If St Valentine’s Day finds you sourly reviewing another passing year of dispiriting, mate-less, rural isolation, take heart and read on.
Together with the myriad dating services catering for yoga buffs, Catholics, cabin crew and those who admire the fuller figure, thriving organisations are dedicated to helping country people find love. They can’t guarantee instant passion, but the point is that you will, at least, be speaking the same language from the start. On Partners4farmers, ‘Zetor’, a 35 year old beef and sheep farmer from Wrexham (favourite film The Italian Job), seeks a girl ‘from good farming stock who understands that farming isnt a 9 to 5 job’; and Tim, a sheep and arable farmer from Exeter (reads Farmers Weekly and plays the didgeridoo), is looking for ‘someone who understands the farming way of life’.
Over on Love Horse, Tom volunteers to make your hay and wire a CD player into your lorry. There’s a maths teacher in the Peak District who keeps birds of prey; an ‘English Rose’ who enjoys lamping; Dom speaks Gaelic and reads the Brontës; and Titania likes Inspector Morse, wine tasting and her Lipizzaner. A marine biologist pleads ‘no wannabe footballers’ wives’. Rural dating has become more sophisticated since Patricia Warren, a Derbyshire farmer’s wife, set up The Country Bureau 25 years ago it’s now run by Katie Moore in Gloucestershire to find wives for isolated farmers.
In her book Tales from the Country Matchmaker, she recalls would be suitors who reeked of manure and invited their dates to perch on sacks of potatoes. One farmer wanted to end a relationship, but his lady friend was knitting him a jumper and it would be ‘a waste of wool’. Membership is restricted to those who work and live in the country, or can prove a genuine love for rural life.
Fast-forward to 2005, when the aptly named Ben Lovegrove added Love Horse to the flying and sailing websites in his internet dating empire, with gratifying results. ‘A specialist website can’t offer a vast pool like Match.com, but then 80% of the people on that won’t share your interests either. They won’t understand about getting up at 6am to muck out or having to stay up all night with a lambing ewe.’ Last year, sisters Lucy and Emma Reeves founded Muddy Matches, which has attracted 4,000-plus members in just 10 months. ‘Our first couple is still together, and we’re getting grateful emails from people who spent Christmas together and are planning skiing holidays,’ says Lucy. ‘Online dating isn’t new, but it’s taken country people longer to catch on because using a computer isn’t naturally part of their work, and they don’t spend long lunch hours sitting around surfing the internet.’
The geography gap can obviously be a problem, but, equally, one might also discover potential marriage material down the road when ‘researching’ on Countryside Love, I was startled to see a stranger who lives in my own village. Speed-dating has apparently become very popular in the country, but there’s a higher risk of bumping into your neighbour/sister or simply the same people week after week. Just Woodland Friends, a well-established introduction bureau that sends members monthly lists of potential partners, reports many triumphs of love over distance, including that of the lady from Somerset who chatted to a farmer on an island off the west coast of Scotland. Eventually, she drove up to take a look, and they’re now married. Other success stories include Lady Game keeper from Hampshire, who married Tractor Driver from Shropshire, and Hazel, who moved from Leicestershire plus two ponies, cat, duck, rabbit, guinea pig and bird-to be with J. in Pembrokeshire. Love me, love my labrador/ferret/sheep is a significant theme. Another grateful client,’Cindy’, says: ‘Although it can feel a little uncomfortable meeting in this way, it’s made everything so much simpler; if this is the way to go about meeting the man of your dreams, I can’t recommend it more highly.’
Heather Heber-Percy developed the idea for her introduction agency, The County Register, when, in her Samaritans role, she regularly took calls from lonely Shropshire farmers. She vets the senior generation of clients, and her daughters, Tamara and Zara, take care of the thirties to fifties bracket. Zara explains: ‘The disadvantage of the internet is that it can be a numbers game. Our clients pay us to do the initial research; we spend about 90 minutes with people, really finding out about them, and we get post date feedback. We also write the profiles, so no one can fib about their age or height. So far, no one has said “Oh God, why did you introduce me to them?”‘ She advises people to refer to the Association of British Introduction Agencies, which has sensible guidelines, and to ask what you’re getting for your money.
For instance, how even the man-woman balance is (there tend to be fewer men above the age of 65). All organisations should offer common sense safety advice never rveal too much too soon. But if articulacy and correct spelling and punctuation are prerequisites, or if you’re allergic to clichés, this whole process may depress you. The game is full of fatuous statements, such as ‘I like doing crazy things’ or ‘I’ve got a caring side’. Lucy Reeves has compiled advice on profile writing. ‘Never tell ‘porkies’; use a current photograph 1980s haircuts look suspicious; never pose in your underwear; and don’t sound pleased with yourself. And don’t waste space. “I like going out, but I also like staying in by the fire with a DVD” is obvious and boring!’ So, don’t be squeamish, get searching, and by February 14, 2009, perhaps you, too, will be as happy as Foxy Lady (two hunters, one border terrier, favourite book Jane Eyre) and Farmer’s Boy (400 sheep, one springer spaniel, favourite film Goodfellas).
Places to begin the quest for love
The County Register, from £1,500, personal-search service from £5,000 (0208994 8222; www.thecountyregister.com)
Just Woodland Friends also Autumn Friends, walking and friendship for those aged 40 to 70£170 for 13 monthly directories (0845 370 8180; www.justwoodlandfriends.com)
The Country Bureau, free to register, £250 for two-year membership after the first introduction is set up (01452 886370; www.thecountrybureau.com)
Seventy Thirty, introductions for the ‘genuinely wealthy’ (0207863 8880; www.seventy-thirty.com)
Muddy Matches, free to register, then from £10 for one month’s subscription (www.muddymatches.co.uk)
Countryside Love, most services are free (www.countryside-love.co.uk)
Partners4farmers, free to register, from £11.75 for one months subscription (www.partners4farmers.com)
Love Horse, free to register, from £10.95 for one month’s subscription (www.lovehorse.co.uk, also www.lovesail.co.uk and www.loveair.co.uk)
Association of British Introduction Agencies (0208742 0386; www.abia.org.uk)
Read more on the countryside at www.countrylife.co.uk/countryside