Welcome to the last slice of real England, Liz. Don't you dare wreck it!
22:52 GMT, 15 August 2012
Liz Hurley has sold her Cotswolds pile and is moving to Herefordshire. When Liz finishes unpacking the tea chests at her new home near Ledbury, I suspect she will find she has not just moved house. She may feel she has also moved time zones — a couple of decades' worth.
Herefordshire is old-fashioned and the better for it. It is black wellies, not green. It is muddy bangers, not gleaming Range Rover Evoques. It is hairy-eared hunting types, not Eurotrash polo sleeksters with year-round tans, Argentine grooms and the latest designer drug.
Botox has yet to cross the Herefordshire border, except perhaps for improving the lines of certain champion bulls.
Liz Hurley has sold her house in the Cotswolds and is moving to Herefordshire
Personal fitness trainers are not found here, unless you mean zumba dance classes down the parish hall Tuesday evenings with firm-thighed Mrs Hargreaves.
Boutique hotels and aromatherapy spas and stretch limousines and medallioned rap singers in diamond-encrusted Bentleys are rare to non-existent in these English Marches. If they did come here they might find themselves prodded like white ladies landing on the shores of Polynesia in the 16th century — a source of shoulder-heaving amusement.
If Miss Hurley, 47, is hoping to place youth’s sillier baubles behind her and reconnect with her roots as an Army officer’s daughter, she has chosen well. She has chosen a small-c conservative county, a pocket of our kingdom where modesty and restraint generally still hold sway, a place where fusion still refers to science rather than faux Asian grub.
Some may say that makes the place dull and dusty, but you could argue it is more in keeping with the austerity age. Bling and sparkle are so very last year, my dears.
In Herefordshire the strongest stimulant you are likely to encounter is farmyard scrumpy. Herefordshire still pongs of silage and dung, not Aramis or Dior Addict or any of those other unguents worn by the glistening Gerties of cosmopolitania.
Smart move: Liz Hurley will enjoy the cobbled streets of Ledbury and the surrounding countryside
When you come to Herefordshire you see where much of England, with its mania for urbanisation and sterilised neatness, has gone awry. The mini roundabout has not yet conquered Herefordshire. There are still, thank goodness, long stretches of country byway not blighted by street lighting and parking regulations.
Welcome to a county where, at risk of sounding like a Danny Boyle Olympics opening ceremony, the fertile soil is as ruddy brown as fresh-chopped liver, where smoking Bedford horseboxes grind through their gears and shopkeepers’ fingertips split like winter carrots.
Herefordshire traffic still stops to let cows trot home to the milking shed. Right mess of the lanes they make, too. When it rains, the surface is as slippery as an avocado stone.
A milk tanker once hit the brakes too hard and took out our garden fence like a row of skittles. Bing bing bing bing, down it went.
We even have village ponds with gaggles of geese. My son was bitten by one. When you saw the bruise you understood the real meaning of ‘goosed’. Poor Monica Lewinsky.
We have butchers who deliver door to door. Our streams and skies have kingfishers, buzzards and hawks atop the lofty perry-pear trees.
We have neighbours whose names we know. We have a solid Anglican diocese where the dean is an influential, intellectual figure. We have informative local newspapers and dustmen who whistle.
Liz Hurley (pictured with Shane Warne) may feel she has moved time zones when she relocates
We don’t have a gaggle of Murdoch hangers-on such as ex-News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks and her Chipping Norton set. We don’t network with Prime Ministers at ‘country suppers’. Compared to ‘posh Glos’ and west Oxfordshire, Herefordshire is light on celebrities.
Singer Ellie Goulding was reared here, but she is a modest sort and doesn’t swagger through the pages of the glossy magazines.
Top Gear’s Richard Hammond, who will be a neighbour of Miss Hurley when she moves into her Georgian pile near Ledbury, sometimes zooms overheard in a helicopter. Busy man, Hammond. But apart from the chopper, he keeps himself to himself. No Jeremy Clarkson, he.
Former SAS man-turned-author Andy McNab is a Herefordian, so we are told, though it is hard to be certain because no one is allowed to know what he looks like owing to security fears (or clever PR).
Other Marches ‘celebs’, if that is the word, include gardener Monty Don, jockeys Peter Scudamore and Richard Johnson, former Grand National winner Mon Mome, and former Wisden editor Matthew Engel. Liz’s boyfriend Shane Warne might enjoy chatting to him.
