Dom Joly: I’m going to live and die in these hills
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Cheltenham is hip. It has great schools, beautiful architecture and a buzz about it that was severely lacking in the mid-Seventies, says our new columnist
I’ve been a Cotswold resident for over 10 years now. God, how time flies when you’re having fun. I first moved down here from London because my flat there was getting done up. My wife Stacey and I thought it would be fun to rent somewhere out of town, have a little country adventure for six months. It was the best decision we ever made and we never went back.
Everything that was subconsciously annoying me in London seemed to disappear when we got here. Obviously these were replaced by new annoyances - tractors crawling around at five miles per hour, haughty locals on incontinent horses, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen… but I was mostly blissfully happy. We’d moved to a beautiful village called Quenington in the Coln Valley and I’d unwittingly taken over the role of Village Celeb from Anne Robinson who’d moved onwards and upwards having banked her Weakest Link loot.
As we settled in I learned the rules – Liz Hurley ran the next village, Kate Moss was mistress of another, Gwyneth Paltrow was rumoured to be house-hunting in the area. This was what I’d left London to get away from. Things came to a head when some entrepreneurial fellow set up a ‘Tour Of The Cotswolds Stars’ Homes’ in a coach. It only lasted a couple of months or so but it was insane. It started well by parking up outside Hurley and Winslet’s pads but quickly nose-dived by the time it reached me and Gary Kemp. I used to go out and throw stones at the coach until I realised that this was becoming a highlight of the trip.
Then, last year we moved towards Cheltenham where our kids go to school. We landed in a beautiful valley between Winchcombe and Andoversford and realised that we’d actually been living in mild suburbia back in the Coln Valley. Our new valley is proper Cotswolds, wild and beautiful dotted with hidden Roman villas and ancient burial mounds. I can walk straight out of the rear of my farm and be on Cleeve Hill, overlooking Cheltenham and beyond in 45 minutes.
That’s the other bonus – Cheltenham. Before, if we’d wanted to go to the cinema, we’d have to go to Swindon, a fate worse than death itself. Even my sat-nav would start panicking and just scream “get out, get the hell out of here now!” Now, I can leave my rural idyll and be in Cheltenham central in 15 minutes. What bliss. I can sup a macchiato at the wonderful Swallow Café, take advantage of the half price champagne deal at the Daffodil, munch on a steak the size of a cow in 131 before sinking into my comfy chair with a bottle of wine at the Screening Rooms.
Cheltenham is very much a town on the up. It seems to have bucked the national trend and is visibly booming. I can’t believe I’m even saying this as, growing up, it was a place you moved to, to die in. My granny lived there and I remember her 90th birthday party at the Queen’s Hotel, watching the predominantly elderly population of the town shuffle past talking about the glory days of Empire and name-checking friends on the war memorials. The place was a mothballed museum. It positively creaked with arthritis.
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Not any more it doesn’t. Cheltenham is hip. It has great schools, beautiful architecture and a buzz about it that was severely lacking in the mid-Seventies.
There are things I need to watch out for. I have to be careful in my dealings with parents at my kids’ school as most of them work at GCHQ and are probably reading my emails. I also have an unfortunate loathing of jazz (random, tuneless nonsense) so avoid the place during the Jazz Festival (although I have to admit to sneaking into see Van Morrison, but he’s not really jazz in my humble opinion).
But there’s no getting round it – Cheltenham is the new black, it’s Haight and Ashbury, it’s early Apple. I sold my place in London to Salman Rushdie. Should he ever have to go on the run again and offer to sell it back I’d have to decline. I’m going to live and die in these hills.
This article by Dom Joly is from the April 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Dom Joly, follow him on Twitter: @DomJoly