Cotswolds' charm runs out as posh peasants take over

The arrival of models and actresses has lent the place more chic but at the cost of its character IT IS, in the words of Jilly Cooper, a storm in a buttercup. "All this rus versus urbs," she says. "Country people get so paranoid. It's divine in the Cotswolds. Everyone loves celebs. It cheers us up like mad. Bisley gets nicer and nicer. And we've got a gorgeous new vicar." But in Gloucestershire, the ancient rural tradition of growling and snarling at incomers has been revived, albeit unwittingly, by Joanna Trollope.

In a valedictory interview in Cotswold Life magazine - she is moving out - she mentioned that the arrival of Kate Moss and Liz Hurley has changed the character of her native county. When Trollope returned to live here in 1984 you might still see a shepherd in the village pub, she sighed.

This caused some hilarity this week down at said pub, the New Inn at Coln St Aldwyns: "Has she ever been in here?" asked the Scottish barman David Blair.

"Haven't seen much of Liz Hurley or Kate Moss either. We did have Tim Rice in the other day playing against Earl St Aldwyn's XI. But no shepherds. No sons of toil here."

Joining the exodus from Coln St Aldwyns is Sally Beauman, a fellow novelist. Beauman and her husband, Alan Howard, the actor, have decided to simplify life by reducing their homes from three to two - London and the Outer Hebrides.

"I did not leave from fear of finding Kate Moss sniffing coke," she said. "After all, we were once arrivistes ourselves. So was Anne Robinson. And now we are departistes."

To be fair, Trollope is really leaving for complex reasons including nearness to her mother, grandchildren and Heathrow. "I love Coln St Aldwyns, but it's just 30 miles too far west," she said "At my age you put people before places."

The supermodels are welcome, she emphasised. "But don't forget that when I was born in Minchinhampton, women with goitres lived in damp cottages, crippled with arthritis. We longed for prosperity. But we didn't realise that it would bring a sort of deadening, flattening-out effect. Doors were left open and now they are shut. I am afraid village life is rather duller."

You can see what she means in Liz Hurley's village, Barnsley. It is chic to the point of lifelessness. The lovely old house where Rosemary Verey (the Prince of Wales's favourite gardener) created her parterres and wildernesses is now a hushed, state-of-the-art hotel of minimalist pallor, with a cherry-pink bar. From the old village pub hangs a plain new sign: The Village Pub. There is nobody about except a tattooed Hungarian waiter.

"Gloucestershire," said Sally Beauman, "now reminds me of those uber-chic US east coast resorts like Martha's Vineyard - it is utterly beautiful, tasteful and oppressive."

Clive Aslet, the editor of Country Life, has written about the new socio-economic group, labelled "posh peasants", who arrive with City money to raise chickens and make goats' cheese. Sir Anthony Bamford's Organic Farm Shop at Daylesford, which is discreetly housed in several exquisite barns in shades of neutral, sells six free-range eggs at twice the price that you would pay in a London farmers' market.

Here you can order a Christmas hamper for your dog, which could include a book on "doga" - which is yoga for dogs - for £40.

This is all excellent fodder for cartoonists, of course. One this week has two yokels leaning on a five-barred gate bearing a notice: "Beware of the paparazzi." In Minchinhampton there are still Cotswold folk who know how to manage a shoot and till the land.

But they live on council estates, as Katie Jarvis, the chief writer of Cotswold Life, points out: "Traditional villages are now inhabited by venture capitalists who work in London and mothers who drive the children about in 4x4s."

In the Stirrup Cup in Bisley, known locally as the Stomach Pump, I met Clive, the local chimney-sweep, as well as Jilly Cooper's husband Leo, and his friend Rupert Miles, a retired stockbroker. There was also Peregrine Hodson, who is Joanna Trollope's cousin, and William Nunnally's lurcher, Buzzard, who has a starring role in the new film of Pride & Prejudice.

Any passing superstar would feel quite at home here.

Valerie Grove

The Times, 5.11.05.