From London, go West

I am lucky enough to have a country retreat at my disposal. I grew up just outside of the Cotswolds, near the city of Bath, and it’s where my parents still have their Big House In The Country. When London gets too much, or I need to clear my mind, there is no better tonic than getting on the train at Paddington and heading an hour and a half into the West Country.

Die-hard Londoners are sometimes hard to convince when it comes to leaving Zone 2 on a weekend. They might complain about the oyster fares and the rent in SW11, but even those who aren’t London-born and bred (which includes most of my city dwelling friends) feel that Brighton is the most rural they can go on a regular basis. Especially if it means losing signal: what good is a country view without the ability to Instagram it?

For the last few weeks I’ve known that the first week of April I’d be spending at Home (capital H) in Biddestone. I may be known to tut loudly at slow tourists on Oxford Street, but once my train pulls into the small station in the nearest town, my mind slows down.

Arriving home on Good Friday, I had nothing planned in the week ahead aside from a jaunt into the neighbouring county to visit my sister, and a hair appointment on Saturday in the best hair salon in Bath. For the first of my West Country recommendations, if you need somewhere for a hair cut or colour and fall into the category of ‘nowhere can surely be as good as London’ snobbery, then try Melanie Giles, a fantastic Aveda salon where they welcome you in from the rain to a giant cup of latte and a warm croissant. And the coffee is Monmouth, that of ‘queuing around Borough Market fame’ – thumbs up from my London crowd.

The best thing about living in a proper English village (the sort that attracts American and Japanese tourists to see the real scale dolls houses, duck pond and cricket green) is a proper pub, and Biddestone has a top notch one – again, for the London escapees, the head chef and owner of the Biddestone Arms was trained under Roux and earned his trade at La Gavroche. My family may have a personal friendship with the owners, but bias aside you can’t escape the bloody amazing food on offer.

One of the only activities you can readily enjoy on this turf is walking. Between villages, across walkways and pretty much to every ‘site of natural beauty’ in your guide books. This weekend we’ve been on two bracing walks – one to the farm shop up the road (forget your local Whole Foods, this is the real deal) and one to the village of Castle Combe, five miles as the crow flies and famous for its film set quality, in looks and in fact, it was where War Horse was filmed in fact. One local pub does what we have informally christened The Best Sandwiches In The World, but if to you a rural retreat means manor house and cream tea, they have an award-winning one of those too.

After day upon day sitting at a desk, on a train and slouched on the sofa (because let’s face it, you wax lyrical about living in London but when was the last time you went to the theatre, or ventured to the latest Barbican exhibition?) being able to get out of breath proper country walk, along a hillside with views you really can’t pay for, is a way to literally clear those metaphorical cob webs. Yes your phone signal will disappear, and the wi-fi / 3G speeds would give Eighties dial-up internet a run for its slowness, but your face will get some colour and the ‘tube stoop’ from hunching into the corner of the 8.15 Northern line will slowly ease up.

So yes, if this was a political broadcast on behalf of the West Country party, pictures of rolling fields and jersey cows would fade up right now, but I won’t apologise for the zeal. Escaping from London to the West Country is my tried and tested anti-depressant, and I recommend that to anyone.

Find out more about:

Biddestone Arms
Melanie Giles

West Country