Mention an English county, and, immediately, its associated images float into the mind. Dorset—Durdle Door, Lyme Regis and Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Leicestershire— sausages, pork pies, and hounds and horses streaming across the Quorn country in a timeless sporting print. Cumbria means daffodils, Wordsworth and Mrs Tiggywinkle; Norfolk is huge skies, Cromer crabs and remote, quivering fens. How can England, one of the world’s smallest countries, contain so much local diversity?
The patchwork quilt that represents the map of county boundaries is only the start of the story. We all have affinity with, and affection for, a particular ounty; at times, objectivity became a struggle, as Country Life staff passionately argued the merits of their favourites and the failings of those with which they were less familiar. We had Suffolk versus Herefordshire, Somerset against Lancashire. But our County Guide is not intended to be a competition, rather a celebration—and a revelation—of everything England does best.
You may think you know your county, but do you? We know that Bedfordshire brought us Woburn Abbey, John Bunyan and Paula Radcliffe, but what on earth is a Bedfordshire Clanger? Cornwall is synonymous with pasties, tin, Betjeman and Jamaica Inn, but did you know that the earliest blood-transfusion experiments took place there? And which county can claim the stirring motto ‘Many minds, one heart’, and which the honeysuckle as its designated flower?
We are, perhaps, naturally drawn to interesting topography—Northumberland’s romantic coastline, Sussex and Hampshire’s open chalk downland, Devon’s purple moors —and iconic historical landmarks: Oxford’s spires, Salisbury’s cathedral, York’s Minster.
Yet every single English county boasts people and buildings of note, pockets of glorious landscape, and intriguing claims to fame, as we have discovered.
Mark Price, managing director of Waitrose, was brought up in Crewe, Cheshire. ‘For me, Cheshire and its beautiful countryside will forever be synonymous with the wonderful picnics I enjoyed as a child.
Travelling north always conjures up memories of summer trips out to the countryside around Bakewell in Derbyshire or, if Dad didn’t want to travel that far, to the Cheshire Plain and Bickerton Hill or Beeston Castle.
‘Wherever we went, my mother always made great, teetering piles of sandwiches and the most magnificent cake. Great food has always been important to me, and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy lots of wonderful English local and regional specialities over the years.
It’s these fascinating and delicious foods, crafted with loving care and little known outside their particular counties, that makes England the endlessly fascinating country that it is.’
Discover more about your county, and be proud.