The Duchess of Cornwall: ‘I have a profound sense of being at home in the countryside’

In her leader article in the 13th July 2022 issue of Country Life, guest editor HRH The Duchess of Cornwall talks about her love of being out in the country, her childhood in the South Downs, the darker side of Britain's rural idyll and the farmers, fishermen, butchers and artisans who are the backbone of the countryside. Photograph by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge for Country Life.

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There are many reasons why I was delighted to be asked to guest edit this week’s Country Life. The most selfish being that celebrating the magazine’s 125th birthday makes me, at 75, feel positively young…

Much more importantly, I have cherished this opportunity to highlight some of the people, communities and charities whom I have had the privilege to encounter and who do such a great deal for life in our countryside, too often unseen and unsung. I very much hope you will enjoy these articles.

Flattered as I was, I knew there was no way I would be able to do this alone. I am, therefore, indebted to all those who have helped me — patronages, prodigies, poets, painters, progeny and one rather special Prince (who, incidentally, is rather a hard act to follow as Guest Editor…). Thank you all for your invaluable contributions.

One of the joys of being a Guest Editor has been taking the time to trace my own love affair with the countryside. It began, of course, where I was brought up in rural East Sussex, under the magical South Downs, where my sister, brother and I galloped over the hills on our beloved ponies. Those happy days always bring to mind the wonderful words of Kipling: ‘The Downs are sheep, the Weald is corn/You be glad you are Sussex born!’ (Years later, this literary pride in my county was somewhat tempered by the foreboding line in Cold Comfort Farm: ‘She reminded herself that Sussex, when all was said and done, was not quite like other counties…’)

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Since those far-off days, it has been a source of huge pleasure to come to know and to love different parts of our beautiful countryside: the snow-covered peaks and purple stretches of Aberdeenshire, the gentle curves and golden stone of the Cotswolds, the wooded valleys and the ancient downland of Wiltshire, the majesty and drama of Co Antrim’s coastline and the brooding, mysterious hills of Carmarthenshire, which slowly reveal their secrets to those who love them.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall with Country Life Editor Mark Hedges and Paula Lester, Managing and Features editor, at Clarence House in London. Photo: Mark Williamson for Country Life

But this idyll sadly has a darker side. On these pages, I have sought also to explore challenging subjects: the ever-increasing rise in rural crime, the struggles faced by family farms that can, tragically, result in suicide, and the uniquely difficult circumstances of those experiencing domestic abuse in remote areas. The latter is a cause that is particularly close to my heart: I know that physical isolation is often used to advantage by perpetrators and that victims in rural areas find it harder to reach out to seek help, especially in close-knit communities where everyone knows one another and where support services might be more limited. Crucially, however, there is hope and there are steps that each one of us, whatever our circumstances, can take to help. All of us can have a role to play both in listening and in speaking out about this too-often hidden crime.

I also want to celebrate our farmers, fishermen, butchers, bakers, winemakers, beer brewers and artisan producers, the backbone of the countryside, of which we are all so very proud. We do love to talk about the weather, but lots of rain (together with the occasional blast of sun) means lush grass and some of the finest meat and dairy on earth. A hunk of Montgomery’s Cheddar, a wodge of Brefu Bach, a glass of Camel Valley Sparkling wine, a slice of Dunkeld Smoked Salmon and some British raspberries makes for the most splendid of picnics. Together with a home-baked loaf, made from Shipton Mill flour.

My parents brought me up to have a profound sense of being at home in the countryside. Country Life was ever present, as it was in my grandmother’s house (Hall Place, Hampshire). My father penned book reviews and, now, my son writes for the magazine. I feel sure my grandchildren will continue the family tradition and form part of the loyal readership that is drawn from more than 200 countries.

I know that Country Life plans, quite rightly, to celebrate its birthday throughout the year. I will not, I am afraid, be doing the same — a single day is more than enough for me! However, I wholeheartedly join you in marking your 125th anniversary — and, this month, my husband and I will certainly be raising a glass (of something British, of course) to you and to all your readers.

This leader article appears in the 13th July 2022 issue of Country Life, guest-edited by The Duchess of Cornwall. The magazine is for sale at newsagents and supermarkets, and while we’ve currently sold out of individual issues to buy only, a trial subscription of six issues for £6, which will include the special guest-edited issue for anyone taking up this offer by the end of July.

The Duchess of Cornwall, as photographed by The Duchess of Cambridge for Country Life

The upcoming 13 July 2022 issue of Country Life is being guest-edited by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall — and