Jane Arnold, Washington, never expected that the photos she and a friend posed for last May in the garden of Beatrix Potter’s home while on a nearly month-long visit to England would ever come to anything. It was kind of a fluke that they were even invited to the photoshoot to begin with.
Yet, there they are, featured in a two-page spread in the September 2018 issue of Victoria, a bimonthly women’s lifestyle magazine. This particular issue is devoted to “a celebration of British beauty.”
Arnold and her husband Dave were prompted to visit England in May by a couple, John and Sharon Silva, who had been their neighbors in Washington before moving to Oklahoma for John’s work.
The Silvas had been to England many times, and invited the Arnolds to join them for a trip. The Arnolds, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next month, decided it was a great opportunity.
“Dave said, ‘It will be our present to ourselves, and if we don’t do it now, we probably never will, especially with someone who knows where to go and what to do,’ ” Jane recalled, noting they were gone May 2-27.
Sharon Silva mapped out a loose itinerary for the group that included visits to the Cotswolds, the Peak District, the Lake District, Oxford, Chawton, Royal Turnbridge Wells and London.
But the centerpiece of the trip was to be a visit to Castle Cottage in the Lake District for “A Picnic With Susan Branch.”
‘A Fine Romance’
Branch is an American and New York Times bestselling author/illustrator who had just published a book, “A Fine Romance, Falling in Love With the English Countryside,” about her own monthslong tour of England.
During the trip, Branch kept a handwritten journal, illustrated with her own watercolor paintings, and those journal entries were collected for the new book.
Branch held a booksigning for “A Fine Romance” at Castle Cottage, which was the home of the famous children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, who is best known for “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Sharon Silva is a big fan of Branch’s work and was eager to attend the “Picnic” booksigning at Castle Cottage, and the Arnolds, who operate The Art Center framing business, were interested in attending as well.
The night before the picnic, the group were at a tavern near where they were staying when they struck up a conversation with another couple sitting near them. The woman was an American photographer who lives in England with her husband and works for Victoria magazine, taking photos around Great Britain, as needed.
Assigned to get photographs for a piece on “A Picnic With Susan Branch,” the photographer was going an hour early to stage a picnic scene and snap photos of the garden.
After hearing all of the equipment and items the photographer planned to carry into the venue, Silva offered their help, and she accepted.
“We helped her carry everything in and set up everything,” said Arnold. “She would stand back to look through her camera lens and ask us to move things a little bit this way or that, and then she said, ‘It needs something else . . . You two. I need you two to get in there.’ ”
So they did. Arnold and Silva sat down on the picnic blanket and posed for several photos. Arnold said she never expected one of those would be selected for the magazine spread, but then it was.
Looking at the magazine layout, Arnold smiles as memories of that day come back to her.
“It was the coldest and windiest of all the days we were there,” she said. “Right after we took these photos, we put our coats back on.”
Keeps Her Own Journal
Drawing inspiration from Branch, Arnold kept her own journal of their visit to England. She illustrated hers with photos she snapped with her cellphone and printed using a pocket-sized photo printer that had been a gift from a friend.
The photos helped keep details fresh in her mind for when she sat down later to capture her thoughts and reactions of everything she saw.
Arnold took photos of the places where they stayed, which included cottages, bed and breakfast inns and Airbnbs, like the Stone Cottage, which was an old barn that had been renovated into a B&B.
“We checked into Lime Cottage — it is adorable!” Arnold wrote in her journal. “There are so many stone fences here — miles and miles of them.”
In the Peak District, they stayed at the Rocking Stone Cottage, which has a huge boulder that can be rocked back and forth, but otherwise won’t move.
“The couple who owned it had us hike up to the top of a ridge there, and they had champagne for us. Then they said they wanted to show us something. They took us to the edge and showed us a scene that had been filmed for part of the movie ‘The Princess Bride,’ ” said Jane.
In the Lake District, they checked into Belle Green Farm B&B, a cozy venue where the owners had a fire going for them.
They saw many historic sights, like the Roman Bath ruins in Bath that date to 70 AD, Castlerigg Stones Circle and Jane Austen’s home, where they saw her writing table. They also went to Winchester Cathedral where Austen is buried.
“You know, we share the same initials,” Arnold remarked, with a smile.
They toured the Great Hall at Winchester Cathedral, where they saw the Round Table associated with King Arthur and his knights.
“It is huge!” Arnold wrote in her journal. “It is so large, that it will not fit through the doors of the hall. It was built inside the hall and has remained there ever since!”
They visited Highclere Castle and Brampton village, where scenes for Downton Abbey were filmed. That was a treat, said Arnold.
The castle is only open for tours one weekend a month, so they purchased tickets in advance. Their package included lunch, a lecture and tour of the castle and grounds.
Arnold, who was a fan of “Downton Abbey,” was hoping to tour the downstairs of the castle, but learned that was not where the “below stairs” scenes for the TV show were filmed.
They also saw Chatsworth House, which was featured in the movie “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) as Mr. Darcy’s home, and the high ceiling dining hall at Christ Church College (University of Oxford) that served as a model for the dining hall featured in all of the Harry Potter films.
Preferred Country Over City
Arnold said her favorite parts of the trip were those days spent in the country.
“I loved all the scenery, the stone fences, seeing all of the lambs out there with their babies,” she said. “I’m glad we saw London and Oxford, but I couldn’t wait to get out to the country. The cities were too busy for me.
After being in the country, “where it was so relaxing and you could walk everywhere,” the city just felt loud and busy, said Arnold.
She marveled at how people were welcomed — even encouraged — to walk across people’s acreage to get where they were going.
“They just ask that you shut the gate behind you,” said Arnold.
One stop on the trip that was sort of in between country and city was Royal Turnbridge Wells, where they stayed at The Victorian Inn and were blown away by the hospitality provided by the host and owner, Harold.
He had been a butler to Prince Charles and Princess Diana and shared some stories of his work, as well as some of the cards and letters he had received from the royal family.
“He was really fun,” said Arnold, noting when they arrived he had a “proper tea” set up for them in the garden, complete with a silver tea set and china.
The kindness they received from Harold at The Victorian Inn was typical of how nearly everyone they met on the trip treated them, said Arnold.
“When we were in Bath, we took a private boat ride where they gave us champagne and then later they gave us a thank-you card for coming!” she remarked.
And when Sharon Silva reached out to an artist who made reproductions of Beatrix Potter’s work and met up with her at the picnic, the artist invited all four of them to her house the next week for dinner.
On their last night of the trip, the group had dinner at The Cinnamon Club, and when the staff learned that the Arnolds were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, they presented them with champagne, dessert and a card signed by the entire staff.
“What a wonderful memory,” Arnold wrote in her journal.
“Thank you, John and Sharon Silva, for making this possible. A trip of a lifetime.”