Life

Leaving London: what is it like to move from the city to the countryside?

Having written my post on countryside style last week, I was inundated with emails asking me how I found the Big Move. Was it ok? Would leaving the city be alright? What is living in the countryside actually like? Understandably leaving urban life behind – be it in in London, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow…. for a small village surrounded by fields is quite daunting. Ok, you’re not thinking about moving countries, but you are thinking about uprooting yourself (and possibly your family) from a comfortable, easy, accessible environment where you’ve established a network to somewhere (a lot) quieter, less accessible and without easy access to cafes, shops, taxis and nightlife. It is a big deal. Should you do it? Only you can decide, but perhaps my experience might help you decide either way….

Every year around the first really sunny day in April, it was the same. ‘Shall we do it? Move out, I mean? Shall we get the agents around for a valuation? How about a drive down to Sussex/Hampshire/Oxfordshire this weekend? You know, just to have a look around….’ We looked at Rightmove, checked out the commute times, dreamed about the garden we could have instead of our postage stamp patio surrounded by noisy neighbours (loud piano playing) on one side and noisy neighbours (shouting) on the other. And the conversation would pretty much last all summer until late-September hit and once again, city life became more appealing. It went like this for a few years, until the conversation started happening earlier and earlier in the year, more children appeared and more footballs started disappearing over our fence into the neighbours’ back gardens. School wasn’t the tipping point (in my experience London state schools are amazing), but space was. Our house was ok, but our garden was teeny and you couldn’t spend all day there without getting out. As we’d already spent a good portion of our lives trudging around the park and we’d decided that we’d be far more comfortable with our future teenagers hanging out in a Sussex village than in Shepherd’s Bush at night, we did it. We made The Move.

It wasn’t that we hated London, far from it. I loved – and still love it. Things I particularly loved were….

Walking out my front door and into a cafe within minutes.

Sainsbury’s at the end of my road. No meal planning needed!

Westfield was only a 20-minute walk away

Friends living literally around the corner

The network of friends – new and old – that we’d spent years building up. We were part of a community and we loved it.

Taxis. Everywhere! So easy to get back home! And the Tube!

The architecture. Some parts of London just take your breath away.

The buzz. The centre of town is just so alive, you can’t help but feel its pulse.

But, it wasn’t enough. We needed space and the kids needed freedom. And, I think in a way we were craving a calmer, more innocent upbringing for our children. In the city they’d be exposed to things that I didn’t want them to be exposed to at a young age and I felt that by moving to the country we’d be able to give them a few more precious years of innocence and freedom that would be priceless. I wanted them to experience the free range country childhood I had, to be able to run out the front door and play without me hanging over them like a helicopter parent and as lovely as it was, that was never going to happen in a busy central London park.

And so we moved, just over two years ago in fact, to West Sussex – hardly remote, but surprisingly rural and haven’t looked back. Actually, that’s a lie. I did look back. And, at times I wanted to move back, particularly during the first winter when it was grey and wet, and I was pregnant. We didn’t know anyone (except my mother who lives ten minutes away), it was so dark and muddy and dreary, and most of all, I missed walking. I walked EVERYWHERE in London. If it was within an hour’s walking distance, I’d walk it, so having to drive everywhere after 20 years of city living was a shock. We live on the edge of a village, but the nearest pub is 40 minutes walk away, the shop is 25 minutes down the hill and the local farm’s cafe is probably a 30-minute walk away – ok on your own, but with toddlers, not so great. I missed my friends. I missed being able to nip out for a quick drink around the corner with old uni friends. I missed walking from Shepherd’s Bush to meet Natasha on Chiswick High Road. I missed the fact that you could mix old and new friends, which makes inviting new people around so much less daunting. I missed the ease of city living and often wondered if everyone would be happy except me.

At first, we made the mistake of seeing too much of our old friends. The first Autumn we spent here we went up to London a lot seeing our friends and the boys’ friends. We thought it would make the transition easier for us and them, but in fact what it meant was that we weren’t getting fully involved in our new lives here. We also got overexcited by the fact that we could have friends to stay, so we exhausted ourselves doing that and not making much effort meeting new people. We had to stop. And so, we took the decision not to go up to London so much, to make an effort in the village and get fully involved with life here. It didn’t mean we couldn’t see our old friends, we just couldn’t rely on them for our social life. It was the best decision we made.

And then, after the dark days of winter came the joyous light of spring, which made everything better. There’s nothing like spring to lift your spirits and in the countryside it is glorious. It seems obvious, but you notice the seasons so much more in the country than you do in the city, and the reward for getting through a muddy winter are the first buds of Spring, followed by a glorious summer – which even when it’s grey and raining is always better in the country. And, then the longer you live in the country, the more you start to appreciate the Autumn colours and the drawing in of winter. I’m not going to lie, January and February are never going to be my favourite months, but that would be the same in town.

