Living in London?
My husband and I both grew up in the countryside and longed for city life as soon as we could possibly get there. After meeting at University in Bristol, we headed for the bright lights of London as soon as we graduated. We never looked back… until we had our first child at least!
When life after London isn't happily ever after
Five years into city life we were young parents-to-be. We were not yet on the property ladder so we took the plunge and moved to my hometown in Kent and rented a lovely house within walking distance of the busy commuter town Sevenoaks. We had a handful of friends there, a convenient commute for my husband to get to work and parents nearby for support.
What could be better, you might say. Well, we went from two city-dwelling professionals to one sleep-deprived commuting professional and one young, overwhelmed first-time mother, whose friends were all trailblazing in the city at the start of their careers. The sudden change was quite the shock and certainly not the recipe for the ‘good life’ that we had imagined. We felt completely isolated and as if we had moved away from everything we enjoyed.
Life back in London
Back to London we went, after 18 months, managing to buy a small house and vowing never to leave our beloved London again! We clung on and enjoyed another fabulous ten years making the most of that which city life had to offer our family. We made countless friends in our local community through our two childrens’ schools and interests.
Gradually a few friends relocated with their families, sometimes for professional reasons, but more often than not it was the desire to ‘go home’ or find a better balance. Off we trotted to the North, South, East and West visiting our ‘leaver’ friends. We found ourselves finding every possible opportunity to spend weekends or holiday visits in the Cotswolds. We were immediately taken with the stunning chocolate-box villages, the peace and quiet and friendly communities – the complete antithesis of London life.
For a period of a year or two, we aspired to the weekend bolthole, as we were always ready to return to the ‘big smoke’ after a few days of downtime in the countryside. However, little by little the flutter of excitement as we drove through the busy streets of London on our return was no longer there.
Asking the kids
At that time we were starting to look towards Senior School for our eldest daughter and somehow I managed to persuade my husband, aka ‘the reluctant commuter’, to go to an Open Day at a school in Oxfordshire “purely for a comparison” to the city schools we were looking at!
Something obviously clicked because we then found ourselves asking our two daughters what they thought about the idea of moving to the countryside. The youngest, known for being happiest when up a tree, was always going to be on board. However the eldest, happiest when close to another kind of branch (Starbucks), was a challenge. She was horrified at the idea, understandably concerned about moving away from her school friends and feeling isolated living in a rural area. She did, however, admit that she loved the school we had visited so we had something to go on.
Doing the research
The next stage was starting research into the feasibility of various locations in Oxfordshire, the distances of various villages from schools and stations with a direct line to London, the cost of season tickets and train timetables. My hobby of looking at houses online went into overdrive and I managed to draw my husband in by showing him how much more of a house and garden you can buy for your money there. We browsed houses and schools galore in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. We soon decided Gloucestershire was less realistic for a daily commute to London and therefore ruled it out.
We then identified great schools in Oxford and South Oxfordshire and viewed a few houses close to the schools. However, we soon realised we knew nothing about the villages and towns close to schools and they were not at all where we envisaged living when we had made our decision to relocate. Thanks to the new Oxford Parkway station within our preferred location offering a frequent and reliable 60 min service to London Marylebone, we decided the compromise would have to be proximity to a school. Our preferred senior schools offered a huge bus network covering our home search area, which was north of Oxford in any case.
Now that we had made our key decisions, we just had to sell our home in London during a well-documented dire period in the London housing market! As I was working in the Property Industry at the time, I was all too aware of the Brexit and Stamp Duty doom and gloom! Nevertheless, Spring arrived and we priced our house very realistically and slightly under our direct competition. We were under offer with a solid buyer pretty quickly, enabling us to go full steam ahead with viewing actual houses rather than browsing online!
We viewed detached houses with some land in a completely rural setting, the odd new build and finally our much-loved Cotswold stone cottage within a chocolate box village. Viewing different kinds of properties is a must because you might just find the property that you always imagined is not actually right for you. I imagined a detached house with a good bit of land but realised, when I viewed just that, that I wouldn’t feel comfortable living in a large isolated property if, for example, my husband was away. Having spent many years in the city, we needed to live in a village and be able to walk to a shop and Post Office etc. We wrote down the pros and cons of any house we viewed that was under consideration.
We were advised by many people to rent a house first, rather than buy, whilst we settled into the area and our new lifestyle. I do think this is great advice, particularly if you have made the decision to make the move relatively quickly. In our case, however, I felt fairly confident after having visited this area for approximately 10 years that if a house came up for sale that seemed right for us, it probably was.
7 months in, we have no regrets whatsoever.
Things we love about our new life:
- Whilst my husband obviously has a longer commute, he feels so much more relaxed and is able to decompress as soon as he arrives home. In London, the hustle and bustle was hard to switch off from, even at home. When we are all at home together we are much more present and engage more with
- Our life is more child-oriented now with fewer distractions in our spare time.
- The balance – noticing the seasons and nature all around us and taking so much more pleasure from our surroundings than we did when we lived in the city.
- Our children have both noticed a better balance of time spent inside and out and less pressure at school here although both were extremely happy at their London school as well.
- Friendly people and neighbours – something that nobody seemed to have time for in London! Our daughters are still shocked by how friendly people are.
- Visitors… We love nothing more than a house full of weekend guests, something that was tricky in a London house with far less space!
Things we miss about London:
- Our friends – bearing in mind that it takes time to develop new friendships (much more so for my husband and I than for our daughters, thankfully).
- The convenience of nights out in London – the ability to jump on a tube or bus or take a taxi home. This takes serious planning ahead here, taxi services are in extremely short supply!
- Proximity – most places are a far greater distance away here, so a lot more time spent in the car. The school run to my youngest daughter’s school has proved too long, therefore we are moving her to another school in September. The new school is a little closer, a few local families we have met go to this school and there is a possibility of a car share which will be life-changing for me, aka Mum’s taxi!
Our top tips to consider if you’re deciding to move:
- Research, Research – you can never do too much! Spend as much of your spare time as possible visiting your search area during the week and weekends. Commute times and costings are critical – try to do trial journeys to school and work in rush hours.
- During your house search, whilst enjoying seeing the extra space you can get for your money, remember that the maintenance and running costs of your new home will probably be quite a lot higher than that of your terraced house or apartment in London!
- Be realistic about your spending habits – life in the country may seem cheaper, but it is highly likely you will spend less money on going out and more on transport e.g. commuter train fares, parking and fuel in your car. In London, we had one car which we would probably fill once a month, now we are running two cars and using approximately 2 tanks of fuel in total per week!
- Really think about how you will live your new life – we all dream of the beautiful rectory with land, but whilst you may spend more time at home than you did in London, can you really handle an isolated house with no amenities or people within walking distance?
- Schools – Naturally this will be one of the first things you explore before deciding on a location. Whilst there are extensive bus networks and people seem to travel from far and wide to senior schools in the countryside, be honest with yourself about how long is realistic. The fact is that if you travel quite far to school it is likely you and your child will miss out on getting to know anyone in your local community.
- Don’t rush in to moving out – it is a huge change and not one that can easily be reversed! In the end, we waited until we had plenty of gripes about living in London – now we love nothing more than a hectic few days’ break there before coming home for peace, space and fresh air!
After moving from Fulham to the Cotswolds with her husband and two daughters, Sarah Cooper is currently working on refurbishing their cottage and exploring all that their new neighbourhood has to offer. You can follow her findings on her Instagram account @40townandcountry