Having had one of the worst-ever Thursday night journeys to a Countryfile shoot, we drove on, bleary-eyed, through a wet and moody Lake District. It’s a landscape that never fails to evoke emotion and excitement in me, whatever our five-day forecasts predict for a visit.
The purpose of my trip was to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. Time for my weekly Countryfile gamble – is it going to rain for the rest of the day? And for the sake of continuity, should I commit to a full-on outdoor jacket, a hat and waterproof trousers combo? Thankfully, my hatless and waterproof trouserless punt paid off. The skies cleared the moment we began to film the very locations that inspired Beatrix and the actual vantage points from which she painted. Into these real places, she put the characters from her stories.
As it turned out, we have a fully booked holiday cottage in Scotland to thank for those tales we know and love today. The story goes that the Potter family, every summer, went up to their favorite Scottish retreat but one year it was fully booked. Reluctantly, the Potters decided to try somewhere different – and that somewhere was the Lake District and in particular Lingholm Estate, on the shores of Derwentwater. It was love at first sight and the family went back for years, up to three months at a time. Beatrix’s creativity ran wild in the Lakes, incorporating all that she loved in her beautiful paintings, enjoying not just painting her favourite nooks and crannies but also expressing how these places and her wild animal encounters made her feel, through the adventures of her characters.
Beatrix was passionate about what she called “her countryside”, giving many hill farms and acres over to the National Trust. Jessie from the Trust – with whom I was discovering how real the settings were for Beatrix’s stories – is on a mission to try to pin down where Beatrix actually was while she was painting. Jessie’s vision is for those who are passionate about those little story books to be able to stand where Beatrix did and be inspired as she was, over 100 years on.
Our filming day was full of mesmerising vistas and enlightening comparisons to Beatrix’s tiny watercolours. With every location came the perfect stage for an artist to create a masterpiece. It’s obvious how and why Beatrix produced some of her finest work in the Lakes and tried to transfer her passion for this place to children who may never get the chance to be where she was. But thanks to Jessie, her walking boots and keen eye, many now have that opportunity.
Watch Matt on Countryfile on Sunday nights at 6.30pm on BBC One.