SPOTLIGHT 

Country magazines

Stuck indoors, there was no better time to think about being in the country. Of course, there are magazines to hold your hand every inch of the way as Alan Geere has been finding out.

By Alan Geere

Country magazines
Photograph: Studio Thirty Two on Unsplash

BBC Countryfile

What’s it about: ‘Explore the British countryside with BBC #Countryfile Magazine’ – explainer on Twitter page.

Vital statistics: July 2020 issue: 116 pages of 285mm x 215mm. Matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, perfect bound. £4.75 cover price. Jan-Dec 2019 ABC of 40,226. Published monthly by Immediate Media Co in Bristol.

Cover: Big picture of a puffin next to ‘Puffin Island – jewel of the Hebrides’ although the one featured is actually in Pembrokeshire. Six other coverlines featuring four destinations, six variations on wildlife, a picture of a windmill and one fleeting mention of ‘lockdown’. A packed spine also has seven beautifully crafted contents come-ons along the 4mm wide canvas.

Content: Skip over the editor’s blurb and contact info on page 3 to an inviting contents spread divided into ‘month in the country’, features, regulars and great days out. Lots of quick reads contrasted by longer features like 10 pages on the Broads. ‘Planting a nature paradise’ is both pretty and practical while a retrospective on camping coaches is an insight into the glamping of yesteryear. Music inspired by the countryside feels a bit of a stretch for a printed magazine but Great Days Out is a strong finish, even if the destinations are rather remote. BBC Sunday evening regulars Adam Henson, John Craven, Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison have a presence, but the BBC connection feels mercifully low key.

Digital: countryfile.com is a confident romp through the magazine content plus an engaging ‘How to’ section with a topical campaign aiming to encourage children to build a lasting connection with the natural world as lockdown restrictions ease. Links to Facebook with 81k likes and Twitter where there are 70.5k followers. The promoted YouTube channel has not had an upload for three years.

What they say: “Why are you qualified to write on this subject? Do you have any experience or specialist knowledge of the subject you wish to write about? What writing experience do you have?” – boxes to be ticked before ‘Submitting ideas to BBC Countryfile Magazine’ as per the website.

Verdict: Resolutely upbeat, even when advising people not to go out into the countryside, and presenting a picture postcard image of the great outdoors. Superb writing, expert editing and lavish photography all add up to a first-class trip outside from the inside.

Country Life

What’s it about: ‘The voice of the countryside’ – proudly displayed on the spine.

Vital statistics: July 22, 2020 issue: 96 pages of 290mm x 220mm. Quality gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.10 cover price. Jan-Dec 2019 ABC 40,560. Published weekly by Future in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Cover: Full bleed picture of a dog (Jack Russell) and ball (Mr Men) illustrating ‘Old dogs, new tricks’. Three other coverlines bring in the holy trinity of ‘island life’, ‘charming cottages’ and ‘Nicola Benedetti’.

Content: Twenty sumptuous pages of advertising for homes and art before a gloriously spare contents page and editorial. The material comes rattling through: living on a remote island, tin tabernacles, exploring the Isle of Wight and topiary among the topics. That cover story really is about ‘engaging canine brains’ and Ms Benedetti gives the lowdown on virtual teaching to 7,159 participants. Still room for bridge and crossword and a natty classified section.

Digital: A likeable website which offers the expected choice of property, architecture, interiors etc plus the enticing ‘Little Black Book’ which is actually an online directory and a collection of the monthly musings of gardener extraordinaire Alan Titchmarsh. Even a free digital issue among the subscription offerings. Links to Facebook, with 51.5k likes and Twitter attracting 30.7k followers.

What they say: “I think everyone has now hopefully left the office. Country Life is the ultimate team effort. We will be fine thanks to you all and please keep talking and sending these meme thingies.” – Property editor James Fisher shares on Twitter the lockdown groupchat musings of editor Mark Hedges, memes ‘n’ all.

Verdict: This 123-year-old magazine proudly displays ‘PPA magazine of the year 2019’ on the cover and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s authoritative without being stuffy and informative without being dull. The advertising is elegantly complementary and everything comes together in a peerless package.

Country Living

What’s it about: ‘A lifestyle magazine for people who either live or dream of living in the country’ – description on Facebook page.

Vital statistics: August 2020 issue: 180 pages of 285mm x 215mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.99 cover price. July-Dec 2019 ABC of 190,539. Published monthly by Hearst UK in London.

Cover: Big picture of a display of flower arrangements supporting ‘Joys of summer’ coverline. Six other coverlines, including two names (Clare Balding, Dan Snow) and enigmatic philosophy on the spine: ‘When your heart is in the country’.

Content: Two pages of neatly-illustrated contents under headings like ‘Houses & gardens’, ‘Wellbeing’ and ‘Food & drink’. No less than 34 individual items mentioned taking in a classic country garden, purple emperor butterflies, salt making, smallholding advice, solo breaks, natural remedies, ice cream, soap and garden produce all topped off by a month in the life of the Duchess of Northumberland - “I live in a Portakabin on site a couple of days a week,” we learn.

Digital: A website as professionally sumptuous as the magazine has all the in-print favourites plus some welcome extras, like a campaign to combat loneliness in the countryside and tips for going greener. Links to Facebook with a whopping 626k likes and Twitter, which has 83.5k followers.

What they say: “As it is wheat bran, out for me. I am celiac,” – Facebook poster has a good reason to pass on the offer for a picnic set that is ‘biodegradable, natural AND edible – and starts from just £2.99’.

