LIZ Jones was accused by locals of ruining Exmoor when she lived there, and now she has come to pester us in Yorkshire. A columnist for a national newspaper, she has left her townhouse in Islington, north London, and deigned to grace us with her presence in the Yorkshire Dales.
Sadly, the poor thing is not finding it easy to settle in. She’s branded God’s own county “sexist, cruel and lonely”.
What was she expecting? An upmarket Center Parcs with yokels dressed in smocks offering her baskets of organic bread?
Famed for her demanding ways, her devotion to rescuing animals and a predilection for tofu, she also has a strange fascination for upping sticks from the city to chase the dream of a rural idyll that even she admits doesn’t exist.
In this, she is not alone. Last year, 63,000 homes were purchased outside London by those seeking an escape from the relentless metropolitan rat race. I know how they feel. I did it myself 13 years ago, when I came back home to Barnsley after almost two decades living “down South”. And, I’ve recently moved from the town centre to the edge of my beloved Dove Valley in Worsbrough.
I thought then I would offer her – and any other townie thinking of moving to the Yorkshire countryside – some advice.
I don’t suppose Liz Jones will listen to a word. That’s the first rule of moving to the country, by the way. Give some respect to those who were there before you.
In this, never assume, and never presume. That scruffy-looking man striding down the lane with a stick, trouser bottoms caked in mud and a battered cap on his head? He probably owns about 200 acres, so cross him – or his land – at your peril. His family can trace their roots back to before William the Conqueror came marching up here with his fancy foreign ways, demanding coq au vin from the local hostelry. He’s used to dealing with interlopers. The gun he carries slung so casually over his shoulder shows you how he might do it.
Don’t expect him, or anyone else for that matter, to speak first. Communication is a minefield full of cowpats. If you come up here looking for gushing small talk, compliments and general conversational flim-flam, you’ll have to go to Harrogate for that.
That said, don’t ignore people. And don’t assume airs. You are not the lady of the manor. That’s the woman shoving a herd of Labradors into the back of an ancient Mitsubishi jeep. Just practice an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement – as if you were bidding at auction – and take it from there.
The loneliness Ms Jones speaks of? Use the local shops, smile at the children, find something, anything, that interests you and join in. You’ll find someone you like. After all, you’re not the only townie up here.
Speaking of cowpats too, expect mud. Lots of it. I never ceased to be amazed that people are surprised that the countryside is not paved, Tarmac-ed and possibly astro-turfed. Why else do you think even the most modest of dwellings has somewhere to throw the mucky boots outside the door?
And death, expect lots of that too. Poor dear, she’s been terribly upset about the number of deceased rabbits and hedgehogs she is forced to step daintily across on her quest to find the nearest Waitrose (again, try Harrogate).
Without getting too metaphysical, the whole point of the countryside is that it is one big cycle of birth and death. The sheep and cattle aren’t there to make the fields look pretty either. They represent the rural economy, which demands respect.
And as the farmer is attempting to take his beasts to market whilst negotiating his way past her homemade 5mph hour sign, there’s Ms Jones sat worrying about where her next bottle of Sisley shower gel is going to come from.
Has she not heard of the internet? Oh sorry, she has, but only in terms of the rubbish broadband speed she is forced to endure. I’ve got a tip for her here too. If you rely on the internet for life and work, as I do too, don’t choose to live in a property where it would be quicker to send a letter by horse and cart. We’ve a long way to go before the dips and hedgerows of the Yorkshire Dales become the northern Silicon Valley that Richmond MP Rishi Sunak is said to envisage. And some would say we’re better off that way. Why can’t people accept the countryside the way it is, instead of imposing some kind of 21st order on the place? There is order already – natural order – and it over-rides all.