Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

I’ve known two of my closest friends for over a decade. We met during our first year of secondary school, spending our lunch breaks with our legs stretched out between rows of blue metal lockers and writing notes to each other in class.

For the last few years, it’s been harder to keep our friendship at the same level. We studied at different universities, and then lived and travelled through different countries: without the internet, it would have been almost impossible to keep track of what we were all doing.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

Luckily, we’ve finally found ourselves living in London at the same time, which is a long overdue and very welcome situation. But London is a city that never stops, and within weeks of moving back, I was getting swept up into the speed of London life again. As well as starting my Masters degree, I took on a job in a café, a weekly Spanish class, freelance writing assignments, moved out of my dad’s house and into a flat – and then November started. With it came NaNoWriMo, or ‘National Novel Writing Month’: a worldwide challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

Though most people use it to write a piece of non-fiction, I decided to attempt the challenge as a way of kick-starting my non-fiction writing for my Masters. If you’re trying to work out what this challenge actually entails, the aim is essentially to get 1,667 words in the bag each day. In theory, that’s pretty doable, except as soon as you miss a day of writing you’re suddenly faced with a more daunting 3,000+. And that number just keeps getting higher.

By the end of November’s first week, I was struggling to keep on track with the word count. To really get my head down and focus, I needed to be somewhere quiet. I needed isolation.

I needed, in effect, the exact place that I was heading for two days.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

Life in the English country

Deep in the heart of Oxfordshire is an old farm cottage, flanked by wheat fields and herds of cows, which has been in Mimi’s family for generations. She spends occasional weekends here when she has the time: going for long walks across muddy tracks, and breathing in the crisp clean air.

My granny’s house was a lot like this one. A farmhouse at the end of a narrow lane in a tiny Somerset village, all spiders webs in the corners of the ceilings and old wood beams overhead, splitting along miniature fault lines. Granny’s house wasn’t cold, though. An old woman living by herself in a house intended for many more people meant she kept the heating constantly turned up to full: whenever my parents and I walked through the door after a three hour drive from London, we prepared to immediately shed all our layers of clothes.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

No matter what the temperature was outside, we spent each mealtime sweating in silence around the kitchen table – my dad panting in a white vest while he looked incredulously at my granny, cosy in a blouse and woollen jumper. We took turns making excuses to go into the pantry and blast cold air from the open freezer door into our reddened faces.

Mimi’s country house has flagstone floors and rooms that echo at each boot step. There is a closed-door policy from room to room; you can almost see the path of the heat making its swift escape. The fireplace in the living room quickly becomes the mainstay of the house: we sit on the sofa opposite, surrounded by cushions and covered by knitted blankets, and stare mesmerised into an orange heart of blazing logs and scattered coals left to char and disintegrate.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

But there’s something wholly comforting about wrapping your body up in layers to combat the autumn chill. The season calls for it; just as you feel the sudden need for simmering stews and casseroles for hours, or baking cakes all afternoon, or drinking red wine in front of the fire while the tree branches outside bend with the weight of the wind.

The coldness of autumn brings people closer together. And sometimes it’s exactly what they need.

A taste of countryside tradition

I spent little more than 48 hours in a country house with one of my best friends and her family, and another best friend and her fiancé. If I’d been in London, much that time would have disappeared into waiting for buses and paying for drinks in crowded pubs. Instead, I had a weekend that blurred itself together with the most beautiful mixture of all the countryside activities I’d forgotten about.

I woke up late, cosy under the weight of a heavy feather duvet and layers of blankets; sat downstairs in socks and jumpers while the morning sunlight filtered through the windows into the kitchen. The girls and I munched our way through slices of freshly baked bread and butter, slathering on jam that Mimi’s mum had made the year before.

Our hands wrapped around mugs of coffee, we went walking through the fields. Clambered over stiles and gates, slick with the dew of the night before.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

Eventually, we spotted a herd of young cows approaching cautiously through the layers of mist that hung above the grass.

They trotted towards the fence in clusters, unsure who we were but interested all the same.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

For hours, I sat cross legged in an armchair beside the fire, alternating between typing my requisite words for NaNoWriMo and sipping on hot tea, before we migrated back to the kitchen for bowls of homemade soup around the old wooden table.

Meanwhile, my friends baked coffee cake and got decorative with buttercream icing and walnuts.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

When the sun set, various members of Mimi’s extended family began to arrive at the house, gathered together for a belated Halloween/Bonfire Night celebration.

We stood around a bonfire in the garden with mugs of mulled wine and waved sparklers in the pitch black, then sequestered ourselves inside again, plates piled high with sausages, salad, and mashed potato.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

The weekend was the height of indulgence – food, cheese, chocolate, alcohol – and it felt incredible. I hadn’t thought that I was holding myself back in London, but it’s hard not to fall into the trap of watching what you do, what you eat and how you appear. When I left South America, I was so certain I’d stay true to my traveller ethos of not wearing make up and talking to strangers, but some things don’t last.

The city or the country: which is better?

On Sunday evening, Mimi’s parents dropped me off outside a tube station on the outskirts of London and I waved goodbye. The first few steps along the pavement left me breathless, blinking and confused. The lights from shop fronts and flashing traffic signs tugged at the corners of my eyes.

Why was everything moving so fast? Why were there so many angry faces coming towards me, bodies brushing past me? And it was so loud!

