Moving to the country

It has been just over two years since we moved from London to the country. Thanks to the Covid, I understand many more people are considering such an undertaking. I can’t blame them. I enjoyed a conflicting sense of smugness / relief / guilt in the first lockdown that we were no longer in our house in South East London, despite it being relatively large for London. I can’t imagine what difficulties families face in some of the flats and towers I used to walk past on a regular basis.

In the spirit of sharing, and for those considering making the move out I thought I would compile a Buzzfeed style “6 things you should know” list based upon our experience. Unlike Buzzfeed, it is rather long and quite ranty in places.

1. It’s surprisingly expensive

On paper it’s a no-brainer – I trade in my 3-4 bed house in London and buy a large house / small estate in the countryside, potentially easily covering my stamp duty and getting some change back after it all. If this were the limit of your expenditure you would be absolutely right, but it’s not. It’s only after you’ve made the move that expenses appear all over the place. In the ten years or so we owned a house in London we spent 20p on essential maintenance – most notably on combination boilers which seem to have about a seven year life span. Within days of moving into our new place our “poo tank” broke – resulting in several expensive pump outs, a lot of staring down holes and ultimately replacing a number of key components. £3k literally down the drain within weeks. Repointing, tree clearing, replacing windows, replacing gates the list goes on. Then there are costs that you incur in the hope you avert further expenditure – like painting a tennis court (£5k) which you are assured by the experts that if you don’t you will have to spend £50k to resurface it. You wage war with the various creatures that are actively trying to destroy your home, woodworm, carpet moth, rats, mice, woodlice – again incurring more and more cost. Every now and again, I get a copy of the survey we had done when we bought the house trying to reconcile its fiction with the realities of our situation. Owning old houses in the country is expensive – horribly so. If considering making the move, disregard your surveyors report – if you are lucky it may avert you from buying a house on the verge of collapse, but it will miss everything else. Think of a big number, triple it and then add some more on and that should be a decent approximation of your monthly expenditure on house bits.

2. Commuting is awful

Where’s Wally? Oh no, they all are…

I wasn’t sure whether to include this under 1. above, because commuting is also ferociously expensive – compounding the cost over the years one could retire a decade earlier if you worked more locally. I decided it needed its own section. I’ve observed that people openly lie about their commute times. I was guilty of this in London – the train from my local station took nine minutes to Victoria – so I would say smugly to people living in more fashionable / expensive parts of London that my commute was about 25 minutes. This was complete bollocks – I don’t think I had ever properly worked it out until now but factoring in an eight minute walk to the station, five minute wait time, nine minutes on the train and then a 20 minute walk to the office I am already at 42 minutes – 68% more than my fictional time. But I am not alone – anyone who says it takes 45 minutes to get from Parsons Green to the City is lying. The same is true in the countryside – with a fair wind, an empty car park, absence of signalling faults / overrunning engineering works then I can commute to my current office in 1 hour and 45 minutes – this is in optimal conditions. My average time I would wager is significantly longer – partly due to my incompetence – most notably mistiming my departure from the office to arrive at Waterloo as my train pulls away from the station. So I have to wait for 30 minutes. But quite often there is some issue on the line – signalling fault or some poor fellow throwing themselves on the lines after discovering how long they were spending commuting / maintaining their house. This puts the whole system into chaos and I find myself staring at the departure boards wondering what I should do. The biggest upside of Covid has been to avoid all this madness. I am working more effectively and efficiently from my shed than an office and have reclaimed at least three hours a day. My hope is that once Covid is gone, the world goes back to normal apart from commuting which I hope future generations will reflect on as some peculiar 20th century eccentricity.

A row of new homes

3. Barratt Homes causes anxiety

While you may think rural crime, avian flu, or the impact of neonicotinoids on the bee population would feature highly on the country dwellers worry list, they don’t. Having made the leap to the countryside, the greatest fear is the lovely field you look over or the quite lane you live on becomes the victim of Barratt, or some other such developer, building a couple of thousand monotonous houses. I get the argument that people need places to live, but what infuriates me is that while provincial towns hollow out from the centre, development is focused on the countryside. Building homes that have no real space, with no local facilities and are reliant on cars to get around. Minor things also annoy me like their insistence on installing upward facing external lights on buildings significantly contributing to light pollution and limited attempts to increase the efficiency of these homes. The glow from our nearby town gets brighter and brighter. You could challenge me and say people have the same right to live in the countryside as you do – which is true, but these houses aren’t providing this. The South East risks turning into Los Angeles, one never ending, sprawling suburb – indeed look at the map around Cambereley, Aldershot, Fleet, Guildford – its already happening. If the Government is serious about “levelling up”, then scrap stamp duty in and around those towns in the North and penalise development in the South.

Why?

4. Winter is quite tough

Great look.

Summer is great, but the winters are cold, dark, wet and very muddy. While the changing seasons are enjoyable, by mid-January the countryside looks dead and resembles the Somme in places. You begin to appreciate clothing you might never have considered. My favourite garment at the moment is a pair of Mountain Warehouse pack-a-mac style waterproof trousers. Keeping mud and rain at bay I think they cost about £9. If my 18 year old self could see me now they would be appalled. On walks (we do a lot of walks now given they are the only thing we can do), I look like the geography teachers I mocked at school.

5. Schooling is different (better)

People talk about “push” and “pull” factors when looking at motivations to move. One clear “push” factor for us was London schooling. It felt all too easy to fall into the London trap of assessing your children’s success on their academic attainment only. If your eight year old didn’t get into the “right” school you may as well put them up for adoption as they were doomed to a life of failure. This created a pressure cooker mentality which we felt wasn’t right, or at least not for our children. London private schools becoming so selective and competitive means that even if your child is fairly bright, being surrounded by only uber intelligence is unlikely to help build their confidence. Moving out of London opened up more options, in particular I was looking for a relatively sleepy, low key prep-school where the emphasis was on establishing strong foundations. The absence of a ridiculous waitlist and small deposit was very welcome. Yes the academic side is important, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. Nor did I want a school that was trapped in the arms race of ever more ridiculous facilities – is an equestrian centre really necessary? Placing ever greater pressures on fees and alienating more and more of the middle classes is the ultimate road to ruin for private schools in the UK.

6. Sense of contentment

By now I wish I had titled this 4 things you should know before moving to the country, so scraping the barrel a bit here. I always found living in London fun and enjoyable, but subconsciously knew it was never an end point. That one day, our destiny was to settle down in the countryside. This idea may appal you, and you may well be a true urban dweller which is great. Taking a long-term view on the garden and house and picturing how it will grow and evolve is reassuring. Covid has given us an opportunity to enjoy the countryside spending more time in it than we would ever have normally done and appreciating it for what it is. Released from social pressures, I have taken up a number of anorak past-times, most notably bird watching. While it is more expensive than living in London, the commuting, if it is to return, although a pain feels a price worth paying. I take comfort now from the fact we aren’t intending to move again (unless those bastards at Barratt build something next door). And sometimes, when faced with yet another issue to fix or expense to pay, I wonder if a Barratt home with a warranty might not have been the better decision after all.

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