Rural idyll, or are the Cotswolds ruined by celebrities?

RUINED, says Clive Aslet, Editor of Country Life
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The Independent Online

In the pub, you expected to find a farm labourer talking about silage making; instead, there in the ladies is Kate Moss, swopping stories about Milan Fashion Week. Riding down that country lane, the person you might have thought was a hunt kennelman turns out, on closer inspection, to be Liz Hurley.

These things make a difference. Most of us want to visit the country and find a recognisably rural experience, not the glitz and bling that we thought we had left behind us at Harvey Nichols.

But that is the problem. Harvey Nicks has, spiritually, broken free of Knighsbridge and made its way down the M4. Take the Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Campden. I happened to be meeting friends there last week, and a pleasant place it is.

But don't look for any of the Arts and Crafts tradition for which this town was once famed. There is not a hayrake in sight. Instead, all the rooms are done up in exuberant dark colours, with opulently non-native flowers and prices no local could afford. The quality of the food is nothing short of brazen. This is the new style of country hotel; a home from home, if your home happens to be a loft near Canary Wharf.

The trend is typified by the Daylesford Farm Shop. Don't get me wrong: I am completely smitten by this Mount Olympus of food. If the gods could come to the Cotswolds, this is where they would shop.

The original idea was to provide an outlet for some of the old vegetable varieties grown in Sir Anthony Bamford's kitchen garden. Because this produced more knobbly tomatoes and gouty apples than one family could consume, they have been shared with neighbours - at a price. An architect was brought in to do up some barns, which are now, aesthetically, much on a par with Gloucester Cathedral.

A baker makes no fewer than 60 different types of bread. Thai dishes are cooked by a chef who is genuinely, not from Tewkesbury, but from Thailand. Everything is Prince Charles-ishly organic; in short it is the very image of the modern Cotswolds.But if you are looking for the Cotswolds as it used to be, forget it.

Joanna, haven't you heard what's happened to farming? Nobody's doing it any more.

There are no sons of toil at work in the fields. Six or seven times a year, a contractor and his machinery will appear, work over the farm - harvesting, during August, through the night - and disappear. The only locals in the pub will be unemployed.

This is the countryside that has been created in our name, by allowing supermarkets to pay below-cost prices, by reducing subsidies and by favouring Third World producers at the expense of our own.

You have no idea of this rural disaster when you visit the Cotswolds, for the simple reason that it all looks so rich. Money seems to be coming out of its ears. The price of land is still high.

One reason for that is Kate Moss and her friends. They are the ones who now want to buy farms.

As Pop Larkin knew, you can get up to anything on a farm. Land buys you privacy. There is space for children to climb trees and ride horses; they are less likely to fall into the clutches of drugs dealers and pimps than on the streets of W10.

We all have a little bit of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in our soul. If only we could make pumpkin soup, kill our own pig and stop shampooing our hair, our fractured lives would be made whole again. There is a new socio-economic group on the rise - the Posh Peasant, who comes to the country with their City money to raise Dark Brama chickens and make loads of goats' cheese.

I don't knock it. It is the way of the future. Posh Peasants add to the diversity of our lives. Often, like Green and Black, they are the innovators. But it all means that we have to adjust our spectacles to a different kind of country idyll from the one that some of us grew up with.

We used to like the country to be a falling down, make-and-mend place. That was the age of The Archers, when three generations worked on the same farm. We have killed off the family farm. In its place we have polo.

The Cotswolds of 30 years ago isn't there any more. It has escaped into Wales, Wigtownshire and the wilds beyond weekending distance from London.

RURAL IDYLL, says Dom Joly, comedian and celebrity resident

About four years ago, when my daughter Parker had her first birthday I went through a bit of a life change.

I was living on All Saints Road, the old West London front-line, and was starting to wonder whether I really wanted my little girl to grow up in this sort of environment.

Ever since Richard Curtis wrote Notting Hill in a cynical ploy to raise local house prices so that he could sell his own house, things had gone a bit crazy. Whereas before I'd lived in a friendly, community-based, multicultural road where everyone was on nodding terms and the crack dealers left residents alone, now things were a bit different.

Every other person was an American merchant banker, shops started springing up selling single shoes for a thousand pounds and it was suddenly impossible to go for a pint: it had to be a Mohito and some pacific fusion for supper.

It was impossible to get your kid into any school unless you'd written a cheque in six figures six months before you'd met your wife. I'd had enough: we packed up, in true Notting Hill fashion sold the house to Salman Rushdie, and moved to the country.

I had family living in a nearby village and it was exactly one hour and twenty minutes drive to the BBC off-peak, so Gloucestershire suited me well. It also just happens to be idyllic English countryside: beautiful dry stone walls, Cotswold stone houses and glorious walks.

I'm south of the A40 in the next village along the Coln Valley from Joanna Trollope and we don't get many tourists, as Bibury acts as a kind of fly-trap, keeping the coachloads of Japanese away.

Parker settled happily into the local school and Stacey and I walk her there every day through lush fields with our dog Huxley bouncing around us and the sun shining off our smug little backs.

Long suummer weekends are spent lying blissfully by the pool listening to Radio Four and thanking the Lord that we made the decision to leave the city. In winter we curl up by an enormous open fire and watch old black and whitefilms using Huxley as a pillow.

There's not a crack dealer in sight (unless Pete Doherty is down visiting Kate Moss, in which case we all stock up).

But the arrival of myself and other, far shinier luminaries, have definitely got the "old guard" growling. I'm not quite sure what their beef is.

Joanna Trollope seems to be particularly upset at the fact that there aren't any shepherds in her local pub any more. As pleasant as I'm sure an evening surrounded by shepherds might be, I'm not sure that their disappearance can be blamed entirely on us arrivistes.

I happen to know the pub, but I don't go there as it is a place entirely focused on attracting Londoners down for a weekend break. Instead of a warm, cosy local pub it's a fairly unfriendly place with posters up telling us about the "history" of the village; it's one step away from having a Japanese menu.

The reason for this is most likely that people have read Ms Trollope's "Aga sagas", based on her blissful country life, and want to come and sample some of it for themselves. It's a bit like Peter Mayle grumbling about how there are so many English In Provence.

Anne Robinson is another local who's downsizing her modern country home to spend more time in London, no doubt to be closer to her plastic surgeon. She's gone on record many times about how "Poshtershire" is not what it was, with the new showbiz intake not being quite up to her demanding standards.

I believe that Anne was born in Liverpool so I assume that she'd be happier if people like Cilla and Tarbie moved down here instead?

I do have to admit that I shall miss seeing her traditional old shiny new Mercedes convertible squeeze through the village lanes. When I first moved down here I inadvertently moved into her old house.

Despite her professed love of the countryside and local life she had never once set foot into our village pub: it probably wasn't "authentic' enough for her.

Liz Hurley, a fellow arriviste and I have had our moments. She moved down here shortly after me in a last gasp attempt to garner my affection but I wasn't having any of it.

She lives two villages away and has, for the most part, behaved herself and not caused me any further stalker problems. She's certainly a far lovelier sight to see at the fruit and veg counter in the Cirencester Waitrose than young Anne Robinson.

Grumbling about arrivistes is an age-old tradition. I left Notting Hill to get away from them and now the Gloucestershire vieux arrivistes are leaving here because of us.

Soon I shall be grumbling about reality television stars moving down here and driving around in hybrid electric cars and will pack up my bags and make the final move to New Zealand to join Michael Barrymore, who really knew how to get away from things.

Until then I shall enjoy my blissful existence in Poshtershire. By the way, if anyone wants to come down and join us there are two new houses on the market. Come on in, the water's lovely.

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