Alex's story is one which is all too familiar - the need for space, the easy commute, the requirement of decent schools. We are always asked where people should go - and Buckinghamshire certainly hits the spot for many.
Country But Connected
Two kids. Central London. Yearning for more space. Needing to commute. We’re such a cliché, it’s nauseating but clichés ring true for a reason – they’re the well-trodden path that many of us find ourselves facing in the journey to a happy little ever after.
My husband and I had always been South West Londoners. Much to his chagrin, I still regularly attempt a "Sarf London accent innit", which is no mean feat considering I’m from Melbourne and my “Sarf London” was well-heeled Clapham but God loves a trier, I give it a bash. After moving to London, meeting a fella and moving out of my various lovely flats in Balham, we set up shop in his bright sunny flat Betwixt the Commons (yes, the estate agents make it a proper noun with capitals and all) in Clapham and got hitched, only to find I was up the duff a few months after the wedding. Hubby was on gardening leave from a job and I got home from work to find he’d put the flat on the market, bought a family car and had a list of houses to visit that weekend. I’d barely peed on a stick and he was living by the mantra “time waits for no man”.
We moved into one of the oldest houses in Clapham, a 3-storey, 3.5 bed with a handkerchief of a garden just off Northcote Road, spent a year renovating, had our first beautiful baby girl and spent a further 2 years in a place we’d loved as single folk without kids.
We had dozens of ever-changing bars and restaurants literally a block from our front door; we were walking distance to tubes and trains with parklands close by and to top it off we lived virtually in the grounds of one of the best state schools in the country. The whole neighbourhood boasted the highest concentration of pre-school kids in Europe so there were loads of classes and activities in the area and a real posse of like-minded families on tap.
By this time, another bub had joined us (remember that .5 bedroom, it meant the boychild basically slept in a cupboard) and we were finding we spent less time in those bars and restaurants and more time marching about on the common. Like so many others we looked forward to weekends out of town and grew fed up with a sitting room under 3 feet of plastic tat.
I know I’m biased coming from the land of endless sun and beaches, but pushing a double buggy through the inevitable drizzle to the Common twice a day just to stretch our legs was starting to feel more like a chore than a joy and as that boychild started to grow and show his penchant for a rugby tackle, we feared for our plasterboard (and his head) and realised we wanted more space.
Coming from a country where a ¼ acre block is seen as a basic human right and with my husband being Cotswold born and bred moving out of London seemed obvious but our search process was made more complex by the nature of my husband’s work. Although I hadn’t yet returned to work my husband starts very early in the morning, so commute times and making the first train of the day were key. We drew a circle around the right commuter area and spent about a year looking in Surrey, but just never quite found the ideal house/village/commute combo that would lure us away from what we had in Clapham.
After much soul-searching we returned to South Buckinghamshire, a place we’d only visited once or twice and took a proper look. We found a house we adored in Amersham, it’s the last stop on the Metropolitan Line, whilst also being served by a fast overland to Marylebone. The house we loved was in catchment for two Outstanding local schools plus a host of independent options and we made the move as the children were nearly 4 and 2.
It was a super exciting time for us –we loved the house we were moving to; the value for money outside of London meant much more space, the kids would have their own playroom plus a proper garden with room for play equipment. With extended family being either abroad or a long distance away, having enough space for family to visit comfortably was such a plus, and we were within walking distance of Amersham town and station, but backing onto woodlands and fields.
Smooth transition to Life after London
A couple of strokes of luck for us really helped with the smooth transition to life in the countryside. Firstly, the exchange and completion on our house sale actually took far longer than we expected which meant we were absolutely chomping at the bit to move but also gave me time to properly research all the local bits and bobs you need to know. By the time we moved, I’d already done all the redirection admin, found local playgroups, theatres, and farms, and had all the inside dirt on local events, from which local pub hosts a monthly comedy night, to local restaurants with the best reviews. A full declutter of the old house meant that unpacking was pretty straightforward and we were ready to fully embrace the move.
The delay in moving also meant that we landed in Bucks literally 48 hours before the start of the school year. With our eldest starting nursery where she would eventually go to school, we were instantly immersed in the school social calendar – kids birthdays, summer balls, Christmas planning – it all meant a ready-made social group which got us up and running and part of the local community quickly. And we haven’t looked back.
