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HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

THE LAKE DISTRICT

(4th of a series)

           That ethereal community, the imaginary perfect English village what would its components be? There would surely be a village green. Of course, the greengrocer will display the freshest fruit and veg along the footpath in front of his tidy shop. All the call boxes will be painted with the traditional red lacquer and the pub must have windows of leaded glass and a mahogany interior. Shouldn't the stone church tower be the highest structure in town? And flowers! There must be climbing roses of all colors at all times of year, and lilacs and others to festoon the roof eaves and drip over

the garden walls. But the architecture what should it be? Half-timbered Tudor? Honey-golden limestone? Thatched gingerbread? Elizabethan? Georgian? Edwardian? Regency? Medieval? 

Join us today as we stalk the perfect English village. Our fourth nominee is:

 

PHOTOS © HOME AT FIRST

 

          Not all the English holiday in Spain. And not all Brits who vacation in Britain choose to suffer stoically in neo-fascist holiday camps and depressing caravan parks along some "bracing" (British for "freezing") shingle beach in Wales, Cornwall, Dorset, or Morecambe Bay. No. There remain those British stalwarts who follow the lead of their Victorian

Queens Head Inn, Hawkshead. Home At First photo.

Queens Head Inn, Hawkshead.

antecedents and come to the Lake District. Here in

 

the soft counterpane landscape of the Vale of Esthwaite in the south-central Lake District, they find old Hawkshead, as classically English a village as you should hope to find.
          Hawkshead claims to be "a truly historic and wonderfully picturesque village characterized by its cluster of whitewashed houses, archways and alleyways, courtyards and squares." The jaded traveler wrinkles his nose with skepticism at such a risky claim. Too many times such towns turn out to be pretentiously tweedy or down-in-the-mouth seedy.

 

COTTAGES, COBBLESTONES, AND CAR-FREE
          Hawkshead’s claim is neither bluff nor bluster, but spot-on. Yes, the town is somewhat bruised by new commercial development. But this amounts to a few upscale shops that surround the bright, well-equipped and friendly town tourist information office in a brick strip mall that acts as a tourist trap by the town’s large municipal parking lot. In a sense, this brick blight keeps all the frenzy by the fence.

Whitewashed cottages festooned with climbing roses and window boxes. Home At First photo.

Whitewashed
cottages
festooned with
climbing roses &
window boxes.

        The bulk of the village can spend the profits earned at the gate on maintaining its wonderful eccentricities: a rat’s maze of narrow, cobbled alleyways lined with whitewashed cottages festooned with climbing roses and window boxes and potted gardens of English posies. There’s nary a square wall, a straight, sharp edge, nor two leaded windows alike. Stone stair steps cascade from arched doorways low enough to make a hunchback stoop. One low-bridge leads into an old cottage that looks like a fallen wedding cake. It’s Hawkshead’s Methodist Church.

        The fun of Hawkshead is the fun of surprise. No cars or trucks are permitted except a few delivery vans hauling in victuals and ale, or hauling out Royal Mail full of post cards and

 

specialty mustards, woolen garments and outdoors fashions.

Walking all the curvaceous alleys of the village cannot require more than about 20 minutes. Unless, that is, you choose to retrace your meandering path through town, in which case the trip requires a full hour and you can expect to recognize little on the return journey that caught your eye on the way in.

          In Hawkshead, there are shops where you can find all that is fine and treasured in this part of the world: spices loose and in heavy ceramic pots, rustic finery and cottage chintz, crafts ranging from the nostalgic to the practical to the preposterous. There is fine art and fine artisanship. There are grocers and bakers and butchers ready to supply your picnic hamper with delights for any outing. There are several fine pubs and restaurants, each with a history, ambiance and offering that makes it attractive enough to become your favorite-of-the-moment. Prices are not low, but given the surroundings and the quality of the fare they are fair, and you don’t mind opening

The Hawkshead Relish Company: spices loose and in heavy ceramic pots; rustic finery and cottage chintz. Photo © Home At First.

The Hawkshead Relish Company:
spices loose and in heavy ceramic
pots; rustic finery & cottage chintz.

your purse when both satisfied in body and budget.

 

 

MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY
        The Esthwaite Valley surrounds the Esthwaite Water, one of the pearls of the Lake District, albeit a little one. Parallel valleys to the east and the west of Esthwaite

Esthwaite Water by Hawkshead in the English Lake District.