I now love living in Sussex and these are some of the reasons why…

Space. We are lucky enough to have a big garden and having space for the boys to run and play is amazing. But even without the garden, there is space all around us. Fields everywhere. Having space around you and not being surrounded by people all the time gives your mind room to breathe and I find it calmer.

Nature. It’s not as if I was unaware of nature before, but you are SO much more aware of it here. The seasons change in front of your eyes, you have to deal with nature – the grass, the leaves, the apples – and if you’re lucky enough you may even start growing vegetables, which sends you nature love into whole new levels. I can see myself going a bit Barbara Goode, but there’s something so healthy about having your fingers in the soil and growing vegetables. The life cycle and all that. I can see that it can be addictive!

Pressure. There is less pressure out of London. Less pressure at school, less pressure to look good, less pressure to be out, less pressure to be ‘on’. This won’t be true for everyone, but it’s true for me. Life is more relaxed down here. I loved my son’s school in London, but the workload was heavy, down here there’s much more balance.

Safety. It feels safer here. I’m not stupid, I know that bad things can happen anywhere, but you don’t have stabbings at the bottom of the road or police helicopters flying overhead looking for escaped prisoners or gangs of aggressive teens loitering around. We don’t have to lock the car as we take the shopping into the house. And we can now leave something outside the front door without it being stolen straight away (although all of this could just have been Shepherd’s Bush!!)

Running. Not for everyone, but being in the country has made me fall in love with running. Padding down the pavements of London will never be a match for running through open fields.

The Holiday Feeling. Before we moved out, a friend who had done The Move before told us that weekends felt like a holiday – and she was right, especially in the summer. Because there is far less traffic than in London, it means you can get out and about easily, so nipping down to the beach for the morning is completely doable in a way that it never was in London. Also having the doors and ground floor windows open is ok (in London, this would’ve been lunacy) as is running around in ripped shorts and flip-flops.

People. I should mention the people – but really, I’ve found that everyone is as friendly here as they were in London. It takes time to make new friends anywhere you are, so this applies whether you’re moving out of town or back into one. It can be hard. Just keep going and say yes to everything – I’ve ‘joined’ a running group, have been for uncomfortable coffees and pub evenings when I’ve felt like a lemon all with the aim of meeting people – and it works. You will find friends, just don’t expect it to be straight away. Think of it like Freshers’ Week – often the people who befriend you first aren’t the ones you’ll want to be friends with in the end!

So, if you are thinking of moving out of town, then from my experience I’d say do it. But, you need to think about it long and hard first. I grew up in the country and therefore even though I found it hard at first, it wasn’t totally alien to me. Secondly, neither I or my husband commute, which is a major factor and means that one of us isn’t spending our life on the train. You might not mind this, but if you do, it’s something to think about. And, are you someone who actually goes to the theatre/Soho/Shoreditch all the time? Someone for whom the latest restaurant opening is food for the soul? If so, country life may not be exciting enough for you. Do you like nature? If it’s a no, then perhaps think again!

One of the things that would’ve made it easier for us would’ve been talking to someone like Jen or Maranda from Property Potential, a property search company specialising in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. They’ve been there, done that when it comes to moving out of London and setting up in the countryside. Until you live somewhere you can’t really know what a village or town is like, but they do. So, you can ask them all those questions like ‘What’s the village like?’ ‘What are the people like?’ ‘Is the pub actually nice or is it a dive?’, ‘Is the main road as quiet as the Estate Agent swears it is or is she lying?’, ‘Is the school lovely and caring and nurturing like the Headteacher says it is or is it full of nightmare children and even more-nightmare parents?’ They know all this! Moreover, they know what houses are on the market and which ones are available but not openly on sale (we bought our house this way – not advertised, quietly for sale during the off season – there’s no way we’d have known about it if we didn’t have inside info).

You can sign up with them for the full experience (everything from area tours to viewings, negotiating with Estate Agents, to recommending builders) or just do a one-off Orientation day (from £250 for 5 hours) where they’ll take you on a tour of towns/villages in your chosen area to show you the prime spots and places you may never have thought of – it’s like having Kirstie and Kirstie without the cameras following you!

Finally, they also offer free no-obligation 1/2 hour chats when they set up shop in a London spot, get their map out and talk to you about places and budgets and commutes and schools. I wish I’d known about it when we moved out as it would’ve been invaluable. So, I would say if you are even remotely thinking about moving out, then give them a whirl. It’s a big decision, and the more people you can talk about it to, the better!

