Born in Tehran, raised in London and living part-time in Florence, writer Kamin Mohammadi now devotes as much time as possible to the Cotswolds. She tells us why…
Photography by Bernardo Conti
Late last summer I moved to the Cotswolds. It was the last thing I expected when I decided to take my Italian partner to visit this most beautiful part of the English countryside. I envisaged us spending a few sun-dappled days visiting picture-perfect market towns and walking through verdant valleys, lazy days punctuated by long lunches in the many gourmet pubs of Gloucestershire. What I didn’t expect was for us to wake up one morning and decide that here was where we wanted to set up our English home.
But that is what happened. My partner – an Italian of Tuscan origin – immediately fell in love with the mellow stone cottages, the rolling hills and wide valleys, the country lanes shaded by tunnels of tree branches stretching over to touch fingertips, casting a green light over the narrow roads. It didn’t surprise me – a man brought up in the refined beauty of Chianti could not help but appreciate the timeless combination of natural and man-made beauty that the Cotswolds represents. And the refined Italian palate was only ever going to be satisfied with the locally sourced, high-quality gourmet scene of sophisticated Gloucestershire to be found in nearly every village pub.
I personally didn’t need to fall in love again – I have been enamoured of the Cotswolds since my first visit some decades ago, although I had not managed to come back for many years. In the intervening decade, it seems that everyone has fallen in love with the Cotswolds, and the army of second-homers have grown to include some of the brightest – and most beautiful – of celebrities, including Kate Moss and Elle McPherson, at least half of London’s media crowd seem to throng the country pubs on the weekends and developments like The Lakes by Yoo have taken the concept of ‘second home’ to a whole new level. I myself in the meantime had also taken a digression from my expected life path: in the course of writing my first book, I had inadvertently moved to Florence and found that, quite despite my best intentions, I had shed my London skin. On meeting my partner, I had even embraced living in the remote Tuscan countryside, and my delightful visits back to London to see my family or publicise the book were now punctuated with feelings of claustrophobia and dismay at the sheer rushing frenzy of London living.
Our own adventure went something like this. We were staying with an old friend who has, in the past few years, returned to her roots, selling her London flat to buy a beautiful Cotswolds stone house where she spends her days digging her garden, walking her dog and riding her horse – in between persuading celebrities to give their services for free for fundraising events for charities such as Great Ormond Street and Oxfam. Over dinner she had told us all about her own relocation, and it was clear to see that the country pursuits she fills her days with were the perfect antidote to the charity party lifestyle that is her bread and butter – and she could just as efficiently work out of her house in Gloucestershire as she could in London, she assured us. We went to bed filled with excitement, but it was not until the middle of the next morning, when we had risen late and taken a leisurely breakfast in my friend’s garden, that my partner said the magic words: ‘It’s beautiful here. Why don’t we see if there is something we can rent nearby?’
‘Funny you should say that,’ said my friend, ‘There actually is a cottage outside the next village that would be perfect for you guys. Shall we go and see it?’
And hey presto, ten minutes later, we were sitting at the kitchen table of our prospective new neighbour, drinking coffee and discussing how cold the winters get while she rang the managing agent to alert her to our interest. The cottage itself stole our hearts as soon as we saw it – despite being in essence a converted stable rather than a beautiful Cotswolds stone house with open fireplaces. The managing agent – who turned up in less time than it took us to down our coffees – showed us around the little cottage, with its two small bedrooms and back door leading to the pièce de resistance of the property. Surrounded by fields, the little garden had one unbeatable feature that neither love nor all the money of a supermodel cannot buy or artificially recreate: acres of wide-open sky with the sun sinking, every single day, in a show of glorious colours, just where it could be perfectly framed by the kitchen window. We looked at each other and both knew that we had just fallen in love again.
As with any coup de grâce, we tried to be sensible first, before giving in to the love. We tried to take some distance, to think and debate, to go visit again with tape measures and bank statements, to sleep on it – not just one night but repeatedly for a week.
