Saturday morning is a very early start, so I’m standing in the middle if a field together. This is a date. It is unlike any other date that I have been on.

For I’m not just with Joe — I’m also with Clover the border collie and a flock of sheep.

I’ve done dinner. I’ve done coffees. I’ve done art exhibitions and visits to standing stones. I’ve done opera and theatre and museum trips, and even lunch at a beach bar in Greece. But this is the first time I’ve ever done a date at 7am in the company of farm animals.

And I must say I’m enjoying it. Joe and I are close friends because we love dogs. I have my collie with me, too — Mollie is wriggling around like an eel on a string as she is desperate to join in. ‘Clover has been the best dog at rounding up sheep that I’ve ever had,’ says Joe, shouting and whistling while Clover whirls around snapping and crouching low until she eventually herds the sheep into a pen.

Lucy Cavendish, 54, shared her experience of bonding over her passion for the countryside with matches on dating website Muddy Matches. Pictured: Lucy with a model

Lucy Cavendish (54), shared the story of how she and her love for the countryside came together through Muddy Matches. Picture: Lucy and a model

‘Good dog,’ says Joe, stroking her head. Clover smiles lovingly at Joe. Joe looks good, which is not surprising. He’s tall and tousle-haired and, in his Barbour and moleskin trousers, checked shirt and sturdy boots, has ‘country’ written all over him. In fact, that’s a bit of a misconception. Joe is a Stroud-based computer programmer who also trains dogs for agility classes.

But that’s by the by. Joe, 42, is a passionate about the countryside and has met Joe online via Muddy Matches. This dating site was made for folks like me.

Joe is 54 years old and I’m a mother to four children. His approach was so friendly that we agreed to meet.

His first chat up line was ‘Which is your favourite country game fair?’ which led to a quickfire text chat about ferret races and hawk handlers.

Muddy Matches is all about this. Instead of the urban hook-up culture that is found on apps like Tinder and Hinge for professionals, Muddy Matches has a lot of men who repair tractors or keep chickens.

Evidently, the number of members has risen dramatically since the start of this pandemic. Co-founder Lucy Grand, 42, tells me it’s because people reconnected with the outdoors over lockdown — then started to move out of the towns and cities.

Another factor could be the Jeremy Clarkson influence. His TV series Clarkson’s Farm, complete with cute lambs, homemade honey and a thriving farm shop, made many a midlife woman hanker after a man in green wellies with whom to watch the sun go down over the Lower Field.

Bagging farmers suddenly becomes a popular trend as the Covid exiles move into the country.

Lucy (pictured) said Muddy Matches is a busy website and she only had to be on it a few hours before men started 'liking' her

Lucy (pictured), said Muddy matches is busy and that she had only to stay on the site for a couple of hours before her ‘likings’ started. 

The Muddy Matches started humblely. In the pub one night, Lucy and her sister Emma, who grew up on a farm on the Nottinghamshire-Bedfordshire border, wondered how on earth to meet someone given that they already knew everyone in their village.

‘We started it up just as an idea, something we’d do on the side,’ says Lucy, who now works full-time on the site. ‘The concept is that it’s for anyone who loves the countryside and is not averse to mud. You will find all types of people there. Many are rural folk, who love country pursuits. Farmers are also common, so it is important to understand the meaning of this. Farm workers work hard and any woman who marries a farmer must expect to have to harvest the crops.

‘Then there are those who just like to go for a walk and enjoy hanging out in nature.’

This website is extremely busy. I am on it for only a few hours before men start ‘liking’ me.

This is the first time I’ve ever gone on a date at 7am – and in the company of farm animals! 

While they might not all be precisely what I am looking for, they are, to a man, polite and kind and don’t send sex texts or dodgy pictures (trust me, on other dating sites this is not uncommon).

They ask me questions about whether or not I like sailing (‘kind of’) and yomping up hills (‘yes’) and one even asks if I own sheep (‘no’).

While some of them may be a bit too country for me — I don’t like blood sports and can’t ever see myself taking up fly fishing — many seem genuine and decent. This is a huge win in today’s online dating world.

Could this be because the rural people are more trustworthy than those in cities when they seek love? Possibly.

