Growing up in Britain, I confess that I took the English village for granted, assuming that it was essentially something that existed everywhere in the world. I hadn't travelled outside of Britain until I was in my mid to late twenties, apart from the odd school trip to Germany or France on an exchange. It wasn't until I lived in the West Indies, and later in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, that I found myself really appreciating just how special and unique the English village is. There is nothing like living abroad to make you all nostalgic about your own country!
Finding myself surrounded by a group of small children in Georgia, who were keen to read to me in English to show me how good they were at learning, they happened to read a piece in their text book about Britain and the things you might find there. The opportunity to travel seemed as unlikely to them as it had to me at that age - the equivalent of taking a spaceship to the moon. Money was minimal and visas a rarity, so it was up to me to try as hard as I could to bring the outside world in to the children. One small boy on reading a passage about social life in Britain, happened to ask me whether people drank Chacha (a Georgian drink, a bit like vodka). Before I knew it, I found myself trying to explain that people drank things like ale and gin in the local pub, and sometimes people liked to go out for a 'pub lunch'. It turns out that it is really difficult to explain something that has little comparison to those who have never experienced or seen it - especially when those people are children. Apart from which, I then had to explain the different types of settlement; city, town, village, hamlet. It was a fascinating learning experience for me and the first time that I realised why tourists to Britain love the places they visit and refer to them as quaint.
You see, I had grown up in the Royal County of Berkshire where I lived in a house in the middle of a field on a vineyard in Hampstead Norreys for my first few years of life. I had grandparents in the pretty towns of Henley-On-Thames (you might know it from The Social Network) and Wallingford (plenty of Midsomer Murders filmed here) and when I was about 4 we moved to the coast in Dorset where I did things like geography field trips to pretty places like Corfe Castle. Later on, I lived near to the village of Turville where The Vicar of Dibley was filmed, and when I went to college in the north of England, I lived in other lovely towns and villages like Ambleside and regularly hiked to my favourite lake from the village of Grasmere.
From my experiences of living in and around English villages, there are certain aspects that make them the lovely things they are - an old church, sometimes a castle, ruins, or at least a long sense of history. They tend to have few roads and houses, wooden sign posts the wrong way around, usually at least one pub but not always shops. They have lots of flowers and hanging baskets, and are in rural locations, with red telephone boxes or post boxes, walled cottage gardens full of lavender and roses, and old stone buildings with moss or plants growing up them. Sometimes the house might have a thatched roof, and the door is usually low so you have to stoop as you enter into rooms with beamed ceilings. Villages almost always have a graveyard with falling down headstones and lots of graves with similar surnames on them. If you are really lucky, then there might be a village green where people play cricket in the summer and eat cucumber sandwiches or drink tea during the afternoon tea break, or perhaps a duck pond or some kind of stream or river flowing through them. Sometimes the village has a ford that you have to cross to get into the village. With a stone bridge or creepy looking old forest and trees filled with bluebells. But best of all, the village pub has a beer garden and on sunny days you can sit outside on a rickety wooden bench and eat fresh, hot crusty rolls filled with ham and pickle (or perhaps you prefer a Ploughmans lunch or pork pie?), and then get cross because the wasps are annoying you and the sun is in your eyes. I love a proper English village! I live in a noisy and stinky town at the moment and am very nostalgic for a childhood filled with villages, so I'm very prone to cozies set in rural England.
Here are a selection to get you started. Let me know if you have other recommendations in the comments section below. Happy reading!