Sometimes I labour under the impression that because I’m living in the UK, I shouldn’t be living my exclusively urban lifestyle – jamming myself into tubes, attending free festivals in parks, exploring art-house theatres and perusing most major gallery exhibitions in the city. No no, I should instead be ruggedly walking through highland fields in wellingtons, with a troupe of dogs following me as I look stunningly rugged in a mackintosh. Actually, I imagine myself not so different from the Queen – in, well, The Queen – when she saw the buck and urged it to run away.
I was recently sent to Cheshire (county of the cat) to make a presentation for work, at a small rural retreat centre. Wanting some peace and quiet after a ridiculously busy week, I headed down a day early to decompress and play tourist for a day. I was staying in an old manor house next to Whistason Green, a park with streams, hand-made fences, paths through farmers’ fields, and cows. While I was dressed in sneakers and a leather jacket, and if I listened really hard I could hear the cars on the motorway a few paces away, in my mind I was Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession - full of Maud Bailey-like sophistication and breeding, with killer riding boots to top it off.
Sadly, it was just me, walking next to a ravine, with some cows in the distance, but it was a nice enough short-lived fantasy.
I have a theory about myself – I work well in either the extremely urban or the extremely rural (and by that I mean a tent in a forest next to a lake), but I struggle anywhere in between. I don’t do suburbia. I don’t do medium sized small towns, and if I’m going to be isolated, it should be in a cabin in the woods, not in a village of 2,000 people one hour away from a city.
Anyways, before giving my presentation on Monday, I wandered into the Tudor village of Nantwich, complete with crooked houses and cobbled lanes, to have a look around. I was in search of Cheshire cheese to bring home to my family in Canada, and I stumbled upon this little teashop – and since it seemed in line with my desire to experience rural English Culture, I stopped in.
I mean really, how much more English can you get? First of all, it says ‘shoppe’ with an ‘e,’ and in a non-marketing strategy/theme restaurant kind of way at that. And it has many teapots in the windows and a board describing fresh cakes outside. I had to go in.
When I sat down, I was given a real teacup, with a real saucer, and biscuits and two whole pages of tea on the menu. I was pretty pleased, and was ogled strangely by all the locals as I obsessively photographed my teacup from this angle and that.
So several items on the menu caught my eye: Wiltshire blue cheese with hot banana chutney buttie? Corned beef toastie? In the end, I opted for the unknown: Staffordshire oatcakes with cheese, bacon and mushrooms. Let’s just review what they looked like:
Oh the hugeness. They were pretty much like buckwheat pancakes stuffed with fried greasy goodness, and I devoured them a little too quickly with little space left for my tea afterwards. The only problem was that this lovely English lunch was a little TOO English in some ways – the only dressing available for the salad was English Salad cream. And I’m sorry, but it’s really a disgusting condiment and can ruin a perfectly good salad with just the slightest application. So it’s also important to remember when traveling outside of London that the UK food revolution hasn’t reached all corners of the country just yet, and that you may be served a delicious farmhouse cheese on terrible bread with salad and salad cream on the side. On the other hand, I have now found a corner of the English-speaking world where balsamic vinegar isn’t used ad nauseum.
On the other hand, the tea was fantastic, easily as good at the tea at the Four Seasons when I had high tea there last April.
I had no room for dessert.
The total? Only £4.95 for oatcakes, a pot of Earl Grey tea and biscuits. Nice to know that outside of London, England is a decently priced country.
And Nantwich has crazy crooked buildings!