The London Evening Standard 12th May 2016
Why Londoners are heading for the countryside. ''Mark Ronson and Nick Grimshaw hit up North Cadbury Court in Somerset.
Do you live in Converse but go weak at the knees for Hunter wellies? Are you into unpasteurised dairy products bought at source — by which you mean that nice farm shop with the reassuringly expensive jams? Do you yearn for a noseful of fresh air, as long as there’s an artisan café within sniffing distance? Yes? You’re not alone.
Alexa Chung bounces from London to the Wilderness Reserve in Suffolk, Jack Guinness regularly visits Porthpean House in south Cornwall, while Mark Ronson and Nick Grimshaw hit up North Cadbury Court in Somerset. Now Kate Middleton is on British Vogue’s 100th anniversary cover sporting ‘wilderness chic’ — green trilby, Burberry trench — the shoot having taken place in Norfolk to ‘reflect her love of the countryside’, according to editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. With neighbours such as the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall holding regular low-key getaways for Londoners, the shires have never been so glam.
It’s not just high society getting in on the act. Airbnb reports a year-on-year surge from Londoners wanting short-term rentals in properties in Hertfordshire and Mid Wales (up 193 per cent), Cheltenham and Gloucester (162 per cent) and East Kent (200 per cent). Tom Dixon, MD of chic camping company Canopy & Stars, specialists in converted horseboxes and hipster hunting cabins, says a quarter of their guests are young, city dwelling professionals looking for a chance ‘to connect with the outdoors’.
The fences that divided us from the rest of England are coming down — and it’s nothing to do with rural budget cuts. ‘I used to think that when it came to town and country you had to pick a side,’ says writer Esther Walker. Now she and her husband Giles Coren split their time between Kentish Town and the West Country. ‘Town life and country life complement each other — a bit like how some people say having an affair saved their marriage.’
Of course, there’s only so far we’ll go. We don’t like cobwebs (we’re not scared, guys, we just have allergies…) and it’s a big relief that Oxfordshire’s Soho Farmhouse lets out wellingtons for the weekend so we don’t have to wear the leaky boots dad handed down (plus, there’s also former fashion editor Alex Eagle’s boutique for additional rustic supplies). Further south, London’s style set swap FROWS for hedgerows by hopping on the train to Bruton every weekend (two hours), where the small town’s Hauser & Wirth gallery has been hailed as the next Guggenheim. ‘In the winter, we kayak across flooded fields and in the summer we picnic by the river,’ says designer Alice Temperley, who splits her time between Notting Hill and Somerset. London may have our heart but the West Country’s not a bad mistress.
Still, there are hurdles. ‘We’ve had a few awkward experiences at the local pub when we’ve brought friends down from London,’ says Lucy Carr-Ellison, half of glossy catering team (and ES columnists) Tart London, who weekends at her boyfriend’s place in Somerset. ‘You have all the farmers, then you have a friend who’s dressed for Maddox.’
So how to get it right? Leave the Stan Smiths at home and invest in a second-hand Barbour, says Walker, who snapped up hers for £80 at Camden Vintage. Prepare yourself for patchy mobile reception: bring a map and forget all about Uber. Lastly, pack provisions (or make sure that Ocado delivers). ‘The hardest thing to track down is herbs,’ sighs Walker. ‘It took us months to realise that everyone grows their own.’ Hey you, hipsters, the countryside is calling. Fingers crossed you’re not in a black spot.