The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

At Bowness, looking across Lake Windermere towards Hilltop

Lake WIndermere

Lake WIndermere

Lake WIndermere

Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, home of Beatrix Potter

Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

Mr McGregor's garden, Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

Were's that wabbit? (oh, hang on, wrong one, sorry Elmer)

Mr McGregor's garden, Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

Far Sawrey

Far Sawrey

Far Sawrey, walking back to the ferry

Far Sawrey

Aidan and Frances Foster


A cooked breakfast is included with our accommodation, we nearly miss it because we didn’t keep an eye on the time. The staff come up to our room to see if we were coming down, we had been busy repacking our bags. We leave our bags at the hostel and take a cab to the boat harbour. The taxi driver tells us that we have to take the chain ferry, which is further away from Windermere at Bowness. We are a bit sceptical, but when we are left at the ferry dock Tony goes to the local store to check. There is another boat service, but it is more expensive, this one will only cost us 50p each.

The ferry doesn’t have a timetable, you just have to wait for the next one. It doesn’t take too long to get to the other side, about five minutes. There is a timetable for the bus up to Hill Top Farm, the 17th Century home of Beatrix Potter in the village of Near Sawrey, but the next bus is about an hour away. We are told we can walk it, but it is quite a hike. We set out but the track leads us up a steep hill, back down the other side, and we end up only a few metres around the hill. Cynthea is not impressed and decides we will take the bus after all. We have about twenty minutes wait for the next one, we are the only passengers as it is near the end of “the season”, and the bus run finishes in about a week. The bus driver is great, he gives us a lot of information on the way up the hill. Oh, in case you are wondering, there is a village called Far Sawrey as well. Don’t know if there is one just called Sawrey though!

At Hill Top we have free entry through our NZ Heritage membership, and we are given a timed entry ticket. We don’t have too long to wait until our time slot, they only let about eight people at a time into the house, at intervals of about ten minutes. Once inside you are free to stay as long as you like. The house has been kept exactly as it was when Beatrix Potter lived here, she donated it to the National Trust on her death on the condition that it not be altered in anyway. Her famous Peter Rabbit story was actually written in Scotland, as a letter to the son of her former governess. It was later revised and privately published, several publishers having turned down the opportunity. Beatrix Potter was quite the entrepreneur, she was aware of the power of merchandising, and in the early 1900’s created and patented a Peter Rabbit doll, quickly followed by a board game. .

The house is quite dark, as there was no electricity, although there are now one or two small electric lamps. Shades are drawn to reduce the effects of sunlight damage. There are small boxes with blue squares of cloth laid around the rooms, they are there to monitor sun damage to fabrics and furnishings. The coal range has been lit, and there is that smouldering coal smell in the room. Many of the drawings in the books are set right here, and scattered around the house are those books that she has written. We find that they are open to a page that shows a drawing of the room we are in, or the view from the window. Volunteers or staff are in every room and engage everyone in conversation. They have some great stories to tell, and we find it a refreshing change. Usually we have found that they are more reserved, perhaps even standoffish, if that is not being too harsh. It is great to see these people make a special effort to speak with the children.

Despite it being near the end of “the season”, we find it is still quite busy here. We take time to wander around Mr McGregor’s garden, and the only rabbit we see is Peter, peeking out of a flower pot. There is the usual gift shop at the end of the path, and it doesn’t escape our notice that this was not mentioned at all in the house. The gift shop is tiny and crowded, and quite pricey. Tony spots a special edition book, one of only 2,000 printed exclusively for the National Trust, and only available through the gift shop. It is a facsimile print of the first ever printed Tale of Peter Rabbit, in Beatrix Potter’s wrote own handwriting and original pen and ink illustrations. The price is £11, but we think it is quite special and buy a copy.

The day has stayed fine so far, but it is threatening to rain, and is definitely getting cooler. We arm ourselves with a map of the track through farmland down to the ferry, some 3km away. It is a pleasant walk, most of it is off road. At Far Sawrey we meet the bus coming up the hill from the ferry, and the driver gives us a cheery wave as he passes.

We cross back across the lake to Bowness, and as there is no bus service we walk the 1km to Windermere. We are still a good kilometre from the car hire place. Tony calls in to the tourist office, we can get a taxi (there are lots of them down here), or take the bus in about half an hour. Tony has been unable to get an answer from the car hire firm, and is quite concerned. He asks if there is another car hire place in town, but there is only the one, and the staff show him where it is on the map. Tony sets off up the hill, leaving Cynthea to make her own way at her own speed.

Tony arrives to see someone sitting in a car outside the office, Tony mistakes him for the owner, and the driver thinks that Tony is with the company. He explains he had a puncture, and has not been able to get it fixed, so there is no spare. Tony said he is here to pick up a car, and thinks to himself it better not be that one he is getting. The rental company owner arrives, he had been away to collect his daughter from school. The other customer needs a lift to the bus depot, so the owner takes him, leaving Tony waiting there. It is starting to rain, and there is no shelter. Lakes Car Hire looks like a bit of a ”mickey mouse” outfit.

