A Valentines Love Letter to The Countryside

Our beautiful countryside, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…

Just like love, our beloved countryside is patient with those that ramble along the pathways, exploring the endless horizons. It does not judge when we take a wrong turn, need to consult the map or simply walk with no place to go. It soaks up our laughter, tears and shouts with no complaints; simply waiting, holding those memories for us to return to next time.

With a view to take your breath away around every corner, love is also full of surprises. With every season brings a new wonder, changes that spring up with joyous abandon, and yet like love, we return time after time. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act embodies our delirious romanticism by enabling us, on those rare work-free days, to release the urban shackles and breathe in the fresh air, reinvigorating souls and refreshing minds with calm beauty.

Just like love, our relationship with our rural landscapes takes many forms. Viewed from a window, pounded by hooves and feet, looked down on from great heights of air and rock, and explored from mountain to sea; there's no right or wrong way of enjoying our darling countryside. It's here that no matter how muddy, breathless or lost one gets, there is only one measure of exactly who loves the hills more- the size of your smile.


“What is it about the English countryside---why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?” ― Dodie Smith; I Capture the Castle

Just like love, the countryside is a constant source of inspiration. Take our renowned writers and artists for example, whose muse of moorland and vast hills created classics such as Wuthering Heights or All Creatures Great and Small and paintings by Constable and Turner. Only in the countryside, can one sit in a warm and cosy pub, while looking at the rolling hills, reading Pride and Prejudice and feel completely at home. Local artists can be found tucked away in galleries and workshops across the land. Languishing in the peace and quiet of our rural communities, they enable the nature on their doorstep to spill on to pages, canvas and into other medium, to be loved and shared once more.

Want to profess your love affair with the hills this Valentines Day? Invest in the gorgeous businesses, people and organisations who care and create the culture and atmosphere we love so well. If you are already married to the rural lifestyle, you will know of the community bred out of such a love. Feel the pull of the local shop, school or cafe and hear stories passed down by generations, knowing that just like you - the people are deeply in love with their lifestyle and invested in caring for it for years to come. I encourage you not to flirt with the idea of the country, but to jump in with both feet, embrace your feelings and get ready for a long term coupling to take hold. It is rare that anyone who has courted the countryside has ever received a broken heart, so what are you waiting for?

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

I remember when the humble staycation was the option for holidaymakers too adventure-adverse to go abroad - or it was seen as a cheap and cheerful way for families to get some time out without blowing the budget.

In recent years, however, the tide has most certainly turned. The typical Brit choosing to holiday at home has changed, as has the type of holiday experience they’re looking for - it’s less ‘two weeks in a B&B in Skegness’ and more ‘luxurious self-catering with hot tub’ or ‘country house hotel with spa and golf course.’

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

It seems that TV shows like Game of Thrones, Poldark and The Crown have reminded us that there are plenty of jaw-dropping landscapes, cultural sites and history on our own doorstep, and with the weaker pound and the convenience factor also adding persuasive power, it’s no surprise that 54% of Brits enjoyed a staycation in 2017.

Staycation temptation is nothing new here at The Hills, however - I’ve long been a fan of discovering more of what makes Great Britain truly great. There’s so much of these fair British Isles that is still unknown to me and that I want to discover. When enjoying some down time from day-to-day life, there’s nothing I love more than finding the artisans and creatives hidden away in the community. As you know I am passionate about supporting rural industries, and that goes for those on my doorstep as well as creative industries further afield. From artisanal Scottish tartan, to Cornish pottery and Welsh blankets - there is something beautiful to be found in every corner of our gorgeous country! Of course, I still love a trip abroad, but when there’s so much here in the UK for us to enjoy it would seem rude to give Britain a wide berth. So how can you make your staycation just that little bit more - well, special? That’s easy - consult The Hills’ Directory, and choose from our wonderful variety of crafters to visit, and ways to explore.

For the economically-minded, there are numerous affordable choices available - camping perhaps the most obvious option. But banish all ideas of soggy canvas and naff 70s fabrics: camping kit has evolved thanks to the likes of Hills members Journeyman Handcraft.Think stylish and practical leather pouches, patches, bags and tools - it’s almost enough to convert a trilesalectinophobic (that’s a person scared of camping equipment - ha!).

But who said there had to be a tent involved? Have a look at Snowdonia Classic Campers and take your camping holiday up a gear with a different, distinctly retro feel. All of their campers are painstakingly restored and modernised, so you won’t be roughing it - far from it, in fact.

Chances are, if you’re contemplating any kind of camping you’re probably an outdoorsy type, so how about enlisting the help of some pros to get the most from your outdoor adventure? Two Blondes Walking are a formidable duo: Mountain Training England qualified and experienced walk leaders who love organising guided walks and teaching course participants about wild camping. Pop over the their website and prepare to be awed.

