City vs. countryside showdown round four: Free time

Hipster revellers
That's living alright (Photo: Tom Alterman)
"I cannot stress this enough... the countryside excels at a Sunday roast"
  • | by Rachel England

It's thought that we need six hours and 59 minutes a day of leisure time to feel content with our work/life balance (let’s just round that up to seven, shall we?), but how we choose to spend it depends on where we live.

Clearly, the chances of you nipping out after work to ‘catch a show’ are greatly diminished if you work in a business park surrounded by miles and miles of countryside, just as the likelihood of taking a pleasant evening stroll are vastly reduced if you live in the middle of an urban sprawl (unless you find the roar of buses and unending concrete jungle particularly soothing, that is).

But if we’ve learnt one thing in this series, it’s that both the city and countryside offer the proverbial swings and roundabouts...


Exhibition in the Tate

Photo: Daniel Stone

When it comes to culture (or cultcha) the city has it in spades. And by the city, I mean London. Hereford is also technically a city and. while it’s certainly got a lot of spades, they’re more likely to be shovelling horse manure than cultural delights.

Film, theatre, exhibitions, events, festivals, music... the list of things to do is endless and ever-changing. This often means you’re so overwhelmed by choice that you end up doing nothing, or you make the conscious effort to get out only to be met with 56,000 other people doing the same thing.

Hardwick Hall

In the countryside, culture tends to take the form of open house weekends, art trails, ‘Flicks in the Sticks’ community cinema and an occasional play by a local drama group that won some kind of cultural development grant four years ago.

The winner is: the city, because even if you can’t face battling the thronging crowds to get to the culture, at least you know it’s there.

Eating out

Borough Market

Photo: Word-ridden

Eating out in the city is a real feast for the senses, because if you can imagine it, it’s here. From every kind of global cuisine right down to duck’s tongue and calf’s brain, London caters for every palate.

Not so the case in the ‘Shires, where Pizza Hut is the Friday-night staple, sushi can only be purchased as part of a Boots Meal Deal and people will almost certainly make some kind of “ooh, fancy” comment on your choice.

Delicious roast meats

However, and I cannot stress this enough, the countryside excels at a Sunday roast.

Forget the ready-frozen Yorkshire puddings and chewy, tasteless spuds slapped out by city bars; you’ve not had a real roast until you’ve had one in a proper country pub, where the chef is as wide as the cow he’s cooking and the ruddy-cheeked barwoman keeps asking if you want more roast tatties. And you definitely do.

The winner is: the city, but only because of the choice it offers. If this slot was entitled ‘Sunday Dinners’ then the countryside would punt its metropolitan counterpart into the sun.

Outdoor pursuits

Stunning view from a horse

Photo: Gareth DaBel

No contest. There’s nothing I can say here to swing this in the city’s favour, unless perhaps you’re a big fan of parkour.

Youth does parkour

Photo: JB London

The winner is: the countryside. Walking, cycling, hiking, climbing, even bird watching – the countryside has it down.


Like culture and dining, London is resplendent with after-hours activities. Cheesy good-time nightclubs, swanky bars with sweat-inducing price lists, flamboyant discos and establishments catering to every kind of musical taste are all part and parcel of a night out in the capital.

Morris dancers

Photo: Anaadi

But in the countryside, your choices are more limited. For a start, you’ll probably need a set of wheels, or an understanding parent (see the first in this series, on transport), then you’ll need a gopping shirt or a hilariously short dress, and finally 10-15 ‘up-for-it’ chums to bicker loudly about which of the nearest town’s two WKD-sodden nightclubs you’ll be frequenting with the two-for-one vouchers you cut out of the local ad mag.

Alternatively, you might opt for a barn dance, where the same dress code applies and you can purchase 10 bottles of Smirnoff Ice for a tenner, but there will probably be a couple of farmers milling around in the background doing the late milking run, and you’ll have to listen to Benny Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’ at least twice.

The winner is: the city, because you can at least hide your borderline alcoholism under the guise of choice.

And the final winner is... the city!

This means that after four episodes of deep pondering of city living and rural life, the city emerges triumphant.

It’s better for transport, for things to do and finished in a strong joint place when it came to shopping.

And yet, despite my cynical ranting, I know the countryside has more to offer than a good property market and spacious, air-conditioned supermarkets. Yes, it’s slow and inconvenient, occasionally a bit backwards, and many of its inhabitants think Twitter is something birds do and that night buses belong on Tomorrow’s World, but still, it’s home.

As they say, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl. Until the girl wants some cut-price goth gear or a plate of paella at 4am, that is. Then the countryside can do one.

Check out the rest of the City vs. Countryside Showdown

Round 1: Transport

Round 2: Housing

Round 3: Shopping