Get on the trail of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

Beatrix Potter is the subject of a major new film starring Renée Zellweger which premieres next weekend. Helen Pickles follows the author's footsteps around the Lake District, the landscape that inspired her

Will Tom Kitten escape up the chimney? Will the bunnies end up in Mr Brock the badger's stomach? Beatrix Potter's tales are as captivating today as they were when she wrote and illustrated them in the late 1800s. And the popularity of the author and her stories has been confirmed by the release of a new film, Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellweger in the title role, which receives its world premiere next Sunday and opens across Britain on 5 January.

Potter grew up in London but the Lake District is where she settled and based most of her stories. First stop is the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, Bowness-on-Windermere, where all 23 Potter stories have been brought to life. Children aren't essential - half the adult visitors are unaccompanied as they make their way along a twisting path that leads through an Arcadian land of glades, gnarled tree trunks, cottage gardens and sunlit meadows.

At each turn, a fresh tableau of Potter characters is revealed. Disappointingly, they don't actually do anything. But that doesn't seem to bother children, who are enchanted by the near-perfect likeness to Potter's illustrations: the striped bedclothes on Mr Tod's bed, the squiggly way Peter Rabbit squeezes under Mr McGregor's gate, Jeremy Fisher sitting on a lily pad.

Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 to a wealthy family. Summer holidays, first in Scotland then in the Lake District, gave her a love of the countryside and animals. Rabbits, mice and hedgehogs became pets, and long hours spent studying and drawing them turned her into an accomplished artist.

She began selling to greeting card companies but it was an illustrated letter to the son of her ex-governess that began her literary career: "I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter." Several years later, she thought the letter might make a book. Turned down by publishers, she privately printed The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. The following year, Frederick Warne published it, all 8,000 copies selling out immediately.

There's a facsimile of the letter at Hill Top, the farmhouse she bought with her royalties in 1905. The 17th-century house in Near Sawrey is furnished as she left it when she died in 1943. As a single woman she was ahead of her time, able to buy property - 14 farms and more than 4,000 acres of land - from her earnings. When she eventually married, aged 47, she and her solicitor husband, William Heelis, lived at nearby Castle Cottage while Hill Top was kept as her "private space" for writing.

The house, village and surrounding countryside pop up in her books. On the half-landing I spotted the grandfather clock from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, in the parlour the coronation teapot from The Pie and the Patty-Pan, while the path to the front door features in The Tale of Tom Kitten. It's odd but comforting to gaze on the same scenes as Potter and realise that little has changed, including the next door Tower Bank Arms (from Jemima Puddle-duck), which does a useful line in pub comfort food.

Her original illustrations are in the Beatrix Potter Gallery at Hawkshead, two miles away. Larger than in the books, they are gorgeous, the colours and expressions captivating. This pretty village, which appears in The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, is all cobbled lanes and little squares and heaving with tourists in high season.

A walk around Tarn Hows, at nearby Coniston, is more restful. Despite its legendary beauty, the landscape is artificial, created in the 1850s by the owner of nearby Monk Coniston Hall. Miss Potter pops up again; she bought the estate in 1930. She bought land and farms to prevent them from being broken up and because, in her later years, she became a farmer. (She bequeathed her land to the National Trust.)

From the northern end of the Tarn, I climbed up Black Crag, an easy walk that rewards with stunning views: the Langdale Pikes, Weatherlam, Coniston Old Man, Windermere and, if you're lucky, Helvellyn. Afterwards, I dropped in for tea and home-made cakes at Yew Tree Farm, also once owned by Potter during the 1930s.It still has the original furnishings and, in a nice throwback to the 1930s, customers must arrive by foot.

The farmhouse was used as the film stand-in for Hill Top. With a change of paint and windows and an instantly created vegetable garden on the field in front, it looks remarkably similar.

I headed north to Derwentwater, on the trail of Squirrel Nutkin. Taking the footpath from Hawes End towards Keswick, I didn't see any squirrels but, peering through a gap in the fence at Fawe Park, I caught my breath. There was the flat-topped wall on which Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit had stood, gazing into Mr McGregor's garden. Half-close my eyes and I could see Peter's blue jacket hanging on the scarecrow.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE:

Helen Pickles was a guest of Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel, Windermere (015394 45759; lindeth-howe.co.uk), which offers double rooms from £150 b&b. Country Lanes (015394 44544; countrylanes.co.uk) offers a four-day cycling holiday, On the Trail of Beatrix Potter, from £195 per person, including three nights' b&b, bicycle hire and maps and routes and free entry to Hill Top.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

World of Beatrix Potter Attraction (015394 88444; hop-skip-jump.com), Hill Top (015394 36269) and the Beatrix Potter Gallery (015394 36355), are closed until the spring. Call for opening times.

Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink