The Lake District is known for its historic literary residents – but it wasn’t all Romantic poets mooning about the hills. Beatrix Potter famously lived there too, and one of the properties she owned in the 1930s, Yew Tree Farm, has recently been converted from a B&B into self-catering accommodation sleeping six. On a 700-acre fell farm near Coniston, you can expect encounters with creatures that could inspire anthropomorphic tales – collie dogs and turkeys roam the yard; a Herdwick sheep grazes placidly in the front field.
Not that the Beatrix Potter connection is overplayed; apart from a few copies of the storybooks, the property is mercifully free from twee (there are no Peter Rabbit bedspreads here). The cottage is owned by the National Trust, with farmer Jon Watson as tenant, ready to provide a friendly welcome. There are three bedrooms (two doubles, one twin), a small kitchen, large front room and a dining room – formerly a tea room, in Potter’s time, and still furnished with some of her own items. Fans may be interested to note the property was used in the filming of Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellweger. Those with no interest in the author will be more taken by the lovely old building, which dates from 1690 and the gorgeous surrounding scenery – which can also be enjoyed from the comfort of a hot tub. Jemima Puddle-Duck would surely approve.
Deliciously cosy – and creaky. Thick, dark wooden beams and groaning floorboards leave you in no doubt of the property’s grand old age, but those preparing it for modern guests did an excellent job: the heating is efficient, while water is hot and high-pressure. There’s underfloor heating in the bathroom, where an enormous bath rivals the outdoor hot tub for capacity, and there are two monsoon showers (one en suite to the master bedroom).
Towels and bedding are plump and white as Jemima’s feather nest, and beds in the two double rooms are substantial four posters. Furniture comes in correspondingly heavy hardwood. Be prepared for taxidermy: stuffed and mounted pheasants, foxes, owls and squirrels lurk in dark corners and on the walls (pleasingly papered in William Morris).
The kitchen alone looks modern, although those with serious culinary ambitions may find themselves thwarted by a slightly erratic electric oven and utensils of varied quality. The front room has an open fire, a TV, board games, iPod dock – and a large vase of fresh flowers and bottle of wine on arrival.
Out and about
You’re well placed to explore the Lake District – Coniston Water is two miles away, easily walkable. There are gentle strolls around the lake, or take a trip on the Victorian-style steam gondola (01539 432733; nationaltrust.org.uk/gondola); 45 minutes costs £10.50, and can be split to allow a visit to John Ruskin’s house on the water, Brantwood (brantwood.org.uk; £7.20).
Local walks include the Coppermines Valley, or more ambitiously heading up the Old Man of Coniston (there are maps and books in the cottage, or pop into Coniston tourist information). It’s a short drive to other lakes – Windermere and Grasmere within 20 minutes – and to starting points for more ambitious hikes, such as Bowfell or Scafell Pike.
For those with children – or an extreme sense of childhood nostalgia – a visit to The World of Beatrix Potter is surely in order. It’s in Bowness-on-Windermere, also about 20 minutes’ drive (hop-skip-jump.com; £6.95 for adults, £3.65 for kids).
Food and drink
Shop in Kendal on the way (Coniston has small shops for stocking up on essentials), and cook at the cottage; there’s a barbecue outside. Some very scrummy eggs are provided from the farm’s own chickens, while meat-lovers will want to investigate its heritage meats, farmed in the “traditional” method with high animal-welfare standards (heritagefoods.co.uk; beef, pork, lamb and mutton products, plus hampers from £55).
In Coniston, the Bluebird Café is on the water with a glass front and terrace providing pretty views while you enjoy a cup of tea and a cream scone or slice of home-made cake (015394 41649; thebluebird cafe.co.uk). Or head to the Black Bull Inn (015394 41168; blackbull coniston.co.uk), another cosy historic building, serving hearty pub food. It’s well equipped to slake the thirst of tired walkers too, with a brewery on site. Opt for one of its real ales, such as the award-winning Bluebird Bitter.
Yew Tree Farm, Coniston, Cumbria LA21 8DP (015394 32321; yewtree- farm.com; bookings via heartofthe lakes.co.uk). Weekly rental from £575, sleeps six. Suitable for children; one (well-behaved) dog welcome.