By the time I got back to my flat, the silence was a godsend. There were a few minutes of attempting to catch up on work, but I soon realised it was a lost cause: my mind was too relaxed to do anything other than lie on the sofa and read.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

I was born and raised in London. I’ve always loved the vibrancy and speed and complexity of cities; the intangible rush of energy that runs through their people, their busy streets, their transport systems.

But the longer I travel, the more I gravitate to the quieter places. The towns and villages where I can feel like I’ve learnt how things work in a short space of time. And I also like taking things much more slowly now. I hadn’t realised how much I missed my grandma’s house until I stepped out of a country cottage to a quiet that wasn’t really quiet at all: filled with the tiny, far off sounds of cows, birdsong, the buzzing of wasps.

Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

Do you prefer the quiet of country living to a busy city? Have you ever visited the English countryside before? 

 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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27 Responses to Autumn Indulgence in the English Countryside

  1. zof November 21, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    Great photos. Especially the one with the spider net.

    • Flora November 27, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      Thanks so much, Zof!

  2. Stephanie November 21, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    I think city people tend to idealise “country life”. It’s not lounging in a nice big country house, walking in the fields and relaxing from daily life. I grew up in a small town (a village by British standards, less than 15.000 inhabitants), only surrounded by smaller villages unless you drove at least 2 hrs in either direction. It sucks – people are nosey, judgemental, small minded and there are almost no jobs.

    Those who actually own an idyllic farm struggle to make ends meet, kids are put under pressure to carry on the family tradition and work on the farm, so they can’t really date and are expected to marry the first who agrees to live on the farm, too.

    Not so idyllic and easy, huh?

    • Flora November 27, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks for giving your perspective, Stephanie. Obviously I’m only talking about the city version of countryside life, not the day to day workings of actually living in that environment!

  3. Jodie Young November 21, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Lovely post and photos. I was lucky enough to be bought up in the New Forest so always go looking for quiet towns when I’m travelling and make a point of escaping London at least once a month!

    • Flora November 27, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks, Jodie! I’m trying really hard to follow the same mantra of getting out of the city each month – just to get a bit of greenery and breathing space 🙂

  4. Nikita November 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    As someone who grew up in a small town, I always wanted to escape to the city… But as I get older, I find myself longing for my parents’ house in the Canadian countryside, and searching similarly isolated places when I travel. I also get really overwhelmed when I make my way back into the city, even if I’ve only been gone a couple of days. However, I feel like if I moved back to the country permanently, I would crave the hustle and bustle of the city. I think it’s healthy to switch it up every now and then!

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Maybe we can never be truly satisfied with either one or the other, Nikita! :p

  5. Kirsten November 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Such lovely photos, Flora!

    London born and bred too, and I love it, having always describing myself as a city girl… On the one hand, a part of me can’t handle being somewhere remote and quiet for longer than a weekend, but on the other, I love large, natural landscapes where I feel small and in the moment.

    Different things to satisfy different parts of us, I guess 🙂

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

      Satisfying different parts of us – definitely what I reckon it might be, Kirsten!

  6. Katie @ The World on my Necklace November 24, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    Like you, as I get older I find myself gravitating more towards the quiet life of smaller towns. I don’t feel like I am completely ready to leave the city life yet but I am edging closer

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

      I think its an urge that gets stronger as I get older… Maybe I’ll end up moving to the countryside eventually?!

  7. Laura November 25, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    I’m so fickle – when I’m in the city I crave the peace and quiet that you get from the country-side, but after a few days in the country-side I miss the hustle and bustle, the constant activity and accessability to everything. It’s tough to find the balance.

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

      Haha me too Laura – so fickle!! But it’s understandable :p

  8. Christine | The Traveloguer November 27, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this post Flora. I’m definitely a city girl through and through, but after reading this I’m craving my own country escape!

  9. Alex November 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    This post has made me feel very homesick for an English Autumn, fires and pumpkins.

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

      Aww Alex – I really craved the same when I was in the heat of South America during autumn last year! It was awesome, obviously, but really not the same..

  10. James Jacob November 28, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Love the photo of the spider’s web and the description of the countryside. Makes me want to head for home!

    James

  11. Flora November 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    I’m sure you’ll be back here eventually James 🙂 where are you based now?

  12. Fenne December 15, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    very lovely photographs. I’m planning to visit the English countryside but haven’t been there yet.
    OI definitely prefer as much nature around me as possible 🙂

    • Flora January 6, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      There’s a huge amount of English countryside to be explored, Fenne. Best of luck with your visit 🙂

  13. Fine Stay Slovenia December 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Love the post! The pictures are breathtaking. Thank you!!

    • Flora January 6, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks so much!

  14. Anna January 6, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    You are one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been reading your blog for ages and I swear, you always have eight projects going! It’s seriously inspiring… and maddening. How do you do it??

    Every time I travel, I’m convinced that I’ll be the same hippie-pants-wearing, no-makeup, chatting-up-everyone, bad ass backpacker chick when I return home. Yet that never seems to be true. It takes a lot of effort to push yourself out of your comfort zone in a place that feels so comfortable.

    • Flora January 14, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks so much, Anna! I never thought about having so many projects going on at once but I guess it’s true. And I don’t really keep track of any of them… I guess I make a lot of lists though!

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