavilion, bar and restaurant open all year round and open to non members, the course itself is a 9 hole golf course, overlooked by Belford Hall, now made into flats for tenants.
The Golf Club also does Karaoke, Pub Quizzes and has live football at the weekend. The main watering hole for most villagers is called The Belford Club, this establishment is run by my next door neighbour Jane, a funny and lively Scottish woman who will get you with her cheeky banter, she always does. This offers a downstairs lounge to drink and play darts or pool, or the upstairs dancefloor, which she regularly holds dances and discos, the last one I attended was at New Year 2 years ago, she keeps the place open till about 2am, it is a great party and the discos are done by the local man of many talents George the man from the chippy.
There is also a farm shop in Belford called SunnyHills, where you can get any range of free range goods, such as cheese, meat, eggs etc. There is also a childrens playground here as well as a café serving home made food, this is run by local farmer Robert Jackson. This is on the south entrance into Belford off the A1, a prime location for passing trade. There are also a couple of local shops which are of a particular interest, one with paitings and ornaments, clothes as well as a charity shop all going to the Belford trust. There is also a small museum giving people the history of Belford, I am afraid due to this just recently being opened I have not been due to attending University.
Okay so as I mentioned most tourists use Belford as a base and travel outwards, the closest most interesting small villages are those of Wooler, Bamburgh, Seahouses and Chillingham.
Okay so where to begin:
This is a small fishing village on the North Coast about 12 miles from Belford, this is your typical seaside village, you can go on small fishing boat tours to the Farne islands, a small range of islands starting about a mile from the coast, with two lighthouses, a small hut where St Cuthbert is said to have lived as a hermit, and you can find his beads up and down Northumberlands beautiful coast. However the most famous person to come from the Farne Islands is that of Grace Darling who set out on a rowing boat in treacherous seas to rescue seamen who had hit rocks and come intro trouble, she set out with her father to save the fishermen, you learn all of this on the trip, just be careful on the main island lighthouse as the terns like to remind you where you are and take a swerve at your heads especially if you have food, there are also puffins on the island.
Seahouses also has typical amusements, where you can spend your pennies and play various arcade games, this village is a lot more tourist centered, there is also a harbour you can walk along and watch the fishing boats come in. There are four chip shops in seahouses, two indian restaurants and one Chinese takeaway, the best chip shop I would recommend is Lewis's on main street, the best Indian is The Spice House and The Chinese Takeaway is beautiful and food is cooked really well. There is also a Co-Op if you require any drinks or snacks during your day out.
This small picturesque little village is located 7 miles from Belford and 3 miles from Seahouses, the focal point and feature of this village rising above everything else is the castle. It is rather prominent based at the foot of the village you can see it as you drive down the steep hill into bamburgh, built high up on a hill as defence from the Vikings it really is something very spectacular. It is open from 10am till 5pm between the 16th Feb to the 3rd Nov and weekends only 11am until 4.30pm 4th Nov until the 7th Feb. Admission is £9.75 for an adult and £4.25 for a child, which I think is extremely good value for such a historic place to visit.
There is parking at the castle which is limited but not to worry just at the bottom of the castle embankment is another car park, of which you have to pay, in summer the rates are very steep, if you are lucky you will get a car parking space on the main street of the village for free. It is said that the castle is haunted and I have heard many tales on especially of the pink lady, floating between the ceiling panels, and if you drive past at night it is said you can see knights standing upon the battlements keeping watch forever.
The beach is also easily accessible along a road half way down the main street of the village called The Wynding, this also leads to the Bamburgh Golf Club with its holes which span along the coastline, with its impeccable views. There are also many parking inlets along this road where if you are lucky you will get a space for the beach, if not you park along the road but be sure to turn your wing mirrors in because of how busy this little stretch of road gets. The lady I mentioned before Grace Darling her museum is also in Bamburgh, it has personal belongings and the actual famous boat which Grace rowed to rescue the seamen on the night I spoke about earlier, although very small it is always busy. It is open 10am - 4pm between 1st October and Easter Sunday, and between Easter Sunday and 30th September 10am - 5pm. Admission to this museum is free as it is run by the RNLI. Her tomb is also in the churchyard which is opposite this museum in the picturesque churchyard, you can visit the tomb which is like a large four poster bed. As you can see Bamburgh is definitely a small village steeped in history.
Now if you wish to stay here there are many caravan parks nearby, a hotel called The Queen Victoria, open all day for drinks, coffee and food. There is also a small tearoom in Bamburgh where I worked for 4 years, serving sandwiches, snacks, scones, cakes, cream teas, juices, and a famous seafood platter consisted of the famous crab caught in craster, about ten miles along the coast road. There are three small shops in bamburgh, a greengrocers selling mostly vegetables, known locally as Clarkys, a small village shop but as you can imagine it is very over priced and a small confectionary shop selling fudge, as well as a butchers, if you go in there try the sausage rolls, they are to die for, honestly.
Now Wooler is known as the gateway to the cheviots, a large hill range going through Northumberland offering walking holidays with plenty of paths the views are extraordinary. There is a specialist walk that you can go on in Wooler which centres at the base of the hills around a small duck pond, you have to be careful however as people walk their dogs and don't always tend to pick it up so watch you don't step into something nasty. There is one main pub in Wooler called The Wheatsheaf which is on the main street offering bar meals, ales from the county which always taste great. There is a great chip shop and Chinese takeaway, but by far the best food in Wooler is at a small restaurant situated behind The Black Bull Hotel, you go through an arch to the left of the hotel. The restaurant is called Milan, serving the finest Italian food, I have been on many occasions and I am never disappointed with the food or the service, have a visit here you will not be disappointed. For your groceries, as with most Northumberland villages there is a small Co-Op, open till 10pm for all your needs whilst on holiday.
* I have been told from one on my raters that wooler does have a museum in the cheviot centre...thanks :)
Finally a short paragraph about a small village located just about 5 miles from Wooler, the main attraction in this village is the castle, well it is the only attraction as well as the chillingham cattle. This castle is famous for its ghost hunts and ghost walks, mostly on Halloween. It is said to be one of the most haunted castles in England and it also featured on hit American TV series Ghost Hunters International. You are also able to stay here in specialist self catering apartments, would you be able to spend the night here? About two miles down the road is a small village called Chatton, where there is a great little pub offering all the finest foods, the sunday lunch is definitely the best here by far.
I hope I have given you a small insight into the world where I used to live, the small picturesque and historically interesting villages of North Northumberland, these are just a few to name but there are definitely more which are worth a look, you never know I might update this in the near future with more places to visit in the interesting county of Northumberland.
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