A Bit of Backstory:
I moved to London from the northwest in 2000, I knew 2 people in the entire city (what was I thinking? I was 23 years old & had subscribed to the ‘streets are paved with gold’ theory). I rented a 2 bedrom flat on Grange Rd SE1 for 12 months whilst I worked for a PR company on Bermondsey Street. I had the opportunity to purchase said flat for £250,000 but as this amount could’ve acquired an entire street in Warrington, my calculation was that this simply wasn’t value for money (let’s file that under ‘stuff I should’ve done’).
At that time, believe it or not the area was a bit of a ghost town at the weekends & after meeting my ‘tribe’ a few of us took the plunge & found a house to rent in Clapham Junction. Cut to 9 years later, I’ve met, fallen in love with and married my husband (a fellow northerner who unbeknownst to us both, grew up 10 miles down the road in Cheshire). We’ve bought a do-er upper in Kyrle Rd SW11, decided to get a puppy and have our first child on the way.
It seemed like overnight, right under my nose the landscape had changed. The years spent hanging out in cool bars, then stumbling into less hip (ok, grotty) clubs [Crazy Larry’s, Clapham Grand, Infernos, yes, I’m looking at you] were now a distant memory as I, quite frankly, battled through the first year of motherhood like a stunned hamster on a ceaseless, tedious, nappy-strewn wheel of exhaustion & emotion. Not that it wasn’t a wonderful, amazing time, but I guess looking back, my old childfree life was somehow haunting me around every corner. When I joined the army of yummy mummies marching down Northcote Rd, buying unnecessary accessories in Peppermint or hopping onto the 319 to hang out at Peter Jones, I mourned a bit more of those lost days. With these feelings rumbling, a few other things happened:
- We got broken into, I returned home at lunchtime to find the front door smashed in.
- Our car got stolen from outside the house, yes actually GONE.
- On a quiet Wednesday morning, a friend of an NCT friend got mugged in Battersea Park for her engagement ring, pram tipped over & so the story goes, her precious newborn face down in dog faeces on the footpath - whilst she tried to wrestle a young man off one of those tiny scooter motorbikes.
- Almost before we were out of nappies, with my daughter approaching 3, the chat started took a turn towards school selection and catchment areas..
Where, When & How:
We downloaded the Right Move app and the search was on. Beaconsfield, Amersham, Gerrard’s Cross - we were convinced that Bucks was the answer, the M40 corridor promising copious amounts of support and help with childcare. Then one Sunday we visited our lovely old friends, who’d recently made the move from East Dulwich to Tunbridge Wells. Lunch at the Black Pig, then a mooch around the historic Pantiles, a dog walk on the Rocks, I spotted the Space NK, Cath Kidston & White Company on the High Street and my heart swelled a wee bit (yes, I’m ashamed to say that those things held high currency back then).
We changed the ‘location filters’ to Kent and found that all the pieces dropped into place, a lot more bang for our London buck, my husband’s commute to the office was a direct 47 minute train, the local schools were all excellent/outstanding and that most important of all jigsaw puzzles, we met and fell in love with our future home. It had been owned by the same family since 1953 (some of the wallpaper suggested that may have been the last time anything was done to it) but it had been loved in, lived in, lost in and you could feel the love and warmth just oozing from every wall. It took a solid year to renovate, update the electrics and plumbing and sympathetically restore the house to its former glory.
I’m not going to sugar coat this bit: the transition of moving out of London was really hard for me. It was August, the sun was shining and our newly discovered spacious garden was filled with squeals of laughter, paddling pools & BBQs. Our neighbours were so lovely, welcoming and sociable - we had 4 dinner party invitations within the first month. The stunning Dunorlan Park is opposite our door, the dog had never been walked so often. So why was there this sense of panic, a low-level anxiety that we’d made a huge error? I missed my friends, I longed for the diversity, buzzing energy and slightly scary excitement of the capital (ok, I know zone 3 is hardly the metropolis but it is compared to the Weald…). I found myself driving back to my old ends for random hair appointments & arranging playdates on Wandsworth Common, like some deranged, determined homing beacon, sitting on the South Circular with a Peppa Pig transfixed 3-year-old in the back. In truth, I think it took approximately 6-12 months for me to feel fully settled. By this time, I was pregnant with our 2nd child and there is nothing like a bit of nesting to concentrate the mind. But if we’d have rented in an attempt to ‘try before you buy’ I have a funny feeling we’d have found ourselves back in London. I threw myself into establishing our allotment, growing our own veggies, we got chickens and fully embraced The Good Life.
Present Day Tunbridge Wells
It’s possible that we are now only blissfully happy down here in the provincial paradise of the Wells due to pure grit & perseverance--we committed and so just had to make it work. But either way I’m so, so glad that we did. I love being here, the children have made great friends and we have a quality life that just wasn’t achievable where we were. My embryo of an idea to start my own business has gestated into ‘Little Springers’ - beautiful baking and gorgeous gardening workshops for preschoolers, all set in the relaxed informal environment of my home. There are so many vibrant, talented, entrepreneurial women in this town; stylists, photographers, designers, artists and events companies like ‘Mum’s The Word’ who attract fantastic speakers and ‘Mama Mixers’ whose gigs sell out in minutes. We have loads of clever, witty writers who blog for a living and a genuine, supportive network that offers quality advice and skilled feedback with humour and honesty. Being surrounded by the countryside (think cute pubs with stunning views) means that an outstanding Sunday Roast is at our fingertips any weekend. A 50-minute drive south and you’re on Camber Sands and my occasional jaunts into the West End to meet friends and see a show are more than I ever did when I lived in Clapham.
If you are having ongoing discussions and debates, if you are about to make that move and are just waiting to exchange/complete or you’ve taken the plunge, done it and are feeling a bit shell shocked, then just sit tight and take a few deep breaths. My advice: reach out, join groups (you may have to try a few to find folk cut from a similar cloth), accept any offers of coffee, brunch or lunch and just keep an open mind. Alternatively, you may have had it up to ‘here’ with being a social butterfly & just want to be reclusive - this is also completely do-able outside of the big smoke.
So here we are: living our life after London - I still miss her grimy, stinky, crime-riddetraffic-cloggedged, polluted ways but quite honestly couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.