Tales of Beatrix Potter by Sandra Horn

November. We’ve just had two weeks in the North Lake District, where the autumn colours were glorious and the weather was sunny apart from a couple of squally days.One morning we woke to see the first snow on the top of Blencathra.

I managed to see something I’ve long wanted – the falls at Lodore. Because of all the rain, they were thundering down in grand style, but that meant that the ‘path’ up to them was treacherous, so after a gallant but failed attempt to climb up closer, we saw them from a viewpoint by the hotel, but only the lower stretch was visible.

The falls are the subject of a poem by Southey, not the best poet laureate we’ve ever had, but I like this bit of it:

 Dividing and gliding and sliding,

 And falling and brawling and sprawling,

 And driving and riving and striving,

 And sprinkling and twinkling and wrinkling,

 And sounding and bounding and rounding,

 And bubbling and troubling and doubling,

 And grumbling and rumbling and tumbling,

 And clattering and battering and shattering;


 Retreating and beating and meeting and sheeting,

 Delaying and straying and playing and spraying,

 Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing,

 Recoiling, turmoiling and toiling and boiling,

 And gleaming and streaming and steaming and beaming,

 And rushing and flushing and brushing and gushing,

 And flapping and rapping and clapping and slapping,

 And curling and whirling and purling and twirling,

 And thumping and plumping and bumping and jumping,

 And dashing and flashing and splashing and clashing;

 And so never ending, but always descending,

 Sounds and motions for ever and ever are blending

 All at once and all o'er, with a mighty uproar, -

 And this way the water comes down at Lodore.

 We were based in Poley Bridge on the shores of Ullswater, but spent several days around Derwentwater – Beatrix Potter country. Here’s a picture of the island in the lake. Beatrix sketched it a few times and it features in Squirrel Nutkin. The squirrels sail on paddleboards, using their tails as sails. 

I can’t help thinking that a modern editor would turn very pale indeed at the thought of Nutkin having his tail nipped off for cheeking Owl (REJECT!) but kids would love it. Then there’s Peter Rabbit’s Dad being put in a pie by Mrs Mcgregor. Horrors! Giggles! We discovered that Mrs Tiggywinkle’s house was drawn from an opening in a bank near the mines at Threlkeld. We visited Lingholm, where the walled garden is the model for Mr Mcgregor’s. Beatrix spent childhood holidays there with her parents and her sketches of Derwentwater and the island were made there from the path to the lake shore. I still have the falling-apart copy of 'The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher'. My oldest son loved it so much when he was very small. I still remember the day he looked up from his pushchair, grinned at me and shouted. ‘Ow! Ow! Ow!’ to the consternation of people in the shop. I’m not sure they were reassured by my muttering, ‘He’s just being Mr Jeremy Fisher.’

My favourite book of hers is not so well known as the others. It’s called 'The Fairy Caravan' and is a full-length book with several stories. Here’s her preface:

Through many changing seasons these tales have walked and talked with me. They were not meant for printing; I have left them in the homely idiom of our old north country speech. I send them on the insistence of friends beyond the sea.

Here's the beginning of the first story:

In the Land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is inhabited exclusively by guinea-pigs. They are of all colours and of two sorts. The common, or garden, guinea-pigs are most numerous. They have short hair, and they run errands and twitter. The guinea-pigs of the other variety are called Abyssinian Cavies. They have long hair and side whiskers, and they walk upon their toes.

(Please note the commas before 'and' to denote a breath/pause. Yes!)

And here's a sample of her illustrations. 

I don’t know if she would have described herself as a feminist, but in her time, in her own quiet way, she wrote and illustrated books to delight children through the ages, studied the natural world and presented her findings to the scientific community, used her earnings to buy up hill farms and bequeathed them to the National Trust so that people would have access to the land forever. Not a bad haul for one lifetime. 


Penny Dolan said…
Sandra, what a lovely post and reminder of Beatrix's talents and observations, and her deep interest in nature. Thank you.

Visiting the area, I felt that the aptly-named hotel had rather cornered (or fenced off) visits to the Falls of Lodore, and quite early on.

This poem has always been rather special to me as, aged about nine, I learned the whole poem by heart and recited it in class.

Although my achievement was praised by the teacher (in the low key 'don't get above yourself' way of those times) what I most remember now is how much I loved the play of sound and rhythm in that poem, and that that was what made the challenge of learning all those lines so attractive - and maybe set a love of writing running, too? Who knows?
Sandra Horn said…
Dear Penny, Thank you - and I'm flabberghasted that you could learn the Southey by heart at all, never mind at such a young age! Getting all the words in the right order, never mind remembering them - what an achievement! Mind you, I remember how learning-by-heart seemed so natural then and how much I loved it when it was poetry, so perhaps the love of writing was planted for me too, then.

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