It is increasingly impossible to go to Notting Hill without finding yourself lured into Daylesford Organics. In my defence it was extremely cold outside on Westbourne Grove and I wanted somewhere to thaw out and I just so happened to be standing right by the welcoming glow of Lady Bamford’s wellness and retail temple. I did also wonder whether a turmeric and tamarind shot (£4) or organic sweet potato dhal with lentils, buckwheat and teef (£7.99) could actually improve my day.
The aesthetic was strikingly similar to Goop – Gwynneth Paltrow’s wellness Mecca a few doors down: the dense herbal fragrance in the air, manicured displays of logs, ash floorboards, Scandi colour palette, effusive staff, and the coffee table books striving to make gardening fashionable. Sample titles included Gardenista and Foraged Fauna. Everything – from the vegetables to the kitchen utensils – is deliberately and unapologetically expensive.
This cleaned-up Cotswolds chic is on sale all over Notting Hill and the biggest purveyor, just by sheer size, is Daylesford Farm itself, which opened back in 2002. The original organic farm in Gloucestershire stretches over 2,350 acres. Like Goop, Daylesford Farm is serene and pleasant, but slightly surreal. The real countryside is full of mud, mangy sheep with conjunctivitis, and silage. But you won’t see so much as a puddle in Disney Daylesford. At its heart is the shop, market garden, café, creamery and Haybarn Spa, all offering a carefully crafted Arcadia. Workshops include mindful knitting, toddlers’ wellness, vegan slipper-making, and spoon carving. Its own disconcertingly pristine version of a pub is the nearby The Wild Rabbit at Kingham.
The popularity of Daylesford’s Gloucestershire mothership means that outposts have sprung up around West London. West London has invaded the Cotswolds and the Cotswolds (or at least London’s version of it) is invading London right back. Daylesford’s clothing and spa line, Bamford, is in Chelsea, Mayfair and Bicester Village. So if you’re within striking distance of the M4 – in London or in the country – you’re hard-pushed to avoid one of these places, or something similar.
The punters of these various wellness outlets do look undeniably healthy, which makes it tempting to join in. It could be the rosemary-infused water, it could be the Bikram, the matcha, the grains, or the donning of a comfort cocoon (£1195) – known to you and me as a cardigan. Something certainly sets a Daylesford customer apart.
Investors have been quick to cotton on to the London appetite for this sanitised version of country living. Soho House started repackaging the countryside as a cool destination and style influence for jaded Londoners in 1998. The Soho House-ifcation of the Cotswolds and its environs began with Babington House, where the fusty country house hotel was reinvented as a boutique novelty for latter-day yuppies.
The success of the group’s latest incarnation, Soho Farmhouse, eight miles from Chipping Norton, shows the formula’s unstoppable draw. It’s for people who want to be in the countryside – but not too far in. They don’t want to forgo sushi or negronis, or to explain to a waiter what a cold brew is, and they certainly don’t want to be too far from other Londoners.
These places are so enticing that devotees often invest a few hundred thousand pounds in a second home within brunching distance. Knight Frank says that prices in Great Tew, the village that plays host to Soho Farmhouse, have risen by 33 per cent in five years.
The founder himself, Nick Jones, has relocated to Oxfordshire, naturally. He is opening another place to stay this January. Mollie’s is going to be the Soho House take on the American motel. It’s at Buckland, between Oxford and Swindon. He is already thinking of opening more. There is no end in sight.
If we need a poster boy for ditching London altogether in favour of the sanitised simple life, we have Alex James of Blur fame. He left behind his pop beginnings long ago and has reinvented himself as an artisanal cheesemaker amongst other things. He now has his own food and music festival, The Great Feastival, a 200-acre farm outside Kingham, five children with very quirky names, and a newspaper column called Mucking In. He is the pastoral gentrification dream.
There seems to be no end to the tentacles of the Oxfordshire-London nexus. The Great Feastival is spawning a vegan burger restaurant this January. Model turned nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson, most famous in the 1990s, moved to Oxfordshire with her artist husband Jake Chapman. At The Great Festival she met chef Gizzi Erskine. Together they are launching the plant-based, sustainably sourced Filthy Burgers in Shoreditch.
For some years now, Oxfordshire has been the blank canvass onto which Londoners can project their own utopian vision of country life. And something tells me we haven’t quite seen the end of its colonisation.