5 things you should know about Hawkshead
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Hawkshead is a picture book village. It’s a charming, car-free, jumble of narrow streets, squares and lovely whitewashed buildings
Hawkshead isn’t a large place, but it has connections with two of the region’s literary heavyweights: William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.
Wordsworth studied at Hawkshead Grammar School and scratched his name onto one of the desks. He recalled the village in his seminal work, The Prelude, where he wrote of St Michael and All Angels Church: ‘I saw the snow white church upon its hill/Sit like a throned lady/Sending out a gracious look over all its domain’. You won’t find it if you follow that description as it has since been stripped of its limestone wash.
Beatrix Potter’s husband WIlliam Heelis worked at an office in Hawkshead which is now a gallery managed by the National Trust and dedicated to her work. Not far away is her home Hill Top at Near Sawrey, now owned by the National Trust. A recently-opened footpath between the village and the house, takes in some of the views that inspired her famous stories.
The village is crammed with lovely Lakeland stone buildings and the car-free centre is evocative of time long-gone. And although Hawkshead is far from being a living museum – the contemporary shops, cafes and accommodation are as fine as you’ll find anywhere – history is all around you in the village.
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Hawkshead grew as a medieval market town and was famed for its wool. The museum at Hawkshead Grammar School includes stories of many of the people who played key roles in the school’s history such as its founder Edwin Sandys, former pupil William Wordsworth and Edward Christian a headteacher who only lasted a year, who was the brother of Bounty mutineer Fletcher.
And next door, the first chapel was built on the site of the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels in the 12th century with additions made in the 1300s and the 1500s. The wall paintings date from the 17th century and include the delightfully dialectical ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and t’word was God’. On a clear day the grounds of the church offer some of the best views you’ll find.
Food and drink
For a compact Lakeland village, Hawkshead punches well above its weight for places to eat and drink. There are four pubs around the village but they aren’t your only options for eating on your day out in Hawkshead. As you’d expect from one of the most popular tourist destinations in Lakeland, the village has a number of cafes serving everything from tea and cakes to light meals.
If you want to sample the taste of Hawkshead, try some of the local produce – Hawkshead Relish, Hawkshead Chocolate Company, The Little Ice Cream Shop and Potters Hawkshead Gin all manufacture their tasty products around the village. You’ll find the village’s name on bottles of Hawkshead Bitter too, but that’s brewed at Staveley. If you want to try a local brew, try one of the Cumbrian Legendary Ales brewed in a converted barn on the Graythwaite Estate. If you’re a cat lover, maybe consider combining your lunch with a bit of cat adoration at Kittchen, an independent bar that is home to free range cats.
The breath-taking countryside around Hawkshead is made for exploring by cycle or foot. Among the most popular destinations is Esthwaite Water – one of smallest in the Lake District – (and home to Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher) where you might now you might spot ospreys trying to find lunch there.
Tarn Hows is hugely popular, as is the castellated Claife Viewing Station, next to the ferry and built in 1790 for the first tourists. Grizedale Forest is close by and is home to a sculpture trail with about 100 pieces of art dotted around the woodland. It’s managed by Forestry England and there are walking trails, cycling trails, Go Ape and Forest Segway.
And if you are planning outdoor adventures, you’ll need the right gear. Luckily, Hawkshead has its own brand of outdoor wear. The clothing firm, which stocks all the big brands, was born in the village and now stores across the country.
Hawkshead’s pedestrianised centre is perfect for shoppers and they come from far and wide to enjoy the impressive range of attractive shops. The village’s higgeldy-piggeldy streets are crammed with everything you could wish for on a shopping trip.
And Hawkshead is the perfect antidote for anyone who is concerned that all shopping centres are the same – the charming streets of whitewashed buildings house a delightful mix of independent gift shops, book shop, outdoorwear shops and homeware shops.