The Cotswolds, theme park for Little Englanders

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The Independent Online
Was anyone surprised that Stow-on-the-Wold parish council threw out a perfectly sensible twinning agreement with the pleasant French town of Oudon, in the Loire valley? Not me. "This is not for any anti-French feeling," commented vice-chairman Dick Glazier on the 5-1 vote against, "but because of my own personal feelings about the European Union."

Nice one, Mr Glazier. The Cotswolds just wouldn't be the Cotswolds without you, nor would England be England. Just one thing, though: Woodchester Manor, a listed pile near Stroud, is being restored at the moment and you know where the stone they're using comes from? Burgundy, that's where - because 15 local limestone quarries can't keep up with demand.

Somehow, that's not surprising either. Because that's what they do in the Cotswolds, isn't it? In this, the most over-preserved, overpriced, over-privileged, itsy-bitsy little corner of Little England, and the epitome of everything that is wrong with our countryside. I loathe the place, as I loathe the architects of its mummification. I saw the tidiness of Moreton-in-Marsh, and immediately wanted to mess it up; I've visited the tea shoppes of Burford and been consumed by an urge to misbehave. Many of the locals are bad but the retirement crowd are worse - people with the money but not the imagination to live somewhere other than Mould-on- the-Wold. I hate the second-homers too, posing outside faux-rustic pubs in their four-wheel drives with their spray-on mud and their personalised number plates, their bonnet ornaments and their black labradors.

The trouble with the Cotswolds is that it has lost its raison d'etre. Its main function is no longer agricultural, but to look pretty - or what passes for pretty in the Little English mind - and when that happens, countryside ceases to be countryside and becomes something else. Japanese tourists take it for a Disney theme park: Little-Snoring-in-the-Marsh, or Postman Pat's Greendale brought to life. (They're mistaken, of course. Greendale is too cosmopolitan for comparison with this place.) They come by the busload, and the Cotswolders, when they are not arguing about whether the verges should be mown or not, bitterly complain. Of course they do! Because to them, the Cotswolds aren't "the country" at all - they're extensions of their gardens, and the tourists are merely trespassers.

When did this happen? Do we blame Laurie Lee, the cider and wine cocktail man, who lived at Slad? Maybe it's Jilly Cooper's fault (how could Jilly live anywhere but the Cotswolds)? No matter - the place is long past saving. At least, now that they've extended the M40, you can get between London and points west without having to look at it.

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