HOME AT FIRST'S
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?
Join us today as we
stalk the perfect English village. Our fourth nominee is:
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.
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
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.
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
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
they are fair, and you don’t mind opening
The Hawkshead Relish
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
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
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
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
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
Ann taught William Wordsworth while he was a pupil in
the Hawkshead Grammar
School. The townsfolk continue
her important influence
their favorite native
Wordsworth — if his
own words are worth
anything — thought
otherwise. See his poem to the
"Books! ‘tis a dull and
Come, hear the
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
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages
The Tables Turned 1798
If Wordsworth is Hawksheads favorite native son, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is
surely its beloved adopted daughter. The creator of the Peter Rabbit
childrens 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.
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
The mountains of the
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