We also have the magnificently moustached Sir Roy Strong, art historian and benefactor of Hereford cathedral. Sir Roy’s garden near Hoarwithy is a tourist attraction. Is that a strand of clematis vitalba or one of Sir Roy’s wispy whiskers
These names are a far cry from the Hurley-burly of the Stow-Burford-Chipping Norton triangle Liz frequented. Indian textile heirs such as her former husband Arun Nayar have we none. One of her friends is reportedly Sir Elton John. Has he ever played the Ducking Stool pub in Leominster Methinks not.
Herefordshire is unaffected, 'godly and quietly governed' to quote the Prayer Book that is still widely used at our country churches. And church is where you get to know the locals. Herefordshire is sparsely populated and is not much in thrall to fashion or excess. Drinks parties here begin and end punctually. Thank-you letters are de rigueur.
Like Liz, I moved here from Gloucestershire. We arrived ten years ago and love it. At first, I felt anxiety about leaving the county of my birth, though I had been schooled for a while in Herefordshire.
I had been brought up by my schoolmaster father (a Cirencester man all his life) to think Gloucestershire greatest. The county tie was strong in our family, as used to be common in Britain.
That matters. If people have an
emotional bond with their area they tend it more lovingly and behave
with greater discretion towards society. Counties go back centuries.
They help to define us.
the Seventies, Ted Heath, who preferred European-style regions, tried to
change them. Whitehall continues to resent them, and breaks the country
into statistical zones. Rightly, we ignore them.
children we were taught to revere Gloucestershire’s Roman roads, its
cattle markets and implausibly big churches, built on the fortunes of
the wool traders in medieval times.
Singer Ellie Goulding (left) grew up in Herefordshire and Richard Hammond (right) now lives in the county
Gloucestershire had cricketing heroes Gilbert Jessop and Wally Hammond. It was the land of rugby front-row forwards such as Mike Burton and Phil Blakeway — whose sideburns would make Bradley Wiggins blush. I sent Burton a fan letter in 1973 and he replied. I walked a foot taller for weeks.
But from the Eighties, the Cotswolds was slowly bent out of shape by developers and gentrifiers. The bigger houses were bought for millions by West London emigres (Chelsea having been annexed by Arabs and Russian oligarchs). Anne ‘Weakest Link’ Robinson was one of the first celebrity arrivals and tales of her imperious demeanour in the Cotswold shops soon spread.
Then came others seeking the Jilly Cooper dream of sex in the shires — tight-buttocked jodhpurs and far-back county accents and honey-stoned cottages and lots of lolly.
My home county became a playground for the Damien Hirsts and the Kates (Moss and Winslet). The late Rosemary Verey’s old vicarage with its classic garden — she advised Prince Charles and Elton John among others on horticulture — in the village of Barnsley was wrenched out of recognition and turned into some ultra-swank hotel for stressy trans-Atlanticists. At weekends in certain parts of Gloucestershire there are more Aston Martins than Land Rovers.
That has not yet happened in Herefordshire and I hope it never will.
Mordant diarist Roger Lewis, who has a house in ‘the remote Herefordshire Balkans’, describes his town of Bromyard as ‘the last Ealing comedy town left in existence’, full of ‘grocers, butchers, bakers, a joinery workshop and a champion little boozer called The Rose & Crown where the Morris Men meet’.
Lewis’s local hairdresser once placed a notice on the door saying: 'Closed — due to quietness.'
Herefordshire is putting up a fight against the wreckers of modern Britain. Hereford has not succumbed to skyscrapers and has, I am told, just one foolishly over-priced dress shop.
Ledbury has recently seen off some empire-building by Sainsbury’s and is best known for its annual poetry festival. Let’s hope it stays that way.
There were rumours that William and Kate, or Prince Harry, would move into the Harewood End estate owned by Prince Charles’s Duchy of Lancaster. That talk has come to nothing. Prince Harry may have taken a look at the night-life in nearby Ross- on-Wye and decided that karaoke at the Hope & Anchor — congenial though it is, in its own way — is not quite the same as an evening at Boujis in South Kensington.
If Liz Hurley is looking for a frisson she may have to contain herself to the Three Counties Show in Malvern (just over the Worcestershire border).
The annual sheep shearing contest there draws crowds of Herefordshire ladies, eyes a-gleam as they watch hunky farmers in sweaty T-shirts wrestle ewes to the ground.
Mrs Letts never misses it and remains in a state of pink-faced excitement for days afterwards.
Herefordshire is hard to beat, Liz. Just please don’t try to change it.