Why walking alpacas is the best way to explore Beatrix Potter’s holiday home

A trip to the Lake District isn’t complete without this off-the-wall excursion

Helen Coffey
Friday 23 June 2017 13:54 BST
Take a tour of Lingholm Estate with an alpaca in tow
Take a tour of Lingholm Estate with an alpaca in tow (Alpacaly Ever After)

“So what’s this surprise then?”

“You’ll see in a minute.”

Excited as a child, trying to wheedle the details of the day’s excursion out of my long-suffering beau as we enter the idyllic grounds of Lingholm Estate – famously the childhood holiday home of Beatrix Potter – I shield my eyes from the sun and look up. And see something truly astonishing.

Fifty metres ahead waits a man wearing wellies and a tweed flat cap over his flaming red hair. That isn’t what’s astonishing – it’s pretty standard dress code for nearby Keswick, the pretty Lake District town where we’ve been staying for the last few days. No, what’s taken me aback is his two companions: a couple of joyously adorable alpacas.

“Surprise!” The boyfriend looks at me with a grin as I splutter in shock. Of all the things I was expecting, this wasn’t one of them.

“What…? How…?” I stumble forward in awe, staring lovingly at the creatures before me and immediately anthropomorphising them: “They’re smiling!”

(They’re not.)

The man turns out to be Terry, former soldier turned breeder and entrepreneur, who in just four short years has grown his herd from a couple of alpacas to over 40. He has no background in farming but learnt the trade as he went along, asking breeders for advice and doing research online.

“Here you go, this is Jake,” says Terry, handing me a lead attached to the white fluffy specimen on his left. I cling on, half delighted, half terrified, as he informs me that this is Jake’s first time out of the paddock – he’s never been walked by a stranger before.

Beatrix Potter's holiday home provides the perfect backdrop
Beatrix Potter's holiday home provides the perfect backdrop (Oliver Jarvis)

“Won’t he be nervous?” I ask, covering for the fact that I’m a tad nervous myself.

“Nah, he’ll be fine. Probably. You can’t tell whether they’ll like it until you get them out on the lead, so we’ll see.”

Terry hands the other alpaca, a gorgeous auburn beast called Bradley, to my partner and explains to us that we can pet them, but only in certain places. “Stroke them on the side of the neck – but don’t touch them on the back. It makes them anxious.”

I gulp. Got it, no back-touching.

Lingholm Estate backs onto Derwentwater
Lingholm Estate backs onto Derwentwater (Oliver Jarvis)

There’s really no need to be scared though – Terry is quick to inform us that our charges’ top teeth have been trimmed, so they can give us a nip but it won’t do any damage.

Adding that alpacas make different sounds to indicate their mood – when they hum it means they’re contented – the perpetually laid-back Terry beckons us forward to begin our tour of the estate’s private grounds.

Alpacas aside, booking this experience provides an innovative loophole in the law of the manor. Only parts of Lingholm Estate are open to the public – namely The Lingholm Kitchen café, a smattering of public footpaths and the walled garden that provided Ms Potter with the inspiration for Peter Rabbit’s adventures with Farmer McGregor. But the actual house and grounds behind are privately owned by boy-done-good millionaire businessman David Seymour, who bought the estate in 2014: “He’s a decent lad,” Terry tells us. The only way you can walk freely around the grounds is by staying on the estate in one of the 11 accommodation options, ranging from bijoux apartments to sizeable houses – or by taking an alpaca for a walk.

Taking a selfie with an alpaca is harder than it looks 

 Taking a selfie with an alpaca is harder than it looks 
 (Oliver Jarvis)

The latter is infinitely more entertaining. As we tentatively take our first steps with our new best friends, I’m torn between gazing in wonder at Jake’s jovial face and gazing in wonder at the magnificent grounds. The house is perfectly positioned at the top of a gentle slope leading down to Derwentwater, providing an unbeatable view of what I consider to be the Lake District’s most beautiful body of water.

We soon warm up to our companions, gently leading them across the path, trying to discourage them from eating every blade of grass in sight. In no time I hear the unmistakable vibrations of a hum: “It’s Jake! He loves me!”

Terry gives us his patter as we walk, telling us about how he built up the business from nothing; in addition to alpaca walks, he makes a tidy profit from selling their fleece, coveted for its softness. He throws in some ghoulish Beatrix Potter facts that were conveniently left out of the movie – apparently she chloroformed and stuffed animals as a child so she could draw them more accurately. Nice.

Terry takes the alpacas for a dip
Terry takes the alpacas for a dip (Oliver Jarvis)

We make our way down to the water’s edge at a leisurely pace, pausing every now and then for Terry to capture a few snaps of us as a memento. When we reach the shore, he encourages us to take a selfie with our alpacas: it’s much trickier than it sounds, as they move their heads this way and that in diva-like fashion.

I sigh contentedly as I stand looking over the tranquil beauty of Derwentwater while Jake the alpaca nuzzles into the sleeve of my coat (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write). How could life get better than this?

Moving on, we come to a rope swing tied to a tree, which was reportedly a favourite hangout of Beatrix’s. “Fancy a swing?” asks Terry. Do I?!

I push off, hoping for the inspiration and creativity of Britain’s most lauded children’s author to filter through the years and take root in my head. Ooh, imagine if a hedgehog did laundry – wait, that’s already been done. Oh well.

The hour passes ludicrously quickly, and before I know it we’ve circled back around to the field where Terry keeps some of his herd. I look down sadly at Jake – I can’t bear to be parted from him already.

And it turns out I don’t have to. “Come on, it’s feeding time,” shouts Terry. He brings a big bucket of feed, pouring pellets into our outstretched palms so that alpacas trot over and snuffle their soft snouts against our fingers. We spend a busy half-hour ensuring everyone has had their fill before it really is time to go.

“Goodbye Jake,” I say softly, stroking his neck as I imagine I see his clear blue eyes welling up with tears.

(They’re not).

And then I chloroform and stuff him, Potter-style, so our love will never die.

Just kidding.

Travel essentials

A 90-minute long alpaca walk around Lingholm Estate for two people costs £60. Children under 8 can walk for free (sharing an alpaca with a paying adult).


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