I am among those who have yet to escape what some are calling Plague Island (Britain) to travel abroad this year. I am considering it, but more likely I will stay in the country for a break. I was thinking: seaside. But now I am thinking: gorgeous village in the Cotswolds or Gloucestershire, or one of my favourite areas in the UK, the Lake District. I spent many childhood holidays in Ambleside, Hawkshead, Grasmere, Keswick, Kendal. Beautiful backdrops of rolling hills, tiny churches, houses in the Arts and Crafts style, streets no wider than a horse and cart, sheep somehow everywhere. On the doorstep, the deep blue of Windermere where we rowed to tiny islands to stop for lunch, dragging the boat to rest on the miniature beaches before tucking into sandwiches and paddling.
I find it impossible to be in low spirits when visiting such beautiful places. There’s something calming in the lack of pollution, the independent bookshops, the sense of community, the overwhelming quiet. I love a village. Or a hamlet. I also spent many a happy time in Egremont in Cumbria, but I just checked and it is classed as a “small market town”.
The pandemic has resulted in many city dwellers reconsidering their urban existence. There has been something of an exodus from the major conurbations. I am not sure how longtime village inhabitants feel about this influx, but surely it’s better at least than the number of second homes left empty for most of the year.
I can well understand the lure of village life and living in a cosy cottage. Even the word “cottage” seems to represent their charming character. The beams overhead, the stone walls, the fireplaces, the Aga ovens. Leaving doors unlocked. Knowing the names of neighbours.
Youngsters arriving in cities for universities often report the feeling of liberation from the “dull” places they have come from. But I am of an age that a short walk to the local, wood-panelled pub, or the single cinema, sounds appealing. Keswick has a pencil museum and I don’t think you can argue with that.
I am not of the opinion that villages are perfect, quaint ideals, as sometimes patronisingly portrayed in pre-watershed gentle television dramas. Irritating people live everywhere and antisocial behaviour isn’t limited to certain postcodes. But in my experience, villages are compact balms for the soul.