City-dwelling folk often seem to believe country life is all Fair Isle sweaters, floaty tea-dresses and long walks to the pub for a ploughman’s. Anyone currently swapping urban life for this manicured version of the rural idyll is certainly in for a rude awakening. But forgive me for getting angry at the perception that the countryside is unfriendly; it’s not. Country dwellers work in the country, they’re not there for recreation. Would you complain that commuters at Waterloo station don’t stop to chat and wave?
I live on a small farm in the home counties. The nearest shop, pub or mode of public transport is more than a good hour’s walk away, the mobile reception is dodgy, the Wi-Fi even worse. And I love it. But country life is physically relentless. Even if you do a desk job, to walk the dog (or yourself) you have to don wellies – there are no paved parks with convenient poo bins and street lights here.
Those who live off the land work long days, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Farm animals don’t give you 28 days’ holiday, a pension or time off for physical nor mental ailments. “Please have empathy if we are a little grumpy,” says a farming friend. “I don’t often feel like smiling when I’ve changed clothes for the third time, my back hurts and I’m rushing to meet the vet for a dying animal.”
I lived in London for 12 years and never knew any of my neighbours. Here, I know them all, and could ring anyone for anything. If a tree falls across a road, for example, the nearest person will go and clear it with their chainsaw – today, that’s me – there’s no calling 999 or waiting for the council. When you move anywhere new, make an effort to understand your surroundings, respect those who live there and have an open mind. It’s the quickest way to be accepted.
Join clubs, volunteer in the community shop or at local events – or church if that’s your thing. Support local businesses and buy directly from the producers. Most importantly, don’t alienate people before you know them. You wouldn’t moan about a neighbour’s lawnmower so don’t whinge about a farmer’s combine harvester for the few days he’s trying to get his crops in before they spoil (and he can’t feed his family that winter).
I am growing increasingly astonished at complaints on village Facebook groups about everything from manure smells to muddy roads – then there was a farmer who’d been asked by the producers of the BBC’s Countryfile to stop combining because it was “disturbing their filming”. You couldn’t make it up.
Wave at the grumpy farmer in his tractor, and you might be pleasantly surprised. Always have an open-door policy for both people and their dogs, and don’t expect wellies to be taken off in your kitchen. Apply the same tolerance to country sports and farming that you might have for other opinion-dividing matters deemed more important to urbanites and don’t criticise something you don’t fully understand.
This year, farmers have fed Britain, so try not to impose views on meat eating to a fourth or fifth-generation farmer who breaks his back to produce meat that, if it doesn’t feed your family, might feed the dog you bought that stays at home all day while you’re out at work. When you do finally let it out for a walk, don’t let it chase livestock or leave gates open in its wake – and definitely don’t bag up its poo and hang it in the hedge for a sheep or cow to ingest and then die.
In short, treat others (and their property) as you’d like to be treated yourself, show empathy and adopt a willingness to get stuck in and you’ll never be short of friends anywhere, let alone in the country.
Related: ‘I moved to the country and missed the friendly familiar faces from the city’