What’s Great about Life In Buckinghamshire
The first night in our new house, we went to bed with our ears literally ringing from the silence. Having been woken by the 5am summer flight path from Heathrow for years, it was so beautiful to sleep with windows open to the hooting of owls, the drumming of woodpeckers and the grisly death of the odd animal in the undergrowth.
Our kids have grown blasé about the muntjac deer coming into the garden from the woods, beautiful rural foxes running past the breakfast table, the screech of the red kites overhead and frogs, bullfinches and other regular visitors. Even I have stopped marveling at the fun of the badger sett at the bottom of the garden and them pinching the peanuts dropped from the birdfeeder and now roll my eyes each time they dig up the lawn.
Weekend walks start from our back gate through the woods, via a quick picnic in the grassy field and up the big hill beside the paddock with cows before turning for home. Learning to ride a bike happens right outside our house - with so little traffic, it’s safe to let the kids roam further afield, and when it snows, the best tobogganing run in our neighbourhood is at the end of our road. It’s a level of comfort and ease with the natural environment that is best achieved when you are young and unaware of what a privilege it is.
Proximity to London is superb. My husband’s commute is only about 20 minutes more than it was in Clapham and he’s still home to see the kids before bed most nights. The easy train ride means trips to London shows and museums with the kids are a breeze and belting up to London for meetings and appointments during the school day is easy. Even hitting London restaurants on the weekend is still very doable with a little more planning.
We’ve found South Bucks to be a happy mix – the commuter community means you don’t get a real disconnect from London and that cosmopolitan injection you need to stay fresh, but there’s also a real population who have roots in the area, many whom even grew up here and returned to raise their own families.
Amersham itself benefits from some slightly bigger village hubs like Beaconsfield, Marlow, Gerrards Cross and Berkhamsted, which attract smarter retailers, some bigger restaurant chains and provide a bit of buzz, whilst the likes of High Wycombe and Aylesbury provide all important service hubs for hospitals, cinemas, bigger shopping centres, sports facilities etc. The Old Town is all Tudor chocolate box gorgeousness, with some truly excellent restaurants and boutiques, whilst the new town (Top Amersham) has all the everyday facilities a family needs – it ain't picturesque but it does the job.
We are fully paid up members of the National Trust (we’ve even got the branded binoculars….hello middle age) and hit Cliveden, Waddesdon, Hughenden and Windsor Great Park regularly and all without the two hour painful traffic jam back into London.
Since moving and as the kids have grown a little, I’ve had some time to lift my head up and really explore the local offering and now write a blog on the best of Bucks – food, health and wellbeing, events and boutiques and love getting to know the independent businesses who are thriving here, providing some truly outstanding products and services. From independent cinemas, clever pop up dining experiences, literary events, amazing food producers, some big name community music and sporting events like PennFest, Chilfest, Wild Tweed and Marlow Regatta, Michelin starred chefs and food festivals like Pub in the Park and Great Missenden Food Festival…all the way down to village showcases like Amersham Heritage Day, there’s so much going on. And the business community I’ve been exposed to of late is just that, a community, powered by a refreshing collaboration and a focus on cooperation and mutual growth.
What’s Not So Great about life after London?
We haven’t looked back but we do look sideways – what would life be like if we were still in our little Clapham bubble. Well to be honest, in some ways we’d find a greater density of our homogenous social group – more people who are cookie cutters of our own experience – and whilst that might be easy, it’s not necessarily a good thing. By the same reflection, London provides such a cross-section of walks of life, cultural backgrounds and diversity of experience that it constantly challenges your own assumptions – without that influence, it’s certainly possible to become more conservative, smaller minded, more entrenched if you don’t flex those muscles.
Yes, we drive lots. Yes, the commute is longer. Yes, trips to London aren’t spontaneous. Yes, we have to search a little more for exciting new activities. But there’s a peace that comes to all the family with space, a connection to nature and a home that provides quiet away from the busyness of the every day.
Alex Ashton is the founder and voice behind The Bucks Insider. Following a career in Project Management and HR in Financial Services and Consulting, Alex finally gave in to the creative urge that had been whispering in her ear at night, urging her to DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
After two kids and a move from Clapham to Amersham in South Bucks, Alex retrained in Social Media Management with a view to working with small business. As a self-confessed nosychops, who has always loved to write, Alex brought social media and her love for a natter together in the launch of her local blog, The Bucks Insider, and loves to share her local finds. You can follow along over at https://www.instagram.com/
Don’t tell her your secrets, she’s a right blabbermouth.