I know I’ve neglected this blog, but I am hoping sharing the highlights (and lowlights!) of the country life will make up for it.
At the moment, I’m reading Alain De Botton’s Art of Travel and one of the things that’s really stuck out is the fact that a lot of the time, travel isn’t always continuously enjoyable. We not only have to be in the right mind space but more often than not, it is the anticipation which is more exciting than the experience itself. However I still believe that once we start to really become self-aware and understand what excites us, we can become grateful for our travel experiences. I think one of the key aspects of being happy about the best bits of travelling, is not to sugarcoat and realize that no country nor town or city is perfect, and there’ll always be parts that may not meet our expectations.
This is a collection of thoughts and observations that resonate with me about living in the Oxfordshire countryside about what I really love about being here and a few things that might not rock my boat.
The best bits!
1. Farm shops and local produce
Almost nothing gets me more excited than food. And although England has it’s fair share of criticism for it’s unhealthy processed fuelled diet, there is an abundance of farm shops with a really lovely array of homemade everything and fresh produce. I have learnt so much about food and now dabble a lot more in the kitchen. Fresh fruit, vegetables, ethical meats, homemade chutneys, local honeys, artisan chocolates, cheese: I love farm shops!
2. Bustling farmer’s markets
Similarly to farm shops, I do love the markets too. Although it can be a bit of a hit and miss, there’s nothing quite like being out and about and stocking up on fresh produce. One of the things I really love about the markets is that usually there’s no middle man. It means that there’s a lot of little bakery-type places that sell straight to you, the consumer and it feels good to eat something homemade (even if it’s a naughty treat like cakes, bread or pastries).
3. The Cotswolds: picturesque
The Cotswolds is a large part of the English countryside, made up of towns and villages. They’re renowned for their limestone and are usually very well maintained and idyllic. Extremely pretty, almost every photo you take will make you look like a professional photographer (unless your camera is as crummy as mine).
4. Unique attraction points
One thing that I’ve loved about being here is that I’ve discovered some really interesting and different attractions. My two favourites so far include a lavender farm and a motoring museum. Amongst the gardens, manors and palaces, there is always something a bit different if you look hard enough.
5. The tunnels of love
If you’ve ever seen photos of Ukraine’s tunnel of love, a railway filled with lush greenery, you’ll realise that the roads in the countryside bear an uncanny resemblance. Overarching trees and never ending shades of green, it’s much comfier being in the passenger seat and watching the scenery.
6. Stunning free walks
If your pockets start to feel uncomfortably lighter (England can and probably will do that to you), one of the most incredible opportunities that the country has to offer are free walks. If you look for the right information, you will find maps with landmarks and routes that are downloadable and range from easy to hard. Depending on the terrain and difficulty, you need the right gear including walking boots.
7. Independent shops and cafes (and PUBS!)
The country might not have the same cafe culture as big cities, but there is nothing more delightful to sit down to a decent cup of coffee, take your time and help yourself to homemade cake.
Similarly there are a few scattered shops that are independently owned. Unfortunately there’s not too many left. I do like how the community does support local businesses’ though.
And the pubs! Oh good gosh. If you go to a proper one, honest food, value for money and delicious!
If you’re into eclectic walled gardens with a variety of flowers, vegetables and shrubbery or if you love large-scale displays, gardening is very British and you will find something.
9. Free “hidden” sites
I love that if you dig deep enough, there are places with historic value that are completely free. The English Heritage site is a good resource.
10. The perfect landscape for exploring
Rolling hills, fields that change colour every few weeks and the countryside actually being accessible by foot, this is certainly a place that is literally crying out to be explored.
The not so best bits
1. Lack of independent cinema and films
I’m not a film buff but I do love my movies. Unfortunately there are no arthouse cinemas nearby me which means I miss out on a lot. Thank gosh for Netflix.
2. Ukip supporters, hostile racism
Eurgh! Yes every country has it’s racists. And England is no different. I have experienced racism here and it hasn’t exactly been pleasant. A lot of Ukip supporters in the conservative pockets of the countryside so a lot of “keep the foreigners out” rhetoric. Not my cup of tea.
3. It’s bloody expensive
England is expensive. Cost of living is expensive and although there are ways to cut costs, hailing from Australia, once I do the conversions, it blows my mind a little and not in a good way.
4. Wages are low
The worst thing about England being expensive is that the wages are just not enough to keep up with the cost of living. Minimum wage isn’t that great and although some people tip, it’s not really the norm.
5. Buses don’t run late, it’s not accessible
Unfortunately, if you don’t have a car, it’s impossible to see a lot of the countryside by public transport. If you can get to a place by train, you should be alright, but buses don’t go everywhere, many routes don’t run on Sunday and even on weekdays popular routes can stop at 8pm. Way too early.
6. Travel is expensive
England’s train lines are a privatised market meaning they can pretty charge whatever they like, including 60 quid for a one hour journey to London. You could buy budget flights somewhere in Spain for the same price as a short train trip.
7. Everything closes early!
Don’t rely on late night shopping, in many places late night means 7pm or doesn’t exist at all. Many shops close before 5pm and on Sunday, you’re doomed. Grocery stores close at 4pm!
8. The unpredictable weather
You must own a raincoat/umbrella, a cardigan and a proper jumper, even in the middle of summer. You seriously never know.
9. Too many chain stores
There’s a lot of chain stores that are flooding the market which dominate the market and push local businesses out. It is especially prominent with clothing stores and pubs.
10. No sushi, no juice, sometimes no coffee
A lot of things you may be used to, a sushi place or a juice bar that is forever present in a bigger city isn’t exactly a common thing in many towns and definitely not in a village. Some villages don’t even have a cafe. I definitely miss some of my old foodie places but there is so much good pub grub, that I’ve always got somewhere new to go.