And talking about learning new skills, how about cresting the waves? As adults we don’t often give much thought to learning a new skill or trying out a hobby but we’re desperate to sign our children up to every class and holiday camp - why should little ones have all the fun? Surf Snowdonia is a fab organisation and offer half day and full day suitable for all ages and abilities.

Too many choices? Make Denbighshire Tourism your next port of call - they have two centres in Rhyll and Llangollen and can help you with all manner of decisions, from accommodation options to activities to please every demographic.

Do you have any staycations planned for 2019? We’d love to hear about them - and to encourage you to support local and countryside-based businesses in your pursuit of the perfect break, of course!

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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Loving our Hills Community

A couple of weeks ago, we published an article commending the countryside for being a prime place to live. Amongst our top 5 reasons? The wonderful community spirit in such gorgeous rural locations.

Loving our Hills Community

We know well that when living in the countryside there’s a good chance your nearest neighbour won’t be directly next door, and you may not even be able to spot their home at all. According to national statistics, there are less than 50 people per square kilometre in districts such as Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Somerset, whereas in areas of London, for example, there are more than 15,000 people crammed into the same 1km!

So what does this mean for our local communities?

Our rural groups may be smaller and less busy than the city ones, but this means that they often come with a close-knit, genuine, caring interest in looking after the local community and providing mutual support for those living in the area. Integral to this, is the amount of support we are able to give one another; sharing news, promoting small businesses and encouraging local enterprises.

Here at The Hills, we are moving towards our first birthday and I am thrilled to see our own community steadily growing. My aim has always been to help small businesses to reach a larger community and to share my finds with my followers, and so feel incredibly lucky to be able to meet fantastic artists and creatives and bring their stories and wares to our little space on the internet.

This year I am not making many resolutions, but one that I will stand by is to offer our community more opportunities to purchase the quality products made by some of the best rural businesses. By bringing you our brand new shop, I am excited to be able to introduce you to more artisan creators. I will be handpicking gorgeous items that are ethically made and handcrafted with love and collaborating with selected brands that share our passion for rural communities. I hope the website will be your cosy country space on the internet, where we share crafts and products that we’d love to have in our homes too!

By welcoming our very favourite creatives to share their items in our store, I will provide them with a platform which feels as strongly about small business support as they do, and promote their businesses to all those who I know share this notion with me. 2019 is our year to further our involvement with rural communities and assist our valuable local makers and artisans, first stop - The Hills Shop!

So today I would love to know - what products would you like to see in our shop? Which industry would you like to know more about? Which products would you recommend we investigate?

Your ideas are important to me. Leave me a comment below, or tag us in posts on both Facebook and Instagram!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats (plus a cheeky regular overnight visitor!), four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

5 reasons to relocate to the countryside

You may have lived in the rolling hills for decades, or you may be obsessed with Escape to the Country and dreaming of upping sticks, but one thing is for certain, the rural living dream is real, and one which isn’t going away. If you’re thinking of moving from the big city to the quiet countryside, you’re not alone - the rural population is set to grow by 6% over the next decade, according to government figures.

5 reasons to relocate to the countryside - the hills countryside blog

There are plenty of articles out there citing some perceived negative aspects of rural life (lack of mobile signal and coffee shops on your doorstep featuring heavily) but for those brave enough to take the leap - what are the benefits you can discover by relocating to the country?

1.Slower Pace

Britain is an urban country and about four fifths of the UK population lives in cities and towns. City life has its advantages and disadvantages and so does country life, however, there seems to be an increased interest in the country, especially among young families.

For those of us who love the peace and quiet, slower pace and more considered travel, the country is a very different way of life than the city. Yes, you may now have to drive a few miles to the nearest superstore, but if you are truly passionate about living the country life, I would urge you to drive to the local high street instead and discover the items you wouldn’t normally find in in your supermarket - local meat and cheese for example, small indie traders and local crafts. You will be pleasantly surprised!

2.Local Entertainment

You may think you will miss the blockbusters, theatre, exhibitions and concerts, but don’t be so pessimistic! We may not have a multiplex cinema down the road, but the talent within the rural community can be breathtaking, you just have to know where to look for it. Explore your local art gallery, craft centre or farmers market to really discover what’s happening in your local area. Our carefully selected directory and events listings are a good place to start! If you are trying to cut down on your screen time, the best adventures will now be available right on your doorstep, so grab your boots and get outside to explore the best entertainment nature has to offer.

3. Cost of living

Cities are expensive to live in. It’s well-established that living in the suburbs is cheaper than living in the city, and the cost of living drops even further for rural areas. Many have reported lower insurance premiums, and lower costs on public transport (though of course, we do have less of that available!). If you are thinking about moving home, one thing the country has is a lot of space and so you will have better chances of having the size home you want in the country. Larger properties are more readily available, and you will likely easily find a bigger garden at a much cheaper price.