Cynthea arrives, but there is no sign of the owner yet. He eventually gets back, and Tony mentions that he was worried the car would not be available, not only did the guy not reply to Tony’s email, there was no answer to the phone. He assures Tony he did email him, and had wondered when we were collecting the car. He also says that the phone diverts to his mobile, but he doesn’t think that is working properly. Despite having our phone number, he never called us. That does nothing to inspire our confidence in the firm, we just hope everything goes smoothly. We are given a small, white, two door Alpha Romeo, no, was not the car the other customer had just returned. We pay £46 for the 24 hour hire.

We struggle to get the front seats to go forward so we can put bags onto the back seat. There are no buttons or levers anywhere. Tony keeps searching while Cynthea goes to ask the owner. He comes back and opens the back door, oops. We feel like a pair of idiots. The handles for the back door are recessed, and instead of being located under the window, they are above it. Cynthea says, Oh, I have been caught out with that before. Tony is not impressed, haha.

We leave, but it is a lot later than we intended with all the delays. First we have to collect our bags from the YHA. We are given conflicting advice on how to get to York, and how long it will take to get there. We decide to just get going and make the decision later, either way we have to go around the Yorkshire Dales, the trip will be around 150 - 180 km, if we don’t get lost. According to Google maps it will take around 2 ½ hours, which every way we choose. At Kendal we choose to take the bottom road, the A65 and A59 through Skipton and Harrogate. It is slow in places, but not too bad.

We are calling in to see Aidan and Frances Foster, they live in Boroughbridge, about half an hour from York. Our first meeting was one of those surreal coincidences that happen from time to time when travelling. We met last year in Teneriffe. We had taken a bus tour, one of those ones where they take you to a factory for a sales spiel (this was on mattresses and bedding, not that we were interested, but the tour was EUR10 instead of EUR60). How we meet goes a bit like this:

The sales woman asks every one where they are from. Later Aidan and Frances are talking to us…

A&F: Our daughter lives in New Zealand, she married a kiwi.

C&T: (Thinking here we go, we couldn’t possibly know her, but we are happy to chat). Where does she live.

A&F: Oh, she is way down in the South Island, near Dunedin.

C&T: We are from Dunedin.

A&F: They have a farm in Naseby, and our daughter is a nurse.

C&T: Does she work in Alex or Ranfurly?

A&F: Judy works in Ranfurly.

C&T: Oh, she will know our friends from Ranfurly. Maree will work with her.

A&F: Maree and Patrick stayed with us last year!

C&T: We were supposed to be on that trip with them, but couldn’t go at the time.

A&F: Well, you must still come and visit…

And so we did.

We were not sure what time we would be there, and Frances was going out to baby sit their grandchild, but we were told to come anyway. We arrived about 7pm, there was a lovely spread set for us, hot drinks, sandwiches and fruit cake, with cheese. Apparently it is a Yorkshire thing, and we are surprised how nice it is. They also eat apple pie with cheese, and we will try that one day too.

Aidan shows us photos of the big fire at York Minster in 1984, he was in local fire brigade and helped fight it. He also has a nice collect of artefacts, Roman coins and pieces of jewellery that he has picked up from his own garden. We would have loved to stay longer and see and hear more.

We left for York around 8pm, our accommodation tonight is at the Holgate Bridge hotel, £40 includes a cooked breakfast. There is no one at reception when we arrive, and no answer to the bell. There is a notice directing us to the hotel next door, so Tony heads there. Back at the Bridge it there is a steady stream of people, so it takes us a while to check in and get tourist info. It is a nice place, and the staff are friendly, giving us a lot of information on what to see. We are fairly tired, so decide to have a night in.

Tony checks the email, there is one from the car hire company in Windermere, sent at 10am that day! It asks confirmation of the time we are taking the car, but answers none of the questions that we asked in the first place.

The parcel has arrived in Auckland (already!), and is awaiting customs clearance. But there is a customs form to fill in (didn’t we already do that!!?), eight pages long, and it needs a signature. Tony emails the company and in the meantime starts filling in the paper work. Luckily he has a copy of the inventory on his computer, so a lot of it is cut and paste. The courier gets back to us straight away, and they confirm that the form is needed, but if Tony writes an email appointing them as his agent, they may get by without him having to sign a form. Tony also points out the signed forms he put in the box and gave to the courier company, and we hope that is enough to satisfy customs.

It takes until 1am to finish everything, and Tony is far from impressed. What was the point of spending over an hour talking to the bloody people in the first place if the forms are the wrong ones? The courier outfit should have known better what was needed.

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