Lucy said the last time she went on a date in London, she was astonished at how primped and preened everyone else looked

Lucy said the last time she went on a date in London, she was astonished at how primped and preened everyone else looked

Members, stresses Lucy, ‘are generally more comfortable doing long country walks than having a night at the opera,’ which in itself — no disrespect to opera-lovers — implies a certain wholesomeness.

Plus, it’s easier to be a cad in the city, where you can suddenly drop or ‘ghost’ a date in the almost certain knowledge that you’ll never bump into them again. But that’s not necessarily so in the gossipy shires.

I’ve lived for more than two decades in the Oxfordshire countryside and am nowadays definitely more wellies than high heels.

When I last went out on a London date with someone, I discovered how far-fetched I really am. In my usual casual outfit of jeans and boots I was sitting at a bar and I was shocked by the preening and primped look on everyone else.

I realised then that I’d far rather get muddy on a long country walk than sip a dirty martini in a deafeningly crowded room. Yes, I want a man who can tell his cobnuts apart from his chestnuts, and which trees they are grown on.

It’s easier to ‘ghost’ a date in the city knowing you won’t bump into them again. It’s not so with gossipy sticks 

A man who’ll happily listen to me bang on for hours about how healing I find nature to be, and who’s a willing companion on my annual outing to the local tractor competition, where I’ve been known to watch tractors ploughing up and down for hours on end.

Heck, despite Lucy’s warning about farmers, I wouldn’t mind if he was sitting up on the tractor himself.

However, Muddy Matches and not, it’s a hard business to get into a relationship. It’s all very well having a nice choice of potential date, but the chemistry has to work, too.

Joe tells me that on other dating websites he’s spent a lot of time and energy ‘talking’ to potential dates — and yet no one ever seems to want to meet up.

Lucy said setting her distance on Muddy Matches to 20 miles didn't stop men messaging her from a different country. Pictured: Lucy and a model

Lucy claimed that setting her Muddy Matches distance at 20 miles was enough to stop men messaging from her country. Lucy with a model 

‘We’d swap messages for ages and I’d think we were getting close, but when I’d suggest a date, nothing more would happen.’ He tells me this is why he has widened the age group he is interested in — hence finding me.

‘The problem is that it’s hard dating people round where I live,’ he says. ‘I know pretty much everyone in my village and there’s no one for me to go out with.’

He says he has had some relationships, but hasn’t yet managed to meet The One, despite trying very hard. ‘I need to broaden my horizons,’ he says.I know the feeling. It is tiring to be the single female in the village.

Here lies the problem with rural dating as opposed city hooking. Rural life is huge.

I set my distance on Muddy Matches to 20 miles, but that doesn’t stop men messaging me from, literally, a different country — Wales or Ireland — which, no matter how lovely, immediately rules them out as feasible relationship material.

Lucy says that many clients on Muddy Matches are happy to travel, but there’s only so much zooming around the UK I can do.

Stan was my next date. He’s closer to my age (Joe and I agree the age gap is too much) and we share very similar interests, but he lives absolutely miles away, near Chester.

The heavens open just as we’re about to embark on our kayaking trip together on the Thames. Stan suggests that we have a cup of coffee together in his van campervan.

Lucy (pictured) said she's going to give online dating a rest for a while and go back to marching up hills on her own

Lucy (pictured) stated that she will give up online dating for a time and return to climbing hills alone. 

Usually, I’d decline on grounds of safety, but somehow the idea of a camper van feels reassuring, so I set off towards the river bank where he has parked up.

Two large huskies and a man in a weather-beaten appearance run at me as I get out my car.

Stan was not the right man for me. He’s utterly lovely, but there’s no chemistry — and that is key for me.

Also, as much as I love dogs, it’s quite difficult to have a conversation in a small van with huge wolf-like beasts lying around.

Stan must feel the exact same thing about me.

We have a lovely coffee and a slice of homemade cake that Stan bought at his local farm shop, and, after half an hour, I say I must be going and Stan says it’s fine as he has to leave, too.

He drives away, and I wave back. He waves back and that’s the end of it.

Fun as it’s been, I think I’m going to give online dating a rest for a while and go back to marching up hills on my own.

That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my hope of a muddy match altogether. Instead, I’m going to take a more traditional tack and try meeting a man In Real Life!

Even now, I’m planning my next batch of raspberry jam for entry into the annual social whirl that is the village show.

Who knows who I’ll lock eyes with over the prize veg? Maybe he even has a tractor.