Verdict: Everything about this big beast of the newsstand oozes quality and assurance. Tightly written, beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated, it has more than enough for both those living the dream in the country and the rest of us hoping to one day join them.

Country Smallholding

What’s it about: ‘Britain’s best-selling smallholding magazine’ – tagline incorporated in masthead.

Vital statistics: July 2020 issue: 96 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £3.99 cover price. States ‘circulation of over 20,000 each issue’ on website. Published monthly by Archant South West in Barnstable, Devon.

Cover: Big picture of a woman harvesting apples beneath the coverline ‘Bumper Crop’. A headshot of a chicken to introduce ‘Poultry Focus’ and five other neatly designed coverlines fighting off the obtrusively placed barcode.

Content: Brief welcome from the editor and simple contents on page three, including separate contents for the 36-page ‘How To’ guide that is inserted in the centre. Seven pages of news up front followed by the cover story on uses for orchard produce. A sprinkle of celebrity stardust with a column from Adam ‘Countryfile’ Henson and a lovely lifestyle feature about a woman who lives on a croft in the Outer Hebrides, which would not be out of place in a Sunday supplement. The ‘Big Smallholder Interview’, a construction section called ‘Building the dream’ and that info-packed ‘How To’ guide make sure interest never flags.

Digital: Neat and tidy website with a good deal of practical advice – ‘Killing and butchering sheep’ is ‘most read’ – and lots going on with pop-up ads, subscription offers and an invitation to download past issues on the app. Prominent links to Facebook, with 8.5k likes and Twitter, which is limited to subscription offers, but still has 5.5k followers.

What they say: ‘Best journalist in the world’ – epithet on editor Julie Harding’s Twitter page, along with two tweets in five years.

Verdict: A triumph of professionalism and enthusiasm even if your smallholding ambitions don’t stretch beyond the sofa. Love the colour coding on the folio lines to reflect the different interests such as sheep, pigs, gardening etc. Also available, rather eclectically, in a three-mag bundle with Rifle Shooter and Air Gunner, saving £6.

Country Walking

What’s it about: ‘Britain's best-selling walking magazine’ – strapline under masthead.

Vital statistics: August 2020 issue: 124 pages of 293mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.70 cover price. Jan-Dec 2019 ABC of 33,148. Published monthly by Bauer in Peterborough.

Cover: Big picture of the Lake District, heralding ‘Record breaking Britain’. Seven other cross-refs in various guises, including three faces and a pair of walking shoes. More reminders tucked away on the spine.

Content: A winning welcome from the engaging editor followed by two pages of contents sadly unengagingly divided into Features, Regulars and Reviews. The content is thankfully more inspired: a meteorite colliding with Scotland, treasure hunting, a weekend in Orkney and an interview with locked down adventurer Ray Mears. The enticing top of the page flash ‘Discover…’ leads to countryside adventures galore while the pocket-sized route cards at the back will send cut-out-and-keep enthusiasts off to a different place.

Digital: No advertised website although Bauer’s livefortheoutdoors.com has some outdoorsy content and opportunities to subscribe. Social media is active, though, with 27k Facebook likes and 27.6k followers on Twitter.

What they say: “Headphones, spare rooms, hot days, windy days, mail-order beer, not shaving, birdsong, books, box-sets, wildflowers, lonely tea rounds and literally no trips away,” – the rather poignant but instantly recognisable realities of lockdown publishing outlined in ‘This issue was brought to you by…’

Verdict: This is a vibrant magazine delivering so much more than its title. Yes, of course, there are plenty of walks but there’s also history, pop culture, equipment reviews, lively contributions from readers and even musings from celeb walking fan Stuart Maconie. Practical and fun – just like walking, in fact.

The Countryman's Weekly

What’s it about: ‘The national countrysports magazine’ – tagline inside masthead.

Vital statistics: July 15, 2020 issue: 36 pages of 295mm x 225mm. Newsprint, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £2.40 cover price. Website states ‘reaches over 22,000 country sports enthusiasts’. Published weekly by Countryman’s Weekly in Plymouth, Devon.

Cover: Full bleed picture of a Welsh Springer Spaniel, one of the ‘Wonderful Welshies!’ from the main coverline. Six other cleverly designed cross-refs plus a promo for three competitions and an ad (for knives) floating in the middle of the page.

Content: Straight into the action with news on pages 3, 4 and 5 before a very discreet ‘inside this week’ lurking in one corner. Expert columns are complemented by pages on wildfowling, gun dogs, ammunition, deerstalking, ferrets, fox shooting, history and fishing. The feature on ‘Pioneering women in fieldsports’ has some beautiful old illustrations while readers’ photos, letters, a crossword and a page of recipes complete a packed book.

Digital: Workmanlike website even offers enough of the current issue to get potential readers signing up for a subscription. Lots more of those ever-popular readers photos. Nearly 20k likes on Facebook and 6.3k followers on Twitter.

What they say: “Thank you for all your great comments on the new size, we will continue to make adjustments along the way, this week we feature a better quality cover and have increased the text slightly… onwards and upwards!” – sharing the pain of a redesign on Facebook.

Verdict: Small type and understated headlines (even after the ‘adjustments’ outlined above) give this quirky publication a quality feel. Plenty of expert news and comment to devour, complemented by relevant advertising for specialist clothes, equipment etc. A rattling good weekly read.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.