Tell someone you live in a famous Cotswold village and you get one of two responses.
Usually it’s ‘you’re so lucky’, with an envious smile. After all, who doesn’t love rustic limestone cottages and tea shops on demand?
The other, comes from anyone who really knows the score and sounds something like this: ‘oh my god, how do you cope with all those tourists?’
The village of Bibury in Gloucestershire is the place I’ve happily called home for seven years but it is, in short, tourist catnip.
It’s exquisitely beautiful, ticking off every Cotswold cliche you could muster up. At its heart is Arlington Row, a stretch of 14th century weavers’ cottages which are so utterly enchanting they’ve been the backdrop to films (such as Bridget Jones) and grace the inner pages of your passport.
When we moved here from London for a much-needed life reboot I fell in love with the rolling hills, quirky traditions (they roll cheese down hills) and intense beauty instantly. But in recent years tourism has sky-rocketed, and at times it can feel less like paradise and more like some kind of Middle Earth Land dreamed up by Disney executives.
Every day gargantuan coaches stream into our teeny-tiny village, decanting giant shoals of tourists who shuffle off to gawp at one of Britain’s most photographed streets, taking a million selfies before heading back to their bus.
It’s a cycle that begins in earnest every March and we spend the rest of the year trying to sidestep cars, crowds and wedding dresses.
There are tales that would make your toes curl. Such as one resident who came downstairs to find a family of eager Japanese tourists having a tea party in their kitchen, thinking it was a ‘walk-in museum’; cameras pressed up to windows and through letterboxes to take shots, and hapless sightseers wandering into your garden when you least expect it.
I’ve always considered it a trade-off for living in paradise. After all, what could turn back the tide of mass tourism? But it’s also enough to make you fall seriously out of love with where you live after a while, and it’s a feeling I’d been struggling with recently.
But that was until lockdown - because in the space of a few, short, dramatic weeks, something unexpected has happened. For the first time in a long time I’m actually in love with where we live in a way I’ve never experienced before.
Anyone with a home in or near a National Trust site or AONB area like ours will know what I’m talking about.With the tourists gone it has been heaven on earth. The thundering coaches (and regular hoo-ha over where to plonk a car park) have been blissfully replaced by the bleating of lambs in the fields, peeling church bells and most of all - an idyllic, golden silence.
My usually bike-reluctant son now cycles down to the village at full pelt, something he’d never have done before. Weird and wonderful wildlife has returned to the village green, and we’ve discovered parts of the village we never even knew existed, to my shame,
Protecting this temporary way of life isn’t plain-sailing, however.
We may be heading into week 7 of lockdown (with rumours of an easing of restrictions coming soon) but police cars still prowl the main road here every single day, giving out fines as fast as people are rocking up for a daily picnic - despite big shouty ‘village closed’ signs at each end.
And as residents we’re also coming out of this time having discovered a new and slightly surprising side to ourselves - the village vigilante. Albeit in a style more Mary Berry than Mad Max, in the lockdown weeks we’ve politely seen off two Hell’s Angels who decided to ignore the signs, and multiple day-trippers (from as far afield as London and Portsmouth) wanting ‘lunch in a nice spot’.
It's made me feel kinship with those villagers in other parts of the country, who have waved their proverbial pitchforks against Covid-fleeing celebs, from the Beckham’s holing up in their Cotswold farmhouse - half an hour from here - to Gordon Ramsey decamping to Cornwall.
I never thought I’d say it but I now proudly count myself among the pitchfork set.
When Covid-19 struck I really struggled to see how anything remotely good could come out of such an awful time, and of course I care deeply about the two pubs and one shop that have had to temporarily close down - we’ve been ordering goods online to keep them alive.
But as we tentatively emerge from this pandemic there is one good thing many of us will take from it: how we discovered our sense of community and belonging again. We’ve had flower posies left on our doorstep by strangers, chocolate care-packages hand-delivered by the valiant vicar, and village newsletters offering a hardship fund to anyone struggling financially.
Even the children have made new friends, dropping off home-made ‘quarantine gifts’ for each other during their once-a-day outings.
No one would have wished it to happen like this, but in our little village the response has shown us what our home can look and feel like, and that’s wonderfully precious.
I know tourists will be back uploading my wisteria to their Instagram feeds, but until then this new Wold order is a silver-lining I’m determined to cherish.