Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Country Life

I live in Manchester, the third biggest city in England and, while I love the place and love city life, I sometimes forget about the rest of the country. Places like Manchester, Liverpool, London and Birmingham are sprawling metropoles, built up and beautiful in their own way.  The city is full of life, with every single activity you can think of resting gloriously at the end of your fingertips. The city is bustling full of people from all walks of life. City dwellers are rarely stuck for something to do.

City life is definitely not boring – that’s why I love it.

Yet there is a part of me that seeks tranquillity and as I get older, I find myself thinking about more serene pastimes and thankfully there are places close by where I can enjoy that side of life too.

Such was the case on my birthday a week or so ago. Mrs PM and I decided to explore an area of England that we had only ever seen through the windows of a car as we drove through it on our way from one city to another.

This time, I wanted to sample country life, the polar opposite of city life.

I have sampled this before, visiting areas like North Wales, the Lake District and the Peak District but I had never visited the Cotswolds, an area in the southern part of the Midlands, that covers six counties. It is located just south of Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, in the north stretching as far as Bath in the south west and Oxford in the east. The maps below give you some idea of where it is.

I had been to Bath in the south but spent most of the time in the city itself rather than exploring the countryside. We chose the north part of the Cotswolds and a little town called Chipping Campden, with a population of just over 2,000 people situated 135 miles south of Manchester (around two and a half hours in the car).

Our accommodation was provided by a small hotel on the main street, which also doubled up as a pub and restaurant.

The first thing I truly noticed here was how calm, relaxing and peaceful it was. We had arrived fairly late and after the sun went down we went for a short stroll around the small town to get our bearings.

It didn’t take long.

The pubs and restaurants were housed in beautiful buildings made of a honey coloured stone that perfectly illustrated the stereotypical small English country town, complete with thatched cottages.

It was wonderful.

The next day we drove from Chipping Campden for a walk from the even smaller town of Broadway to Broadway Tower, a ramble through the Cotswolds countryside, a distance of around five miles. The weather, for once, didn’t let us down. I was expecting rain but all we had was a typical cloudy and slightly cold day but not one single rain drop ruined our walk.

On the way we saw magnificent views of the English countryside as we climbed to Broadway Tower, the second highest point in the Cotswolds. We stopped for coffee just before we arrived at the tower and listened to a conversation amongst a lively group of pensioners who were walking to keep fit. I was amused because they were all country folk and quite posh, discussing party politics and evangelising about the current Prime Minister and her ministerial appointments in a way that you would never hear on the streets of Manchester.

The view from Broadway Tower itself was wonderful and it wasn’t so high that it would trigger my fear of heights.

After the tower we walked back to Broadway, where we found small shops selling traditional country items, in particular tweed clothing that you would rarely seek in the cities. Moreover, to validate the twee image of the town, some of the people were also dressed like traditional country folk. We even saw a group of Morris dancers.

Later, in the evening, we had a hearty meal in a different pub in Chipping Campden before retiring for the night.

The next day, we enjoyed a full English breakfast served by a waiter who personified the traditional image of an Englishman, complete with polite comments and even a wry smile at one of my jokes, which exposed his true mask after trying to portray himself as formal with a stiff-upper lip.

I almost said “Caught you,” but opted against it after a level one look from Mrs PM.

Later we embarked upon a slightly smaller walk in the countryside surrounding Chipping Campden, passing some very nice and very large houses that probably served as country retreats for rich people living in the Birmingham and South Midland area. We walked past farms, through fields, along country lanes and public footpaths passing other walkers who greeted us with a pleasant “Good morning.”.

It was so peaceful and serene with clean country air, hardly a car in sight and a relaxed gentle atmosphere around the place.

Part of me wanted to stay, to become a member of the country folk and abandon the city forever. When I thought more about this, I realised that deep down I am a city man and I would have to say goodbye to this delightful area of England. The city offers so much more and I would miss that. Yet as I get older, I think I also need to immerse myself in the countryside more, spending weekends away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the hassle of work life. Such trips serve a perfect purpose; to calm me down and make me appreciate fully the country I live in.

Here are some photographs that hopefully give you some idea of what I am talking about.

A cottage in Chipping Campden


Broadway Tower 
Just to prove that Broadway Tower is British

Spiral staircase in a turret

Dry stone wall

Strangely carved bushes

Chipping Campden Town Centre

A church in Chipping Campden

A lovely view of English countryside

I hope you like them.


joeh said...

A great getaway. City life...or somewhere in between there is a lot to be said for either.
We live in the suburbs of NYC, with many of the conveniences of city life and some of the small town flavor (but not much). I think the real country life would bore me after a bit, I think you need to be born into that lifestyle. I'd love to have the money to spend a year in NYC, but I think that would wear me down eventually, it is nice to be able to get a taste of either life style from time to time.

Big D said...

We sometimes forget how pretty England can get outside the cities.

Great piece and I loved the photos. I want to live in somewhere like Broadway Tower.

Elephant's Child said...

It is a beautiful area, which draws my eyes everytime it is featured on television.
I am a country girl at heart, and would love to move back. Some day. Perhaps.

River said...

Nice views. I love the old buildings.
Did you have trouble sleeping?
I don't live IN the city, but pretty close to it, so I can hear city sounds, mostly traffic and the sirens of emergency vehicles. I didn't realise how noisy it was until I spent a weekend at my son's home recently, much further out and it was so quiet at night I couldn't sleep.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Joeh,

I agree totally but as I get older, the balance is shifting - only slightly but there is movement.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Big D,

Believe it or not, people have lived there and having been inside, I would have loved it. In fact, just in the next field there is a nuclear shelter - I kid you not!




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

As Joeh says, I think if I had been born in the country I would have hated the city. I do know people who live in Cheshire, just to the south of Manchester, and prefer to live there and commute rather than diving into city life.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I had no trouble sleeping. In fact, I slept really really well. We heard no traffic at night (unlike in Manchester) but the one thing that struck me most was the total lack of light pollution. Had the night sky been clear of cloud, the view of the stars would have been lovely.




jeremy said...

Next time you are near Cheltenham, let me know and I'll buy you a beer to thank you for all of your quality rants!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jeremy,

I might just take you up on that kind offer.