There are few more alluring prospects than spending a country weekend with friends. The image of a long winding driveway, the sound of gravel crunching under car tyres, and the smell of log fires all spring effortlessly to mind. The dream, informed by television shows such as Downton Abbey, consists of being greeted on your arrival with a reviving cup of tea in the drawing room while the butler unpacks your bags upstairs. After this you're shown your cosy room, where a small log fire burns in the hearth and you can have a hot bath and get changed for dinner. This is long, delicious, accompanied by vintage wine and rounded off with a Cognac and a cigar in the library. The idealised evening ends with a bit of corridor creeping to visit the pretty single girl you sat next to at dinner.
However, that's not always (or even ever) how it pans out. It's more likely to involve a frustrating crawl out of town on Friday night, a tiring schlep down the motorway and an infuriating last few miles during which neither your map nor your iPhone are of any use while you struggle in the dark to discern the "landmark" oak tree that marks the turning for the house. After a garbled telephone call from a local pub (there's never any mobile phone coverage in the country) you eventually end up at your friend's house, which turns out to bear very little resemblance to the image you have of it in your mind's eye.
To start with, your mind's eye hadn't anticipated the paper that hangs down from the ceilings in the corridor, or the small plastic trays of blue mouse poison. You probably hadn't expected to find so many blue bottles living under the duvet on your bed, or so few functioning radiators. Or indeed a crack in the wall - a result of a lightning strike a couple of years back - so wide it allows in a draught. Any idea of a butler is quickly forgotten as it becomes clear that the house no longer even enjoys the attention of a regular cleaner; it's an absence that's beginning to make itself apparent. Not that you need help to unpack, because all the drawers in the chest in your bedroom are full of moth-eaten blankets, and your host's late grandfather's suits occupy the wardrobe.
Never mind, you think, at least you can relax in a hot bath. And you can, but not until you get home, because invariably another guest reached the bathroom before you, and used the majority of the tiny amount of hot water that the house's decrepit plumbing system produces. As you lurk in the corridor waiting for your turn you wonder at the inverse relationship between the considerable noise the boiler makes, and the minimal quantity of hot water it produces. Nonetheless you're well brought up and brave a shallow, tepid bath for a quick splash about, during which you can't help but speculate darkly about the origin of the dark brown stains on the side of the bathtub.
Once dressed you head downstairs and into a freezing dining room, only to hear the dreaded sentence, "I'm afraid it's a bit of picnic supper tonight." What this means is that your host hasn't had time to go shopping, with the result that you're being given a bowl of beetroot soup and some cheese and biscuits for dinner. The decanter of vintage Bordeaux that you'd hoped would be present on the table is nowhere to be seen; instead, a bottle of Bulgarian Merlot acts as a very poor substitute. The disgusting wine forces you to confront a terrible dilemma: is it better to drink it, or to stay sober? In the end you decide to stay sober, and one look at your fellow guests tells you that for the duration of the weekend you'll also be staying celibate.
However, the next morning you recall that the point of such a weekend isn't to indulge in luxuries, but to relax, reconnect with friends, savour some fresh air, and to remember that there's more to life than work. All of which is more easily achieved after you've led an expedition - ostensibly in search of the Saturday edition of the FT - to the nearest decent delicatessen, where you spend as much on a few croissants, some French cheese, a little Italian ham, a couple of bottles of Chablis and some chocolates, as you would on a Michelin-starred meal for two back in town.
Once you've breakfasted at leisure it's time to go for a coat-shredding walk that's very likely to involve the following: barbed wire, cow manure, mud, brambles, a stream and muddy dog's paws. The walk is an opportunity to reflect on the fact that despite the privations there's a lot to be said for the great outdoors; not only is it a great place to unwind the day-to-day concerns of city life, but crucially it's the perfect environment in which to wear the tweed jackets, corduroy trousers, brown brogues and chunky cardigans that make the new season's collections so alluring. With this in mind, click through the slides above to see MR PORTER's packing list for country weekends.
The only time anyone wears black in the countryside is when they have to wear a dinner jacket, and even then a velvet jacket may be more appropriate.
Country clothes are made to endure, so fussing about scratching your jacket while climbing over a gate will immediately mark you out as a townie.
The very slim-cut clothes that look sharp in town can seem a bit forced in the country, where comfort is king. Pack looser things, and enjoy the puddings.
As far as possible stick to natural fibres. Even coats should be made of waxed cotton, or wool. It's important to avoid anything that makes a swishing sound as you walk in it - save anything that could possibly be described as an anorak for city wear.
There are two kinds of country hats: tweed flat caps and brown trilbys. The latter is largely saved for days at the races. Regardless of the wind-chill factor, beanie hats should be resisted. But don't worry, tweed caps are warmer than they look.
Even if the weather's warm it's worth packing a thick sweater, because although the temperature drops considerably in the evening, your hosts are unlikely to see this as a reason to cancel the barbeque. A thick cardigan would be ideal.