Monday, April 28, 2014

Of patron saints, Miss Potter, and lawn mowers

My favorite of all critters is the rabbit/hare. This love came about because a very good friend of mine told
"Wild" rabbit tending the grass
me wonderful tales about what good pets rabbits made, how they were easy to take care of, sweet, cuddly and so on. My first rabbit, Drucilla, was every bit as promised: cuddly, easy to take care of, sweet, and a bit more ~ stubborn, hungry for electric cords, and very good at hiding when I was ready to leave the house. Maggie was also wonderful and she didn’t eat cords, just woodwork and body parts when she was really irritated. Pepper had none of the bad habits of Maggie or Drucilla; she just had nothing to do with me and loved DM. I didn’t care; I loved them all no matter what! Along with this love of real rabbits came my collection of rabbit/hare statuary, dishes, paintings, stuffed critters, and basically anything that looks like the real animal.

I knew that Beatrix Potter hailed from the Lake District of England, so I was determined to make the pilgrimage to her Hill Top Farm. However, in doing research for this trip, I found that
St Melangell Center
there was another place I needed to visit. Saint Melangell is the patron saint of hares, rabbits, other small animals and the environment. At the end of a long, winding, one-lane road in Wales is Pennant Melangell, one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. Around the area are fields with grazing sheep, daffodils, and hedges. Although I hadn’t planned it, we visited the shrine the week before Easter. There was no special service at St. Melangell so the church was open to any and all visitors. It remains open throughout the year so that pilgrims can come and go as they please. Because St. Melangell is
St. Melangell Church
the patron saint of hares, no hares are ever hunted in this area. The church was built in the 12th century and is surrounded by Yew trees with a cemetery in front of the church. Not surprisingly, the information on the headstones is in Welsh. Just down the hill is the St. Melangell Centre in a house not much younger than the church. It was a real treat to wander the grounds, see the carvings, and visit the shrine.

And of course, we did visit Hill Top Farm. One would think that such a famous place would be very easy to find, as would the
Hawkshead village
museum associated with Beatrix Potter. Think again. We spent several hours in frustrated search for either the farm or the museum hoping that if we found one the people there would be able to direct us to the other. Fortunately, this was the case. The Beatrix Potter Gallery is in the building that once housed her husband’s law offices in the small town of Hawkshead. This is a beautiful little village situated on a hillside surrounded by open fields with sheep, lambs, and even a pony or two. The gallery has two floors (very small rooms) devoted to information about her writing, her family and her life. Not five miles away is Hill Top Farm. This was Miss Potter’s place of refuge from her
Hill Top Farm house
parents and city life. As she became wealthy from her writing, she was able to buy up more and more farms saving them from becoming fallow. During World War I she campaigned for keeping horses on these farms so that land could continue to be worked efficiently. In World War II, she successfully petitioned Winston Churchill to remove the factories that were built specifically for the war since they would be abandoned and would ruin the land for farming. She was very specific in her will, leaving Hill Top Farm and the surrounding lands to the National Trust. At the farm there are still rabbits that are fed regularly and are fenced off not from the garden but from the tourists.

Hill Top Farm Rabbits

And speaking of environmentally friendly places, Inverness Castle uses rabbits to trim the grass on the slope below the castle. As we looked out of the window of our hotel, we thought we were seeing rabbits. Quickly, we went down Ness Walk, crossed the bridge and came up to the slope beneath the castle. The rabbits hop in and out of the daffodils, chase each other and hide in their warrens. They are not disturbed by the traffic, tourists, or evidently anything else. Most appear to be
"Wild' rabbit at Inverness Castle
wild, but there is a black rabbit that looks suspiciously like a domestic bunny that has escaped into this ‘wilderness’. That rabbit doesn’t know how lucky it is!

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