Alex James: Butchers, bakers and beautiful Burford

Rural Notebook

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The sun came out this week, particularly in Burford, right, where a million daisies and dandelions found themselves facing the glare of the super troopers of the international media.

According to Forbes magazine, Burford in Oxfordshire is the sixth best place to live in Europe. We came through there the very first time we visited the Cotswolds, my wife and I, in a beaten-up Porsche she'd borrowed. It was our third date and around this time of year.

I remember laying eyes on the place very clearly. Free-falling into a perfect picture after a right turn off the A40: all mossy slate and honeyed gables running down a hillside to a stream, a sense of butchers, bakers, bric-a-brac and green. I had the feeling that we'd arrived somewhere as the air-cooled engine roared impolitely along the high street, turning heads.

Burford is overwhelmingly somewhere that shouts "Stop!" – until you try to park, that is. Up to that moment, my first glimpse of Burford, I'd thought paradise was only to be found abroad somewhere. For many of my parents' generation, happy ever after meant far away. Everyone wanted to run away to Provence and never come back.

I thought I'd probably end up living in France or Argentina, New York or the South Seas, I hadn't really decided, but in the two minutes it took to travel through Burford and cross the Windrush on the far side, something changed. I hadn't said a word. The engine was so loud it was impossible to talk, but she was smiling and so was I. I think then I knew that I had found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and the place where I wanted to spend it.

No doubt the people of Burford will be congratulating themselves but of course it's nonsense to compare different parts of the countryside. The countryside, especially the English countryside, is all beautiful beyond words.

Home, sweet home

It's fair to say that Forbes still suggests it would be nicer to live in Tuscany. That was the number one place, for them. They are wrong. I have been there and there is no grass to speak of and they haven't invented any new cheeses for hundreds of years. I mean, great for a holiday, but if there's one thing that can be nicer than being on holiday, it's being at home. An endless holiday, even in heaven, would be hell.

Grass-roots thinking


The grass is particularly eye-catching at the moment. It was so inviting this morning, cool and damp, I lay down in it, eye to eye with the dew. There was lots going on down there, newly hatched benign multitudes creeping and flitting. I lay there for some time thinking of England. England, now the summer's here.

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