Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Stepping into a story book

I went home, once again, this past weekend to attend a hen party. Luckily, I managed to get a couple of days off work so I got a chance to see some friends and have some time to actually go out for a day in my fine home county. After the intensity of the city, I needed some country prettiness so on Friday morning my Mum and I headed for the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds is full of precious little towns and villages, most consisting of light stone houses and tiny, overpriced fudge shops. The biggest and most popular are probably Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold (they like hyphens in the Cotswolds) and Chipping Campden. Much like London they are, however, overflowing with tourists. I wanted somewhere a little more low-key that still kept that Cotswold charm. Mum had heard that Lower Slaughter (yes, that is its name, there is also an Upper Slaughter) was home to a good tearoom so off we drove, merrily singing along to James Taylor.

Lower Slaughter is as darling as expected – more, perhaps. It is a chocolate box village to be sure, but not so sickeningly quaint that I felt the need to scrub the twee off myself. A stream runs through the heart of the village and is crossed by a couple of stone bridges. I half expected some extremely small trolls to be waiting under them. The cottages alongside the stream are perfect. I mean it, log piles neatly stacked, windows and doors all painted the same uniform shade of blue or green, gates without a scrap of rust on them. Mum and I agreed that there must be a rigorous neighbourhood upkeep programme to keep it looking so picturesque, so while living there looks like it might be wonderful, it would be more hassle than it’s worth.

There’s not much in the village, just a church, a town hall and an old mill which houses a tiny museum, a leather shop and the tearoom. The mill reminded me of the one from Beauty and the beast – from any fairy tale, really, where the plucky miller’s daughter goes on an adventure and ends up marrying the prince. There is a craft shop in an outbuilding which sells all sorts of vintage and old-world odds and ends. You have to go through the narrow shop to get to the tearoom, which is in a small converted barn. It has been decorated nicely and appropriately for the space – spotted plates and cups in the same sable green as the tables and even as the houses outside. The cafĂ© does the usual fair, sandwiches, soup, cakes, coffee etc. I had a jacket potato with beans and cheese, an underrated yet entirely delicious autumnal lunch, especially as it was quite cold outside. 

We sat upstairs at a narrow table which was a little cramped with all our plates and cutlery. It got even more cramped when more and more people started to arrive and decided that sitting upstairs was also a good thing to do. Fortunately, we were finished by that point so we wrapped up, dodged the child waiters (ok, maybe not but there were very young!) and went outside. Some crazy people were eating outside and while it was a beautiful setting, I’m not willing to sacrifice my extremities to gaze at a river while I eat.

Lower Slaughter is a bit like a film set. The only people around the streets seemed to be people like us who were visiting. Perhaps it was just the time of day but it seemed to me that there was no sort of village life. No dog walkers, no old men sitting on a bench and taking in the world, no screaming kids. It seemed to me a beautiful, empty village, one that you visit but no one actually lives in. I mean, people must live there but there was no evidence. It was, in some ways, a stepford village. That isn’t a criticism. It is adorable, it is brimming with cuteness and charm. I want to go there at Christmas and sip mulled wine as snowflakes flutter against my cheeks. I want to sit by the river in the summer and read Brideshead Revisited. I want to make apple crumble in my cosy cottage kitchen as I watch children play outside in the fallen autumn leaves. It makes me want an idyllic life, goshdarnit.

I’m just not sure the life the village promises actually exists.

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