We're the urban bumpkins! The women desperate to live like rural folk, even in the heart of the city
20:39 GMT, 3 June 2012
It used to be easy to spot a country dweller, clad in wellies and Barbours, driving a Range Rover, with an Aga at home in the kitchen. But nowadays that ruddy-cheeked couple with the muddy boots and the labrador are just as likely to come from Chelsea as Chipping Norton. Diana Appleyard talks to four ‘urban bumpkins’ – women desperate to live like rural folk, even in the heart of the city…
I've got an Aga in my two-bed flat: Writer and food expert Kerstin Rodgers
Writer and food expert Kerstin Rodgers, 42, has created a mini country manor in her compact two-bedroomed flat in Kilburn, London. Kerstin is a single mother with an 18-year-old daughter, Sienna. She says:
People are sometimes bemused to see me out and about in London in my floral dress and bonnet with a wooden basket slung over my arm, but I couldn’t care less. Visitors tend to be even more astonished when they see my flat. I have carefully recreated a country manor house in my two-bedroom maisonette — even down to the Aga in my kitchen. My apartment has stripped pine dressers, fireplaces in every room, starched linen tablecloths, elegant chandeliers and floral pottery.
My garden is filled with country flowers, fruit trees, vines and a vegetable patch in which I grow tomatoes, leeks and potatoes. It really is a country haven in the midst of the city. I even have beautiful country-style tea dresses specially made for me.
People are sometimes bemused to see me
out and about in London in my floral dress and bonnet with a wooden
basket slung over my arm, but I couldn’t care less
I grew up in a large townhouse in
Highgate, North London, and my mother also tried to replicate the
country in an urban environment. I’ve inherited her taste, but however
much I like the simplicity of rural life, I couldn’t imagine actually
I love the idea, but not the reality. I become fearful if I’m not near a Tube station. I spent six years in Paris, and then a year living in Provence when I was younger, and although the fresh air and views were wonderful, I must confess I found it rather boring. Three-and-half years ago, I created a ‘restaurant’ in my living room and opened it up to ‘customers’.
Much of the attraction of my supper club was that it was like visiting a mini country mansion. I used unusual products in the food — edible flowers and the like — which I grow in my garden. I put this trend of aping the country lifestyle down to the stress of modern life. I think we all want to get back to nature.
I keep pigs in the heart of London: Mother-of-three Kelly Gray
Kelly Gray, 31, has three children, Ella, seven, Louis, five, and Phoebe, two. She is married to Barry, 32, a construction manager, and the family live in Brentford, West London. She says:
Last Christmas we made a momentous decision — to buy two piglets. Since then, our neighbours have become used to the sound of the pigs grunting, our chickens clucking and ducklings quacking. Our neighbours are very tolerant — and I keep them sweet by giving them fresh eggs. Like most city dwellers, we didn’t think it possible to keep farm animals in the heart of London, but then I heard about a lady called Olivia who sells micro pigs from her home nearby.
She assured me we could easily keep pigs
in a city garden, and that they would grow to no more than the height
of a spaniel. I went on a one-day pig keeping course, and then became
the proud owner of two micro pigs, Rosie and Jim.
I do get rather odd looks when I take my
daughter to her nursery school wearing a Barbour hat, Barbour coat and
my Dubarry country boots
The hens then followed — we now have 14 — and six Aylesbury ducklings, and we have two dogs, too. Luckily, our garden is 100ft long, so we can accommodate our menagerie and we made a run full of wood chips with a pig ark — a rounded shelter — at the end. They are happy as anything.
The children adore the animals — after school, the first thing they do is run into the garden to stroke them. The pigs are particularly affectionate and love being petted. Contact with nature and animals is something so many city children miss out on, but the cleaning-out duties and feeding teaches them to be responsible. As long as you have the space, there’s nothing to stop you keeping pigs or sheep in your back garden in the city. But if you want to keep friendly relations with your neighbours, take my advice and avoid getting a cockerel!
Read, 40, runs her own shoe company and lives in a three-bedroom flat
in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, with her partner Rui Sargento, 38, a
credit controller. She says:
so in love with the country lifestyle I even rent my own hen — I pay a
few pounds a month for her keep at a friend’s country property and get
the eggs in return. We live in a three-bedroom flat in the middle of
Berkhamsted, and the only ‘green space’ I have is a small balcony, but I
certainly make the most of it. Where most people would have a table and
chairs and perhaps a few flowerpots, I have a vegetable allotment
crammed with tubs of tomatoes, plum trees, cucumbers, spring onions,
potatoes, rhubarb and lettuce.
I rent a hen – and turned my balcony into a veg plot: Nikki
Read (left) I’m bonkers for Barbour: Caroline Almgren
I have hanging baskets full of runner beans, and even hanging sacks off the side of the balcony with trailing strawberry plants. The balcony attracts a lot of attention. I’d love a country cottage — but work keeps us in the centre. Pottering on my balcony watching things grow calms me. My dream is to keep pigs and live a fully sustainable lifestyle where I eat only the meat and vegetables I have raised. I’m a very keen cook, and I like to know where all my food has come from. It’s lovely to get back to nature — even though for me ‘nature’ is my balcony in a block of flats.’
Caroline Almgren, 30, runs an online equestrian business. She has a two-year-old daughter India, with her fiance Heinrich, 30, who works in publishing. The family live in Kew, West London. Caroline says:
I do get rather odd looks when I take my daughter to her nursery school wearing a Barbour hat, Barbour coat and my Dubarry country boots. My daughter’s friends’ mothers all wear Boden and high heels, so I sometimes feel like a fish out of water, but I’m a country girl at heart and I’m not going to change. Growing up in Warwickshire, my mother bred gun dogs and we lived in the countryside surrounded by horses, trees and fields. Here in the city, I feel hemmed in by buildings and I can’t stand the traffic noise.
Although I miss the fresh air and the open spaces tremendously, Heinrich and I have to live in London for work. Our area of Kew has lots of beautiful green open spaces and the famous botanical gardens nearby, so it’s about as close to a countryside feel as you can get in a city. Our detached Victorian cottage was built in 1870 and has a beautiful garden filled with colourful country flowers. Inside is rustic-chic, too — filled with antiques, paintings of horses and dogs, blankets over the back of sofas and rugs on the floors. My shelves are lined with books about gardening, horses and dogs.
The cottage is my oasis — my own countryside oasis in the city. Sometime in the future we’d love to move to an idyllic house surrounded by fields, but for now this is a good compromise.