What it's really like to escape to the country

Jenny Stallard begins her series of columns on the pleasures and pitfalls of moving to the country.

One year and a month ago, I closed the door to my London flat for the very last time. I’d actually, on the advice of my sister, who loves a bit of Marie Kondo, gone into every room and thanked it.

I thanked it for the fun times, for being where a third date turned into an engagement and also for the place where I – we – decided to leave London.

I say ‘my flat’ but I’d actually sold the one I owned a year before, moving in with my then boyfriend, Geoff.

Talk often turned to the future and I’m sure, as it has for you if you’re reading this with a big city-to-country move in mind, discussions of space, a private garden, long walks with our future dogs, cosy pubs and no more sitting on delayed trains or the A406…

About 18 months before we closed the door for the last time, we had come to Chipping Norton, on the edge of the Cotswolds, to have a look at some houses – more, I think, to persuade ourselves it was that bit too far.

The problem we found was that one of the houses we saw felt like it had been waiting for us.

That feeling when you look on Rightmove and think ‘could this be the one?’ is massively amplified when you are in a place thinking it. I remember the agent’s eyes lighting up – or was that the bright autumn countryside sunshine? – when we accidentally referred to the attic as the office in front of him.

Yep, I’m a bit of a cliché. Offer accepted in February 2020, two days later it was Valentine’s Day and Geoff proposed.

We were off to make a new life in the country. A health pandemic on the
other side of the world was but a small news story.

The thrill of it all was laced with a feeling of nervousness. We were those people, the ones who decided to go for it. To ‘abandon’ London. Because we all know once you go, you can’t come back, right? Well, not to anything as big as the country house you’ll be buying.

For those who want transparency on how we did it, a little more to come as the weeks and months unfold, but we had a flat each, and the sale of both allowed us to buy a house in Chippy, as it’s known.

Getting a mortgage when you’re both self-employed and a pandemic hits is a story I won’t bore you with too much, but suffice to say it did not land in our laps.

The move away from the big smoke might feel like an escape, but there are a lot of reality checks along the way. As an introduction to the decision, here’s a bit more about how it feels.

At first, it’s a rebellious feeling, that you’re going for it. The talking is over – no more late-night drinks discussing the merits of staying in the metropolis vs the wide open spaces of the shires.

No more moaning about delayed tubes, you imagine instead that you’ll be pootling along country lanes (in reality you’re often stuck behind a tractor or being tailgated by someone in a speedier car).

There was excitement that I could have all my ‘things’ back, and furnish a house that was ‘ours’ rather than living in his flat.

There was joy at the idea that we didn’t have a shared hallway and front door, the garden would be all ours. We had been keeping half our belongings in a storage unit, playing Jenga with the rest in a flat we were fast outgrowing.

Juggling space with guests when they came for dinner, talking endlessly about the whippet (me) and Labrador (him) we wanted to get.

It was time. You might feel it’s time. Or you might still be in the ‘scanning Rightmove’ stage. You might be at the ‘oh, help, we found a house and had the feelings, like you did’.

Whichever it is, I shall share the highs and lows, the experiences of the past year and the now to help you decide if you, too, want a new life in the country.

Do you have a story to share?

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