Winner of Canada's ANTOR Award for Excellence in Travel Writing 2004

Excerpts from 2400 word article


By Pam Hobbs, Pictures by Michael Algar

At a rest centre on our way north, I asked a petrol station attendant if he knew of a short-cut to Lake District National Park since I was already late for my appointment with Peter Rabbit. Unsure what to make of me, he paused a bit, then with a nod and a wink said he once had a six foot rabbit called Harvey but couldn't rightly remember Peter - so perhaps we'd best stay on the main highway. That was early last year. By now I'm sure he knows all about Peter, since the cheeky bunny's l00th birthday was commemorated with parties, events and exhibitions staged across Britain throughout 2002. Now a travelling exhibition has arrived at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, a little late for the centennial but still very exciting for Peter Rabbit fans.

The Lake District, where Peter is celebrated at all times, provided a perfect setting for Beatrix Potter's whimsical tales. A beauty spot on the face of northern England, this is a region of mountains, fells (hills) and lakes, and farmlands neatly stitched together with ancient stone walls. It offers pleasure cruises and elegant country house hotels, tiny hamlets and historic market towns you want to poke around in. Best of all for Potter enthusiasts, this glorious landscape offers reminders of Peter and pals at almost every turn in every country lane.

It all began in September 1893 when the author wrote to her former nanny's five year old son, Noel Moore. "I don't know what to write to you" she informed the ailing lad, "so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names are Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter...." In the tale, illustrated by Potter, Peter ignores his mother's warnings and scampers off to a garden owned by Mr McGregor - a farmer who has already cooked Peter's Dad in a pie. There he feasts on lettuces, broad beans and radishes, gets tangled up in a gooseberry net, and barely escapes the dreaded Mr McGregor before returning home without his shoes or blue jacket with brass buttons. To date the 23 children's books that evolved from this letter have been translated into 20 languages and sold 80 million copies. Little wonder then that the Lake District receives 12 million visitors a year, many of them walking around with books in hand, matching their illustrations with real life scenes.

Sites associated with the tales are so popular that Hill Top, a 17th century farm at Near Sawrey where Potter lived and worked, is closed two days a week to recover from its legions of visitors. In neighbouring Hawkshead, The Beatrix Potter Gallery receives so many it has timed admission. Obviously these two sites are a must, but I suggest you also wander the countryside, on the lookout for rabbits and frogs and farm cats such as those featured in the little white books. Let your imagination fly and you may see them as the author did, dressed in country-style clothes and performing human chores.

Beatrix was introduced to the Lake District in the early 1900s when her parents rented summer houses here. Her favourite spot was Sawrey, a hamlet so small we drove through without knowing it. Beatrix stayed here often in a summer rental she first knew as Lakeland, and which later became Ees Wyke Country House Hotel. Most of today's guests, need I add, are here to explore the haunts of Potter's characters.

FOR MORE INFORMATION contact Visit Britain at l-888-VISIT UK, or Cumbria Tourist Board in Windermere at e-mail: website

WHEN YOU GO: Manchester is the nearest international airport. An excellent tour company called Cumbrian Discoveries offers personalised sightseeing, driver-guided and walking tours throughout the Lake District, including Beatrix Potter sites. Contact: Tel. 17683 6220l. E-mail Website http//