But that is as long as we lasted – a week. And then we were drawn back to have another look, this time without the agent, just the two of us, armed with steaming hot coffees from our neighbour (as we already thought of her) and a week’s worth of shared Cotswolds dreams. It happened that we were there at the end of the day. It happened to be a clear summer’s day. It happened that, just as we entered the cottage, the sun started her nightly descent through the huge Gloucestershire sky. And it so happened that we stood, rooted to the spot for what felt like hours, at our back door (as we already thought of it) and watched as the sky turned pink and streaky, and then orange and then just unashamedly set herself on fire, blazing so bright we blinked in disbelief.
A month later we signed the contract. And the cottage has given us everything we dreamed of: raucous Sunday lunches with our neighbours and kids, long afternoons in the pub catching up with old friends now living nearby and tucking into delicious roast game from the area, mornings pottering around the shops of Cirencester rounded off with a lunch at another neighbour’s restaurant, Made by Bob. We go on long walks across the Coln valley, wellies and waterproofs keeping us from the vagaries of the weather, and fight the Japanese tourists in Bibury to visit the trout farm with my stepkids. I now pay £5 for my weekly yoga session at the village town hall, taught by a refugee from Triyoga, and when I walk into the village shop to contemplate the curious mix of Happy Shopper goods rubbing shoulders with white truffle oil and locally reared meat, the shopkeeper greets me by name. Our joining the village has upped the multi-cultural quota by 100 per cent and everyone has made us feel beyond welcome. Saturday afternoons are spent walking along the lane with our neighbours – six adults, five kids, an assortment of dogs and a horse, and sometimes we find the chickens following us at a distance too. Our rambles are often interrupted by bumping into more new neighbours, and usually finished off around the kitchen table of one or another, excitedly learning more about the area. My work is conducted from the cottage and sent around the world via the internet without me having to brace myself for a cramped tube journey. And nowadays, the only rush hour I have to worry about is the evening dash of the sheep behind the cottage as the farmer runs them from one field to another.
Places that we love near
our Cotswolds cottage
1. Sherborne Village Shop and Tea Room
In the unfeasibly pretty village of Sherborne, this little village shop has turned itself into a deli/café too, serving light meals and excellent coffee. They sell the sort of products you normally have to go to Wholefoods for, and, importantly for my Italian partner, they sell Lavazza coffee (for less than it retails in Italy). Sarah and Yvonne, who run the shop, hold regular evening events to introduce new drinks or foods to their customers.
01451 844668; sherbornevillageshop.com
2. Upton Smokery Shop
Chris and Vix Mills smoke their own meat, fish and game on the premises, and they also have their own range of culinary goodies, beloved of us all who live in this stretch of the Cotswolds, near Burford. A morning spent snooping around the shop – set on the farm where they live and where Vix restores furniture too – is one of life’s great pleasures, as the couple source not just local products, but the treats they find on their travels to Italy and France too.
01993 823699; uptonsmokery.co.uk
3. Burford Garden Company
I have spent many happy hours engrossed in the indoor and outdoor sections of this fabulous garden centre, and now that spring is here, I am spending whole days planning my flowering beds, herb borders and the vegetable garden I am digging. The gift shop is tempting too, especially the section that displays British ceramics and a lovely lunch can be had in the self-service restaurant. A change to visiting Daylesford Organic!
01993 823117; burford.co.uk
4. The Swan at Southrop
This 17th-century Cotswolds inn is as pretty as you can imagine, and sits on the tiny village green, so it couldn’t be more picturesque. The award-winning restaurant is separate to the bar, where you can gather with neighbours and their terriers to play skittles. Once a favourite of the Mosses and their posse – on Sundays a fleet of blacked-out Range Rovers heralded their arrival for lunch – they may have moved on, but locals still love the quality of the excellent menu, the roaring fires and the chance to have a gossip without the paps waiting outside.
01367 850205; theswanatsouthrop.co.uk