4. Community

There is often so many people in urban areas, it can be difficult to develop those deep and meaningful connections, as life is whisked along in the hustle and bustle. In contrastin the countryside there’s a good chance your nearest neighbour won’t be directly next door, and you may not even be able to spot their home at all. Of course, that means that if a sense of community is important to you, it is essential that you discover your local groups, libraries and networks. They may be smaller and less busy than the city ones, but this means that they come with a genuine caring interest in looking after the local community and providing mutual support for those living in the area.

5. Healthy Lifestyle

Of course, I couldn’t write an article about country living without mentioning the health benefits! The benefits of country living have been well researched and documented, and science shows that living in the country is beneficial for both your physical and your mental health. Out in the country, life moves a little bit slower and the space here means you can grow your own fruit and veg (why not go organic), or buy direct from local farmers. You’ll be able to own animals you may have always wanted, but couldn’t in a town or city, such as horses, hens, cows or adorable alpacas! The fresh country air is lovely and of course the general slower pace will melt that stress away!

Are you planning your get away or are you already living the dream? What tips can you share for those that are planning to relocate to the country?

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Book Review - Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s Educated was one of the biggest books of 2018, topping awards and bestsellers lists across the world. It’s a memoir in which Westover - who, by the way, is still only 32 - recalls her upbringing in rural Idaho as part of a Mormon survivalist family. Her father, Gene, deals in scrap metal and has a whole litany of extreme beliefs, primary amongst them being his distrust of all conventional medical treatment and the public school system. Her mother, Faye, is a subservient figure, although as the narrative continues she develops a reputation for midwifery and faith healing, as well as her catalogue of natural ointments and potions. There are seven Westover siblings, with Tara the youngest. Today, Westover is estranged from her parents, two of her brothers and her sister.

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This is no rose-tinted view of simple, country living. The family might live a superficially idyllic wild and free existence, but dig a little deeper and Tara’s childhood is revealed as deeply dysfunctional: no birth certificate, no health checks, no school, a very narrow home education and huge portions of the day devoted to working on the scrap heap and bottling and storing food supplies for the End of Days. The Westover siblings suffer an astonishing array of injuries and near-death experiences at the mountainside home, from horrific burns to terrifying falls and concussions.

This is, in part, a coming-of-age story. As Tara grows, her family - and particularly her father and older brother, Shawn - struggle to cope with the reality of her becoming her own person. Her father attempts to stop her from taking part in a local drama show, eventually relenting but insisting that her costume is appropriately ‘modest’, i.e. floor-length and oversized. She loves music, is a talented singer and credits music with providing her with her first view of a world beyond the mountain. Shawn, who becomes increasingly aggressive and violent over time, calls Tara vile names, hits her, even attempts to throttle her.

When Tara becomes friends with a local boy and applies to the Mormon University, Brigham Young, tensions increase. Moving to Provo, Utah, to study, she encounters a whole new urban existence; away from the mountain, Tara is shocked to discover that the world is never quiet and “the chirrup of crosswalk signals, the shrieking of sirens, the hissing of air breaks, even the hushed chatter of people strolling on the sidewalk” combined feel like an assault. She shares a home with Mormon girls completely unlike herself: they wear nail polish and branded clothing, shop on Sundays and drink Diet Coke. And academically, Tara struggles. Although unquestionably bright, her patchy, uber-religious ‘schooling’ at home means she’s missed huge chunks of general knowledge and world history. In one lecture she raises her hand to ask what the Holocaust was, to the utter disbelief of her peers and teacher.

Some might have expected Westover to give up, head home, marry a local, especially after one of the church elders at university takes her to task over not accepting dates from several would-be suitors: “Marriage is part of God’s plan,” he chides. But her upbringing seems to have been useful in one key respect, i.e. in developing resilience. She works, listens, pores over books until the early hours, soaks up her academic surroundings like a sponge. She wins scholarships, awards and a place to study at Cambridge after she graduates.

Still in touch (just), Westover’s relationship with her family is almost at breaking point. Now educated, Tara can see the gaping holes in her father’s extreme view of the world. There’s an excruciating scene where he regales Tara and her mother with his anti-Semitic views and Martin Luther King’s “ties to communism” over a restaurant dinner. “But the world is about to end!” he shouts, oblivious to the other diners in his booming mountainside voice.

When the tie with her parents is finally severed, it’s a culmination of many factors - Tara’s time away from the mountain, new friendships and loves as well as countless old grievances. At the end of the book she reflects that “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.” She closes with the powerful words, “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

Unsettling and thought-provoking but ultimately inspiring, Educated was one of my favourite books of 2018. If you missed it, get it on your ‘to read’ pile for 2019.

 
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Laura McDonagh

Laura is a writer based in a village outside York. After four years living and working in Brussels, she recently returned to the UK with husband and two small boys in tow. She now lives an altogether more rural existence, complete with wellies, open fire and a permanently filthy car. She runs her own digital copywriting business, Strike the Match, and lives for perfect bright and breezy running weather, mid-century interior design and anything with peanut butter in it.