Here is an incredibly high-brow piece I did for the Sunday Times Style magazine yesterday.
The great British countryside: how cool is your county?
Cornwall is so last year, darling, but Somerset’s in (even Kim and Kanye think so), and so is Oxfordshire. Sophia Money-Coutts has our guide to the most fashionable rural retreats
Hurrah, it’s springtime. You can tell because people have started Instagramming pictures of magnolia trees: #blossom. And what this means is that we need to stop festering on the sofa and get outdoors, into the great British countryside. Take a lungful of fresh air. Expose our jaundiced limbs to daylight for the first time in months. Gambol with the lambs and marvel at the daffodils. Not just any old bit of the country, though. As with cities, there are no-go zones where they haven’t even heard of almond milk. So best play it safe and stick to our guide to the most fashionable counties right now…
Why? So Cornwall has its long stretches of beach, popular with Boden families and dreadlocked surfers. But you know what Somerset has? Kim and Kanye sniffing about. Having headlined Glastonbury last year, Kanye was reportedly won over, and the couple are said to be buying a plot on which to build a pile to rival their $20m pad in LA.
Who’s there? Who isn’t? Locals are a hotchpotch of big names — Ben Goldsmith, Nick Jones and Kirsty Young, Phoebe Philo, Alice Temperley and Mariella Frostrup. Hipsters from London are moving in to set up cider farms, too. Take, for example, Harry and Gi Dearden, a well-connected couple who have moved into his family home, Pennard House (which you can also hire for weddings for £4,000), complete with 60 acres of apple orchards. Bottoms up, Kim.
Where do they hang? Bruton, still the biggest draw with both its Hauser & Wirth gallery and At the Chapel, a madly popular cafe, deli and boutique hotel where you’ll bump into locals wearing skinny jeans and Jimmy Choo biker boots, buying spelt bread.
Do say “The A303 was bloody murder.”
Don’t say “What even is a Yeezy?”
Why? The Glosse Posse (Princes William and Harry, plus the poshos who live near Highgrove) has ruled for long enough, and a house in Gloucestershire is now more expensive than Mayfair. Instead, it’s all about Oxfordshire — because Soho Farmhouse opened there last summer and everyone wants to spend their weekend sleeping in a log cabin (£350 a night for non-members), pretending they’re in Little House on the Prairie. Laura Bailey, Mark Ronson and Eddie Redmayne have all partied here.
Who’s there? The Beckhams visited earlier this month, sparking a rumour they’re house-hunting. Ten minutes south, there’s a new Duke of Marlborough shaking things up at Blenheim Palace, where Dior is showing its cruise collection in May. Plus, there’s August’s Wilderness Festival at Cornbury Park, where gig-goers such as Cressida Bonas and the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, wander about its 5,000 acres, eating food from Petersham Nurseries.
Where do they hang? Apart from “the Farmhouse” (that’s what you call it to denote the fact you’ve been), there’s the Bull Inn, a hip new pub and hotel that has just opened in Charlbury. It’s owned by Charlie and Willow Crossley — she’s an interiors stylist and florist, as well as a pal of the Delevingnes.
Do say “Can you take a photo of me in front of our cabin?”
Don’t say “It’s nothing like a farm. There isn’t any mud.”
Why? Prince William and Kate might have decamped to north Norfolk and now hold court at Anmer, on the Sandringham estate, but Suffolk — more arty, less uptight — is where the creatives hang out.
Who’s there? Matthew Vaughn and Claudia Schiffer, Bill Nighy, and Hektor Rous, who founded the Latitude Festival on his estate, Henham Park, a few miles of Southwold. Plus, David Cameron’s chums the Marcqs (Louisa is an illustrator, Nick is a film director), so you might spot the Cameron clan up there from time to time.
Where do they hang? Pump Street Bakery in Orford for buttermilk pancakes and Monmouth coffee on a Saturday morning. Or the Duke’s Head, a gastropub on the 5,000-acre estate owned by Lord and Lady Somerleyton — Hugh and Lara to their pals. They have a huge, bonkers pile (there are two vast, stuffed polar bears in the hall), which you can rent if you fancy. It sleeps 32, comes with staff and costs a mere £15,000 for the weekend. Alternatively, head for Aldeburgh, a town much loved for its bookshop, run by John and Mary James, who started a literary festival in 2002. Dreadfully embarrassing if your county doesn’t have at least one literary festival these days.
Do say “I thought the latest Ian McEwan was terrific.”
Don’t say “Is there anywhere you can get phone reception here?”
Why? North of the border, Scottish balls are old hat. Electro remixes are in. That’s because Taylor Swift was reported to be eyeing up a red sandstone castle near the family home of her boyfriend, Calvin Harris (though she promised on Twitter that she’s not buying it). Called the Tower of Lethendy, it’s a 16th-century turreted affair with eight bedrooms and an outdoor pool — not strictly necessary in Scotland, but then Swift would have learnt that sharpish.
Who’s there? JK Rowling lives in a big stone house called Killiechassie, on the banks of the Tay. Ewan McGregor and Alan Cumming nip back when they have time. And extra points if you spot the Duke of Atholl, who inherited Blair Castle and the UK’s only private army in 2012, but lives in South Africa; he comes back to inspect his regiment once a year.
Where do they hang? Try Cromlix, the hotel that Andy Murray opened in 2014. It’s where he partied following his marriage to Kim Sears last April. It has 15 bedrooms and a high-spec tennis court, obvs. The smartest shopping is done at the House of Bruar, a sort of Scottish Harvey Nichols, where you’ll find everyday essentials such as cashmere waistcoats, whisky marmalade and tweed dog beds.
Do say “Oh good, haggis for breakfast.”
Don’t say “Is it always this cold?”
Out: Gloucestershire (again)
Why? It’s further out, so less expensive and pretentious than Gloucestershire. Fewer Range Rovers, more muddy Toyotas.
Who’s there? It’s where actors such as Dominic West rub up against fashion types including Natalie Massenet and the pyjama designer Olivia von Halle, as well as the politico Peter Mandelson, who rents a house near Pewsey. Guy Ritchie kicks about here, too, because he kept Ashcombe House after his divorce from Madonna. It’s where he got married to Jacqui Ainsley last July, with guests including Brad Pitt and David Beckham, and threw a two-day party during which they all slept (a bit) in cabins on the estate. They’re big on parties across Wiltshire. Little wonder that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall keeps a house near Chippenham, with an adjoining party barn, because friends say she can relax more easily here than she can at Highgrove.
Where do they hang? The Black Swan at Devizes or the Bell at Ramsbury, where Bear Grylls takes his gaggle of sons for Sunday lunch.
Do say “Shall we open another bottle?”
Don’t say “I’ve just got planning permission for a helipad.”