Beloved English region was saved by famous writer
It’s hard to imagine England’s Lake District pockmarked by lavish resorts and developed beyond all natural recognition.
That could have easily been the case after interest in the area, located in the country’s northwest corner, blossomed following the introduction of rail lines into the region in 1846.
Thankfully, determined resident Beatrix Potter would see to it that the Lake District that she first visited as a child, and relocated to in her late 40s, would maintain its natural integrity.
While the author, artist and amateur botanist is best known for her collection of children’s stories — and her most famous character Peter Rabbit — her efforts to purchase huge tracts of land and donate them to the country’s National Trust, a preservation society, has been credited with saving the Lake District from almost certain overdevelopment.
"It’s inspiring that someone who amassed such a fortune from her literary works could put it back into an area that inspired her," says Lake District guide and Potter expert Nicky Godfrey-Evans.
Indeed, the author, the subject of the upcoming film Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger, used the estimated 87 pets she hosted throughout her life and local scenery as characters or settings for her hugely popular children’s stories.
Today tourists flock to sites such as Potter’s home at Hill Top Farm in the village of Sawrey, to see the gardens in which a mischievous Peter Rabbit found adventure, as well as the house itself, which has been painstakingly preserved at her request as it was the day she died.
In total, Potter left 14 farms and about 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust and in turn saved the face of what would become the Lake District National Park for future generations.
While many venture to the area for the tremendous hiking, rock climbing and scenic walks, they quickly learn why the Lake District has become a favourite vacation destination or even home to numerous English literary giants, including the poet William Wordsworth.
"I’ve lived abroad in Hong Kong and Scotland and never thought I’d rush back here," says Joanne Wilson, co-owner of the gingerbread shop in the Lake District village of Grasmere, which has lured thousands of gingerbread enthusiasts since the 1850s including the famed British chef Jamie Oliver, almost all of whom try to coax the top-secret gingerbread recipe from Wilson.
"When you have your own family you realize how important it is to live here," she adds.
While the reputedly grumpy Potter — who grew up amid certain wealth, but became independently rich from book royalties before her death in 1943 at age 77 — would never have children of her own, the combined contribution of her stories and preservation activities have made her the unofficial matriarch of the Lake District.