Part 5: Trollopes and Knickers

In any event, Cobbett has had plenty of company, past and present, in critiquing the Cotswolds.

A cleric visiting in 1836 declared Campden "a dull, clean, disused market town".

More recently, Joanna Trollope, the grande dame of cottage-in-the-country fiction, dissed her native Gloucestershire in terms that made the Cotswolds sound like the Third World.

"Children in these honey-coloured villages go to school with no underclothes," she claimed. "Teachers in the beautiful Cotswolds find pupils scavenging through rubbish bins."

Fellow Cotswold resident Jilly Cooper gamely agreed: "The county has got jolly rough areas… Where I live is ravishingly pretty. There's a gorgeous village school. I have no idea if the children in it are wearing knickers or not. But there are problems in some areas with poverty."

A famous Trollope's remarks about knickers were bound to have outsiders in stitches—"Rural Idyll Caught With Its Pants Down," sniggered The Guardian.

But the residents of Britain's biggest "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" were not amused. After all, talk like that can drive down property prices.

"We just hope people do not take her comments too seriously," a tourist official said. "I have never seen anyone knickerless in the Cotswolds."

Well, that's a relief.

Knickers firmly intact, Campden manages to attract plenty of well-to-do outsiders, including retirees, weekenders and "merchant bankers (who) buy mansions with their bonuses," to quote Trollope.

For moneyed newcomers, Campden represents the best of both worlds: a typically English setting, complemented by the finer (foreign) things in life.

It's the kind of place where you could easily hear a transplanted Londoner say: "Dinner at the taverna sounds fine, dear. I'm going to nip to the shop for some marmalade and Le Monde."

In short, the town is the epitome of England's "in Europe, but not of Europe" stance—the equivalent of having your cake… and eating it.

Inevitably, Campden is also a magnet for whistle-stop tourists looking to "do" the Cotswolds in as little as 24 hours.

In 1931, a travel writer walked 20 miles around the area without seeing a single car; nowadays, you'd be doing well to walk a mile without seeing 20 cars.

"Too… many… visitors," complains Ben Hopkins when I ask him about the changes he's seen in the newly styled "Capital of the North Cotswolds".

"Tisn't the traffic so much—it's the coaches, stop in the middle of town, spew out about 50,000 foreigners a year. I don't think they do the town any good. They walk up and down, and then they get in and go. Half an hour, hour, and gone."
©J.R. Daeschner

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