Beatrix Potter's former cottage has been lovingly refurbished, and there's not a china Benjamin Bunny or Jemima Puddleduck in sight, says Harry Pearson
Tuesday August 21 2007
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This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Tuesday August 21 2007. It was last updated at 13:41 on August 21 2007.
Renee Zellweger outside Yew Tree Farm in the movie Miss Potter. The farm has just received a full makeover.
Yew Tree Farm sits at the bottom of a narrow valley that cuts westward into the Cumbrian Mountains above Coniston. Overlooked by crags topped with purple heather, the surrounding woods of hazel and beech are patrolled by herds of proprietorial Belted Galloway cattle that bellow mightily at the unwary walker. In the fields around are herds of the Herdwick Sheep Beatrix Potter worked so hard to save from extinction. A hardy, grey-fleeced breed, their large white heads, quizzical expressions and jerky gait give them the appearance of puppets.
Beatrix Potter bought Yew Tree Farm in 1930. Ever the businesswoman she helped the tenant farmers set up a tea room in the parlour to serve passing hikers, providing the furniture and ornaments to decorate it from her own collection. You can see them in what is now the breakfast room (the tea room has moved to the across the hall) of this excellent and atmospheric B&B: a massive dresser, a Jacobean table, watercolours of Lakeland scenes, a cabinet of lusterware, a display of letters from Wordsworth, Ruskin and Southey. And – despite the fact that Yew Tree Farm doubled as Hill Top in the Rene Zellwegger movie Miss Potter – there's not a china Benjamin Bunny or fluffy Jemima Puddleduck in sight.
Yew Tree Farm has recently been extensively refurbished, but – and I mean this as compliment – you'd barely notice, such was the good judgement and sensitivity that was applied to the job. In the public areas William Morris wallpaper, all fern leaves and honeysuckle, sits perfectly with the dark wood and polished slate. In the guest lounge you can help yourself to port, play nine men's morris and sink into the soft sofa, while outside the Lake District rain patters off the roof of an ancient barn confirming for anyone still in doubt just why there are so many anorak shops in Ambleside. There's a hot tub steaming invitingly in the guest garden, but I've been visiting this area for nearly 40 years and never feel truly comfortable unless I've got a cagoule on.
Our bedroom has dark red walls and bronze-green drapes. The door furniture dates from the accession of King William III and the cruck beams that prop up the roof are so redoubtable that architectural historians turn up regularly to photograph them. The oak four-poster bed is big enough for Thor Heyerdal to have sailed the Pacific on. I am close to two metres tall but sitting on the edge of it my feet dangle childishly above the waxed wooden floor.
The bed was made by craftsmen in Kendal, an indication of Yew Tree Farm's genuine commitment to Cumbrian industry and Lakeland agriculture. The breakfast sausages are from Ashness Farm, the bread from up the road, the sauces on the table are made in Hawkshead, the soap in the bathroom from an organic cosmetic company a few miles away. The lamb at dinner is from the farm's own herd. This is to be applauded, not only because the products in question are excellent, but also because recent experience suggests the phrase "locally sourced ingredients" is well on its way to becoming just another marketing gimmick. When applied to the British catering and hotel trade it is all too frequently as meaningless as those other staples "homemade" and "garden fresh". Sadly "locally sourced" often seems to mean "bought at the nearest Tesco". Well, not here it doesn't. Bravo to Caroline and Jon who run Yew Tree Farm for that, and for everything else about this very special place, too