Love in the Countryside review – a dating show as hot as a stoked-up Aga

The Guardian Lifestyle 1 month ago

Katy is looking for “the power, the stamina, the looks.” In sheepdogs, that is. “That’s what you need in a man,” observes Sara Cox and Katy gives one of those full-throated sexy laughs. She has been married four times – she looks like a middle-aged rock chick and it really wouldn’t surprise me if one of those times had been to Mick Jagger – but single for more than 10 years. It’s not easy to meet men near her remote Cumbrian farmhouse, where she trains sheepdogs (“It’s dog-shit city here”), so she’s hoping to meet someone on Love in the Countryside (BBC Two). It’s a dating show, presented cheerfully by Cox, who grew up on a beef farm, and it is delightful.

Cheerful … Sara Cox presents Love in the Countryside. Photograph: Pete Dadds/BBC/Boundless

This is the second episode of the second series. Last week, we met Martin, 44, a bristly, sweet-faced Yorkshire farmer who hasn’t had a relationship for more than a decade: he spent those crucial mate-finding years on the business after his father died, shepherding it through the financial stresses that saw so many farms go under. And we met Grace, 23 and already wedded to her family farm on the Welsh border, preparing to take it over in a few years. Both chose a shortlist of potential partners from those who had written in to the programme, then, after a bit of speed dating, invited three each back to their farms.

This week, we are seeing how they are getting on. At Grace’s farm, Martin, a trainee psychologist, is getting a lift in the tractor, and he is as excited about it as a little boy on a shopping centre ride. It is endearing but a bit tiresome. “Ugh, bloody hell,” says Grace when he gets out. At the field, the men are trying to put up fences. Beefy Greg, who works for Royal Mail, is struggling; hot Mike isn’t but that’s because he has done it before (he keeps alpacas for fun). They are like two rutting stags.

In Yorkshire, Martin invites Laura-Lea out for dinner at his local pub. “I’ve got to make sure in my mind that she’s not after that chocolate box farm,” he says, “because this isn’t that farm.” We know, Martin, we saw your derelict house last week. But they are so giggly and twinkly with each other, I am already picturing Laura-Lea in full-time wellies.

Martin … ‘I’ve got to make sure she’s not after that chocolate box farm.’ Photograph: BBC/Boundless

It is the anti-Love Island. Nobody is here, stuffed with filler and honed of body, to play games or become Instagram-famous. These are people, of all ages, who have lived; they have tales of loneliness, divorce, single parenthood and responsibilities. There is an insight into the realities of rural life – the isolation and hard graft, as well as the beauty of the landscape and the wonders of calves and lambs and collies.

In Cumbria, Katy’s 16-year-old daughter is worried about her mum being alone in her remote house, and would like her to meet someone. “If it happened, it would be very nice,” says Katy, sharpening a kitchen knife. “It’s not likely to. Who’s going to fancy me?” Who wouldn’t? She’s funny and spirited, and looks, fabulously, somewhere between Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Keith Richards.

“Oh, sorry, I think I’ve stumbled into a male-model competition,” says Cox, gently ribbing the four sixty- and seventysomething men Katy has chosen, who are waiting at a Kensington hotel. “They’ll be totally out of their comfort zone so it will be interesting to see how they fit in,” Katy says of the three she chooses.

On the other farms, it’s 6am and milking time. On Grace’s farm, only Greg has managed to get up. In Yorkshire, Martin has asked Laura-Lea to help, and she throws herself into it. “She has become a lot more attractive,” he says. His other date, Hermione, admits to feeling jealous. “I think he’s leaning more towards Laura-Lea,” she says. It seems obvious to us all.

But then Hermione and Martin spend the afternoon together while Laura-Lea is stuck cooking a roast, and they get on really well. There’s a tricky moment over the roast potatoes. The timing of the meal could have been better, says Laura-Lea testily, “because you two wouldn’t have been out in a field for ages.” It still comes as a shock when Martin chooses Hermione. They make a slightly awkward, but sweet, couple. “It does seem a long time since I’ve been so excited,” he says, waving her off. “I think I’m actually missing her already.”

Grace … ‘Having the boys here has made me realise it’s ridiculous for me to expect someone to fit into this lifestyle.’ Photograph: BBC/Boundless

On the Welsh border, Grace has a tearful realisation about her future, and how her townie dates don’t fit into it. Greg had asked her about “annual leave”, as if she has an HR department, instead of her dad and a few hundred animals. “Having the boys here has made me realise it’s ridiculous for me to expect someone to fit into this lifestyle,” she says. Still, Mike has the alpacas so he may be a better bet. He had to go away for a day, but now he’s back, bringing with him his dog and his extreme handsomeness. There’s a lot of flirting going on. It’s all as hot as a stoked-up Aga, but solid and cosy, too.

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