This post was in collaboration with Property Potential. Although all my own words and thoughts. Jen and Maranda are next in town on Monday 9th October at Gail’s in Clapham, you can book a 1/2 hour slot by emailing hello@propertypotentialsurrey.co.uk. You can call Maranda on 07776 779993 and Jen on 07776 779998.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Jules
    September 26, 2017 at 10:53 am

    So interesting..I too grew up in the (West Sussex) countryside, moved to London (well close-ish, a twenty minute train ride)..but various changes meant a move back to more rural living was very tempting. Unlike you, I still commute to London 2 or 3 days a week, which is about 4 hours traveling time daily , especially with Southern Rail (don’t get me started !!), but am hoping that will change soon.
    Like you, I initially spent a lot of time travelling back and forth to see old friends and invited them here endlessly..it was such hard work that first year…plus getting the house to ‘our style’ … so it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve fully embraced this slower pace of life..I live on the edge of a small market town so I can walk to shops, pubs and restaurants easily, but also have a 5 minute walk to fields and real countryside..I’ve embraced running too (5k this morning) and cycling, dog walking , foraging etc ..I shop local, supporting local businesses and most importantly, my daughter attends a fantastic sought-after local school that she can walk to easily and all her friends are local so she can meet them safely without me hanging on! (as shes nowgetting older and more independant).
    Slower pace doesn’t meet it cant be stylish too!! I am passionate about clothes, shoes bags etc and shopping online helps me stay up to date as well as following fab blogs like yours for tips etc… Big cities are exciting and offer lots of opportunity but personally I’ve found the local life is more fulfilling and interesting ..giving my soul space to breathe and grow; sorry if that sounds a bit twee and poetic!!!
    Loving your blog and instagram x

    • Reply
      Alex
      September 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Julie,

      I love everything you’ve said! Especially the bit about giving your soul space to breathe and grow – that is so true (and beautifully poetic). I think it takes time to find your countryside groove and it’s hard not to cling on to your old city life when you first move – but then I have to remind myself that I spend 16 years in London, so it took me a lot of time to build a life there too. So glad you’ve also found running! I used to dabble in London and it was ok, but there’s nothing like a morning run through fields on a beautiful day to lift the spirits. So glad you like the blog and instagram – thank you xx

  • Reply
    Heather
    September 26, 2017 at 10:59 am

    We moved out of a east dulwich with a newborn and three year old. I can relate to everything in this article! It was probably the right thing for our kids to be closer to family but I missed london (and still do). I had a commuting husband and that is a big deal as I was on my own for long long days.
    I think if he’d had a more flexible role it would have been easier. I also missed the creative buzz of london – depending on where you are in the country, you can really feel disconnected from your industry.
    Pity you can’t have your cake and eat it, huh!?

    • Reply
      Alex
      September 26, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      I think that’s hard Heather – if you husband is away for long days, then it’s tough. How long have you been out for? Can you still occasionally visit? I love the fact that I can still visit London, but actually the longer we’ve been here the less I’ve wanted to. Where are you now? x

      • Reply
        Heather
        September 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm

        We left in 2010 and were on the Essex / Suffolk border. One thing I also noticed was how much more the winters got to me in the country – bigger skies = more grey when it’s rainy. But I did grow to accept it and loved being out with the dog. We’ve since been transferred to utah where we live in a ski town. I commute back to the uk for my business when I need to – london is still my first love!

  • Reply
    Mim
    September 26, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    We moved at the same time and can relate to all you say – especially missing the walking, friends and always getting in the car (but on rainy days the car has its plus points). Im lucky enough to be able to work from home and my desk has the most stunning view; I can’t imagine ever having to go into an office but I realise every day how lucky I am, especially when my husband has to commute into town and the trains are up the spout. My work colleague is also great company (Skipper – black lab) and having a dog helps with routine (as obviously do children but they are now both at the local village school). I do miss interacting with colleagues and the hustle and bustle of London (and Gails in Clapham!) It hasn’t closed down though and there are trains! We used Property Potential and Miranda and Jen were fantastic – and patient. I would highly recommend them for anyone looking to move out.

  • Reply
    HANNAH Hargrave
    October 9, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    A lovely uplifting post about country life. We moved from Hollywood California last year to Somerset, England. We had been there for 15-years so it’s been a massive adjustment. It’ll take a lot longer to really settle but hoping we will adjust to not only a sleepier lifestyle but the weather too!!! And I always said I missed the rain. I Blog about the humourous transition, for my own sanity and for shits – literally, there’s so much poo in the countryside – and giggles. Now I’m really going to enjoy followiing your work.

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