Moving out of London was bliss. Except for one tiny detail. The shopping. Years of London living, with a friendly deli down the road and the bright lights of Oxford Street just a bus ride away, had definitely spoiled me. The farmhouse on a moody, windswept hill we moved to was heaven but the local shops were dire. I could have cried the day I pitched up in the nearest town to find a long grey street flanked by a Tesco’s at one end and a store selling anoraks and sturdy walking boots at the other. This sounds clichéd, I know, but as for buying a jar of pesto or some decent olive oil, forget it.
But those days are long gone. Shopping in the sticks is chicer than chic. Here in Oxfordshire we’ve got the amazing Bicester Village a few miles away – complete with Anya Hindmarch, Mulberry, Joseph and every other designer you can think of. Emma Bridgewater and Cowshed have recently opened so that’s Christmas sorted and when you need an energy boost you can dive into Carluccio’s (above) for a plate of pasta.
So just to prove there are fantastic shops in the country, here are my current top three.
The Hambledon in Winchester is my favourite shop in the world. I’ve known owner Victoria Suffield since she was a teenager and she has an eye for design and detail that’s second to none. Her stunning three-floor emporium overlooking Winchester Cathedral sells a dazzling mix of clothes, china, books, children’s things and vintage furniture. The website, which boasts designs by Rob Ryan and a brilliant Christmas gift guide, is definitely worth a look too.
Next up is Carole Bamford’s amazing Daylesford Farmshop and Café, just the other side of Chipping Norton. Critics mutter that it’s like Harvey Nichols in the middle of the muddy Cotswold countryside but it’s great for organic food, china, flowers and the most stylish clothes this side of the M40.
Third on my list is the Bettys Café Tea Room chain. There are six branches of Bettys – one in Ilkley, one in Northallerton and two each in Harrogate and York – plus an excellent mail order service. Despite countless pleas from customers, the company has resolutely refused to open any outside Yorkshire. Their elegant cafés are open all day, with charming waitresses in starched white pinnies serving everything from Bettys famous Fat Rascals (a sort of giant scone with cherries and almonds) to lunch and afternoon tea. And on the way home, you can stock up with freshly-baked bread, cakes, chocolates, coffee and tea. Perfect.