Sunday, 22 April 2012

Too, too pretty

They are currently trying to decide on which English (and Northern Irish) village is the most quintessentially 'typical' and pretty one, and all the old favourites are being put up for consideration, as they have been for years.

Living in Bath means that I am within easy reach of quite a few, because many of them 'nestle' in the Cotswolds and surrounding areas, untouched by bombs and planners because they have been ignored by everyone except film location finders and Japanese tourists.

The closest to us is - of course - Castle Combe (above), which everyone in the world has probably seen since it was Dr Doolittle's abode all those years ago.  There is also a race-track incongruously close to it, and cars can be heard screaming around during the season.

Then there is Lacock (which I heard pronounced as 'La Coq' by a French tourist once), which you will recognise as some of the quieter parts of Hogwarts school, and rural areas away from Diagon Alley.

A little further away and deeper into the Cotswolds is Bibury, which has a river running through it, and is the most congested stretch of road leading to Oxford due to the coach-loads of tourists that wander up and down in the summer.

Living in Bath also means that we are quite often living on a film-set, as anyone who has seen any Jane Austen adaptation will know, but Bath - though small by city standards - is large enough to accommodate a few thousand extra visitors.  Indeed, the present Georgian version was designed with visitors in mind, so we have become used to it over the last 300 years.  We actually depend on it.

It must be hell living in an impossibly pretty village though, during the season.  Imagine having to have lace curtains up during the day as face upon face leers through at eye level, trying to see what it is like to be a real live Hobbit.

A few years ago, my German mate set off from Bath in his classic Mini to visit Polperro, all the way down there in Cornwall.  He returned earlier than expected, and when I asked him what it was like (I have never been there) he pulled a sour face and said it was horrible.  Just too perfect - too impossibly perfect - and he is the biggest Anglophile you could possibly meet.

I told him about a village in Germany which I had visited some years before, which had the same effect on me.  It was far enough south to escape my father's attention in 1943, and I looked hard and in vain to find a single cigarette butt in the gutters, or a single piece of peeling paint on a window frame.  I felt watched and stifled - the residents had developed a super-human pride in their Stadt and woe betide any auslander for dropping litter in it.

The French have never been over-burdened with a material sense of civic pride though.  I booked a little house in a small village just south of Carcassonne once, to attend the wedding of some friends whose parents owned and ran a vineyard nearby.

The village was a small square, dominated by a church on one side and a Chateau just outside the entrance to it.

All of the houses - but one - were literally falling to pieces in a very picturesque way, with shutters falling off hinges and great flakes of paint hanging from door frames.  Children ran in and out of them to play in the square or sit on the steps of the church to chat.  Right in the middle of one row, an empty little house stood there between the others in stark contrast, because it was immaculate.

All the woodwork was freshly painted, the walls were freshly white-washed and there were two pots either side of the entrance which were stuffed with fresh flowers in bloom.  It really stood out.

I made some enquiries about it, and discovered that this cottage belonged - as a holiday home - to a couple from England.

When I asked which part of England they came from, the old local told me it was somewhere called 'Bath'.


  1. There's a small village quite nearby which is DEAD. The houses all have those nasty cast iron name plates, old black painted ploughs in the courtyard, and the neatest gardens this side of Versailles. Guess who own the houses, and how often they are occupied?

  2. I found the Cotswolds (the only country living I experienced in the UK) to be too green, too manicured. Its residents would have hated the granite-grey, unkempt west of Ireland and probably appointed an uber-Parish Council to sort us out.

    1. Wait a minute - manicuring granite is how I make my living.

  3. I would like to make a reservation for any little shack in Bath. Will stay about two months. This farming thing here in the US is exhausting. Will you take care of that for me Tom ?

    1. No problem. A tiny little shack here will cost you about £1200 a month to rent, though...

  4. Ah yes - people's misconceptions about places amuses me. I read an article in yesterday's Guardian Travel which talked about a 'remote' village in the Dales - Bainbridge. Bainbridge is quite near us and only someone who lived in London or a large city could possibly think of it as 'remote' - it is on the main A 684 through the Dales and only about ten miles from each of our two little towns - they should try visiting Tan Hill of they want 'remote'.

    1. They probably mean that it has no phone signal, Weaver?

  5. I remember going to Broadway and thinking it just too perfect and absolutely heaving with tourists. Our friends have a cottage in Ebrington which is tiny and very pretty with a pub that does a wonderful Sunday lunch.
    .....I do love Bath though. I think that it still must be a lovely place to live Tom, despite some of the drawbacks that you have pointed out to us.
    Can you tell me why John's picture keeps moving along your members pictures ?
    Will try not to get lost in Amsterdam....that's if we get there.....we are booked on the 8.00 a.m. Eurostar and could be caught up in the aftermath of that terrible train crash.

  6. I don't think I have heard of that train crash yet - I'll look it up.

    My only guess as to why John's picture keeps moving sideways is that I keep upsetting him so he flounces off in a huff, and then he - having slept on it - decides that I am worth following after all, and gets back in the queue to have his book signed. That's all I can suggest. Anyway, we are all praying for a speedy recovery for Mabel right now, so he has other things on his mind. I just hope that his NHS patients are ok too.

  7. My thoughts exactly re the ideal of pretty manicured "English villages". And like your experience of Bath we suffer the same in Salisbury. My sister and I have a great scheme when tourists wander off the official tour(s) and ask for directions to the cathedral whose magnificent spire can be seen for miles. We respond, "What cathedral? I've lived in Guildford all my life and never seen a cathedral here" and then scarper round the nearest corner. Though I've also watched hordes of them carefully photographing a baptist church in a nearby street in the mistaken impression that it is the cathedral. Occasionally I take pity and direct them. But not often.