Beatrix and her family spent 12 wonderful summers in Perthshire, Scotland. It was here her father enjoyed his fishing and his photography. He invited one or two male friends to join him, including William Gaskell, together with John Bright and Sir John Everett Millais. There is no doubt these gentlemen had a lasting influence on Beatrix and her brother Bertram, especially John Bright a Quaker, who often took them for long walks in the countryside.
It was in this setting that Beatrix began her adventure with Nature. In later life, speaking of her time in Scotland she said “I remember every stone, every tree, the scent of the heather… the murmuring of the wind through the fir trees. Even when the thunder growled in the distance and the wind swept up the valley in fearful gusts, oh it was always beautiful, home sweet home.” (1)
She began initially in her childlike way, with Bertram at her side, to embark on nature study and experiments.
They collected animals, plants and insects and smuggled home “innumerable beetles, toadstools, dead birds, hedgehogs, caterpillars, minnows and sloughed snake skins” (2) They skinned or boiled them and kept the bones. Everything they brought home they drew and painted. They would take odd sheets of paper and sew them into little books and filled them with their drawings of flowers, butterflies, birds and eggs.
Below is a page from a sketch book from when Beatrix was just eight years old.
Dead animals were one thing but Beatrix and her brother found collecting live wild animals even more exciting. Often these animals where harboured in secret. They included rabbits and hares, bats, rats and mice. When the family returned to their home in London they would be accompanied by lizards, newts and toads etc.
Bertram would return to school but these wild animals would be treasured by Beatrix in her attic Nursery.
Thus began Beatrix’s love of Nature that developed into adulthood and throughout her life.
(1) The Magic Years of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane – pp 21
(2) The Magic Years of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane – pp23