That Time I Visited King Charles III’s Place in The Cotswolds

No, he wasn’t there. But I didn’t miss him. Much.

A FEW YEARS BACK I joined a college program in Nice, France, as a visiting professor from the real world, to train students in modern journalism practices. But they were more interested in getting drunk and sleeping on the beach, and I can’t blame them. So I took advantage of a rogue invite to the King’s estate (he was a mere prince, back then) and organic farm in the Cotswolds, to join a group of influencers who might help save the planet.

Don’t laugh. It could work!

So I headed for the Cotswolds for a few days, just like the King did after seeing his mom off (RIP Your Majesty!) at Balmoral, and before her funeral in London.

Very early on in my stroll through the enchanting organic gardens at Highgrove — the royal residence near Tetbury, England — I felt the eyes of Prince Charles upon me. And not just two pair of eyes: There were eight of them! In turn, those eyeballs were kindly, stern, engaging, quizzical — it was as if His Royal Highness was asking me, quite reasonably, “What are you doing in my sundial garden?”

I took extra care to draw in noses from two other sculptures. Can you find them?

I’d been wondering the same thing for about 24 hours, at that point.

But first, to clear up one possible point of confusion: It wasn’t actually Prince Charles who was staring me down. Rather, it was four busts of the next King of England, which had been presented to him as gifts.

How do you react to a gift bust if you’re Charles?

You can’t win. Either you look drunk with self-love: Hey, thanks for that really awesome bronze of myself! I look amazing! Or you’re a big ingrate/art hater: If I see another statue of my head I’m going to heave it into yon pond!

Can’t afford to commission a sculpture? Give R2E instead!

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But I was in fact rather humbled by the significance of what was going on in two key locations in this princely region of England, about 100 miles west of London.

First, there’s Highgrove residence and garden, which have the looks and pedigree.

I came across this scene in a photo published in Oprah magazine, of all places. I did add the crocodiles.

They even have a royal air, what with the hundred-yard-long “thyme walk,” which, according to our guide, was personally planted by the King himself. The idea: You stroll the path, crushing 20 varieties of the herb, and the fragrance wafts onto a higher plane. Thyme is quite literally on your side.

But then there’s the Prince’s nearby Duchy Farm, where the fragrances are a bit more primal and the stuff you crush with your boot heel is likely to stick there until you find a twig you can use to scrape it off.

In fact, this B.S. smelled sweet.

It looks like a cow pie to you. To Prince Charles and his team of sustainability savants, it’s nutrient- and microorganism-gold.

There are no busts of King Charles at Duchy Farm, but his presence is everywhere: in the hedgerows he plants to cordon off his sustainably cultivated fields, in the cattle he raises in a direct challenge to the meat-factory methodology so prevalent in the U.S., and in the all-organic cow pies that his bovines drop onto the pristine landscape. That way, American journalists can grind the nutrient-rich manure back into the pasture. By stepping in shit, per usual.

My pleasure, Your Royal Highness.

What not to bring to Highgrove House, Prince Charles’ residence in the Cotswolds. (And I didn’t, BTW.)

I totally broke rule #7.

Not only is the King a passionate advocate for sustainable farming, but he is also pals with people who are, well, outstanding in their fields — some of them literally, amidst crops and cows — and others figuratively, with government directorships and research institutes. These F.O.Cs (friends of Charles…duh) are figuring out how to feed us all responsibly, profitably, and deliciously — next year, and 50 years from now.

What I carried away, along with fragrant goo on my shoes:

  • If we can diminish the antibiotic overload currently being injected into livestock, we’ll all have a better shot (in the ass, probably) at being saved by human antibiotics if — who knows, it could happen — a global pandemic struck.
  • If we can rely on natural systems to rid our crops of pests, we’ll have fewer endocrine disrupters (another term for pesticides, in this context) on the loose in the environment. What’s an endocrine disrupter? Oh, just a hormonally potent chemical that’s turning men into eunuchs, breast milk into toxic effluvia, and children into mutants. OK, maybe I overstated that, but maybe I understated it, too.
  • It’ll give omnivores (like me) the last laugh, as it becomes clearer that the answer to sustainable food is for all of us to eat a wide variety of comestibles. A monoculture is as bad on your plate as it is in the environment. So you and I can have our steak, and eat it, too. That is, as long as we follow it up with a double helping of kale — which is delicious, grilled!
  • Factory-farmed livestock are raised for yield, not taste. But what works in the feedlot is seldom satisfying on your fork. Well, fork that! A sustainable pig is a delicious pig. It’s a happier pig when it’s living, and it’s happier in your mouth when you’re chewing. Do yourself a flavor, and support that sustainable pig!

Maybe you don’t care about any of that. Can I interest you in a story about how I found myself on a tractor, discussing the healing powers of organics with Jo Woods, former wife of a certain Rolling Stone? (Guess which one!) Or how the farm manager used his tractor to head-fake a herd of 75 Black Angus cows into running the wrong way so that our group could escape their stampede.

My thanks to Picasso and the Chicago Bulls, for their contributions to this post.

The farm manager told me that Charles III loves to plant hedgerows, like the one pictured above. Don’t worry, I’m sure they clear the bulls out, first, when the King is puttering about.

In fact, it was a huge adventure just to hang out at Highgrove and at Duchy Farm, places where the world is being remade in a better way. By people who weren’t just pointing out disaster, they were proposing solutions — many of them edible. And where Prince Charles had a kingdom his mother couldn’t meddle with.

I was sufficiently inspired that I might just commission a sculpture of King Charles III. I’ll have it crafted out of butter, just like at the Minnesota State Fair. The sustainable scones that they serve in the Highgrove tearoom would taste great with a slather of environmentally responsible royal sweet cream and a spoonful of organic orange marmalade.

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