I am often asked what made us move to Cambridgeshire. After all, we are a bit of an anomaly: our little family consists of me, British, brought up in hilly Herefordshire (where my parents still live); my husband, French Portuguese who grew up in Paris; and our son born in New York City where we had been living, for me for over a decade.
Deciding where to move?
When we decided to make the move back to England from the United States it was primarily to be closer to our families. It was also at the point of our son starting school. My husband’s job would be based in London but we knew that we didn’t want to live in London, nor could we afford to buy a family house there. We were looking for somewhere more rural where we could be involved in village life, enjoy having a garden to cultivate and play in, and generally, after the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, have somewhere where we felt we could breathe and put down roots.
At the same time we needed to be within an hour’s commute of London and also not too far from a city that offered some culture, shopping, restaurants and good schools. With my husband’s office close to King’s Cross and the Eurostar connection to Paris for visits to his family, we started tracing the train line north-eastwards.
First Stop St Neots
At first we rented the quintessential country cottage, near St Neots. We organized everything from America – we searched houses to rent on Rightmove and used Google Earth to assess locations. When we turned up after Christmas 2013 in torrential rain it was the first time we had been to the property.
Although in my work as an interior designer I have helped a lot of people move house (de-cluttering, assessing what furniture will work in the new place and what won’t, installing families in their new homes), when I look back I can’t believe how we did it!
We found individual letting agents unhelpful – many refused to rent a property to people who hadn’t viewed it in person first: not at all practical for a busy family based overseas. If I’d known about Sarah Green and her bespoke Move to Cambridge service there is no doubt I would have called upon her to help us. Similarly, knowing about a service like Scuseme would have saved a lot of trial and error in finding tradespeople – all estate agents need to tell their buyers about Scuseme.
Unless you have had the chance to get to know an area well I would recommend renting first. Give yourself a year in the rental property and use that time to get a feel of the area, the villages, the transport, the schools, and to start making friends and contacts. It will stand you in good stead when it comes to buying. When we did buy our house, near St Ives, we already had a good sense of the commute and the amenities.
We found house prices in this part of the country very competitive compared with other areas - we bought a pretty, period, four-bedroom village house (a former parsonage) with a good-sized garden for less than £400,000 in 2015. We love being in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by wheat fields and strawberry patches. And yet, Huntingdon station is a 15-minute drive away and King’s Cross less than an hour’s train journey.
Five minutes down the road is St Ives, a charming market town on the river Great Ouse, with the excellent guided bus service that runs on its own track (no other traffic!) into central Cambridge in less than half an hour.
Zipping to Cambridge
My design studio is based in my home but I frequently go into Cambridge for meetings and would never consider driving because the bus service is so easy. It also runs late at night and so it'ss a great option for an evening out in Cambridge.
In terms of schools my son started off at the preschool in the lovely village of Buckden - I think we lucked out with this because I really didn't know much about it beforehand. Buckden, near St Neots, is a super village community and the preschool reflects this. The ladies who run it, led by the dynamic Michelle Nelson, really go above and beyond in their care and creativity. The preschool feeds into the Ofsted 'outstanding’ Buckden Church of England Primary School.
We found ourselves applying for schools at the same time as buying our house and so I ended up looking at a lot of different schools in different parts of the county, depending on where we were viewing houses at the time. In the end my son started at Holywell Church of England Primary School (another Ofsted ‘outstanding’) in the delightful village of Needingworth-cum- Holywell and he’s very happy there.
Although my move to the country has been a bit different from most Life After Londoners I can certainly share the concerns and apprehensions of relocating. Two years on I can honestly say I am very happy here. It hasn’t always been easy and I still miss New York in many ways. One thing I have found challenging has been leaving a stimulating, well-paid job in a fun studio environment and starting my own business in an area I knew little about. I have definitely felt lonely at times and also frustrated by how slowly things take to build up here. But the flip side of that has been that I have been able to spend more time with my son whilst being able to make friendships for my entire family. I’ve also had the opportunity to develop creatively and have recently launched a range of hand- printed textiles. It has been a rewarding personal challenge – someone who is naturally a little shy and introvert I have discovered a new side of myself that looks to make connections wherever possible, and as a result I have a lovely new network of friends and acquaintances.
Kate Gallimore is an interior designer who has worked with families the world over to help them make the very best of their homes in terms of comfort, style and practicality. From a one-room update to a full renovation and redecoration, if you know what you want but find it hard to find the time to make it happen or if you have no idea and don’t know where to start, Kate can take you through the process of designing and decorating your home.