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How to have a country day out without leaving London

Do you have to leave town to find rural bliss? Bobby Palmer tries to live the countryside life in the city

By Bobby Palmer
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More young people than ever are leaving London for the countryside, with the average having dropped by 11 years in the last decade. But you shouldn’t have to choose between the capital and the Cotswolds. Surely it’s possible to just have both, at the same time, all the time? I wanted to test that theory, by trying to enjoy a hearty slice of the rural life without stepping foot outside of zone 3. So, donning an ill-fitting tweed jacket and a sturdy pair of boots, I got to it.

Andy Parsons

10am: Beekeeping in Euston

It’s a scorching morning, and I arrive in Euston with no desire to squeeze myself into a boiler suit. But it has to be done. Panting in a mesh helmet and a pair of white gloves on a rooftop, I’m about to meet the frisky bees of central London. Showing me the ropes is Camilla Goddard, director of Capital Bee. ‘You’re often working at height,’ she says of the challenges of beekeeping in the middle of a city. ‘And people are more worried about swarms.’ Before I can ask if I should be ‘worried about swarms’, the beehive lid comes off and I’m handed a contraption to smoke out the residents . Afraid of making enemies, I lightly blow a couple of puffs. I’m sweating now, not helped by the fact that I’m literally covered in bees. But Camilla (who isn’t even wearing gloves) does this every day, going from rooftop to rooftop, helping bees thrive. It’s noble work and the bees aren’t always on their best behaviour – she once had to extract an unwanted colony from an armchair in Catford.

www.capitalbee.co.uk

Andy Parsons

11.30am: Horse riding in Lee Valley

Sport and fitness Equestrian Lee Valley

Near Lea Bridge station, scrapyards and building sites give way to a wealth of greenery that 83 horses call home. Nicky Ward, manager of the Lee Valley Riding Centre, introduces me to a few. There’s Carrie (‘friendly’), Billy (‘bites’) and Chunky (‘a dude’). My noble steed is Cider, a 16-year-old cob cross with the shaggy hooves of a shire horse and the patience of a saint. I have zero riding experience: it takes me five minutes just to mount and my quads are already burning by the time Nicky starts teaching me how to trot. I’ll have a severely bruised behind tomorrow, but for now I’m focusing on not being trampled by Cider’s huge hooves. But suddenly, it clicks: I ease into the rhythm of the trot, wind in my face, out on the open plains. I feel a true wild freedom, and I haven’t even left Zone 3. Then I mess up, and I’m bouncing around like a rag doll again.

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Andy Parsons

1pm: Birdwatching in Walthamstow

Attractions Lee Valley

It’s a short train ride to Walthamstow Wetlands, a reservoir that provides 30 percent of London’s fresh water. Since it opened in 2017, it’s become a haven for birdwatchers. It’s a good day for it, it seems. According to nature reserve manager Emma Tuckey, someone spotted a little ringed plover earlier. I’ve no idea what that is, but I’m told it’s rare. For now, I’m observing an Egyptian goose. ‘They’re notoriously terrible parents,’ Emma tells me. The city is a perfect habitat for some birds, she explains. Take peregrine falcons – they make nests on top of buildings and swoop down after prey. Birdwatchers actually come to London from the countryside to see them. ‘Is that a peregrine?’ I ask, pointing at something in the sky. ‘No,’ Emma says. ‘That’s a pigeon.’ Perhaps this isn’t my calling. Then it happens. A little ringed plover. No, two little ringed plovers. Emma jumps for joy, and I’m caught up in the excitement. I still don’t know what a plover is.

3pm: Farming in Vauxhall

Attractions Farms Vauxhall

At the other end of the Victoria line at Vauxhall City Farm, I meet Iris – the largest sheep I’ve ever seen. She’s pregnant, which explains her size. Or not. ‘It’s funny, because she’s not actually showing,’ says Michelle Frank, my host. ‘Her wool is just arm-deep thick.’ I’m handed a five-day-old lamb, so young it hasn’t even got a name yet. It bleats, adorably. At closing time, I put three alpacas to bed, rounding them up into their pen, filling their trough and shutting them in. Afterwards, I head home, tweed jacket covered in sheep slobber. I probably wouldn’t do it all again in one day, but I’m surprised by how rural I feel. Being on the tube feels bizarre. Fellow commuters might be wrinkling their noses, but I have a big old grin on my face. Green and pleasant land, eat your heart out. 

 

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Blossom trees over a path in Greenwich Park, south-east London.
Blossom trees over a path in Greenwich Park © John Parfrey

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