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A Near Perfect Example of English Rural Charm

Early evening in late summer, and I drove with two companions to the village of Keyston in Northamptonshire, to The Pheasant restaurant which has one Michelin star. We parked behind the restaurant, and initially I was reluctant to get out of the air-conditioned car. In an adjoining field thirty or so cows were settling down for the evening.Keyston was a lovely village, a near perfect example of English rural charm. There were no road signs, or markings or any of the usual street clutter. Big dignified stone houses lined the wide lanes, interspersed by mature trees.

In the centre of the village there was what appeared to be a working farm. One could see that the original rustic peasant identity of the village had been exaggerated and over-preserved and gentrified into a pastiche. The effect reminded me of accounts of Marie-Antoinette playing at being a milk-maid at the fake Viennese hameau in the grounds of Versailles.The Pheasant was a long, low, thatched building, with white-washed walls, facing one side of the village green.

In front of the main entrance were a great many half-barrels, filled with soil and planted with colourful flowers. Inside there was a big bar with a low beamed roof, 19th-century hunting rifles on the wall. A stuffed fox, vixen and cubs looked out from a glass case. Around the bar were small round tables and a great many "Windsor" chairs that looked authentic.

The restaurant itself was to the right of the bar, a big room with cream paintwork and walls the colour of biscuit. The main feature was a huge plough painted black. Other agricultural implements, also painted black, were on display. On the walls were coloured 19th-century prints of prize cows, matching the real cows outside. Colourful displays of flowers were everywhere ? red, blue, orange, yellow.

In an understated way, the room was quite opulent.Our table was in a corner and my chair was by an open window. In a window box just outside were more of the colourful flowers, and as the light faded the colours became more intense. Veuve Clicquot champagne to drink. Crab with some salad. Duck in a truffle sauce (it was horrible, fatty and tasteless).

Served as a separate order, and regarded as a great delicacy, were "fat chips" (an unusual dish to find in a restaurant where the cuisine is French auberge). Chocolate tart and pistachio ice cream. Very good coffee.

Outside dusk had fallen, but it was still fairly light. The heat was almost unbearable. To get some fresh air we walked through the village and up to the church, the spire (a broach spire as is traditional in Northamptonshire) looming above us. The Barnack stone of the building gleamed in the last vestiges of the light. My two companions were taking the right-hand path until I told them bluntly: "I am NOT going to walk anti-clockwise round a church at this time of night!".

We sat on a nearby wooden bench and continued talking until the light had completely gone. I returned to my car, and drove home cross-country along narrow lanes, rolling cornfields on either side. A great deal of wildlife was abroad in the summer night including two wild (or feral) cats, one of them leaping away from the road in an incredible arc. Later I came across a baby deer, standing trustingly by the side of the road.

Hares, puzzled by the arrival of my car in such a remote spot, bounced away into the grass.

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By: Andrew Amesbury

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