Esthwaite Water by Hawkshead
in the English Lake District.

contain two larger, better known lakes: Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. Separating the Vale of Esthwaite from its neighboring valleys are hillsides of the Grizedale Forest. Invading Norsemen decided the valley would be a good place to settle down sometime in the late Dark Ages. Hawkshead takes its name not from the kestrels that soar over the neighboring hills but from its founding father, a Viking named Haukr who evidently decided this valley was the right place for domestication. He wasn’t wrong. Sheep and cows were replaced by the Vikings as the principal domesticated animals in the

area. Their descendants are still here, keeping the grass closely cropped on

pastureland that rises away from the edge of town.

          Hawkshead was a logical market town serving local farmers and tradesmen on the easiest routes across the hills to Coniston and Windermere. King James I granted Hawkshead its market charter in 1608, and the wool market town flourished. Several inns were built to serve the traders, and numerous tradesmen built shops along lanes that became Leather Street, Putty Street, and Rag Street. Overlooking the town from a hill on the edge of town is the 15th century church of St Michael and All Angels. William Wordsworth mentioned the

St. Michael and All Angels Church, overlooking Hawkshead for 600 years. Photo © Home At First.

St. Michael and All Angels Church,
overlooking Hawkshead for 600 years.

church in his poetry, and its peaceful, pastoral setting is little changed today except on summer evenings when the church hosts a regular series of music recitals.

 

A FAVORITE SON AND AN ADOPTED DAUGHTER
          Wordsworth (1770-1850) is, arguably, the Lake District’s favorite son and best propagandist. Many of the pastoral, romantic, and heroic images of the Lake District that brought the Victorians and continue to bring us first appeared in his poetry. From the ages of 8-17 young Wordsworth attended the Hawkshead grammar school. Although he’s remembered as a keen student, these lines, written when Wordsworth was 28, suggest otherwise:

Ann Tyson's House Hawkshead

Ann taught William Wordsworth while he was a pupil in the Hawkshead Grammar School. The townsfolk continue to honor

her important influence on

their favorite native son.

Wordsworth — if his own words are worth anything — thought otherwise. See his poem to the right.

Ann Tyson's House, Hawkshead. Ann taught William Wordsworth while he was a pupil in the Hawkshead Grammar School. The townsfolk continue to honor her important influence on their favorite native son. Wordsworth--if his own words are worth anything--thought otherwise. See his poem to the right. Photo © Home At First.

"Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife;
     Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! On my life,
     There’s more of wisdom in it.

One impulse from a vernal wood
     May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
     Than all the sages can."

        —    WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

           from The Tables Turned 1798

          If Wordsworth is Hawkshead’s favorite native son, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is surely its beloved adopted daughter. The creator of the Peter Rabbit children’s stories first came to the Lake District (from London) on holiday as a girl, and fell in love with the region. She purchased two farms on the ridge separating the Esthwaite from Lake Windermere, 2 miles from Hawkshead. She wrote seven books at her

home, Hill Top, in the hamlet of Near Sawrey. Today the house is open to the public, as is the former office of her husband, a Hawkshead lawyer, which today is the town’s Beatrix Potter Gallery, a museum with original illustrations from her famous books.

        Wordsworth and Potter fell in love with the Lake District scenery, which can be gently pastoral or menacingly precipitous. Visitors can experience the same variety of nature best by walking in the 

Hawkshead as seen from Latterbarrow ridge.

Hawkshead as seen
from Latterbarrow ridge.

crosses through meadows east of town, and climbs surrounding countryside. There are numerous walks within close proximity of Hawkshead graded from gentle strolls to rugged hill climbs. An excellent walk of about 2 hours begins in the center of Hawkshead, the flatiron top of Latterbarrow ridge between the Esthwaite and Windermere valleys.

 

A REFUGE OF OLD ENGLAND IN AN IDEALIZED SETTING

The mountains of the Lake District and the rooftops of Hawkshead.

The mountains of the Lake District
and the rooftops of Hawkshead.

          Although quiet much of the year, Hawkshead becomes very busy in the summer, especially on good weather weekends when day tourists and walkers flock to the town. The town’s annual summer Hawkshead Show focuses on the twin themes of local agriculture and Lake District sports. Its Victorian Fair also in the summertime takes advantage of the town’s historic appearance as a stage for the early days of the Lake District as a tourist destination. With its traditional inns, eccentric shops, and local crafts available to visitors year round, Hawkshead is a refuge of old England in an idealized setting.

 

—HOME AT FIRST—

You can stalk Hawkshead and many other perfect English villages.
Read about
HOME AT FIRST travel programs to:

THE COTSWOLDS DEVON & CORNWALL SHROPSHIRE & CHESHIRE THE LAKE DISTRICT NORTH YORKSHIRE
AND THE DALES