October 05 2010
Before you enter The Great English Outdoors website, banish any thoughts of wellington boots, Pac-a-macs and tents piled high. For, like its actual, bricks-and-mortar shop in Hay-on-Wye, these are utterly civilised surroundings for the unashamedly old school. Think wool (hand-knitted tam-o’-shanter, £48, and alpaca wool socks, fourth picture, £17.55), willow (fishing creel, first picture, £285) and leather (bridle-leather map box, £265) in mostly muted tones; think English-horn egg spoons (recommended by Delia Smith as the way to eat a boiled egg, £7.95) and combs (£12). Think of a world where even the family dog has its own Jacob’s fleece rare-breed sheepskin to lie on (£88). Above all, breathe in nostalgia made modern – or at least still relevant – and, yes, practical and outdoorsy.
And it’s not all about England. The store’s name comes from the owner, Athene English, whose obvious devotion to British craftsmanship is ubiquitous. English herself works in leather (cartridge bag in 200-year-old Russian reindeer leather, third picture, £436), and has chosen everything displayed here, including the irresistible Welsh textiles, which go like hot (Welsh) cakes.
When I was looking, a one-off vintage, double-sided tapestry blanket in cream, primrose yellow, donkey brown and olive green (second picture, 1.6m x 2.3m) was priced at £145, while contemporary striped fringed blankets, woven the traditional way in the heart of Wales, cost from £68. For smaller gifts, try the range of handmade frankincense, lavender and geranium soaps (from £5.75) and white poplar or tuberose scented candles (£16).
The website claims, “This is a shop with a soul”, which is certainly true of the boutique itself. Surprisingly, it’s not hyperbolic to say that this cosily moreish e-tailer has soul too.